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Milwaukee food help

Hello all,

I'm a former Milwaukeean who has been living in New york for the last decade. I'm coming back for a visit this summer and am overwhelmed at all of the new dining choices in my old home-town.

Besides the obvious stops that I'll be making: Five O'Clock Club, Kopps, Speed Queen, Zaffiro's, The King and I (dig that Volcano Chicken), George Webb's, Philly Way, At Random, Vitucci's possibly a PJ's sub or two...I'm wondering about a few things.

1) I'm going to have a family get together...not too big (maybe 12 people) and need advice on a good, casual, and not too pricey place for dinner. I'm thinking the Milwaukee Ale House or Cafe Hollander? Or maybe someplace cool and eclectic? Third Ward, Downtown, East Side are the best places. I was thinking La Perla since we're staying at The Iron Horse but then a bunch of Mexican food followed by a night of drinking could be a bad idea.

2) I want to take my wife out to a romantic spot. I've heard good things about Roots...is it any good? Any other choices?

3) I need a good fish fry. I went to one at Turner's last time I visited and it was OK...not as amazing as I remembered. Fish Fries that aren't on a Friday are good to know about too.

4) Steakhouse. I like it old-school; Coerper's and the Rafters is what I grew up with. I'm not so into the trying too-hard to be fancy places (i.e Carnevor) I can get that in New York. Some people I know swear by Butch's and Mo's. I kind of compare every steak to the ones at Coerper's 5 O'Clock (including Brooklyn's Peter Luger and let me tell you Coerper's beats them hands down)...I'd hate to go someplace else and be disappointed.

5) Any dog-friendly bars/restaurants? We're bringing our pooch and she loves to watch us drink.

Any and all suggestions are appreciated.

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  1. Just taking a quick break at work and saw your post.

    Bad news: I think PJ's closed.

    Good news, dog friendly most anywhere with outside patio, for booze and food, I'd recommend Hooligan's (their menu has really improved in the last 10 years), for booze The Nomad on Brady. for coffee the next day Rochambo or Anodyne, both on Brady.

    Have to think on the other points

    1. In response to your fancier place, I have not been to Roots, but have heard pretty good things about it. However, I have been to Sanford's several times, and am always impressed with their seasonal dishes. I would highly suggest you check them out.
      http://www.sanfordrestaurant.com/

      1 Reply
      1. re: pastry634

        I keep forgetting about Sandford's. Their sample seasonal menu looks amazing. Anything with ramps and fiddlehead ferns is OK in my book.

      2. You could consider combining #1 on your list with #3 and go to the Lakefront Brewery. You can have a fish fry inside a brewery wit live polka music. Depending on various factors of course, perhaps it could take care of #2 as well.

        Have a good time.

        2 Replies
        1. re: stewy

          Polka music? Fish Fry? Beer? That sounds great!

          1. re: pastoralia

            I highly recommend it, and taking a brewery tour first is great. the guys who run the place are very nice, love beer, and pure Milwaukee.

            http://www.lakefrontbrewery.com/

            and restaurant

            http://www.cafevecchio.com/palmgarden/

        2. Sanford's is of course great, but you may not have seen the view, the room,
          from here, for the romantic angle, and you can search the board for the reviews.

          http://www.lakeparkbistro.com/

          1. My wife and I were down in Milwaukee about 2 months ago and really enjoyed Hinterland http://www.hinterlandbeer.com/. I'd recommend the lounge area which is in the back of the restaurant. Some great small plates to share, we ended up ordering 6 or so. Drinks were fabulous as well. Not sure which number this place would fill....maybe romantic???....but I'd recommend it.

            2 Replies
            1. re: b ster

              I'd second The Hinterland. We have had dinner in the main dining area as well as the lounge. The main dining area is fine dining with a casual flair. The lounge has a great vibe. The staff is very attentive and knowledgeable.

              1. re: b ster

                Thanks for this tip...Hinterland looks wonderful.

              2. 1) I really like La Mernda for a relaxed atmosphere and great food. http://www.lamerenda125.com/

                2) I would choose Sanford over Roots anyday (and everyday). I think they pay closer attention to the fine details. Sanford also has a sister restaurant in the 3rd ward called Coquette which is superb as well.

                3) I've only fish-fryed at Lakefront Brewery. It's quite an experience. Try to get in on the tour, it's worth the wait.

                1 Reply
                1. re: japanabanana

                  I'd second La Merenda and think it's perfect for a big group. Little plates have long ago become a cliche but hey, good is good, and they do them very well. The service style is great for a group and they have a dirt-cheap yet tasty wine list (1/2 price wine on Mondays too I think).

                  I haven't been to Roots but can also 2nd Sanford. It holds up to the east coast in terms of romantic experience.

                  As for steak, I'd maybe add Mason Street Grill to your list. Not necessarily old school so much as classic. And note that Butch's moved locations.

                2. 1) Cafe Hollander is nice but maybe not worth the trip from the South Side. Also, not terribly cheap either. La Perla is a safe bet for cheap and good on the South Side. Conejitio's if you wanna get real frugal ;).

                  2)I'd pass on Roots. Sanford is wonderful. Lake Park Bistro is up there with it, with better views and more traditional french fare if you're into that. Don't forget Bacchus, my vote for best overall dining experience in Milwaukee.

                  3) I'll pass on this one, for lack of an opinion

                  4). Mason Street Grill. I've (e-)shouted myself red on this board extolling it. Coerper's is out of touch, Carnevor is absurdly overpriced, Mo's is kind of average, Eddie Martini's might be a close second. Mason Street Grill is the spot. (BTW, you express your disinterest in NYC-style places... have you tried Craftsteak yet? I've been meaning to go there, Saveur called it the best Steakhouse in the world I think...)

                  5) No idea.

                  Have fun back in Milwaukee. Incidentally, I am moving back to NY full time in August, so I may hit up a few of these places myself in farewell.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: jastjohn

                    Why do you say Coerper's it "out of touch"?

                  2. If you do choose Mexican, walk past La Perla and go to Botana's (just down the street)! Much better, cute outdoor patio and more authentic. I like their margaritas better too!

                    For a drink with a view head to the roof of Bootlegger's (Old World 3rd) I know the 1st 2 floors might look like a college hang out but the rooftop is quieter and the view at night is worth at least checking out (and there is another bar up there).

                    1. LA MERENDA! LA MERENDA! LA MERENDA!
                      Great for your group of 12 or your romantic dinner for 2.

                      Sanford has far better and far more consistent food than Roots. The big thing that Roots has going for it is the view, so it's better to go for a glass of wine and drink in the view and THEN do the short jaunt over to Sanford's. Lake Park Bistro has good, consistent food; it's not quite as good as Sanford's and, if you go, make sure you get a table next to the window so that can look out at the water.

                      1. Check out OnMilwaukee.com--click on Dining and read the latest restaurant reviews for the best or worst restaurants in the Milw area--especially teh reviews done by Amy Schubert--she has a food background and is very up front about the food, atmosphere and service. I agree with you that Coerpers is the best for a great steak. Capitol Grille on Wisconsin Is really good and the service is excellent.