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Milwaukee in Three Nights

Dear Chownation:

I'll be in Milwaukee on business in March and wanted to put together a gastronomic itinerary. If you had three days/nights to eat through the city's best, what would be on the must-devour list.

To give you an idea of what I enjoy -- I'm a fan of chefs who are really trying to do something special. I enjoy white linen tablecloths to beer covered bars with peanut shells on the floor --- hearty gastropub fare to farm-to-table establishments. I enjoy a good hot dog or fried chicken as much as a suckling pig or grilled lobster.

So send along your quintessential Milwaukee recommendations. All tips/pointers are greatly appreciated.

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  1. You might want to check out the recommendations in this topic, as a start:

    What is the Milwaukee Experience? - www.chow.com/topics/789572

    I'm not all that familiar with the "cheap eats" end of the spectrum in Milwaukee beyond Kopp's for frozen custard, but at the high end, Sanford is tops for fine dining. Hinterland is also excellent, with a fine dining vibe despite its pretension as a gastropub. And Karl Ratzsch's and Mader's for German cuisine. Don't forget to include a visit to Milwaukee Public Market!

    3 Replies
    1. re: nsxtasy

      Mader's has gone downhill IMHO. Karl Ratzsch's is far superior.
      The last time we were at Mader's the waitress was apologizing for the food.
      Sort of like the same thing that happened to the Bavarian Inn before it closed.

      1. re: nsxtasy

        Agree with Milwaukee Public Market with something for everyone along with Thief wine bar. Must disagree with Ratzsch's and Maders unless you're into old world, stuffy atmosphere with heavy sauce laden food. Might want to try Balzac, Bosley, or Izumis.

        1. re: Scoutmaster

          Thief Wine Bar has probably the most uninspired, mundane, boring yet over priced wine in the city.

      2. I've given this some thought and decided to approach your question this way: If I were taking friends from out of town around for [only] three full days, wanting to show them various parts of the city, and taking them to a wide variety of excellent places to eat, where would I take them? And this is what I came up with:

        Breakfast:
        Blue's Egg 317 N 76th [Inventive, tasty, classy without being the least bit stuffy]
        Lisbon Cafe 8518 W Lisbon [Arch-type neighborhood diner. You'd expect the owner to be named Mel and the brassy waitress to named Flo. Except they are Gus and Sue. And they have the best corned beef hash in the world.]
        Benji's Deli 4156 N Oakland [Kosher-STYLE deli. I LOVE their hoppel poppel.]

        Lunch:
        Milwaukee Public Market 400 N Water St [Already mentioned, something for everybody]
        Sobelman's 1900 W St Paul [Always part of the arguement over who has the best burger in Milwaukee. Nice old tavern setting]
        La Perla 734 S 5th [Too hip and trendy and loud at night, but a great place for an excellent Mexican lunch.]

        Dinner:
        Meritage 5921 W Vliet [The inventive chef you mention, locally sourced, delicious]
        Jacque's Cafe 1022 S 1st St [Excellent French mostly bistro-type menu]
        Mimma's 1307 E Brady St [Modern Italian with a watchful eye toward's Milwaukee's considerable Italian heritage.]

        Between meal grazing should not be ignored:
        Leon's Custard 3131 S 27th St
        Kopp's Custard 5373 N Port Washington Rd [also good for a burger if you havent already been to Sobelman's]
        Peter Scortino's 1101 E Brady [Excellent Italian Bakery]
        National Bakery 3200 S 16th St [THE place to get paczkis and really good donuts too.]

        You have and will get many excellent suggestions that vary from mine. I admit that this doesnt leave a lot of room for all that annoying 'business' stuff that brings you here. But I hope you get to enjoy us as much as possible.

        13 Replies
        1. re: Fydeaux

          Nice job Fydeaux! I certainly won't disagree with any of your pix. I would add Odd Duck to the dinner choice. It's very creative, well prepared and a lot of fun. You can enjoy the food with creative cocktails or a fairly lengthy beer list. Probably my current favorite

          1. re: Fydeaux

            Well done Fydeaux! That is an excellent AND affordable list of places to visit. The only one I have not been to is Lisbon Cafe and thanks to your information that is now on my list of "get there soon" places to eat.

            1. re: Fowler

              Thank you, Fowler. Lisbon Cafe is far from anything fancy, but it the kind of place that should be cherished. I hope you enjoy it once you make it there.

            2. re: Fydeaux

              A couple of those places are in iffy neighborhoods or could be a little dicey getting to and from in the dark (March) if you're not familiar with getting around Milwaukee ~ the angle streets can really screw ya up.

              1. re: Scoutmaster

                I suppose 'iffy' is in the eye of the traveler, but I have been to all these neighborhoods in all hours of the day and night over the years entirely without incident. It's not like we're sending visitors to Speed Queen or Ashley's or Reynold's Pasty Shop at bar time.

                And even with angle streets, comparatively Milwaukee really is a pretty easy city in which to find one's way around. Even more so with map applications on any handheld device, ore even a decent set of directions.

                1. re: Scoutmaster

                  Not sure which ones you think are "iffy" , but I wouldn consider any of them to be in bad neighborhoods. I think it's fair to say that real hidden gems in any large city are likely to be well established in neighborhoods versus downtown or fashionable areas of the city.

                2. re: Fydeaux

                  Tried Lisbon Cafe for the first time. Liked it a lot. Thanks Fydeaux

                  1. re: Fydeaux

                    Thanks Fydeaux - My mission is to pack so much gastronomic adventures in that I fool myself into believing that it's THAT which brough me to Milwaukee and not the business.

                      1. re: exvaxman

                        Milwaukee was incredibly good to me -- the people were friendly and the food was cooked with heart and offered up with great character at reasonable prices.

                        The biggest complaint was the weather which was 17 degrees in late March. Because of this, I had a lackluster lunch at the Calderone Club because I just couldn't trek any further.

                        But that night, I had a late dinner at the Rumpus Room, one of the Bartolotta restaurants. I'm a slut for a runny egg and absolutely love me a good Scotch egg. This place combines both loves and gives you a soft-boiled Scotch egg, which is divine. I followed that up with a pork torchon served up over white beans and kale. Getting an entree of pig's head is a rarity in DC (and at less than $15) and was incredibly satisfying. I was also introduced to several local craft brews -- all at an unheard of $4 a pint.

                        Next day, I trekked over Milwaukee Public Market to the West Allis Cheese Shop for an unconventional breakfast of poutine. When I inquired if it was too early, the cheesemonger said that if breakfast sandwiches could be served after noon, poutine was more than okay in the morning. Nothing like cheese curds, gravy and coffee to start my day. Dinner had me off to Karl Ratzsch's to sample their famed pork shank. Incredibly heavy, but definitely delivered on the hype -- the fab decor, the friendly bartender, the fantastic German beer on tap, the sound of the crispy skin mimicking the crust of a baguette meeting a serated blade.

                        Friday, I had several parts to my evening - starting with a tour of Lakeside Brewery. Great character and ambience and absolutely fantastic beer that I would be happy making my everyday drink for life. I went over to Pabst Theater for a concert, but having arrived too early, headed back to Milwaukee Public Market to grab a seat at the oyster bar of St. Paul Fish Company where I had their special perch fry and a beau soleil oyster -- all washed down by another local brew. Incredibly fresh and served up by some wonderful people.

                        The last stop on my gastronomic tour of Milwaukee was Sobelmann's Pub and Grill. It couldn't have ended better -- what a place. At 2pm on a Saturday, filled to the brim with loud people of all backgrounds and walks of life. Terrific, personable service that got a beer in my hand before I was seated and when I did saddle up to the bar, took incredibly good care of me. I've seen bars half full ignore their customers. The Sobelmann's burger really is all that and the fried cheese as a side was outrageous, albeit unnecessary.

                        Yes - I wish I got some Kopp's and maybe a steak dinner somewhere, but I felt incredibly successful and enjoyed myself thoroughly... surprisingly!

                        1. re: henmonster

                          Glad to see your visit was a success, and you more than a few recommedations ready for your next trip!

                          1. re: henmonster

                            >>>The biggest complaint was the weather which was 17 degrees in late March. <<<

                            Heck, that is what I consider fairly nice weather for Wisconsin in March. :-)

                            Great report, henmonster. It sounds like you had a good variety and I commend you for being open-minded. Based upon your report, I will have to try Rumpus Room sometime.

                            What did you think of the Pabst? I have always found it to be an appealing theater. Who did you see there?

                            It is good to hear that you enjoyed yourself. Next time come back in the summer.

                            1. re: Fowler

                              I saw a Scottish group called Frightened Rabbit. Love the Pabst. Beautiful jewel-box that any city should celebrate.