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Milwaukee - typical dishes? And what does Milwaukee do better than anyone?

I'm visiting Milwaukee for the first time, and have no idea what you guys eat! :)

I'm looking not just for recommendations to specific restaurants, but also guidance as to what kind of dishes screams "Milwaukee"?

And what types of dishes (or drinks) do you do better than anyone?

Aside from the beer factory at the opening of Laverne & Shirley, I really have no sense of what is typical and traditional to your part of the world.

Thanks in advance!

Mr Taster

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  1. Frozen custard
    German cuisine
    Fish fry
    Fried cheese curds
    Bratwurst
    Beer Cheese Soup
    Serbian cuisine
    Raw beef, onion and Limburger cheese on rye bread
    Venison

    2 Replies
    1. re: Fowler

      Thank you! This is a very useful starting point to base my research on.

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Fowler

        That's a pretty good list provided by Fowler. However, you could easily miss some of the very best restaurants in Milwaukee if you focused exclusively on that list. I've eaten some great dinners in Milwaukee, with cuisines/categories ranging from fine dining (Sanford, will try Ardent soon) to contemporary American (Hinterland, Crazy Water) to French bistro (Pastiche). I'm not telling you to ignore those local specialties, but rather, there's some terrific food out there that you also don't want to miss. For more on this, Carol Deptolla's most recent list of the top 30 restaurants is a good place to start - www.jsonline.com/entertainment/dining...

      2. Fowler has pretty much summarized it :-)

        Fish fry is huge on Fridays --very "typical."
        http://onmilwaukee.com/dining/article...

        I grew up in the Madison area and remember the Friday fish boils --almost always cod (the healthier rendition of the fish fry). If there is one thing I do not miss food-wise, since leaving Wisconsin, it is the fish boil, which as a child, always seemed to involve a mouth full of little bones. But don't let that stop you from trying a local specialty.

        Also look for "Sheboygan" style brats. See somewhat dated write up here:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/05/din...

        Drinks. You mean other than beer? Sprecher is perhaps the best-known local beer outside of Milwaukee/WI among the sort of nouveau "craft" type beers, and they have an excellent national award-winning root beer. (Or PBR if you are into beer nostalgia.

        )

        As Fowler indicates, lots of meat/potato/milk-based hearty fare. Keep in mind also that while Wisconsin has great fresh veggies, none will be available this time of year that does not perhaps come from a greenhouse, given the winter they've had.

        1 Reply
        1. re: MagicMarkR

          Also, Milwaukee is one of the few places you can find Sprecher Root Beer on tap. Swoon.

        2. nsxtasy is correct as always. I was answering your question from a perspective of what is more unique to or as you say "screams Milwaukee". Having fried cheese curds in a blue collar bar on the South Side of Milwaukee is going to be a much, much different experience than an upscale French meal at Lake Park Bistro. I would prefer a dinner at Lake Park Bistro but you can get good French bistro food in a number of places around the world. It is not specific to Milwaukee. Same thing with Bratwurst. I have no idea where you live, but a grilled beer brat with sauerkraut is not something someone from Japan would ever see but it is a Milwaukee and Wisconsin tradition.

          nsxtasy posted a great link to some of the best restaurants in the Milwaukee area. If you are looking for a great dining experience in general, that is a wonderful resource but keep in mind many of those restaurants do not "scream Milwaukee". You can probably get a good steak, for example, in your home city.

          If you have the time, you could do some of the things I mentioned for lunch and then visit the higher echelon places in the link nsxtasy provided for dinner. Kind of the best of both worlds.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Fowler

            My interest is primarily finding things that I couldn't find easily (or that I would only find inferior versions of) in Los Angeles or New York. So yeah, I'm not concerned with fine dining, French bistro, Mexican food, or any type of Asian food, for example. That's why I found fowler's list particularly spot on.

            Mr Taster

          2. Let me tack on to Fowler's great list.

            Frozen custard is best at Leon's, Kopp's, and Oscar's.

            There is a continuous battle between Mader's and Ratzsch's for the best German cuisine.

            Every family has their favorite Friday night fish fry. Try the Serb hall for a blast from the past.

            Speaking of Serbian, 3 Brothers is a pain to get to, but well worth the effort. I particularly like the burek and the roast goose.

            Milwaukee has a high density of pubs, grills, and bars. My favorite is McBob's Pub and Grill. Definitely go for the corned beef or fried fish.

            Did somebody mention beer? As in a brewery tour? Miller is impressive, Sprecher's offers premium soft drinks as well, but my favorite is Lakefront Brewery. Try to get the guy with the handlebar moustache. Not for the prudes. On Friday night after the tour, you can have the fish fry and watch the kids and grandparents do the polka. With each other.

            Hamburger's are just as opinionated as frozen custard. You have the choice of Sobelman's, Solly's, and the local chain Culver's. Ask for the butterburger.

            If you are on Brady street doing a tavern crawl, stop in at Peter Sciortino's Bakery for fine Italian breads, pastry, and gelato.

            And what should we be drinking in the land of bars and taverns? Try an Old Fashioned with American whiskey, a brandy Manhattan, and a Bloody Mary garnished with jerky or smoked sausage.

            As well as Central Europe, Milwaukee has a rich heritage from Central America and Southeast Asia. But I will let others more conversant with those establishments to chime in.

            3 Replies
            1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

              IRF -- they are building a Culver's on University Pkway in Sarasota -- CUSTARD!!

              1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                I second IRFL's recommendation for a trip to Lakefront Brewery. The tour is fun, the beer is excellent and while not the best fish fry, it is still better than average and you get the music and polka dancing to boot.

                Lakefront Brewery also still has the "slide" from Milwaukee County Stadium where every time the Brewers hit a home run, a man named Bernie Brewer who was watching the game from a small chateau high over the bleachers overlooking the field would come out of the chateau and ride down a slide into a prop that looked like a huge mug of beer.

                1. re: Fowler

                  Sorta out of the thread, but "no longer Here" I think it was called was just on MPTV. I broke down in tears when they mentioned John Earnst. The only place where waiters were perfection.

              2. You didnt mention when you were planning on visiting, but regarding bratwurst, I would wait until warmer weather sets in and you can get a brat right off a grill set up in front of a grocery or meat market. I all honesty, I cant think of a single restaurant that gets it right. And if anyone can suggest one, I would love to hear about it.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Fydeaux

                  >>> I would wait until warmer weather sets in and you can get a brat right off a grill set up in front of a grocery or meat market. I all honesty, I cant think of a single restaurant that gets it right. And if anyone can suggest one, I would love to hear about it.<<<

                  Pandl's
                  Karl Ratzsch's
                  Milwaukee Ale House
                  Delafield Brewhaus
                  Turner's Hall
                  Wegener's Inn
                  Mader's

                  Just to name a few restaurants that get it right IMHO.

                  1. re: Fowler

                    Would you REALLY send someone to Pandl's for a bratwurst?

                    The brat sliders at Saz's are pretty good, but in my own opinion, a bratwurst is best off the grill [cooked in the open air] rather than from a kitchen.

                    I'll give the Ale house a try next time I'm in the third ward though.

                    1. re: Fydeaux

                      "a bratwurst is best off the grill [cooked in the open air] rather than from a kitchen."

                      I am in total agreement with you, Fydeaux and my response was simply a list of restaurants that prepare them well. I would prefer a brat fresh off the grill in the parking lot of Lambeau but that was not your question.

                2. Hinterland Brewery has some nice brews and great food, and the Public Market has an awesome fish counter.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: linguafood

                    The fist market being referred to is The St. Paul Fish Company and you can find their website here: www.stpaulfish.com/‎

                    The lobster dinner is one of the best values in town.

                    1. re: Db Cooper

                      Good to hear from you Db! I hope you are staying warm over there in Minnesota.

                      Mr. Taster can correct me if I am mistaken, but I thought from reading his request he is looking for food that is emblematic of Milwaukee. Your advice is fine for someone looking for a lobster dinner in that part of Milwaukee, but if you asked Milwaukeeans what speaks to them as the Milwaukee experience, none would mention a lobster dinner at the Saint Paul Fish Co.

                      Your idea is good in general, but unfortunately not what the OP is looking for in Milwaukee.

                      1. re: Fowler

                        Here's the age old question: Is it the food or the experience that makes it "Milwaukee". You could have the same argument about any city.

                        I simply was clarifying what Linguafood wrote about the fish market in case the OP wanted to learn more. I think your public market is one of the finest in the US and think eating at the market is very much a Milwaukee experience. Very few other cities have a market with such a wide variety of cuisine from independent purveyors (not chains). If people asked me five things you have to eat in Milwaukee, a meal at the market would be on my list.

                        I will agree you could find foods more representative of Milwaukee than lobster at the market. I wrote that because it is such a steal at $13.95. Maybe the Friday Night Fish Fry would be a more apt suggestion. You may have other thoughts about St. Paul Fish or restaurants in the market that fit "Milwaukee Food"

                        So I guess it is up to the OP to decide for him/herself what matters more.

                        I was actually in your fair city last week again for work. I had to come back to the Twin Cities to warm up. La Meranda won't fit the requests here, but I was very pleasantly surprised.

                        1. re: Db Cooper

                          LOL, Db! That says something pretty sad about Milwaukee';s weather if one has to go back to the Twin Cities to warm up. :-)

                          La Merenda gets great reviews and I am glad to hear you were pleasantly surprised. I also appreciate that you report back after asking for recommendations. That is very considerate and I think most of us that take a significant amount of time to provide in depth advice that matches what an OP is looking for are thankful when the fine people like you reply with your commentary.

                          1. re: Db Cooper

                            I had lunch at that fish counter twice -- great oyster deal and a nice chowder. I also picked up a fantastic young Sicilian olive oil & a maple balsamic at the oil & vinegar store there.

                            No, neither are typical for or even 'native' Milwaukee (though you'd think the vinegar at least is flavored there?).... but sometimes, people like to shop for great quality foods that aren't available in their hometown.

                            I still have some of the oil and most of the vinegar and think of that market every time I use them :-)

                            1. re: Fowler

                              I'd say that eating oysters and lobster at the fish counter qualifies as a Milwaukee experience, but these are not typical Milwaukee dishes. Boston or Maine, yes- of course. Belly up to the fish counter. Lobster roll, extra butter. But I'd never say that eating a lobster roll from a trendy and expensive FancyTruck™ in Los Angeles is typically Angeleno dish. A typically Angeleno experience-- yes. The FancyTrucks™ have become that. But the food they serve is generally not typical of LA.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                Mr. Taster, do you think you will take the advice and eat lobster or oysters while in Milwaukee? If the answer is yes, then I misunderstood the culinary goals stated in your inquiry and responses within the thread. No one from Milwaukee is going to say that eating oysters or lobster is emblematic of Milwaukee. They actually would be the polar opposite. I do not care one way or another where you eat as long as you enjoy your visit.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  It seems everyone here agrees dining at the Public Market to be an essential Milwaukee experience. So Fowler and others, what else is there that might speak better to typical Milwaukee dishes/areas of excellence that can be had while also enjoying the market? The seafood counter is only one of many eateries to choose from. Which ones capture the flavor of Milwaukee better than St. Paul Fish?

                                  1. re: Db Cooper

                                    >>>It seems everyone here agrees dining at the Public Market to be an essential Milwaukee experience.<<<

                                    Unless this post has been heavily edited, no one other than you and liquafood think dining at the Public Market is an "essential Milwaukee experience."

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      Actually, I never once said that it was "essential."

                                      1. re: linguafood

                                        LOL, then I guess that leaves just one person that said it was essential. :-)

                                2. re: Mr Taster

                                  >> Lobster roll, extra butter.

                                  Incidentally, one of the great things about dining in the dairy state is that restaurants serve real butter, not margarine, with everything from pancakes to bread to, well, everything (except when requested otherwise). Even inexpensive fast-food restaurants and pancake houses. This is true throughout Wisconsin, due to legislation*. So this is indeed something else that Milwaukee, and the rest of Wisconsin, does better than anyone else.

                                  Ref - www.erikajanik.com/2013/04/18/butter-...

                                  1. re: nsxtasy

                                    You are too funny nsxtasy. I spent part of my childhood in Chicago and the way our elderly neighbors told the story, there was practically all out war between Illinois and Wisconsin over the margarine versus butter issue. Seriously. Packers versus Bears was nothing compared to the anger generated over butter versus margarine. :-)

                          2. re: Db Cooper

                            Have you checked out their Live Fish Case Cam and Oyster Cam yet? Nice website! How convenient to see, by the minute, what they have available before you head down there!
                            Does anyone know when the St. Paul Fish Market opened? I grew up in the Milwaukee area back in the 70's and don't recall it. I've been in the Twin Cities for 30 years now and really miss those Friday Night Fish Fry's - I'm actually from Port Washington, if anyone remembers Smith Bros. Fish Shanty there (a fire led to its closure back in the 1990's, I believe). Freshwater Lake Perch at Newport Shores in Port - the best!

                            1. re: simon018

                              Smith Brothers was the only place I ever liked eating fish as a child. In the 60s, it was ofetn the place we went to when my grandparents came down from Marinette for Mothers' Day or a birthday. Thanks you; I hadnt thought about them in many years!

                              1. re: Fydeaux

                                Thought I might find a few who remember the place. We locals sure do miss it. Thanks for sharing here.

                              2. re: simon018

                                I definitely remember Smith Bros. My Dad took us kids up to Port Washington to fish off that huge pier. When we did not catch anything he took us into Smith Bros. to get some fish to eat. :-)

                                I also remember when Smith Bros. had the smelt fry right on the shore. They had the guys throw the nets into the water, haul in a load of smelts and fry them right there on the shore. Sadly I do not think there are too many smelts left in Lake Michigan.

                                IIRC, Smith Bros. did recover from the fire and still exists. A fellow I used to work with said he and his wife go there every year for their anniversary because it was where they met.

                                Thanks for the fun memory, simon018.

                                1. re: Fowler

                                  Yes, those smelt fries were awesome, and really brought the community together. Also, my dad had nine of us to feed, and he would take us down to Smith Bros. and buy a few bags of fresh-fried lake perch and a few bags of french fries and we would have a fish feast! Sadly, there are not too many lake perch left, either. Thanks for sharing!

                          3. Carol Deptolla, the restaurant critic for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, has written extensively on the best of Milwaukee. Even though, for your purposes, you may not be interested in her most recent article on the best 30 restaurants in Milwaukee:

                            Carol Deptolla's Top 30 restaurants blend the flavors of old and new - www.jsonline.com/entertainment/dining...

                            You would probably get a lot out of her article on "good eats". As she noted there, "It includes everything from finer dining to counter-service restaurants to street food, and it's meant to include some of Milwaukee's best hometown flavors." Here's a link to the entire article:

                            Carol Deptolla's 20 Good Eats in Milwaukee - www.jsonline.com/entertainment/dining...

                            1. Another institution indigenous to Wisconsin (and not yet mentioned in this discussion) is the supper club, a very specific genre of restaurant. You can read more about supper clubs here:

                              "In Wisconsin, Supper Clubs Open to All" - www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/travel/wis...

                              "A taste of nostalgia: Groove to the vibe of supper club dining" - http://articles.chicagotribune.com/20...

                              "Inside the Timeless World of the Wisconsin Supper Club" - http://chicago.grubstreet.com/2013/04...

                              "Wisconsin Supper Clubs: An Old-Fashioned Experience" by Ron Faiola - www.amazon.com/Wisconsin-Supper-Clubs...

                              Faiola also produced a documentary on the same subject - www.supperclubmovie.com

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: nsxtasy

                                That is so cool! Gotta check that out next time I'm in your lovely town :-)

                                1. re: nsxtasy

                                  LOVE supper clubs -- especially for fried perch or walleye overlooking the lake on a summer evening.

                                  There's never going to be a star at any of them...but simple, great food. (and a pressed-glass dish with olives and celery) :)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    sunshine, somewhat OT but did I read somewhere that you moved back to the USA? I recall you mentioned you were married to a Badger and I have always liked your WI centric advice.

                                    1. re: Fowler

                                      I grew up in the Midwest, with summers on the lakes (all 5 of them), so marrying a Badger only built on what I knew anyway!

                                      But yes, I'm back in the US...

                                2. It's an eastern WI thing, maybe not as much a Milwaukee thing, but a Brandy old fashioned. My parents are from little farm towns an hour or so north, and that was The drink.

                                  Otherwise, Sheboygan style brats on a traditional brat bun, or frozen custard. Overall, Milwaukee has a lot of very good and tasty food, but the very simple, homey nature of it can leave it to being overlooked. And that's its beauty as well

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: autumm

                                    My in laws from Pewaukee also drink Brandy old fashioneds. Very Wisconsin.

                                    1. re: kathryn

                                      Indeed. I have seen quite a few people drinking Brandy Old Fashioneds when we have dinner at the Butler Inn on Pewaukee Lake. Very Wisconsin. Brandy Alexanders in the summertime as well.

                                  2. I grew up in Milwaukee but haven't lived there for 20 years. I'm driving in tonight with my daughter so that we can dance polkas at the Lakefront brewery and enjoy a fishfry.

                                    One thing listed on Fowler's list that hasn't been explored well enough in this thread is cheese curds. Obviously you can get them at the State Fair or Summerfest, but are there any places current Milwaukeeans go for good deep fried cheese curds? To the OP's intent, this would be something uniquely Wisconsin that you wouldn't find on either coast.

                                    If you want a Milwaukee experience, you might consider lunch at Mader's and then strolling across the street to Usinger's for a look at traditional German meats and cheeses. A brewery tour is worthwhile. There is a trifecta of taking the Lakefront, Sprecher, and Miller brewery tours all in the same day.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: GutGrease

                                      What's really tough to find are cheese curds made from Colby cheese, which has better heat tolerance, giving them a denser, toothsome texture - gotta have Colby! (And yes, I am a born & raised Cheddar/Colby-Head ;)

                                      1. re: simon018

                                        so where do you get the best fried cheese curds in milwaukee? or wisconsin?

                                        1. re: krystle920

                                          The best I ever remember were at the County fair in Rhinelander, wi.
                                          The volunteer booth, not the commercial one. A little far from Milwaukee though. Until my kid left scouts, I would arrange to hit the fair in the morning and then Ribfest outside of minaqua before picking him and a couple of other scouts from summer camp.

                                          For just plain curds, there is a curd truck in Grafton across from the Goodwill (shopko) that has many flavors and usually is very fresh.

                                    2. As has been mentioned, frozen custard is great. Big fan of Kopp's and their daily flavors. http://www.kopps.com/default.aspx

                                      Had a couple of friends that worked at Benji's back in the very early '80's and I try to hit it every time I visit. http://www.benjisdeliandrestaurant.com/

                                      The bar at The Iron Horse is a beautiful space. (Check out the Harley Davidson Museum nearby!) http://www.theironhorsehotel.com/food...