Milwaukee Trip Report – Bacchus, Rocket Baby Bakery, Maxie’s, Smyth, Odd Duck
Our trip included three dinners (two hits and a miss), a brunch, and a continental breakfast. We were particularly impressed with both Bacchus and Odd Duck. Bacchus is a great choice if you’re in the mood for an elegant dinner, perhaps for a special occasion. Odd Duck is wonderful for a more casual meal, and if I lived in Milwaukee I would probably be eating there again and again and again. Details and photos follow for each of our stops.
Our dinner at Bacchus was thoroughly outstanding in every way. The food was delicious and creative, the décor elegant, and the service impeccable. Some of the dishes had added notes of presentation that elevated them beyond the excellent centerpiece. For example, the foie gras appetizer could have been named “foie gras for breakfast” - a slice of foie gras over strawberry jam, along with a small French toast soufflé topped with a quail egg and a piece of bacon and served over a smear of maple syrup. Similarly, the main course of butter-poached lobster (which had a very generous amount of lobster) was served over a really delicious chorizo hash and an amazing corn puree. The desserts had similar highlights, including a banana cake special with a hazelnut smear (Nutella?) and a scoop of malt flavored ice cream (not chocolate malt, just malt powder malt) which I loved, and a strawberry rhubarb dessert with a strawberry gelee inside a rhubarb mousse.
Bacchus is just east of downtown and is not terribly visible; it’s in the Cudahy Tower, a restored older white high-rise building. The entrance is on the west side of the building, facing their valet parking lot. Across the street to the east is a lovely park, perfect for a stroll before or after dinner. Bacchus is part of the Bartolotta Group which has half a dozen restaurants in Milwaukee, including the well-known Lake Park Bistro and Harbor House. This was the upscale meal of my trip, and I was pleased and delighted with my dinner at Bacchus. I highly recommend Bacchus!
925 E. Wells St.
Milwaukee WI 53202
Rocket Baby Bakery (Bayview Satellite)
Due to a late start, we didn’t go out to breakfast, so Blue’s Egg will have to wait till next time. Instead, we stopped by the satellite location of Rocket Baby Bakery, on Kinnickinnick in Bayview for snacks. (Their main location is in Wauwatosa.) And it was outstanding. We had three things: a bacon-cheddar croissant that my companion deemed the best she had ever had, an excellent “monkey bread” (basically a pull-apart cinnamon sticky bun), and an awesome almond brioche. This last item appeared to be a slice of brioche loaf, topped with the same almond cream that is used as the filling in almond croissants, and then baked. Yum! And of course, they have the usual assortment of coffee beverages.
Rocket Baby Bakery
2434 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee WI 53207
This was less successful. I had chosen Maxie’s because it opens at 4 pm, permitting a leisurely dinner before heading to Miller Park for a 6:00 game time. Maxie’s is a casual place serving Southern, Cajun, and barbecue, at 68th and Fairview on the west side, a couple miles west of the ballpark. Things started out well, with an excellent mussels appetizer, featuring spicy chicken Andouille and a broth that was thicker, richer, and creamier than the thin broth that usually accompanies mussels. The fried green tomatoes appetizer was also quite good, accompanied by an excellent remoulade. The entrees, though, weren’t up to the quality set by the appetizers. The slab of St. Louis spare ribs was very fatty, and was also falling-off-the-bone, so it was just not that appealing. The pecan-crusted trout fillets were also only so-so, with a thick breading and not much trout or pecan taste. It’s also worth noting that most of the items on the menu are heavy, with high fat content, and not much in the way of alternatives to avoid that. All in all, dinner at Maxie’s was only so-so.
6732 W. Fairview Ave.
Milwaukee WI 53213
Smyth at the Iron Horse Hotel
Smyth is a casual, bar-focused restaurant off the hotel lobby. They serve their “Route 66 Sunday brunch” using seating at Smyth. The entire menu is all-you-can-eat; one column consists of items prepared to order, and the rest of the menu is a buffet served in the hotel lobby. The menu isn’t that unusual; you’ve probably had most of the items a hundred times before. But the quality of all the items is extremely high, from the prime rib, to the omelets, to the smoked salmon, to the crabcake benedict (oddly served without an English muffin), to the French toast. I enjoyed this brunch and recommend it for those looking for excellent quality food and who don’t mind that it’s not that unusual. Note: there is virtually no signage outside the hotel; it’s the older brown building just off the circle. It’s just south of downtown.
Smyth at The Iron Horse Hotel
500 West Florida Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204
Wow. Just… wow. I LOVED this dinner. The menu is a small plates format; we had six savory dishes and two desserts, and every single item was unique as well as amazingly delicious. The presentations and accompaniments were equally stellar, often as delicious as the main ingredient. We had the duck flautas, beef short rib, braised pork shoulder, tempura soft shell crab, roasted beets, and honey drizzled eggplant fries; for dessert, we had the sweet corn blancmange and the white chocolate orange mousse with rhubarb jam. Everything was so great, I can’t even single out any specific dish as “don’t miss” because they were ALL so amazing.
Also, the portions were fairly generous for a small plates restaurant – maybe not quite entrée sized, but darn close, and larger than appetizers in many places. Our server recommended starting with two items per person, which seemed like a good recommendation; after that, if you want more, you can order more. In our case, we ordered the five savory dishes, then wanted one more item, so the eggplant fries was the add-on; since it was slightly sweet, it was perfect as a transition to the desserts. (Okay, if I have to name one “don’t miss” item, it’s the eggplant fries)
The prices are also shockingly reasonable; all this food, plus two beverages (one alcoholic) came to $79 before tax and tip.
Odd Duck is on Kinnickinnick (often referred to as KK) in the Bayview neighborhood south of downtown Milwaukee, and is only a block north of Rocket Baby Bakery (see above). The restaurant is very casual, and there’s an outdoor patio in the rear for al fresco dining.
2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
1. Lobster at Bacchus
2. Dining Room at Bacchus
3. Maxie's exterior
4. Maxie's interior
5. Carving/omelet station at Smyth
6. Cold buffet at Smyth
7. Odd Duck exterior
8. Soft shell crab at Odd Duck
9. Short rib at Odd Duck
10. Eggplant fries at Odd Duck
Fantastic report, nsxtasy. While I no longer live there, it says very positive things about Milwaukee when a food expert like you from one of the greatest food cities travels to Milwaukee and has such high praise.
I am definitely going to give Bacchus another chance the next time I am in Milwaukee solely based upon your report.
Have you ever been to Bosley on Brady?
I've had the chance to eat at Bosley a couple of times. It's excellent and I really like their shrimp & grits. They are going for a Key West/Florida Coast type of theme with most of their food. You can't go wrong with any of the seafood/fish dishes.
They also are trying to be a great wine restaurant and it seems, at least to me, that the servers are being tasked with constantly trying to upsell more expensive options. That really got annoying on one visit as the guy was almost overbearing. The wines are not cheap either. They are good choices and well selected, but not much for value.
It's definitely one of Milwaukee's Top 25 restaurants IMO. Though the atmosphere is more laid back and casual than some of the other fine dining restaurants in town.
So glad your dinner at Odd Duck was great. I do think we are really lucky to have it in MKE.
It was also good to hear about your experience at Bacchus. It was always one of my favorites, but I think I commented in another thread that we haven't been back since an awkward dinner several years ago.
Sorry to hear about the less than stellar experience at Maxie's. I do really like the place, but we've also been there many times and have luckily had many more hits than misses. I have ordered the trout dish off the menu several times, but did notice the breading seemed to grow much thicker the last time so I haven't ordered it since and it sounds like that's a good plan. I will say that beyond the food, I like Maxie's drink options and everyone always seems like they are having a good time, so that may have always boosted my general impression.
And glad you liked Smyth for brunch too, now I should really try it after suggesting it. (We were actually looking for an early brunch yesterday and I looked up Envoy based on your suggestion, but we'll have to save that for a day when we're looking to eat later as it didn't start until ten. Not to rub it in :-), but we ended up at Blue's Egg and the early time allowed us to get seating right away and it was probably the best meal we've had there, although it's always been delicious.)
>> So glad your dinner at Odd Duck was great. I do think we are really lucky to have it in MKE.
I think so too!
>> we ended up at Blue's Egg and the early time allowed us to get seating right away and it was probably the best meal we've had there, although it's always been delicious
What time were you seated, and did you notice when they started getting backed up? (On Sundays at the hot breakfast/brunch places in Chicago, you can usually walk right in at 9:00, but waits to be seated start getting significant by around 9:30. I'm wondering whether Milwaukee is similar...?)
I'll get there one of these days...
We arrived around 8:20 and there were only a few people waiting. We took a counter seat as the bar was wide open. By 9:30-ish when we left it was full and there were many people waiting. The bartender did comment to us that it was a slow morning and they are usually on a wait by 8. In the past, we've never waited more than a few minutes when going around 8, and generally just try elsewhere when looking for something much later b/c we're not really people who wait for brunch.
"...we're not really people who wait for brunch."
We are not either, so a friendly heads-up to avoid Machine Shed in Pewaukee. Someone recommended their brunch to us when we were in the area so we went there. The hostess told us it would be just a few minutes for a table and asked us to wait at the bar. Those few minutes turned into 45 minutes and then they were out of several items when we were actually seated. What they did have was good, but not waiting 45 minutes good though.
This article about the cost of dining out appeared in Esquire last week:
Why Does a Night Out Cost So Damn Much? - www.esquire.com/blogs/food-for-men/co...
I find it interesting that they used Maxie's and Odd Duck as examples. They also mention AP Bar & Kitchen in Walker's Point, which I had not previously heard of, and whose website menu sounds quite appealing. www.apbarandkitchen.com
Those in Milwaukee will be proud to read quotes like these: "If you go to one of the good restaurants, contemporary small-plate restaurants, the kind people actually make reservations for (so in your town it’d be someplace like Odd Duck or AP Bar and Kitchen, which, take my word, are about the cheapest fine-dining places in America)" ... "You have it good. Odd Duck should be half again as expensive as it is; its prices are artificially depressed by its being in Milwaukee, one of the country’s cheaper places to do business."
Of course, there's irony in the fact that the original complaint about the cost of dining out comes from Milwaukee, which, as noted in the article, is generally less expensive than many other cities. There's also irony in the fact that my dinners at Maxie's and Odd Duck met the $50/pp threshold that the article claims is not attainable.
Maybe the guy who asked that question lives in the suburbs a little further from downtown (and dines there usually as well)...
I think the value Odd Duck provides is what makes it so awesome. I think the city has many great places for that mid-priced meal. When we eat at non-chain restaurants outside of downtown and the adjacent areas prices are often just as high or higher and we leave less satisfied, but I still think our city offers great values.
AP is somewhat connected to Crazy Water I believe. We went last summer shortly after it opened and were pretty disappointed with our food, yet thought the space was lovely and enjoyed our drinks at the bar. We had friends who had a pretty similar experience a few weeks later. This spring, another couple we know raved about their dinner there, so maybe they've got things together. I would agree that the menu does sound great.
I saw the article when it was posted on OMC earlier this week. The fellow asking the question is in my opinion not looking at the larger picture which is value for his money. I judge a restaurant using a QPR metric.
P.S. The author is incorrect regarding Five O'Clock Club. One can easily have a nice dinner there for significantly less than the $100/person that the author claims is what it costs to dine there.