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Milwaukee Help Needed


Brad Ballinger
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I'm traveling on business in a month to two of our locations (one in Pewaukee and the other in Waukesha). I'll be staying for two nights right off 94 and Pewaukee Road. I know of Kopp's, and there is one not far away in Brookfield.

Where else that isn't a national franchise? BYO-firendly would be great. I like neighborhood places, hidden gems, and food-lovers' focus over atmosphere and expense account places. I will have a car.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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I've found a lot of good advice (listings and reviews) in the dining guide on OnWisconsin.com, the entertainment website of the local newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. In particular, Dennis Getto, their food critic, annually compiles a list of his top 30 restaurants and best new restaurants; both lists include affordable and ethnic places as well as expensive fine dining establishments. The dining guide is searchable by location; a search for Waukesha County will turn up listings in both Pewaukee and Waukesha.

However, I'd also like to note that one of the best meals in my life was in Milwaukee near downtown, at Sanford. It's a nice place and not inexpensive, so it's not exactly what you're asking about, but it was worth every penny. If I had to eat only one meal in Milwaukee, my choice would be an easy one.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Nowhere in Milwaukee is far from anywhere else, so if you've got a car you can go pretty much anywhere.

I definitely recommend Kopps.

Here's another favorite:

Old Town Serbian Gourmet House

414/612-0206

http://www.wwbci.com/oldtown

522 W. Lincoln Ave.

Milwaukee

A white-tablecloth restaurant serving Old World fare in massive portions.

If you can make time, it's worth visiting Old World Third Street for The Spice House, http://www.thespicehouse.com, and the Usinger's factory store, http://www.usinger.com/tidbits_shop.php.

LAZ

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I'm traveling on business in a month to two of our locations (one in Pewaukee and the other in Waukesha).  I'll be staying for two nights right off 94 and Pewaukee Road.  I know of Kopp's, and there is one not far away in Brookfield.

Where else that isn't a national franchise?  BYO-firendly would be great.  I like neighborhood places, hidden gems, and food-lovers' focus over atmosphere and expense account places.  I will have a car.

Two--no, three--places for you to hit.

1. Sanford also owns another restaurant in the Third Ward, with its own attached bakery. It's a lovely little bistro called Coquette; definitely good enough for a refined, relaxed dinner, but also good for lunch.

2. The best frozen custard in Wisconsin is at a slightly tumbledown drive in called Leon's, on the southwest side of town. Definitely worth a trip. Eat in your car. Have a turtle sundae (not on the menu).

3. Great burgers and loads of old-time neighborhood sports bar (NOT Champps-style) at Fourth Base. They have lots of toney options more t ypical of white-tablecloth spots. Go for the burgers; reasonable, reliable, and way better than most places, big city or not.

(FYI, we go to these places after a 90-minute trip from Chicago...and we've been "serious" professional diners for 35 years; these are really worth a visit if you're near Milwaukee.)

Edited by allenkelson (log)
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While it tends more toward the expense-account crowd, one of the best dining establishments on the west edge of Milwaukee is Ristorante Bartolotta at 7616 W. State Street in Wauwatosa. It's just a few miles east of Brookfield.

One member of the Bartolotta family (which also operates Lake Park Bistro as well as a steak house in Milwaukee) is Paul Bartolotta who was the initial driving force behind the excellence of Chicago's Spiaggia and who opened a fine dining restaurant at the Wynn in Las Vegas. His brother appears equally talented. More info is available at (414) 771-7910 or www.bartolottaristorante.com (menu, etc. is online).

I'm not aware of their policy regarding BYOB (they have a wine large selection in house), but it's worth a call to find out.

As you can guess, I rather like the place. The three times I've been there I've had excellent food and outstanding service. It is pricey (which seems counter to your request) but you may find it worth the splurge.

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Great suggestions thus far. Keep 'em coming.

I will pass on Usinger's (nowhere to keep the sausage, and I'm driving to Toledo afterwards). I'll also pass on The Spice House (we have Penzey's where I live). The market is a good idea -- we have a similar set up in Minneapolis.

I should also mention one "deal-killer" for me. If the place allows smoking (regardless of their promises of great ventilation, only at the bar, no one really smokes anyway, or whatever), I'll go elsewhere.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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The best frozen custard in Wisconsin is at a slightly tumbledown drive in called Leon's, on the southwest side of town.

This is a religious argument, like the best place for Chicago pizza, or which part of the country produces the best barbecue. Worshipers of Kopp's, Leon's, Gilles and other, less well-known spots are all equally partisan. See http://www.onmilwaukee.com/dining/articles/custardguide.html

I've only been driving up from Chicago for some 20 years, but I'm married to an ex-Milwaukeean; we stand firmly behind Kopp's. But try more than one and make your own judgment. You might also want to check the flavors of the day at respective stands for which has a flavor that best suits your tastes. One thing I especially like about Kopp's is that their special flavors are more than just mix-ins added to the vanilla. I'm especially fond of the red raspberry, which features whole fruit in rich raspberry custard.

I'll also endorse Lake Park Bistro, though it is dressier than the original request.

Usinger's is worth a look even if you don't buy anything, and summer sausage doesn't require refrigeration. It's also across the street from Mader's, a historic German restaurant. (Our favorite was John Ernst, which has closed, but we had quite a good meal at Mader's just a couple of months ago. I especially recommend the intensely flavored sauerbraten. Unfortunately, Milwaukee, like other cities, is losing ground on German fare. Here's a list of what's left: http://www.milwaukee.com/dining/german.shtml .)

I think Wauwatosa has banned smoking, but elsewhere in the Milwaukee area you may be hard-pressed to find many sitdown restaurants that are completely smoke-free. This list says that Karl Ratsch's, another old-time German spot, is nonsmoking.

LAZ

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Brad,

A few places I really enjoy in and near Milwaukee include:

Solly's Butter Burgers

Mazos Restaurant

Zaffiro's Pizza, which is mentioned in this Milwaukee thread.

The aforementioned Sanford

I also love the products -- alcoholic and non -- produced at Sprecher Brewery. They offer tours, which I'm pretty sure are by reservation only.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Koop's without a doubt for custard. I once had the oportunity to sample 'Pralines N Cream' from both Koop's and Leon's on consecutive days. Leon's had small broken bits and Koop's had large full pieces of Pralines. Indeed for many of the flavors where the large flavor pieces can't make it through the machine, they keep a bucket to dip the cone in. There really in no comparison in butter fat content either.

Sanford's can be hit or miss (so far it is miss for us and we don't go anymore) and has an absolute no BYOB even with corkage citing some obscure wis statute that they interpret to thier own advantage.

Solly's for famous 'Butter Burgers'.

Jake's on North avenue makes a great corned beef sandwich and would not be considered anyhting but a very good sandwhich in New York except in Milwaukee, all the so called corned beef is machine cut into thin slices with no taste. Jakes uses Vienna right from a steam table hand cut. Don't go at night though!.

Dancing Ganesha's is first class Indian fare with the only problem price. They charge for every little condiment. After being used to Chicago buffets, its hard to pay the price.

On 16th St is Taquaria Jalisco, a small joint right next to SuperMecardo El Rey. The Lingua (tongue) Tacos are to die for. Excellent cusine and the area is relatively safe for Gringo's. They have outlying restaurants in the burbs but these places always suffer from Americanization in one form or another.

We live about 40 miles south of Milwaukee and rarely ever go to any of the expensive places because the value is so much better in Chicago. Many of the small 'ethnic' places try to hold the costs down by substituting ingrediants which would not allow then to exist in Chicago where the ethnic population requires authenticity.

Maders is a tourist trap, plain and simple. But in the same area is a Hofbrau House. either buy some stuff at Usingers across the street and have a brew or have them make you a sandwich or lanjeager as they use Usinger products. Be advised that you will need a cab if more than one 1/2 liter.

Karl Ratches used to be our favorite spot but we haven't been in ages so I can't comment on the quality at this time.-Dick

Have fun.-Dick

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Alterra coffee is a consistently great coffee house with their own in-house baked items (www.alterracoffee.com), something Chicago can't seem to do. Either location are worth visiting, especially for breakfast. You'll be very close, as travelling around the greater Milwaukee area is so easy.

I loved Lake Park Bistro's Sunday brunch, but haven't tried them for dinner. I didn't like Ristorante Bartolatta; simplified and Americanized "Italian" with a weak wine program. Actually, wine isn't that big there, for obvious beer-and-brats reasons.

I heavily recommend Sanford's, though, and am certain it is non-smoking (there's no bar). Their sister resto, Coquette's, does have a bar with smoking (though I'd recommend it to others).

I'd also like to recommend the Public Market, but there's just not much going on there so far; I hope they can get something going.

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I'd also like to recommend the Public Market, but there's just not much going on there so far; I hope they can get something going.

Yeah, I had the same reaction. I think it's great that it's there, and it's more than Chicago's managed to put together in the way of a central market, but it seemed rather tourist-oriented and overpriced compared to markets in other cities. It's probably better when the farmer's market is going.

LAZ

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  • 2 weeks later...

There have been some great suggestions provided, especially Lake Park Bistro, Ristorante Bartolotta, and Coquette. Here are some options out in the Western burbs that deserve mention:

Zin, Delafield (I-94 & HWY C) - Described as California Italian. I have not had a bad meal here. The food and service are great, atmosphere is casual, jeans are fine. http://www.zincredible.com/.

Fishbones Delafield (I-94 & HWY C), Owned by the same people as Zin. Cajun/Creole incluenced seafood http://www.foodspot.com/fishbones/index.html

Great Northern BBQ Company - Very casual counter service BBQ, just minutes from your hotel. www.greatnorthernbbqco.com

Saffron Indian Bistro in Brookfield - kind of an upscale take on Indian food http://saffronindianbistro.com/. A co-worker of mine raves about this place.

Palmer's Steakhouse downtown Hartland

Delafield Brewhaus - Average food but the beers are awesome.

Waukesha lags behind just about anywhere when it comes to decent food. I should know because I live there and deal with the lack of good dining choices daily. With the exception of Great Northern BBQ Company, The Gasthaus, The Rochester Deli, and a couple of Mexican places (La Estacion, Casa Del Rio) and a couple of decent Chinese places (Ching Hwa & Golden Gate) Waukesha is a place best avoided unless you want mediocre chain food or bland family style restaurants.

Feel free to PM me if you need any additional info.

Explore the food, beverages, and people of Wisconsin EatWisconsin.com

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Did you go already?

If not, consider going to Pizza Man on North Ave (corner of North and Oakland) in Milwaukee. I've mentioned it before on this board. Their wine service is spectacular. Far more knowledge on their small staff than there is in most of the fine dining establishments in the city. Typically they have very interesting stuff by the glass and served in Reidel stemware. Well worth the drive from Waukesha.

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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Did you go already?

If not, consider going to Pizza Man on North Ave (corner of North and Oakland) in Milwaukee.  I've mentioned it before on this board.  Their wine service is spectacular.  Far more knowledge on their small staff than there is in most of the fine dining establishments in the city.  Typically they have very interesting stuff by the glass and served in Reidel stemware.  Well worth the drive from Waukesha.

Leaving February 21. I will report the following week.

If you're going to be in Milwaukee on a Friday night, you need to have a fish fry.

I know I'm just rehashing a recent Saveur, but honestly I do recommend the Turner Restaurant and the Lake Front Brewery for fish fry.

No Friday night this time.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well, here's what I ended up doing. And let me state up front, that I'll be in the area again, so I will get to try some of these other places and ideas.

I got in later than I had originally planned to on Wednesday night, and didn't feel like driving around trying to find unknown places at night. But I had enough foresight to pack some food and wine, and had that in my hotel room. And I know that was better than walking across the parking lot to The Machine Shed (a place I will NEVER go).

Thursday night (my only other night), I drove west (away from Milwaukee) 8 miles to Delafield, and went to Zin Uncommon California Italian Restaurant. The main intersection in Delafield seems to either be a planned small town or at least a regenerated one. It's going for tourist appeal, and at one time was probably a getaway for people who weekended on Nagawicka Lake. Maybe the town is seeing something of a resurgence -- most certainly in the summer.

Walking in, there is a large-ish heated foyer to keep out cold from those sitting in the bar. When I walked in (at 6:30) the bar was almost full. In the 70 or so seat dining room, there were only four diners. By the time I left, there were 12.

The pastas and the entrees were heavily themed with seafood. A surprisingly large number of shrimp selections. I decided, however, to go with a pasta that didn't have seafood. Being a first-timer in an Italian sort of place, I thought I'd see what they'd do with something basic. I ordered the pappardelle with sausage, tomato, and basil in an asiago cream sauce, which my server said was her faorite. Had a Caeser to start.

My server brought a basket of "cilantro with cheese and tomato." I know she meant to say focaccia, and probably does every other time, but she said cilantro. All of a sudden I was worried about the pasta. It didn't help when she told me that I had drank the last of the valpocino (she meant to say valpolicella).

The Caesar arrived. Romaine served on two large croutons, two hard boiled egg wedges and two anchovies (I was asked beforehand if I wanted anchoives, and said yes). The good news -- the salad was not overdressed. The bad news -- the dressing was bland and lacked any sort of bite.

The pasta arrived, and my premonition served me right. It was waaaaaay over-sauced. And when the pappardelle broke as I tried to twirl some, I realized it had also been overcooked. The tomatoes in it should've been from a can, but were from the grocery store instead. So they were watery and bland. It wasn't so bad as to send it back, but it wasn't worth making a repeat visit. Sorry, repoman. I read that you've had a good experience every time, but the place did nothing for me.

My server then listed my dessert options. All were chocolate-based except for a sorbet (not gelato?). I took a pass, and drove beyond my hotel to stop in at Kopp's for a cone instead.

What I did see at the restaurant was more than quite a few "to go" orders being packaged. There must be a number of folks who order dinner ahead and pick it up on their way home.

On Friday, I was in Waukesha -- another town refinding itself. My business was done at noon, and I drove back to St. Paul. But Waukesha strikes me as a place that will soon be adding some good restaurants. Maybe not by my next visit, but in the near future for sure.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Brad -

Sorry to hear about your experience at Zin. I have been there 3-4 times and have always been very happy with my meals. I typically order seafood items because the chef tends to do best with those items, though the Osso Bucco was very good as well. They also own the nearby Fishbones, which also does a great job with seafood. I always feel terrible when I make a recommendation and it doesn't go over well. I am going this Saturday...hopefully your experience was an abberation, but I will report back.

You are correct about Waukesha. I live near downtown Waukesha and it does seem to be turning the corner. In fact it was just announced that the owner of Ruggeri's (another Delfafield Italian place) wants to open a botique hotel and fine dining establishment, which I think will really give the downtown a huge boost. There is enough money out there to support some fine dining and I think developers and restaraunteurs are finally discovering that.

Explore the food, beverages, and people of Wisconsin EatWisconsin.com

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My favorite pizza to order in Milwaukee is Pizza Shuttle. They have all the "weird" toppings (as my roommate said) topping I like like eggplant, garlic, curry and so on. Plus, they do frozen custard as well and will deliver both, but I'm not sure how far out. They might not go all the way to Waukesha. They're on the East Side, near UW-M. The street it's on, Farwell, makes kind of a V about a block south, and the other street, Brady, is a pretty cool, trendy area with lots of cool coffee shops (go to Rochambo), restaurants (the Pasta Tree [not actually on Brady, this is on the other side of the V, N. Farwell] was our go-to "fancy" dinner), and an awesome Italian bakery whose name escapes me at the moment.

Of course, all of these memories are about 3 years old, and from college, so I can't guarantee that everything is still there or tastes quite as good as I remember it! :raz:

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Frederico Fellini

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  • 8 months later...

Okay, an update. . .

I've taken two more business trips. On the first of those, I drove out to Fishbones, 1.5 miles outside of Delafield, only to discover that the particular Monday I showed up was the first Monday they had closed for the fall/winter. So I went back into town and decided to give Zin another shot.

Tried the Caesar salad again. Still bland as hell. Then I ordered a pizzetta. Given the name, I was thinking smaller than your average pizza. Wrong. I'm in the land of big portions. The thing could've easily fed three people. I couldn't even eat half of it. The flavor was good, but it was nothing more than sauteed wild mushrooms with some red pepper and other seasonings on a pizza shell. Some may have found it to be dry. I think I may be done with Zin.

Next trip, I decided to head the other direction, and went to Coquette Cafe in downtown Milwaukee. I made a reservation on opentable.com. I was looking for a 6:30 time, but on the web site I only had the option of 6:15 and 6:45. I took 6:45 and showed up at that time. Place was dead. Three other tables out of at least 30 (tables -- it's easily a 100+ seat joint) had patrons seated. I counted no less than 10 front of house staff on duty.

The menu looked appealing -- lots of typical and pseudo-typical brasserie fare. I ordered a duck confit salad with grapefruit vinaigrette and the steak frites. The word "salad" was a stretch. The greens that came with this dish could have easily fit into a 1/4-cup measure (not packed). The duck leg was large, and flavorful. The "salad" also came with two grapefruit sections, three huge marionberries. But it really needed more greens.

Back to the comment about not many tables with customers -- I still had a few bites left of my "salad" when the steak frites arrived. Okay. I'm dining alone. I'm not engaged in conversation with anyone. So I'm not eating slow. And my entree still arrives early? The hanger steak was cooked perfectly, but it and the frites were swimming in a red wine sauce that was criminally overly salty. There was a side of aioli for the frites that was bland (could've used some lemon).

I didn't order dessert. Overally, I felt rushed. Twice, my server asked me if I was ready to order my first glass of wine. The first time was as soon as I sat down. When I ordered my second glass (after the entree arrived), it showed up about ahlf-way through my entree. There's hardly anyone in the restaurant and at least ten service staff!

On my way to Coquette Cafe, I had to battle road construction. The Mapquest directions didn't factor in that the exit I needed to take was closed, but I made it there anyway. So I asked the hostess for directions back to west 94. I followed her direcitons to the word, and narrowly escaped getting on east 94.

Still looking for somewhere my next trip to the area. Maybe I'll just have to have dinner in Madison and then finish the drive.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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Try out Roots http://www.rootsmilwaukee.com/ Full disclosure, I've not been here (for anything more than drinks), but I like the idea of a Chez Panisse style place. They have a relationship with an organic farm in Cedarburg. Its on my short list.

I wasn't very impressed with Coquette Cafe. I went there during our "dine out" week when area restaurants do a prix fixe meal. My salad had browned leaves in it and nothing popped for me. Maybe it had something to do with the dining out week, but I feel like that should be their time to make me want to come back regularly.

The no smoking criteria kind of hurts you for some of the more colorful local places.

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  • 1 month later...

Ok so my Zin recommendation didn't go over well (though I did try to steer you towards the seafood dishes) I do have one more recommendation:

Check out Crazy Water http://www.crazywaterrestaurant.com/ Its worth the drive downtown and the food is exceptional...and when you see the size of the "kitchen" that kicks out this great food you will be shocked.

Explore the food, beverages, and people of Wisconsin EatWisconsin.com

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yet, another update. Probably not the last.

On my latest trip, I arrived in Pewaukee on a Monday night after seeing too many cars in the ditch to count -- big snowstorm. Needless to say, once I arrived at the hotel, I didn't venture out. Ordered a pizza from Marty's Pizza (not bad) and had some of my six pack of New Glarus Fat Suirrel (nut brown ale).

The following night, with the roads cleared, I ventured to Nashotah and the Red Circle Inn on the recommendation of a co-worker and Saltydog who mentioned it in a PM.

Here's the kind of place this is. If you can identify with the following you've been there. This is a place where parents take their adult childred and adult children take their parents. The parents end up paying nine times out of ten, but they wish that the adult children would make more of a gesture. It is also busy on prom weekends and the local Red Hat Society women show up once a year. Most of us know someplace like this.

The Red Circle Inn was most certainly an inn at one time. I don't know if it is anymore. The charger plates boast that this is Wisconsin's oldest restaurant.

On a Tuesday night, it was Tuesday Night Lobster specials. All of the specials were seafood related featuring lobster and oysters. I didn't go there mostly because I didn't like my white wine by the glass options.

I ordered the veal sweetbreads (with mushrooms and angel hair pasta in a red wine sauce), duck (half a duck with montmorencey cherry sauce), and the Grand Marnier souffle for dessert. The sweetbread dish was over-sauced, even though the sauce was quite good. The sweetbreads were large and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

The duck was cooked very well, and served with wild rice, julienned carrots, and steams broccoli and zucchini. The sauce was a bit gelatinous, but the tart flavor was a good foil to the duck. I was "warned" beforehand that if I desried a souffle, I should order it at the time the entree arrived. The duck portion was quite large, so I had them box the breast part so I could enjoy the souffle.

On the recommendation of the co-worker who steered me here, I ordered a vanilla souffle. I was later advised that my co-worker must have meant the Grand Marnier souffle, and I'm sure she did. There was barely a trace of orange flavor in the souffle, and the creme anglaise served with it made it 99.5% vanilla in flavor. But soufffles are the restaurant's signature desserts, and they do a good job.

The wine list is 100% American, which was a little disconcerting to this europhile. The first wine I ordered (a Clos du Val Pinot Noir) was not in stock, so I settled on a Babcock Syrah. The wine was served in cruets (small carafes) which the server then poured into the glass. A bit too much pomp, but it saves on glassware if one orders a second.

Service was friendly and professional. My souffle was comped because my co-worker knows the owner, and I dropped that information. This was a step up from what I've experienced so far, but the prices are on the steep side -- most entrees are over $30.

Yet to try on future trips are Roots, Crazy Water, Old Town Serbia Gourmet (when I'm really hungry), and North Star Bistro.

We cannot employ the mind to advantage when we are filled with excessive food and drink - Cicero

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