“Milwaukee is having an urban renaissance; it’s arrived. People love to live here,” said Margaret Casey, a long time resident and public relations coordinator at Visit Milwaukee.
With the opening of the stunning Milwaukee Art Museum (currently undergoing renovations), designed by world-famous architect, Santiago Calatrava, Milwaukee’s renewal began.
Neighborhoods like the Third Ward (the “SoHo of the Midwest, might be a stretch, but think yuppies and empty-nesters) with its galleries and exclusive boutiques, and more industrial Walker’s Point are exemplifying this renaissance.
More than Just Beer, Brats, and Cheese (but oh, the cheese)
You may know it only as the home of beer like Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and MillerCoors; or as the home of Harley-Davidson (their museum is really cool); or if you grew up in the 70s and 80s like me, as the location for Happy Days (re-runs) and Laverne and Shirley (who worked at “Shotz,” a fictional brewery).
The Cream City is just an hour train ride north from Chicago and yet I’d never spent any time there. It’s super easy to get to on Amtrak, but I guess with so much to do in Chicago it had eluded me so far. But no more!
Food: Where to Eat In Milwaukee
But let’s get to the best part, the food. A great thing to remember about many Midwest cities like Milwaukee is that within 20 minutes you are out in farmland; so fresh, local food is readily available, and the city and its residents benefit from this.
Milwaukee Public Market
The Milwaukee Public Market has become a true destination. Even Chicago’s North Shore residents will drive or train up to this food mecca on a Saturday to eat and do some of their shopping.
“We represent the best of the Milwaukee food scene,” said Paul Schwartz, the communications manager.
Compared to Philly’s Reading Terminal Market or Seattle’s Pike Place, the focus here is on local products, including decadent, homemade candy, artisan cheeses and creamy frozen custard. There are also goodies like sushi, lobster, a wine bar and flavors of the Middle East and Mexico. Another fun market to hit is Gloriosos, in the old Italian neighborhood of Brady Street.
Bavette La Boucherie
Just down the street from the market you’ll find Bavette La Boucherie. Owner Karen Bell, moved back to Milwaukee after stints in Chicago, San Francisco, and Madrid, Spain where she opened and ran her own restaurant.
At Bavette, her six years in Spain shines through. At this modern, neighborhood butcher shop and café, Bell strives to honor those traditions of quality and by sourcing whole animals pasture-raised responsibly on small, local farms with no antibiotics or hormones. By working with the whole animal, she achieves more sustainability and less waste. Bavette prides itself on complete transparency of its food moving from farm to plate.
Engine Company No. 3
Looking for a good breakfast in a cool setting? Go no further than this former firehouse turned breakfast and lunch joint. On a Wednesday morning, I tucked into the Salmon Madame. The new restaurant uses local produce and makes bacon and sausage in-house.
For eight years, Theresa Nemetz and her team have been showcasing the sights and flavors of Milwaukee’s historic neighborhoods. On our tour, we strolled around Walker’s Point and stopped into several local and tasty spots. At three-year-old Clock Shadow Creamery, we observed the turning of milk, rennet, and whey into tasty, squeaky cheese curds.
Housed in a large, former water-bottling factory, Anodyne Coffee is a down-to-earth micro, small-batch roaster with just a handful of locations.
“I love the innovation of Walker’s Point, said Julie Waterman, owner of Indulgence Chocolatiers. “It’s a great combo of old charm and raw grittiness. There’s so much potential here.”
This former military intelligence analyst now spends her days making all her own homemade chocolates.
We had a sit down lunch at Chez Jacques, a more traditional French bistro and finally finished our tour at Purple Door Ice Cream, which was opened by a husband and wife duo just last year and sticking with our theme, uses a lot of local dairy and ingredients.
Recently named one of Fodor’s Top 10 Best Roof-to-Table Restaurants in the U.S., Braise is a force in the Milwaukee dining scene with its fresh, local focus and own rooftop produce garden. Head Chef, Dave Swanson, was a James Beard semi-finalist for Best Chef Midwest for the last couple years. He has put together a one-of-a-kind Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA) program to make local, peak of season produce easily accessible to area restaurants. Braise also offers cooking classes including a 10-week culinary bootcamp cooking program twice a year.
James Beard Award winning chef, Justin Aprahamian and his wife Sarah serve up a tasting menu of creative, upscale “modern ethnic,” new American fare at their white-table clothed Sanford Restaurant.
Where to Stay in Milwaukee
During my time there, I stayed at the industrially chic Ironhorse Hotel. This former century-old mattress factory now houses a somewhat biker-themed hotel. I am not a motorcycle girl at all, yet I loved the hotel as it appeals to anyone who likes a trendy modern yet edgy place to stay. I also dined at Smyth, the in-house restaurant.
Some other hip choices would be the Brewhouse Inn & Suites, the former main building of the Pabst Brewery built in 1882 or the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino with its seven restaurants to choose from. Even if you’re not into the casino scene, the place has some wonderful restaurants and get this, their signature restaurant, Dream Dance Steak, features a “retail-priced” wine list! We all know most restaurants mark their wines by two or more times, Dream Dance Steak offers about 600 (!) selections at retail prices or only slightly higher.
Disclosure: During my stay, I was a guest of Visit Milwaukee. As always, all opinions and content is my own.