As I mentioned in my article, “Why Do We Take Pictures Of Our Food?”, one of my favorite aspects of travel is experiencing the regional cuisine. As someone who’s been known to consume a healthy amount of food, usually I’m the guy polishing off my plate and then reaching to do the same to my neighbor’s. Such was not the case in Milwaukee, however, where my voracious appetite may have finally met its match.
We already discussed the mouth-watering ham and brie sandwich I got into at the Historic Third Ward’s Cafe Benelux, but let’s discuss the gyro plate I opted for at the Milwaukee Public Market, a restored warehouse located just across the street which historically has been an oyster factory, a parking lot, and a building on the cusp of being condemned. Masterfully restored and now home to 16 food vendors, the Milwaukee Public Market welcomes in close to 1,000,000 customers per year and has even been voted “Best Food Venue” by OnMilwaukee.com for three years in a row. Plus, there’s free wi-fi in the upstairs lounge, and you can’t ever go wrong with that. Unable to decide between the gyro plate, the sushi bar, the Mexican kitchen, or the fish house ($1 Schlitz on Saturday!), my original plan was to sample a little from everything. As I poured the last drippings of tzatziki sauce over my enormous lamb-meat gyro, however, it became apparent the remaining three would have to wait for a separate trip.
Sufficiently stuffed, this paled in comparison to the amount of food which would present itself on the afternoon spent with Milwaukee Food Tours. Like many other food tours popping up in urban centers across the country, Milwaukee Food Tours offers participants the chance to tour Milwaukee on foot, learn about the history of the city, and sample some of the classic, regional cuisine which separates Milwaukee from anywhere else on the planet. This is why it came as no surprise that the first place we popped into was…
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart! Really, the name says it all, but guess what? They also serve beer. And meat. And foam hats and ties which appear to be made out of cheese. It’s just too classic to make up. While the 12-year aged cheddar and 5-year aged gouda were definitely good, they both paled in comparison to–hold on, I’m about to blow your mind here–the mango, habanero cheddar that changed the entire way I look at cheese. I’ll say it again. Mango. Habenero. Cheddar. It was incredible. Fruity on the frontside, and all peppery and spicy on the back end. Genius!
**Note of caution** When performing a food tour anywhere in the world, it’s a really bad idea to kick off the tour by eating an entire block of cheese. Trust me on this one.
The only logical thing to do, of course, after putting back a three-course tasting of cheese, is to amble down the street and partake in fistfuls of smoked sausage. Luckily for us, Usinger’s Famous Sausage is located right next to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart and has been putting out some of Milwaukee’s finest sausage recipes since Fred Usinger started the shop in 1880. A German immigrant at apprentice wurstmacher (“sausage maker”), Fred Usinger built this deli from the ground up and it remains as one of Milwaukee’s most iconic and delectable sausage establishments.
Next up? Bratwursts.
If there has ever been a place that screams “Brats and Beers” then it’s right down on Old World 3rd Street in The Historic Third Ward of Milwaukee at the aptly named Milwaukee Brat House. A dimly lit, dark wood establishment slinging sauerkraut and onion covered brats on German-style pretzel rolls, the Brat House slogan really says it all: “A Professional Drinking Establishment For Beer Barons, Boot Leggers & Patriots”. So how much of a good time is this place? Friday and Saturday nights are “Das Boot Night” where patrons can order $8 boots of beer and feast on Schlitz-battered cod or a brat dressed in melted Wisconsin cheddar. I mean this place is a glorified glutton-fest, and you know what? I loved it.
With my brat-and-cheese stuffed belly already bulging, I soon found out that the only thing better than a bar with plastic boots is a restaurant with a real Medieval knight! At Milwaukee’s Mader’s Restaurant–a German establishment opened in 1902 which has been voted amongst the best German restaurants in North America–the restaurant has managed to amass a collection of old-world art and antiques which is now valued at over $3,000,000. This is in addition to the stick-on-your-bones German fare such as Rheinischer Sauerbraten (marinated roast beef), Kassler ripchen (juicy smoked pork loin), and beef goulash which has been drawing customers to this classic Milwaukee restaurant for over 100 years and counting.
Despite devouring all this German fare of brats and sausage and habanero cheese, there was still one more task at hand which sooner or later was going to need addressing: Finishing an entire New York Strip steak with a side of grilled mushrooms, appetizers, and bottle of Argentinian wine at the Dream Dance Steak House inside the Potawatomi Casino. At first I questioned how good a restaurant inside of a huge gaming casino could really be, but after perusing the enormous wine list and taking the first bites of the first appetizer the skeptic inside of me was officially laid to rest.When it finally came time for the steak, potatoes, mushrooms, and Mendoza malbec to cohabitate the recesses of my mouth, there was simply not going to be enough energy left over for speaking. There have only been a few meals in my life which demanded complete silence in order to ensure the complexities of the exploding flavors are not lost to idle conversation. This, as it it just so happens, was one of those very meals.
Now, the big question. Could I finish it all?
Despite making a valiant effort, there really was never going to be a chance. I came to Milwaukee aware of the food culture and still left utterly conquered and stuffed. Let me have at it in another week, however, and I might just be able to put it all back. Don’t call me before then, though. I’ll be spending that entire week digesting, making room for more brats and Schlitz-battered cod.