I’m having flashbacks to the 1980s, when I was a teen who hopped on the city bus to get almost everywhere, including (and often) Grand Avenue Mall. And what a mall it was. The place to get trendy clothes at The Limited, inhale the intoxicating aroma of Mrs. Fields Cookies, scarf down doughy squares of Rocky Rococo pizza and generally loiter alongside groups of other teens. The mall was everything. Until it wasn’t. Times changed, stores moved out, and Grand Avenue became like something out of a zombie apocalypse movie.
Bringing life back to this structure on West Wisconsin Avenue – as the food-and-entertainment destination 3rd Street Market Hall – has been the passion project of restaurateur Omar Shaikh and developer Josh Krsnak, and it’s been a long haul. The pandemic slowed development, with the first phase of the project finally opening in January. As I write this, the market is still in that initial phase, with six food and/or beverage vendors in operation and several yet to come, offering Venezuelan arepas to Middle Eastern sandwiches to ramen and sushi. The shorter-term “hawker” vendors are managed by anchor tenant Dairyland.
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Apart from functioning as a food hall, 3rd Street was built for socialization, play and just hanging out. There are the many enticements – two custom shuffleboard courts, a giant Jenga, a gaming lounge featuring retro and modern games, virtual golf simulators, Photoverse Selfie Museum, and the 50-seat bar. There’s also plenty of spots to sit and take in the crowd.
Not sure what to nosh? Here’s a snapshot of what each vendor (at this point) does best:
This feels like a burger shop of another era. Co-owner Kurt Fogle is a classically trained pastry chef who loves nostalgia. While he spent the earlier part of his career making elevated endings, he always had a soft spot for a chicken sandwich with mayo and pickles. Go figure the Dairyland chicken sandwich – a breast you can get grilled, fried or spicy fried with three different topping options – is a star. I suggest you get it fried; it’s juicy and crispy with dill pickles, mayo, lettuce and tomato on a tender but sturdy sesame seed bun. The burger (two 3-ounce seared patties with various toppings) is what this fast-serve beef icon should be – fresh and meaty with complementing cool, crisp and creamy (smoky, too, if you get bacon, and you should) elements. Partner one of those bun-meat creations with the thick-cut onion rings (extra crispy with sweet onion) and tender battered cheese curds, which come with thick, herby buttermilk ranch – house-made, like all the sauces. And the frozen custard, made on site, is obligatory. Go with a classic root beer float, strawberry malt or just a simple dish of the sweet cream flavor. Rich, silky, soul-satisfying.
With the slogan “It’s Always Sunny in Milwaukee,” this comfort-food-focused vendor brings positivity with pierogis. And, as its name suggests, hot dish. The most recent version (it may change) is a classic casserole of ground beef, mushroom cream sauce, grilled corn, roasted carrots and peas topped with tater tots and cheese. How can you go wrong? A limited quantity is available each day, so get there early. It’s seriously delicious. Owners/chefs Nathan Heck and Laura Maigatter, who met when they were both working at Braise in Walker’s Point, also put a lot of heart into their pierogi dumplings, which come in flavors ranging from loaded baked potato (filled with mashed potato-cheese goodness) and aloo chaat, which tastes like a veggie samosa.
This artisan bread maker offers the best sourdough loaves I’d had in a long time – light and moist, with a subtle tang and excellent chewy-crisp crust. Co-owner/baker Edgar Cuarezma uses flour from Midwest-based Meadowlark Organics. When I order a half-loaf of the miche (a family-size rustic bread), Cuarezma slices it and stops to admire the aroma. It’s exquisitely heady. Try his bago (a naturally leavened baguette), the miche and the crusty, chewy artisan pizzas (available by the slice) topped with vegetables and cheese. Also pop by for a pico – a wee, triangular-shaped sweet bread from Nicaragua. This is the kind of place that can justify bread as a meal.
Operated by the owners of market neighbor Dairyland, this nifty little outfit combines American nostalgia sweets and fussy European pastries. They do a knockoff of the Hostess crumb cakes I ate when I was a kid, only their version is a thousand times better. The pecan blondie is butterscotch-rich, and the croissant has those inconceivably rich layers of what seem like pure butter under its golden shell. But I think the treat I like the most is the cream puff – crisp, airy choux pastry filled with inches of rich pastry cream. If you’re in the mood for something savory, Mid-Way makes good sandwiches – like the pesto chicken with provolone and pickled peppers – slabbed on fresh-baked, sesame seed-studded hoagie rolls.
Katie Gabert has 10 years of pasta-making under her belt, including at Bay View’s Goodkind. Business partner Samantha Sandrin managed Walker’s Point patisserie Greige. Their menu is fresh and seasonal. Start with a snack of house-made ciabatta with goat cheese honey butter and candied rosemary. Follow it with one of Strega’s terrific pastas, which change often. If you can score the spicy squid ink spaghetti with tomato butter and popcorn shrimp, do it. The mac and cheese with cheddar sauce is also a creamy cloud of noodle heaven.
NOTE: 3rd Street Market Hall has continued to open vendors since I visited and wrote this story. Now, you can get a variety of hot dogs and other sausages from Dawg City; smoothies juices and acai bowls from Makes Waves; sushi and ramen from Kawa; flatbread sandwiches from Middle East Side; sandwiches and salads from Greenhouse; and Venezuelan arepas and empanadas from Anytime Arepa. Vendors still to come: Supernova Coffee & Doughnuts, and Paper Plane Pizza.
IN THE AVENUE MKE, 275 W. WISCONSIN AVE.
Hours: Tues-Thurs 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Prices: Vary, but a meal can be had for roughly $10-$15
Service: Friendly, quick