I recently had a conversation with a friend about going out to eat and how many parents stop doing that most blissful of activities when it becomes less about great food and more about getting out before you get charged for the damage. We don’t go out to dinner all that much because my husband works in the evenings but we have found a few places we like and can rely on. I’ll share mine if you share yours!
AJ Bombers – on Water Street in Milwaukee is nearly as famous for their innovative use of social media as they are for some pretty delicious burgers. They’ve won awards for they way they create buzz and for the food about which people are buzzing. We like them because if you sit across from the bar area, the booths have chalkboards and colored chalk. Our kids barely notice any wait between ordering and food delivery since they are too busy drawing. They also love it when the bartender tosses a peanut-filled “bomb” down a line strung to our section of wall where it “explodes” and sends the goobers down a chute to our table. The burgers, the portabella sandwich and the grilled cheese are all delicious and, though I haven’t tried it myself, I know more than a few people who swear the peanut butter burger should have been invented long ago.
Rio West Cantina– on Humboldt in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood has a play room, a PLAY ROOM, where kids can draw, play and horse around without driving other diners out the door. A couple of years ago, I interviewed the chef who seemed to be one of those just genuinely nice people you can’t help but like. People with and without children love to sit outside at huge tables in summer and watch the world go by while sipping something cold and, did I mention, they have a play room? Oh, yes, and their food is pretty tasty. It’s been a while but I remember really liking a very, very fresh salad we had as well as the tacos.
Ian’s Pizza– I know someone is going to complain about the implications of the Madison Ian’s Pizza sending food to the protesters in the Capitol last year but I’m telling you, set your politics to whichever side you prefer and bring their pizza to the center of your plate! The restaurant on North Avenue on the East Side of Milwaukee is not fancy but no one cares if a two year-old dances between the tables either. Ian’s offers so many pizza choices, even the finickiest little diner should find something they like. You order by the slice and the options range from the traditional (plain, pepperoni, sausage, veggie) to the just plain silly (there is a slice with french fries on it) as well as really fresh salads with homemade dressings.
Il Mito Enoteca– if you want to have a fancier dinner but still want to take the kids, Il Mito is an excellent Wauwatosa option. Chef Michael Feker is all over Milwaukee media. Both my husband and I have interviewed him a few times and truly, he’s a lovely man. He’s also very family oriented so kids get something to nibble on within a minute or two of sitting down at his North Avenue restaurant. The servers are clearly trained to give children some extra attention and the message to diners is getting through: families have been there in droves both times we’ve gone. The food is delicious and Chef Feker’s menu has a good range of options from simple pastas to exotic fish so everyone in the family can find something to fill their bellies.
Cafe Hollander – I particularly like the one on State Street in Wauwatosa, though both of them have similar food and atmosphere. The Wauwatosa restaurant has games both kids and adults can play, they have a nice set of options for kids’ meals, and they make the best sweet potato fries around. There’s outdoor seating in warmer weather with a big fountain into which my kids could throw pennies all day. The other diners at Cafe Hollander usually seem pretty relaxed which always makes me feel a little less like time stands still when one of my boys decides to draw a little extra attention to himself.
I also want to mention Broken Yolk (with two locations near Marquette University’s campus), Alterra by the Lake (fresh food, lots of interesting things for kids to look at), Frankie’s Sammiches (a new place with excellent sandwiches and a pinball machine on Blue Mound and 53rd) and probably about a dozen others I’ll kick myself for not describing.
Okay, now it’s your turn: where do you go if you want to eat at a restaurant but don’t want your options to be limited to places with plastic booths and plastic food? Share your experiences and advice, PLEASE!