The best in restaurants, snacks and other foodie pursuits, plus Ann Christenson's picks
Best New Patio:
Good City Brewing
The craft brewer (2108 N. Farwell Ave.) has been growing at a mighty pace since its June 2016 opening, and the new rooftop space is grand – 100 seats and a bar with eight taps. Picnic tables are scattered around, but it doesn’t feel crowded. A lovely spot to drink a beer and gaze at the stars.
Best Pop-up Restaurant:
Named for writer Beatrix Potter, this startup has been hosting fun, delicious vegan meals at local beer bars and craft breweries. Melanie Manuel, the pop-up entrepreneur with a certification in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University, cooks up some tasty casual foods, such as Buffalo tofu sliders, seitan sausage rolls, vegan nachos, Chicago-style vegan hot dogs and desserts such as chocolate stout cupcakes and peanut butter swirl brownies. The pop-ups will continue, says Manuel, with the idea that there might be a brick-and- mortar enterprise down the line.
Best New Restaurant (High End):
Third Coast Provisions
In late 2016, Merriment Social‘s owners made their power move, opening an elegant Downtown seafood house. Their idea to build on our Great Lakes history was brave, and delightful. Filling a gap in our market is something these restaurateurs set out to do, and with everything from char-grilled oysters and lobster pot pie to Lake Superior walleye, Third Coast Provisions (724 N. Milwaukee St.) is doing it very well.
Best New Restaurant (Low End):
With windows that open breezily to the sidewalk and a chalkboard menu with many plant-based choices, Cloud Red’s transformation from a former pub is complete. The farm-raised focus keeps some menu items fluid, but there’s a good grass-fed burger, falafel pita, a crispy Brussels sprouts app and a giant homemade chocolate chip cookie. The Margarita Monday and Taco Tuesday deals are the bomb. (4488 N. Oakland Ave.)
Best Fish Monger:
Empire Fish Company
Empire supplies wholesale to restaurants and runs a great market for local fish lovers, with fresh catches – and responsibly sourced ones. The market carries smoked chubs and Rushing Waters trout, Viking Village (New Jersey) scallops, wild-caught fresh Hawaiian blue marlin and a lot more. Subscribe to their weekly newsletter and learn what’s in season and int heir cases right now. (11200 W. Watertown Plank Rd.)
When hunger strikes and you’re immersed in Netflix, or can’t spare the time away from your desk to grab lunch, what do you do? With a variety of new restaurant delivery services around town, there’s no need to leave the sofa (or swivel chair) until the doorbell rings. Which service is fastest? We set up a semi-scientific experiment to find out. We posted mostly identical orders (except one larger order to see if it affects delivery time) at 12:56 p.m.
- Fee: $1.99 and up
- Minimum order: $15
- ETA: 1:31 p.m.
- Arrival: 1:21 p.m.
- Fee: $4.99
- Minimum order: No
- ETA: 1:25 p.m.
- Arrival: 1:24 p.m.
- Fee: $1.99 and up
- Minimum order: from $6.99
- ETA: 1:34 – 1:44 p.m.
- Arrival: 1:26 p.m.
- Fee: $3.99 for some merchants
- Minimum order: No
- ETA: 1:33 p.m.
- Arrival: 1:35 p.m.
*This was the service that delivered the larger order, which may account for it being the slowest.
Best Downtown Business Lunch:
Buckley’s Restaurant & Bar
What makes a good business lunch setting? The restaurant should be polished but not too stuffy. It should be easy to get in and out, and the menu should hit the right bases – a solid group of sandwiches and salads, plus a few entrées for those who want fancier knife-and-fork fare. Buckley’s (801 N. Cass St.) has vim and vigor with the business crowd, and there will be more of it to love when a long-awaited renovation and expansion is complete next year.
Best Pork Belly:
The chefs’ love affair with bacon hasn’t waned as much as extended to other products like the belly, where bacon comes from. Uncured and unsmoked, belly has that thick flavorful layer of fat attached. The inventive Odd Duck chefs’ belly work changes often. We’ve had their Thai som tam with green papaya-herb salad, and crispy belly with grilled pineapple and giardiniera. Recently the belly came with Swiss cheese Mornay, smoked ham, roasted pineapple and red beans and rice. (2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.)
Best Path to Professional Happiness:
Brian Sammons’ career path took a few turns, starting with a pre-9/11 job in CIA counterintelligence, followed by a law practice. Corporate life paid the bills but didn’t include a stipend of joy. With a dabbler’s interest in distilling, he opened Twisted Path Distillery (2018 S. First St.) in 2014. Dock 18 Cocktail Lab is its tasting room. With just one other full-timer, he does all the production and “a lot of multi-tasking,” he says. Keeping the small-bath focus is Sammons’ goal. Though he plans to expand the line (to liqueurs!), “I’m not aiming to be Bacardi. A happy result for me is not that I make something a lot of people like, but something that a few people love.”
Best Chocolate Truffle Cake:
C. Adams Bakery
Chocolate truffle cake from C. Adams Bakery (MKE Public Market, 400 N. Water St.). This decadent beauty is four layers of moist chocolate cake and silky, truffle-like chocolate ganache.
Best Caramel Apple:
Amy’s Candy Kitchen
The caramel apple at Amy’s Candy Kitchen (W62 N579 Washington Ave., Cedarburg) has built a national following (even a “best” award from The Wall Street Journal) for splurgy creations ($15.99 and up). The Granny Smith apples are drenched in caramel and everything from Belgian chocolate and nuts to wild hibiscus sea salt and candy pieces.
Divino Wine & Dine
Yes, Sicilian nonnas make doughnuts! They’re called sfingi, but pronunciation being tricky, it may be best to point to the menu description at Divino Wine & Dine (2315 N. Murray Ave.). Even after a big pasta meal, you will demolish the warm hunks of fried dough dipped in cinnamon-sugar. They’re extra scrumptious when dunked in chocolate-hazelnut sauce.
Spooner is a small town in northwestern Wisconsin, home to confectioner Mayana Chocolate, which charmed the people at the 2017 Good Food Awards for its marvel of nougat, sea salt caramel, toasted almonds and dark chocolate called the Space Bar. It also made us resort to secretive means to keep this thick block of chewy satisfaction away from prying hands.
Local company SA Braai’s sweet-spicy mild chutney makes scrambled eggs sing. The chunky mix of apricots, peaches and apples also goes for sandwich- and sausage-topper gold. At Sendik’s, Outpost, Metcalfe’s, etc.
Sartori Black Pepper BellaVitano
Wisconsin is known for its stellar cheeses. Plymouth-based Sartori excels at its cheddar/Parmesan-like cheeses, particularly the nutty Black Pepper BellaVitano, named America’s best cheese at the 2017 U.S. Championship Cheese Contest. At West Allis Cheese & Sausage, Whole Foods Market and many other retailers.
Our dining critic weighs in with some of her top recommendations.
Best Fried Chicken:
Winner, winner is … The Tandem, for its whole fried chicken dinner ($26), served with three sides. Crispy coating (Georgia or spicy Memphis style), juicy, your dark and white meat pieces glistening on a baking sheet. To quote an unnamed chain, it’s finger lickin’ good. (1848 W. Fond du Lac Ave.)
It had me at wafer-thin crust strong enough to hold up the pepperoni, sausage, cheese and every veggie int he kitchen. That’s Zaffiro’s (1724 N. Farwell Ave.). I like a lot of Milwaukee pizza – Naples style with wet middles and charred crusts from wood ovens to New York slices you fold in half and eat while you’re walking down the street. But Zaffiro’s just has a hold on my heart as well as my stomach.
Best Friday Fish Fry:
Get into Fritz’s Pub (3086 S. 20th St.) before the owners retire in September 2018. The modest 39-year-old bar, furnished with vinyl bar chairs and stained glass ceiling lamps, serves up a plate of hot, crisp battered haddock with potato wedges, crunchy sweet coleslaw, tartar sauce and a slice of homemade rye bread (2-4 pieces, $8.95-$10.95). Simple, consistent and affordable.
I have trust issues with beef. But I have learned to put my trust in the chefs at Carnevor (718 N. Milwaukee St.), particularly head Mario Giuliani. The menu is divided into Prime and Reserve cuts. My go-to cut is a rib-eye and yet I loved Carnevor’s wet-aged bone-in tenderloin. Like that steak, the terrific bone-in rib-eye comes from cattle raised on the parent company’s Hidden Creek Farm in New London, Wis.
Story Hill BKC
“Discovery” is what I like about Story Hill BKC (5100 W. Bluemound Rd.). For people who stick to one order, they have solid plates (shakshouka, Crep-urrito and house frittata) diners can count on. But me, I like to switch things up, and Story Hill has plenty of options for that, weekly specials that come and go out like the wind (but remain forever in my memory). The Buffalo fried chicken benedict and Georgian baked cheese bread with eggs and heirloom tomatoes are two of them.
Check out all of this year’s winners!