Best of Cream City 2020 | Eat & Drink

Everything you need to know about where to eat and drink in Milwaukee.

BY CHRIS DROSNER, LINDSEY ANDERSON, ANN CHRISTENSON, ARCHER PARQUETTE, CAROLE NICKSIN, JUDE CRAMER, MARLA HILLER AND PATSY NEWITT

Readers’ Choice | Best Spots

LUNCH SPOT

Milwaukee Public Market

Truly something to please every palate, from Mediterranean specialties to fresh market fish.

DATE SPOT

Harbor House

What could be more romantic than making eyes across the table when your table has the city’s best view of our Great Lake?

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BAR FOOD

The Vanguard

Really good bad food and we mean this in the best possible way: sausages smothered to the hilt, poutine, loaded fries and even decadent vittles for vegans, too.

COFFEE

Colectivo Coffee

The 27-year-old Milwaukee-based roaster is the city’s largest. We dig not only the drinkable, bold-flavored brews, but also the cool cafés that highlight the roasting process.

BEST NEW RESTAURANT

Egg & Flour

Carbs are a saving grace in a world of uncertainty. They’re so satisfying. So, it’s no surprise that Egg & Flour (Crossroads Collective, 2238 N. Farwell Ave.) clinched the best new restaurant honor for their often simple but never boring pastas, generously sauced and liberally sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Try the Fridays-only lobster mac and cheese and the collabs that owner/chef Adam Pawlak has done with other food businesses like Heaven’s Table BBQ (also located at Crossroads). And check out the menu on the aptly named website, greateffingpasta.com.

Photo courtesy of Egg & Flour

Readers’ Choice | Simple Pleasures

TACO

BelAir Cantina

Known for its lively vibe and beachy décor as much as its fusion-style tacos. Korean beef and jackfruit, anyone?

BURGER

Kopp’s

Kopp’s started a stir last year, after changing the bun holding its classic patty. But the creation is still a beauty.

PIZZA

Pizza Man

Three locations are devoted to crispy thin-crust pies, expansive wine lists and atmospheric interiors.

WINGS

Points East Pub

The East Side bar that delivers up deep-fried chicken wings that are extra finger-licking luscious.

SANDWICH

Glorioso’s Italian Market

Hot or cold, these sammies rule.

BEST ATMOSPHERE

Lake Park Bistro

It starts with great bones – the historic Lake Park Pavilion, designed by architect Alfred C. Clas in 1903. Bartolotta Restaurants converted the upper level of the structure to this bright, warm country French creation in 1995. Diners naturally gravitate to the east dining room and the quiet, elegant white cloth-covered tables with majestic views of Lake Michigan. Those seats are particularly alluring in the evening, when the water glints with rays of moonlight. (3133 E. Newberry Blvd. bartolottas.com/lake-park-bistro)

Photo courtesy of Lake Park Bistro

Readers’ Choice vs. Editors’ Picks

Small Brewery

Black Husky Brewing

The “Up North” vibe is authentic, the dogs are welcome, and the beer is bold. And the newly expanded outdoor area is tailor-made for times like these.

Vennture Brew

Because this place roasts and serves its own coffee, too, it’s open at the crack of dawn. So have yourself a morning saison or IPA, if you’re so inclined.

Cocktails

Bryant’s

Don’t know cocktails? Chat with the bartender for a while and they’ll come back with a creation crafted to your tastes. It’s the perfect path of cocktail discovery.

Bryant’s

Often (very often!) our readers get it right, and there’s no sense in quibbling with the A+ drinks and A+ service here. And the vintage décor just feels right.

Bar

Burnhearts

An intimate, eclectic room. Knowledgeable beertenders. Dynamite tap list. Burnhearts embodies exactly what we missed most about bars when we couldn’t go.

The Sugar Maple

This year, we spent way less time in the art-bedecked interior – mostly just ordering another beer to enjoy on the cozy-but-not-too-cozy patio.

Editors’ Picks | Pandemic Awards

RAPID ADAPTATION

Restaurant Reinventions

This year restaurant owners learned just how creative they could (and had to) be to stay alive. From The Tandem’s complete turnover to serving hundreds of free meals to our neediest neighbors to Don’s Diner becoming a general store selling essentials such as toilet paper and soap, the efforts have been remarkable.

A NEW BLUEPRINT FOR OUTDOOR DINING

Patio Reconfigurations

Dining alfresco has been widely deemed the safest way to enjoy a restaurant meal on-premises, and many spots stepped up to the plate with adjustments to keep the setting socially distanced. Examples include Ristorante Bartolotta dal 1993’s countryside Italia-inspired courtyard and La Merenda’s spacious yard.

DIY RESTAURANT EXPERIENCE

Meal Kits

When done right, these are like bringing the restaurant experience home. At The Laughing Taco, you can get a taco kit with one of three fillings (pork, beef, potato) to create 15 muy bueno street-style handhelds. ($25). Another fave is Braise’s Thai-, Indian- and Mexican-themed kits. ($32-$34, serves four)

A MEAL ON WHEELS

Curbside Carryout

In March, restaurants quickly learned curbside was the way to stay afloat. Some (like Sanford and Ardent) have adopted Tock’s easy-to-use reservation platform allowing customers to order and pay online and pick up their food without leaving their cars. A win-win for everyone.

BEER INDUSTRY LIFELINE

WilCraft Can

When brewery taprooms were forced to close this spring, many lost their main or only source of sales. This Mount Pleasant-based outfit filled the breach, bringing a truck-based canner to breweries such as Brewfinity, The Explorium, Gathering Place and Company to keep beer going out and cash coming in.

BEST CULINARY CONVERSATION STARTER

Bennie Smith

The head chef/co-owner of Daddy’s Soul Food & Grille (754 N. 27th St.) is passionate about cooking, being a father (to six kids) and helping our community. For years now, he’s offered police officers discounted meals to foster bridge-building. At one time, it may have seemed like a simple thing: cops and other customers having a relaxed meal and engaging in healthy conversations. But having those verbal interactions has taken on heightened meaning since George Floyd’s death, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained momentum. And with Smith’s dining room feeling like an extension of his home, this is the perfect neutral ground for these often difficult conversations to take place.

Photo by CJ Foeckler

DOING GOOD

Beers for a Cause

Even amid a tumultous year in the beer business, breweries stepped up to support urgent needs and causes. City Lights Brewing rolled out Essential Pilsner, which raised funds for the Hunger Task Force, and several local breweries took part in two national campaigns: All Together IPA helped service industry workers, and Black is Beautiful stouts supported racial justice efforts.

ONE FOR THE ROAD

Takeout Cocktails

It’s a throwback of the before times and feels almost like contraband as you bring the cup to your car. But this old fashioned is street legal, as long as you keep the lid – or at least that plastic wrap passing for one – secure until you get home.

MIXING IT UP

Return of the Home Bar

Stuck at home, we had time to get creative with our drinking again. Our juices became more exotic (passion fruit!), our bitters and liqueurs more quixotic (pear, sure!). We garnished again. We made orgeat. All to concoct something delicious and special. Because we’ve been through a lot.

BEST PANDEMIC TREND

Support It Or Lose It

The coronavirus has taken many, many things away from us, but if it has given us one thing, it has been focus. We quickly recognized the existential threat the virus’ disruption posed to the businesses we care about, and we took action to preserve them.

We ordered takeout from local, independent restaurants – and added some gift cards for later use – even if they weren’t really built for or particularly good at takeout. We bought from local stores instead of the big boxes or Amazon, even if it cost us a few extra bucks. We bought the six-pack at the brewery – and added a fat tip for the furloughed taproom bartender – even if it required another trip.

We were intentional about where our dollars went. And while that ethos underpins a shop-local movement that’s been underway in food and retail for a long time, there’s nothing like a big viral boogeyman to realign our priorities. Hopefully we’ll stick to these new habits well after the need for curbside service has passed.

Illustration by Lauren Marvell

Editors’ Picks | The MKE Mixed 6-Pack

Six of the same beers? Or of even the same style? That’s tyranny! Give us liberty in these unique, distinct and great beers from the Cream City and surrounds.

Poor Farm Pils | Company Brewing

The best pilsners are crisp, clean and balanced but nuanced enough to reward closer study, too. Poor Farm’s delicate noble hop character makes it my favorite in a city loaded with great options. Available: Year-round

Cashmere Hammer | 3 Sheeps Brewing

Nitrogen bubbles (a la Guinness Draught) are a key ingredient in this aptly named rye stout, giving it a full softness that perfectly complements the chocolatey, slightly spicy malt bomb. Available: Year-round

Lakefront Lager | Lakefront Brewery

Sometimes you just want a beer that tastes like beer, and this balanced, refreshing crusher does that, with a soft cereal sweetness and subtle floral-earthy hop notes. Available: Year-round
*Readers’ Choice for best craft lager*

Weekend @ Louie’s | Milwaukee Brewing

These days, Louie’s Demise is tasting like the 23-year-old amber ale it is, but this variant, infused with bright, fruity blueberry tea from Rishi, tastes like summer in a glass. Available: Summer

Nordic Sunrise | Third Space Brewing

This IPA doubles down on the juicy tropical fruit character by using specialized hop varieties and kveik yeast, a Norwegian strain that ferments super fast and super hot. Available: Occasional release

Tiny Boss | Vennture Brew Co.

When you want to get wild, but not too wild, this low-octane ale has a subtle, earthy funk and a gentle tartness that pairs perfectly with a hot afternoon. Available: Occasional release


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s September issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

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