Step into Milwaukee’s Public Market and you’re greeted with aromas from around the world, even around Wisconsin. It’s an entire culinary world within the glass walls and below the infamous red sign. But the endless variety can seem paralyzing. So what should you eat at the Milwaukee Public Market? We investigated.
What to get: Sea salt caramels or turtles
Since 2006, Kehr’s Candies has been giving color and life to the Milwaukee Public Market. Though the candies rotate throughout the seasons, from Easter marshmallows and crèmes to candy apples in the fall, manager Marshall Glassford says the sea salt caramels are the perennial fans favorite. He should know: he’s been working with Kehr’s since 2005.
But his favorite? “I’m hooked on the turtles,” he says. “With homemade caramel, roasted nuts, pecans and cashew, and chocolate.”
What to get: French macarons or vegan chocolate chip cookie
Try a taste of French cuisine with C. Adam’s Bakery’s French macarons, which Meghan Crissci, manager at C. Adam’s Bakery, said are the top sellers. “We do a bunch of different flavors that rotate out monthly, so if you don’t like what we have one month, you can always come on back and try a bunch of different flavors,” she says.
Cookies, from vegan to non, are the most popular items at this delectable bakery. Try Meghan’s favorite, the vegan chocolate chip cookie. “I would definitely say give a cookie a try. They’re what we are most known for, and we have a bunch of different kinds so you’re bound to find something you’ll like,” Crissci says.
What to get: Pesto chicken sandwich
If you’re ready for lunch, head over to the Green Kitchen and grab the most popular Pesto Chicken sandwich, complete with chicken, basil pesto, tomato, fresh mozzarella and arugula. And if you get the chance to talk to manager Ben Freeman, he’ll tell you Green Kitchen is a “fun, fast and fresh” place to be. Grab his favorite sandwich too if you’re really hungry: the Smokey Vegan Tempeh with avocado, spinach, red onion, tomato and vegenaise.
What to get: Cortado or Honey Bee latte
But if you’re looking for a quick energy boost, head to Anodyne Coffee. Enter through the doors on Water St. and you’ll be greeted by the sweet smell of roasting coffee beans and bakery items. Try the Honey Bee, a hot latte made with honey and vanilla syrup. Pair it with a bagel or a chocolate chip banana muffin, and you have the most popular items on the menu.
For employee Melodie Jungmann, Anodyne’s Cortado is the drink to get: it’s equal parts espresso and steamed milk. “Just enough milk in it to take the edge off of the espresso,” Jungmann says.
If you’re just visiting and seeing Anodyne for the first time, Jungmann suggests a regular coffee pour-over so you can truly experience the flavors and nuance of the different origins of Anodyne’s coffee.
5) On the Bus
As you’re walking through the market, you will no doubt run into an old 1971 Volkswagen Bus that has since been refurbished, painted mint green and cut in half to decorate this small vegan restaurant.
The owners have a collection of Volkswagen buses, but this particular bus in the Public Market happened to have an unfortunate engine fire, making it impossible to drive. Instead of throwing it out, the owners thought to redesign it and place it as décor. And On the Bus was born.
Paige Hammond, an employee at On the Bus, says it’s hard to decide the best seller on the menu, since everything is popular. “I would recommend the spicy Italian sandwich and the blue peanut bowl, because I love that one too,” Hammond says. “And I always recommend a side of ice cream because our [vegan] ice cream is killer.”
Hammond says she loves working for On the Bus because it’s all vegan and the bus ties everything together.
What to get: Poblano pepper nachos
Mexican restaurant Margarita Paradise will be celebrating its 10-year anniversary at the Public Market in May, and owner Dulce Alarcon says the best thing to order to celebrate is the poblano pepper nachos.
“I love my nachos here,” she says. “Nobody has those. We make them with a special sauce, with poblanos being the main ingredient. It’s very popular too.”
If you’re a pescatarian or you’re currently observing Lent, Alarcon recommends the fish and shrimp tacos, served every day.
What to get: High Park spice blend
Sierra Falkowski, an employee at The Spice House, says there’s a hidden spice favorite among the employees: “Our staff underrated favorite is the High Park, which is a sweet and savory chicken and potato kind of blend,” Falkowski says.
But, if you’re new to the market and want to bring something back home, Faklowski recommends the Gateway to the North spice, a maple and garlic seasoning. “A lot of people here ask for something they can only get here and I think that maple and garlic is a very Wisconsin thing,” Falkowski says.
What to get: Something new
“Just get out of your comfort zone. Asking someone for an opinion is the best way to go and expand your horizons in general, whether it’s wine or food or anything.” That’s what Phil Bilodeau, owner of Thief Wine Shop & Bar, says to do if you’re new to the market and are looking to unwind your way into the weekend. Though they don’t offer any food, guests are welcomed to bring food from other vendors to pair with the wine selection from around the globe.
“Too many people say they only like Malbec or Chardonnay or Cabernet, but there are so many different varietals around the world,” Bilodeau says. “We have a good collection of mainstays, but there’s also a really good dry ferment from Hungary right now, and we got this fun Austrian red blend. The flavors are really interesting and if people just try it, they generally like it.”
What to get: Falafel and hummus
Though you can’t take a ride on a magic carpet, what you can do is try one of the mini combos on offer at Aladdin. You’ll get a variety of their menu items, including falafel, hummus, grape leaves and spinach pie. The Middle Eastern shop strives to make their menu exciting for vegetarians and vegans as well.
“I would say our falafel and our hummus is the best in town,” employee Rhonda Watson says. But feel free to try her favorite, the chicken and Egyptian rice.
What to get: African peanut and chicken soup
If you’re in the mood for a hearty stew, head over to The Soup & Stock Market, which offers soups for vegans and carnivores alike.
Billy Russel, an employee, says to try the African peanut and chicken, which is made once a week and only featured on the menu near the end of the week. “We give out samples, so anyone can try anything they want when they come here.”
But of course, go for the classic too, which also happens to be their best seller: chicken and dumplings. The dumplings are homemade, which makes the soup even better.
What to get: Lobster roll sandwich
Shadowed beneath an enormous inflatable lobster, St. Paul Fish Company is lively as they serve some of the best seafood in downtown Milwaukee. They even have their own dining area, and a menu that covers everything from from shrimp to crab.
Mauricio Carbajal, an employee at the company, says the lobster roll sandwich is one of the best. “It comes on a toasted brioche bun, with a cold lobster salad made with mayonnaise and scallions. And it comes with fries and coleslaw,” Carbajal says. “It’s a great combination, sweet and toasted. It’s perfect.”
What to get: Panini
Though Shelby Atwood, an employee at Foltz, just started working there one week ago, she says it’s the best place to get a panini. She recommends either the Marguerite or the Santa Fe panini, tied for lunchtime best-sellers.
“For lunch I would recommend a panini, a local craft brew and a bag of chips,” she says. “But if it was getting toward dinner time, half an Amish chicken and some delicious lobster mac & cheese, and maybe some wings.”
What to get: Widmer six-year aged white cheddar
Ninety-five percent of the products at the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe are made in Wisconsin, and if cheese is what you came to Wisconsin for, this place has got you covered. From cheddar to mozzarella, and even a menu to build your own sandwiches, West Allis Cheese & Sausage has everything you have ever dreamed Wisconsin could offer.
Employee Mirella Barajas recommends trying the Widmer six year aged white cheddar. “It’s a nice in-between [taste] of sharpness and saltiness,” Barajas says.
What to get: Pad See Ew
To ‘thai’ it all together, try Thai-namite, a Thai Bistro and Sushi Bar right across from The Soup & Stock Market. Employee Azarias says to try the entrée Pad See Ew, a dish of Thai stir-fried noodles.