They're as much a specialty as lobster rolls are in Maine or key-lime pie in Florida: deep-fried cheese curds (chunks of curdled milk so fresh they squeak) are easy to find in Milwaukee.
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Battered in beer or oil, these crisp-on-the-outside-with-gooey-center curds are a staple on most bar and restaurant menus. Yet creative twists and upscale renditions also populate restaurant menus. Here are eight of the best cheese curds in town — and where to order them.
While most people flock to this Beerline brewery’s beer hall, which sold its first beers in 1987, for Friday Fish Fry, curds are fried up daily. They’re battered in beer, naturally, and served with a side of garlic ranch sauce.
2) Dream Dance Steak
You probably wouldn’t expect a surf-and-turf spot to excel at cheese curds, but Dream Dance Steak inside Potawatomi Hotel & Casino nails it. Wisconsin Cheese Curd Fritters arrive at the table with tomato jam and four-cheese sauce.
3) Safe House
The food is no mystery at this spy-themed restaurant downtown. Once you’ve cracked the password and been admitted, your mission begins. Fried C4 Cheese Curds are created from white-cheddar curds then breaded and fried. The dipping sauce, says Safe House, is totally secret.
Friday fish fries and Sunday brunch at the Iron Horse Hotel in Walker’s Point are not as widely known as they should be — cheese curds included. Served at both Smyth and Branded, plus The Yard during the warmer months, in a basket lined with newspaper-print waxed paper, the locally sourced tempura-battered cheese curds with ranch sauce are the perfect arrival meal for Milwaukee’s visitors, no?
5) AJ Bombers
AJ Bombers made a name with its burgers, based on winning the Travel Channel’s “Burger Wars” against Sobelman’s in 2010. But there are other items on its menu that should be just as famous. Fresh Wisconsin Cheddar Cheese Curds means fried cheddar with a side of chipotle ranch for a little bit of heat.
Most people like Vanguard in Bay View for its sausage, but what goes better with a dressed-up dog than curds? They’re one of a handful of sides, this one featuring a side of bacon stein aioli for dipping. If you still need more curds, order a Milwaukee upgrade to any sausage (cheese curds, cheese whiz and cheddar cheese).
7) La Merenda
At this Walkers Point tapas restaurant every item has a regional focus (for example, trout creole featuring Rushing Waters trout), and locally sourced ingredients. That includes the goat-cheese curds: LaClare Farms curds, dipped in Tia Paquita chorizo cream sauce.
Located right along West Wisconsin Avenue, Miller Time Pub & Grill is a staple for any traditional Wisconsin food, cheese curds included. Bumping up against nine specialty burgers on the menu is their Famous Fried Cheese Curds, which are designed to be dipped in creamy chive ranch as well as marinara sauce (why pick one?).