Year in Review: Milwaukee’s Dining Scene in 2017

A look back at the biggest changes to our restaurant scene this year.

We’re about to tiptoe, skip or perhaps jump headlong into 2018. Everybody ready? But hold on. Let’s revisit some of the notable dining happenings (openings, closings, changes) that went down in the last 12 months.


Allium breathed its last in January, replaced in the latter part of the year by the plant-based resto-wine bar Strange Town (2101 N. Prospect Ave.).

→ Trocadero (1758 N. Water St.) ended its 16-year run in January. It weathered a change in ownership in 2014, and it is that second parent company (Wild Planet) that runs Troc’s replacement, DiModa Pizza & Hotspot.

Karl Ratzsch’s closed in April after 113 years of service (320 E. Mason St.). The shuttering of the workhorse German restaurant even made the New York Times. Executive chef Thomas Hauck (who operates c.1880 Restaurant) told the Times he “alienated some of the older base, and the younger base didn’t care.”

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Plus: Read the 2018 Milwaukee Dining Scene Year in Review here.


The rumors that AP Bar & Kitchen (814 S. Second St.) was checking out were around for a while before it gave up the ghost — in October. Taking over those digs is a watering hole/small plates joint run by Mitch Ciohon (of Gypsy Taco), John Revord (co-owner of Boone & Crockett) and Shay Linkus (chef at Vanguard).

In August, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub (222 E. Erie St., Suite 100) said sayonara. The kitchen at this Third Warder was helmed for the longest period of time by Dan Van Rite left in 2016 to co-open DanDan (360 E. Erie St.). Matt Kerley, the last chef at Hinterland, now oversees culinary operations for Stand Eat Drink Hospitality Group (which runs Movida, Yokohama (see “Openings” below) and Hotel Madrid, among other places). 

Although the owner originally described the late-summer 2017 closing of Zak’s Cafe (231 S. Second St.) as temporary, it has shuttered for good.  

In December, news broke that both The Irish Pub and the building that houses it (124 N. Water St.) were sold to a new owner, who apparently only plans to make “limited” changes to the business and will keep its name.

Izumi’s (2150 N. Prospect Ave.) will reportedly be replaced by a second location of the Japanese resto Kanpai (whose first location is in the Third Ward, at 408 E. Chicago St.). Get to Izumi’s real soon if you want owner Fujiko Yamauchi’s sushi creations. Its last day of service is December 31.


Offering something Milwaukee has very little of – Caribbean cuisine – Likkle Jamayka (235 S. Second St.) started serving oxtail, jerk shrimp, curried goat and much more in the old Ginger tapas bar in April.

FreshFin Poke’s menu of signature rice and fish bowls took off at the flagship 1806 E. North Ave. location (open since early 2017). So much so that in late November, co-owner Nate Arkush opened his second resto in the Landmark Building (316 N. Milwaukee St., Third Ward). Location number three is planned for spring 2018 in The Corners of Brookfield.

After more than 20 years on Center Street in Riverwest, serving “killer coffee” and Buttafuoco sandwiches, Fuel Café debuted its full-service Walker’s Point restaurant-bar-cafe (644 S. Fifth St.) in February. The much-larger menu features things like chicken pot pie, a Korean bowl, a build-your-own Smashburger and a sandwich called The Gatsby (a baguette stuffed with bologna, fries, sirloin, provolone and piri piri sauce). 

Open since May, many months after its targeted projection, Yokohama (1932 E. Kenilworth Pl.) is stylish (designed by Milwaukee’s Rinka Chung), and now that chef Matt Kerley (late of Hinterland) has taken oven the culinary direction for Yoko’s parent company, the menu features “bites,” such as agedashi tofu (fried, in tentsuyu broth) and an okonomiyaki pancake (kimchi pancake with pork belly).

June 1 was the blast-off day for Justin and Lucia Carlisle’s The Laughing Taco (1033 S. First St.), a Walker’s Point taqueria whose simple menu features seven kinds of tacos, beer, Mexican sodas and boozy slushies. 

In the space formerly occupied by Bosley on Brady, The Diplomat’s (815 E. Brady St.), chef Dan Baldwin makes triple-blanched steak fries, gnocchi, roast capon and “meat and potatoes,” in a shareable plates format. He served his first plates in the handsome bar-resto in August. 

The attractive North End development is home to the new– opening week was Nov. 25 – Birch + Butcher (459 E. Pleasant St.), which centers most of its restaurant menu around a wood-burning hearth, which roasts meats, fish and vegetables. There’s also a butcher shop, selling cuts of beef and pork and charcuterie from Madison’s Underground Meats. Oh, a barista can whip up an espresso drink for you, too. 

Sweet Diner is arguably the most attractive diner you’ll see in Milwaukee (239 E. Chicago St.). The breakfast-lunch-brunch joint serves classic sweet and savory plates like eggs Benedict, omelets, pancakes and waffles, with a few surprises (Memphis fried chicken) worked in.  

The Third Ward’s recently opened Shake Shack (220 E. Buffalo St.) is the first Wisconsin location of a very successful New York-based chain (which has even spawned a cookbook). I could have mentioned the arrival of other chains to the area (Grimaldi’s Pizza in Brookfield, for instance), but well…. burgers rock.


Bittercube’s Dock 18 Cocktail Lab took its experimental cocktails on the road for pop-up events, after Twisted Path Distillery (2018 S. First St.) announced it was building a taproom to serve and showcase the small-batch spirits that owner Brian Sammons makes right there. Twisted Path’s taproom opened Dec. 8 with its own menu of cocktails.

Last summer, it was reported that East Side drinking institution Von Trier (2235 N. Farwell Ave.) was closing and an upscale cocktail lounge would open in its place. What? Well, that hasn’t happened. In fact, the owners of the Third Ward’s Love Shack (also new) have partnered with the owners of Von Trier, with plans to renovate and update the bar in Feburary of 2018. That would include putting in a tap wine system and relaunching the food program (can you say sausages and fish fries?) The Love Shack peeps also took over operations of The Schwabenhof (N56W14750 Silver Spring Dr., Menomonee Falls), known for fish fries and broasted chicken.



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.