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The Year in Dining

By JEANNETTE HURT
Photos by Dan Bishop

December 2013

The year in Milwaukee dining can be summed up in these terms: good wine, hand-crafted cocktails and small plates in a casual atmosphere. With the laid-back yet hip vibe of so many of the city’s new restaurants, it’s not surprising most are clustered in the burgeoning food mecca that is Walker’s Point. Here are 15 notable new establishments that have opened since last fall.
 

AP Bar and Kitchen

Peg Magister was perhaps the first serious chef to make Walker’s Point her home when she opened Crazy Water more than a decade ago, and it appears she has another successful venture with AP (which stands for All Purpose), a contemporary small-plates joint she opened in August with her nephew, barman Justin Anthony. While Crazy Water (which is just across the street) focuses on American fusion cuisine, AP’s menu contains urban rustic North American dishes. I particularly enjoyed the kale salad in its summer incarnation with pomegranate seeds, fresh figs and buttermilk dressing, and the blue-cheese stuffed and bacon-wrapped dates. 814 S. 2nd St. (414) 672-6000 www.apbarandkitchen.com
 

Atlas Barbecue

Atlas Barbecue is worth the drive to Grafton. The smokers in the kitchen, Jake and Elwood, smoke everything from brisket to chicken to pork shoulder, but it’s the smoking of the tomatoes before making the house tomato soup that takes things over the top — in the best way possible. An array of sauces sit on the table; my favorite was the East, a Korean-styled barbecue sauce that sings with ginger sweetness. 1304 12th Ave. (262) 618-2181 www.atlas-bbq.com
 

The Bay

Stepping out of the city and into the suburbs, the place you’ll want to head for is The Bay. The roasted vegetable platter is excellent — my son and husband fought me for that last asparagus spear. Equally good are the burgers and fish. You’ll find an array of hand-crafted cocktails sure to your liking. The Bay sometimes has a wait, but it’s worth it. 342 E. Silver Spring Drive (414) 455-3045 www.thebayrestaurant.net
 

Black Sheep

The industrial chic setting of the upscale wine tap and lounge (the building once housed a printing company), with its original beadboard ceiling, hardwood floors and Cream City brick walls, is one of the coolest places you’ll ever go to eat a hot dog. No ordinary dogs, these babies come on brioche bread, topped with Hollandaise sauce, chicken liver mousse and other delights. The focal point of the drinks are the craft cocktails and the 16 bottles of wine on tap that you can sample via self-service. 216 S. Second St. (414) 223-0903 www.blacksheepmke.com
 

Blue Jacket

Blue Jacket embraces everything Third Coast without the kitschy decor. The beers hail from around the Great Lakes, and the cocktails are hand-crafted, designed by the Bittercube team of Ira Koplowitz and Nicholas Kosevich. Particularly notable is the Of the Older Bumbo, an old-fashioned with 12-year-old rum. The Great Lakes theme continues on the menu, which features cheeses, charcuterie and fish boards. The mussels are noteworthy, but the fish plank is spectacular — who knew pickled herring could be so delicious? 135 E. National Ave. (414) 312-7098 www.bluejacketbar.com
 

Camp Bar

The Camp Bar is a great place to pop in for a drink and pretend that you’re Up North, lost somewhere in the woods. All of the signs on the bar’s walls look real, but instead they’re faithful imitations of the real things. The bar not only features an amazing array of wines by the barrel, but the staff also mixes up — count ’em, eight — versions of the old-fashioned. They recently started serving an entire menu of pizzas, pastas and salads and burgers. Camp Bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but meals are delivered to the bar from nearby Falbo Brothers. 4044 N. Oakland Ave. (414) 962-5182 www.campbarmke.com


Carson’s Ribs of Milwaukee

This famed Chicago ribs and steak joint opened its first Wisconsin location in the snazzy Moderne building downtown. Light, airy and luxurious, the interiors are gorgeously designed, and it’s got the food to back up the ambiance. Decadent steaks, chewy ribs and served-right-in-the-cast-iron-pan-perfect corn bread are just some of the delectable eats. 301 W. Juneau Ave. (414) 223-3311 www.ribs.com
 

KASANA

Owner Ana Docta is a big believer in all things organic and all things local. The drinks are fun and the sandwiches are good, but my favorite dish is the Chicken Vatapa, which tastes like a Brazilian Chicken a la King, but this casserole is made with creamy coconut milk and onions instead. 241 N. Broadway (414) 224-6158 www.kasana-mke.com
 

Love Handle

This small, unpretentious lunch and early dinner place focuses on homemade soups and sandwiches, but the sandwiches are made of things like roasted pork belly. Though I enjoyed my pork belly sandwich and my son loved his squash soup (garnished with beef tongue and crème fraiche), we fell in love with the homemade ice cream: cinnamon ice cream, topped with just a dollop of cream and candied pumpkin seeds. 2215 E. North Ave. (414) 271-1093 www.facebook.com/LoveHandleFoodDrink
 

Lucky Joe’s Tiki Room

It’s throwback cocktail lounge meets pop tiki bar at Lucky Joe’s where they keep a running tab behind the bar on the number of Zombie drinks served. Drinks are made using mainly local and fresh ingredients and the tropical beverage menu boasts 30 kinds of rum. In addition to tiki bowls and Mai Tais (my favorite), look for a chocolate daiquiri and a pumpkin old-fashioned on this winter’s menu. 196 S. 2nd St. (414) 271-8454 www.luckyjoestiki.com

 

Mad Rooster Cafe

If you’re headed to Miller Park — and even if you’re not — the Mad Rooster Cafe is a great place for lunch and breakfast. In a sea of chain restaurants on and around Miller Park Way, this funky red barn stands alone. Locally made coffee, locally raised eggs — everything ­— even the Greek yogurt, is made from scratch. The salads are delicious, most notably the chicken salad served on avocado. 4401 W. Greenfield Ave. (414) 231-9120 www.madroostercafe.com
 

Pizza Man 2010

When the new Pizza Man opened on Downer Avenue in July after a fire destroyed the East Side restaurant in 2010, a collective hurrah went up around the city. At the beloved Milwaukee institution much remains the same, namely the wine, the pizza and the beer. But this is not the cramped dark quarters you remember. The new incarnation boasts a more open atmosphere, with gorgeous wood floors and booths. Milwaukeeans are flocking to the new locale so you might have a wait. 2597 N. Downer Ave. (414) 272-1745 www.pizzamanmke.com
 

Prodigal Gastropub

Executive chef Van Luu makes a mean short rib and a fantastic wagyu beef slider, but my favorite item on the menu is his duck confit poutine, which consists of fries, duck confit and cheese curds (made just a few blocks away at the Clock Shadow Creamery). Cleverly named drinks like Tax and Tribute boasts cocoa nib liquor, rum and lemon juice; Grim Fairytale is a rum dream flavored with cardamom. The Wisco old-fashioned is sure to be a year-round favorite. 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave. (414) 223-3030 www.prodigal240.com
 

Wine Maniacs on the River

The menu of 50 wines by the glass changes frequently, so if you love a particular wine on one visit, chances are it won’t be there the next time. I’d generally have a problem with that, but they always choose really good and often exceptional wines, so I can easily find a new vino to love. The wines can be paired with pizzas, sandwiches, salads, and other little noshes like cheese and charcuterie, which, like the wines, change regularly. 106 Seeboth St. (414) 278-9463 www.winemaniacs.com
 

Wolf Peach

The rustic European peasant-style menu and communal dining concept at Wolf Peach belie a sophistication of both food and atmosphere. Lamb sausage on wood-fired pizza or smoked bone marrow with red onion jam to spread on some fantastically delicious bread are just two out-of-the-box creations of executive chef Dan Jacobs. For winter, think hearty, think cassoulet, think duck. Dishes arrive as soon as they are ready, for instant gratification. 1818 N. Hubbard St. (414) 374-8480
http://www.wolfpeach.com





 

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