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Wine, Cakes and Spirits

Photos by Dan Bishop

July 2013

Wine Maniacs

"Hot time, summer in the city, back of my neck getting burnt and grittyÖ

"Cool town, evening in the city, looking so fine and looking so pretty." Lovin Spoonful, Iím sure, wasnít thinking about Milwaukeeís summer dining and drinking options, but boy, are these new options pretty and fine.

One of the finest and wine-est options is the new Wine Maniacs on the River (106 W. Seeboth St.,, which just opened in the space previously occupied by 106 Seeboth and Cafť Luna. Tucked just across the river from the Third Ward, this Walkerís Point establishment is making a big splash among wine enthusiasts. "Our concept is less of a cool kid restaurant and more of a cool kid bar with great food," says Jeff Cox, co-owner and wine guy in residence. Right now the bar offers a nice but limited offering of appetizers and small plates, but the menu should expand as it gets its footing.

The cool factor comes not just from the Maniacsí 50 wines-by-the-glass menu but in the depth of that variety, and the tasting that goes on before you settle on a glass. "We will make people try two or three wines before we pour them a glass," Cox says.

Twisted Willow

Among the three gems I tasted on opening night: a Cinsault patio-pounding red that pairs well with everything from sushi to barbecued pork; a French Malbec that was smoother and rounder and plusher than its more popular Argentinian counterparts; and an Alexander Valley pinot noir, Migration, made by Duckhorn, that was so smooth I almost cried. Then Cox had me taste an Amarone, and it was all over. Amarone is an Italian style wine thatís made by first drying the grapes on palettes before pressing them, but the Amarone I tasted is made by an Italian winemaker using French varietals in Argentina. Iím still dreaming about it, it was that good.

The goodness doesnít stop at the edge of the Third Ward. Across town, Love Handle Food & Drink opened on the East Side (2215 E. North Ave.). This little cafť offers quickly made sandwiches and salads that come assembled with a great deal of care.

Take the featured Love Handle sandwich, made of pork belly, tomato jam, dandelion greens and black garlic mayo. It oozes love and tenderness. "We do different sandwiches all the time," says Ally Benedyk, owner. While the restaurant doesnít serve gluten-free bread, sandwiches can be converted to salads for those sensitive to wheat.

Besides sandwiches, Love Handleís other mainstay is homemade ice cream and treats. And itís not just plain vanilla. Think Taleggio ice cream with roasted pistachios or homemade churros and chocolate.

Sweetness and light and all things good and cupcake-y is coming to Whitefish Bay (308 E. Silver Spring Drive) with the August opening of the first Wisconsin Grace and Shellyís Cupcakes ( Owners Shelly Stayer and Grace Bolen own a cadre of upscale cupcake bakeries in Florida, but Stayer is originally from Wisconsin and has family in the Milwaukee area. "When this space became available, we thought it would be a great location for our store," Bolen says.

Wine Maniacs

Bolen and Stayerís creations have been featured on the "Cake Boss," among other television shows. Their cupcake menu usually serves about 14 to 18 flavors at a time, but right now they have 35 flavors in their repertoire. The two most popular cupcakes in Florida are the red velvet and the brown sugar caramel ó a brown sugar cake, French vanilla butter cream and caramel drizzle with sea salt. "Shellyís favorite is the black and white cupcake, a classic chocolate cake with vanilla frosting covered in chocolate sprinkles, and mine is the Butterfinger, a vanilla cake filled with peanut butter, cream cheese frosting and Butterfinger chunks," Bolen says.

Another eagerly awaited cake is the Port Washington Smith Brothers cheesecake. No, the fish house isnít resurrected, but at the new bistro, Twisted Willow (308 N. Franklin St.), the chef has his great-grandmotherís recipe, ( "My great-grandmother, Clara Meyer, was one of the women in the kitchen at Smith Brothers in the 1900s," says Nicolas Keller. "Then, my grandmother Ruth worked there, and taught me the recipe. Itís old school, heavy on the eggs; you can obviously tell itís being made from scratch."

Twisted Willow

Keller and owner/chef Dan Wiken make a lot of things from scratch every day at Twisted Willow. From the coconut Thai curry shrimp to the roasted root vegetable salad to the planked fresh fish, itís all good and local. Wiken gets nearly all of his produce from his own farm.

"Weíre growing eight different heirloom tomatoes, three different kales and three different broccolis," Wiken says. "Our farm is just three miles from the restaurant."

Grace and Shelly's

Wiken and Kellerís culinary creations are complemented by bar manager Jan Bruderís mixology. All her simple syrups and infusions are made from scratch. One of the best summer drinks is the Porch Swing, a gin and Pimmís No. 1 drink made with lemonade and garnished with cucumbers. Bruder also makes a mean martini, including the Apple Crisp with vodka, Rumchatta and butterscotch schnapps, served with a cinnamon sugar rim.

Martinis, margaritas and mojitos are also on Jason Neuís mind this summer. Neu, previously of Great Lakes Distillery, was recently hired as the first spirits specialist at Rayís Wine and Spirits (8930 W. North Ave., "Iím like a curator of a booze museum, and itís my job to help you find drinks you canít get anywhere else," Neu says.

Neu hosts tastings, guides customers and teaches classes. Heís planning a margarita class in July and a gin seminar in August. "Instead of just coming in and staring at a wall of bourbons, let me show you whatís good," Neu says.


This story ran in the July 2013 issue of: