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The food lover's guide to Milwaukee
Where to find the finest in meat, cheese, bakery and more

By MELISSA MCGRAW

December, 23 2008

Bread courtesy of Harlequin Bakery


The sights, scents and tastes of Milwaukee’s specialty markets inspired our quest for the best in sweet or savory bakery, artisan cheese, lean meat and homemade sausage, ripe produce and the freshest seafood. Here you’ll discover what makes each site exceptional, from service to selection. Then it’s time for your own foodie adventure — new favorites are just waiting to be discovered.

Bread/Bakery

Warm, fresh bakery is what memories are made of, and an abundance of local bakeries have a niche in the market of handmade products. Whether you’re searching for a rare Italian sweet, the crispiest French baguette, a wedding cake to wow your guests or the best café sandwich, look no further than these shops.

Breadsmith - A focus on made-from-scratch bread defines Breadsmith, which provides loaves to retail shoppers as well as restaurants and upscale grocers via wholesale partnerships. The first store was founded in Milwaukee, and franchises have since popped up around the area. A stone hearth oven provides a crispy outer crust for country buttertop (a soft white), multigrain, honey whole wheat and rustic Italian. Some sweets are available, like cinnamon claws, muffins, cookies and scones. Apple pie bread sells out daily — it’s a spicy, filled variation of country buttertop. Chris Tuschen, son of Wauwatosa owner Tom Tuschen, bakes at least 20 batches of the top 10 loaves per day, for ultimate freshness and full shelves.

Great HarvestBread Co. - Dawn Wright owns the Greendale location, and enjoys the flexibility of a franchise business. "Our store has a homey feel and I have the freedom to cater to my market," she says. With a total of 75 artisan recipes, about 20 breads are featured each month, and nine breads are offered daily. Each is made with whole grain wheat flour milled on-site, providing a longer shelf life, zero fat and no cholesterol. Honey whole wheat is the bakery’s signature loaf, but Oregon herb (an onion dill rye), Door County cherry walnut and cinnamon swirl are other tasty flavors. When giving holiday gifts, everyday breads are soon-to-be favorites available year-round. Sandwiches and other sweet bakery items are available too.

La Tarte - "We have a French influence, but that wasn’t intentional," claims owner Merry Churner, who named her bakery after the gourmet pies she creates. The crusts trace back to her great-grandmother’s recipe, whose basic cranberry pie was "jazzed up" with the addition of walnuts — now a popular holiday treat. Other wintertime delights are three varieties of pumpkin, chocolate pecan and fresh fruit pies. Holiday cookies are also made with traditional family recipes. Stop in weekday mornings for an espresso and a sample of granola, fruit bread, coffee cake, bar cookie or cupcake. A few tables are available inside, and alfresco seating is a seasonal luxury.

Sendik’s Fine Foods - These Sendik’s locations truly go above and beyond to meet customer needs, baking everything from scratch on-site. Bakery Manager Celina Wilkerson says of her staff, "We can make anything, and we will make anything." From unique treats like panna cotta (Italian cooked cream) and napoleons (French cream-filled pastries), to dessert breads, Kaiser rolls and fresh fruit tarts, there is something for everyone. Cakes come custom or in flavors like red velvet and raspberry eruption. Party platters are available for special occasions, including holidays. "Everyone loves their job; we provide help with a happy face," Wilkerson says.

Cupcake courtesy of Harlequin Bakery


Simma’s Bakery - Old-World traditions are maintained at Simma’s, originated by a young woman who brought Russian recipes to Wauwatosa. Now operated by Simma’s daughter, Irina, the bakery is best known for exceptional cheesecakes with a base of chocolate cake, a hint of raspberry and a coating of ganache. These and conventional cakes can be decorated as elegant tiered wedding cakes. Additionally, the bakery sells a wide selection of tarts, brownies, bars, morning buns, muffins, turnovers and danish. Custom decorated mini pastries are available by advance order. Choose from tuxedo strawberries and other chocolate-dipped fruits, cream puffs, cheesecake squares and fudge truffles.

Sweet Perfections - About six years ago, Ken and Peggy Heil provided wedding cakes from their Brookfield home. Just 18 months later, they moved into the Barstow store and expanded Sweet Perfections to include artisan breads, gourmet cookies, English scones, kringles, tortes and tarts. Ken, the pastry artist, remains committed to cakes, and the wedding business has expanded so much he is unable to meet every request. The store has also grown to include a wholesale market for Sendik’s Fine Foods. Around Christmas, shop for an array of butter cookies, hand-braided stollen, gingerbread cutouts, Black Forest Yule logs and extra varieties of cheesecake.

V. Richards - V. Richards scratch bakery is your first sight upon entering the store, with baker Mike Peplinski, cake decorator Julie Brooks and their creations on display. Select from Brooks’ custom occasion cakes, wedding cakes or premade cakes for your last-minute occasions. Peplinski’s decorative desserts include fruit tarts with strawberries, kiwi, mandarin oranges, raspberries and blueberries; cookies; brownies; bars; cheesecakes and French tortes. Year-round cream puffs are available through advance orders, and the catering department offers dessert platters for your special occasions. Bread is provided by the Breadsmith.

Other places to note:

Busha’s Fine Cakes & Pastries, 5721 Broad St., Greendale (414) 855-0313; Canfora, 1100 E. Oklahoma Ave., Milwaukee (414) 486-7747; Lopez Bakery, 1100 W. Mitchell St., Milwaukee (414) 672-1830 and 1601 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee (414) 672-6808; Wild Flour Bakery, 2800 W. Lincoln Ave., Milwaukee (414) 831-1692, 275 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee (414) 298-9858, 422 E. Lincoln Ave., Bay View (414) 727-8145, 1205 Milwaukee Ave., South Milwaukee (414) 571-1298; C. Adams Bakery at Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee (414) 271-1871; Harlequin Bakery, 316 N. Milwaukee St., Milwaukee (414) 291-YUMM; Boulangerie du Monde, W62 N588 Washington Ave., Cedarburg (262) 375-1050; Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, 1101 E. Brady St., Milwaukee (414) 272-4623

Cheese courtesy of V. Richards


Cheese

The dairy state boasts more than 100 artisan cheeses that often take awards at the state, national and international levels. Even more varieties are flown in from world markets, providing cheese connoisseurs with a plethora of options at their favorite markets. Sampling is always encouraged.

Albanese’s Market & Deli - Albanese’s Roadhouse has been a Waukesha restaurant since 1980. The deli opened in Genesee in 2001, but both businesses have since been combined to one location. Joe Albanese, a third-generation employee, says his father, Dominic has been in the business for 56 years and is a permanent fixture at the store. The deli is where to shop for gourmet Italian cheeses, such as fontina, gorgonzola, mozzarella and provolone. It’s also a one-stop-shop for traditional Italian imports, such as meats, olives, pasta salads and sausage. Gift baskets and boxes are available for any occasion, as are catering and delivery services.

Brennan’s Market - Brennan’s, which has expanded Brookfield palates since 1988, offers gourmet varieties bought direct from Wisconsin cheese makers to ensure shoppers the best products. The store’s roots in Green County mean a strong relationship with some of the finest suppliers today. Also in stock are about 10 imports, especially world champion cheeses. Skip Brennan created exotic spreads, like blueberry chardonnay cheddar, fresh mozzarella and basil, Wisconsin cherry wine and apple cinnamon cheddar. Other wine cheddar blends include merlot and Riesling. The market boasts a large selection of goat cheese, 9-year aged cheddar and fresh cheese curds. During winter months, watch for gift boxes.

Sendik’s Fine Foods - Thomas Balistreri Jr.’s stores feature a full-service "cheese chamber" stocked with more than 400 world and U.S. award-winning varieties. Mark Jezo-Sywulka is the cheese manager and a chef by trade, who works with the Milk Marketing Board. His interest is in mammoth cheeses, those 75 pounds or greater, which have a richer, creamier flavor than most. He says Henning’s is the only supplier that will produce a wheel more than 500 pounds; a 3,800 pound wheel of cheddar currently resides at the Franklin store. The rest of the inventory includes unique and everyday cheeses, and represents 28 countries as well as 120 Wisconsin cheese makers. Feel free to explore the chamber, and to learn from the expertise of the passionate staff. "We’re excited about the products and we’re happy to provide detailed help," Jezo-Sywulka says.

V. Richards - Located in the delicatessen with world sausages, the store’s cheese selection has a focus on European cheeses, although a Wisconsin selection is also available. International items include bries, blues, Swiss and those made with goat or sheep’s milk. At any given time, expect to find 300 varieties and a staff knowledgeable on them all. They can help you choose an assortment for wine tastings, elegant dinners or custom appetizers. At the olive bar, you’ll find blue cheese-stuffed olives and goat cheese jalapenos from Austria. "You don’t have to go far to experience the world," says store manager Gareth Owen-Webber.

Other places to note:

West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee (414) 289-8333 and 6832 W. Becher St., West Allis (414) 543-4230; Wisconsin Cheese Mart, 215 W. Highland Ave., Milwaukee (414) 272-3544; Larry’s Brown Deer Market, 8737 N. Deerwood Drive, Brown Deer (414) 355-9650

Meat courtesy of Rupena's Fine Foods


Meat

Milwaukee’s best butchers are the backbone of these markets, where prime beef, all-natural pork and poultry come standard. Organic options are also readily available. Don’t be afraid to ask for custom cuts, and shop the prepared case for oven-ready meals.

Good Harvest Market - Good Harvest’s meat department sells 100 percent certified organic beef, pork and poultry. "These are pampered animals," Christine Omdoll, meat and seafood manager, says. "They are free-range, don’t contain hormones, and are humanely raised and slaughtered." Oven/grill-ready items are especially popular, such as asparagus and herb butter stuffed chicken breast; Italian pinwheels of flank steak, mozzarella cheese, ham and spinach; southwest burgers; rump roast and a variety of steaks. Recipes, cooking tips and suggestions for side dishes are also available.

Grasch Foods - Brookfield’s first specialty grocer has been a favorite of gourmet cooks since 1957. Best known for its meat department, shoppers will find a wide selection of standard cuts as well as specialty items ideal for holiday meals. All meats are prime quality, from standing rib roast to tenderloin, veal scaloppini to pork chops. Treat your family to a Christmas turducken (a turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken), rack of lamb, smoked duck, caramelized pork or an Al Capone roast (stuffed with mushroom, mozzarella, cheese, pizza sausage and black olives). For everyday meals, choose from 22 varieties of sausage, made with beef, pork or leaner meats like salmon, veal and turkey.

Haus of Prime Meats - Delafield’s gourmet meat market carries only 100 percent USDA prime beef, which is aged for tenderness and flavor. Owner Mike Frey’s beef was grain-fed, is trimmed for leanness and can be organic, if you like. The five most popular cuts are tenderloin, ribeye, New York strip, sirloin and porterhouse. He also carries choice poultry, frozen seafood and homemade sausage. The eight varieties are made only with pork, into brats, Hungarians, Polish, Italians and breakfast sausage. Come for whole fryer chickens or boneless, skinless breasts, standing rib roast, rack of lamb, and Boar’s Head grand meats and cheeses in the deli.

Karl’s Country Market - A German emphasis classifies this corner store, which offers free-range chicken and prime beef at the personalized service counter. Beef is ground daily and is very lean, rouladen and double-smoked ham are made in-store, fully cooked ribs (extra meaty or regular) are available, as well as a wide selection of roasts, tenderloin, pork loin and pork chops. Karl’s also has deli foods, produce, imported specialty items, liquor and fresh bakery. Consider gift boxes or gift cards for family and friends.

Sendik’s Fine Foods and Sendik’s Food Markets - An incredible staff of butchers prepares standard and custom cuts for customers who appreciate exceptional service. Sendik’s offers USDA choice or prime Black Angus beef, all-natural pork and poultry, and Strauss lamb and veal. "Oven-ready items add value," says Ted Balistreri, co-owner of Sendik’s Food Markets. "They are fully seasoned and delicious, and we do all the work." Organic chicken and beef is also available, in addition to ostrich and buffalo. Fresh-made sausage (for dinner or breakfast) is available in 14 styles. Holiday meats include beef rib roast, pork crown roast, beef tenderloin or strip loin, turducken, turkey and duck. Shop weekends to benefit from demonstrations and tastings.

V. Richards - A gourmet selection of seasonal meat comes with the help of a knowledgeable staff, eager to provide recipes, tips and marinades. Chicken from Amish company Gerber’s Poultry is incredibly fresh; it’s cut-to-order. You’ll also find Black Angus beef, lean sausage made on-site, Badger ham, all-natural pork products and wild salmon. Take home prepared items such as marinated pork loin, kabobs or Italian-stuffed jalapenos. Special orders are also available.

Other places to note:

Bunzel’s Old Fashioned Meat Market, 8415 W. Burleigh St., Milwaukee (414) 873-7960; Ceriello Fine Foods at Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee (414) 277-7005; Outpost Natural Foods, 100 E. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee (414) 961-2597, 2826 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee (414) 755-3202 and 7000 W. State St., Wauwatosa (414) 778-2012; Ray’s Butcher Shoppe, 4640 W. Loomis Road, Greenfield (414) 423-1322; Rupena’s Fine Foods, 7641 W. Beloit Road, West Allis (414) 543-7447

Meat courtesy of Usingers Famous Sausage


Sausage

The home of Usinger’s sausage is also a hot spot for European-style fresh and smoked sausages. You’ll find an assortment featuring the most traditional items to ethnic favorites to unique sausage stuffed with cheese, veggies and spices.

Karl’s Country Market - Wisconsin’s award-winning bratwurst and summer sausage are only two examples of the more than 100 European-style varieties at Karl’s. Its bologna and summer sausage has even taken German awards. Everything is made in-store in one of four smokehouses. Also look for wieners, chicken and turkey brats, and pork sausage.

Sausage Haus Meat & Deli - The Jerabek’s store offers beef and pork fresh sausage in all-natural casings, and some smoked varieties. A twist on tradition results in Italian sausage flavored with cheese and green peppers, Hungarians spiced with jalapenos, and summer sausage with or without garlic. Beef sticks, beef jerky, and all-beef dog bones are available too. Fresh meats such as choice steaks, baby back ribs, hand-dipped Italian chicken breasts and tenderloins are also for sale. Hunters should inquire about having their wild game processed by professionals.

Usinger’s Famous Sausage - Usinger’s has been making German sausage in Milwaukee since 1880. Fred Usinger immigrated to America, married into the family of his employer (a local butcher), changed the business name and began selling his sausage to taverns and restaurants across the country. At the turn of the last century, very traditional items (like head cheese and blood sausage) were the mainstream, but today’s market prefers more common ethnic sausages. Top sellers are brats, wieners, summer sausage, knockwurst, specials like chicken cordon bleu or corned beef sausage, chorizo and Italians. Holiday boxes are great gifts for out-of-town family and friends. Be sure to stop by the seconds counter for imperfect meats — sausages that are too fat/skinny/long/short. "You never know what you’ll find," says Vice President Jon Gabe.

V. Richards - Visit the delicatessen for international sliced and cured meats. German Stiglemeier sausages include gelbwurst, schinkenwurst, liver sausage, jagdwurst and blood sausage. A selection of 27 salamis includes Italian sopressata and Genoa, German, Hungarian and Bavarian. Three types of prosciutto are Parma prosciutto, prosciutto d’ San Danielle and domestic prosciutto Americano. Also available are the rare Spanish jamon Serrano, hot coppa, beef bresoala and Westphalia ham.

Other places to note:

House of Homemade Sausage, W14934 Mequon Road, Germantown (262) 251-9954; C & R Market, 3001 S. 9th Pl., Milwaukee (414) 747-9158; European Homemade Sausage, 1985 S. Muskego Ave., Milwaukee (414) 384-7320;

Rupena’s Fine Foods, 7641 W. Beloit Road, West Allis (414) 543-7447; Outpost Natural Foods, 100 E. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee (414) 961-2597, 2826 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee (414) 755-3202 and 7000 W. State St., Wauwatosa (414) 778-2012; West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe, Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee (414) 289-8333 and 6832 W. Becher St., West Allis (414) 543-4230

Vegetables courtesy of Outpost Natural Foods


Produce

While shoppers once looked forward to specific seasons of fresh produce, now the world is our marketplace. The wait is over for sweet pineapple, crisp pears, juicy tomatoes and green sprouts — these items are available daily. And at these markets, each product is hand selected for utmost quality.

Brennan’s Market - When Frank Brennan started out in 1942, he opened a stand of hand-selected produce. That dedication to exceptional quality continues today, reinforced by knowledgeable staff at all levels. An investment in international products ensures nothing is ever out of season, from South African oranges to Door County cherries, Chilean plums to Maui Gold Hawaiian pineapple (the world’s sweetest). Fresh shipments arrive daily. "There’s always something exciting in our store," says manager Dennis Scheid. Custom or standard fruit baskets make great gifts, and can be shipped worldwide.

Good Harvest Market - "It’s not our market, local growers bring their market to the store," says produce manager Mark Klosowski. Good Harvest’s niche is a store full of organic products, from Wisconsin suppliers as much as possible. International products from reputable sources (those that are third-party certified) are also available, ensuring nothing is ever out of season. Winter is a great time for Wisconsin butternut squash, brussel sprouts, onions, potatoes, three colors of beets and spinach. "There is a misconception that organic produce is more expensive, but if you buy in-season, pricing is very competitive," Klosowski says. There is also a higher nutritional value in products that are just harvested. If you’re looking for a healthy lunch, look no further than the fresh salad bar — all organic, of course.

Sendik’s Food Markets and Sendik’s Markets - "Produce is in our roots," says Ted Balistreri, co-owner of Sendik’s Food Markets. "We take a lot of pride in carrying the best products for the best value." At his stores, orange juice is so fresh it is squeezed and bottled in front of customers’ eyes, and distributed immediately. John Sendik, grandson of Anthony B. Sendik of the first Sendik’s Market, has noticed an increase in customer desire for international products at their local store. Selections include red Thai peppers, Australian navel oranges, Dutch cherry tomatoes and Oregon comice pears. "With all these options, what do you choose not to buy?" Sendik asks. While most produce is available year-round, certain items remain seasonal. "Mother Nature still plays a role," Balistreri says. Sendik encourages his customers to bring labels from foods they ate on vacation, or the name of a product they discovered through the Food Network. "They keep us on our toes," he says. "It opens our world to new products."

V. Richards - Owner John Nehring has a passion for produce; hand-selecting the freshest fruits and vegetables directly from the purveyors each morning. Consequently, V. Richards boasts exotic and hard-to-find items, such as fiddlehead ferns and white and black truffles. Traditional, in-season items are readily available as well. Shop the department for products from "Just Veggie," "Just Fruit" and Wienke’s Market, bulk nuts and fresh herbs. The Elegant Farmer’s famous paper bag pies are also found at V. Richards.

Other places to note:

Beans & Barley Market, 1901 E. North Ave., Milwaukee (414) 278-7878; Outpost Natural Foods, 100 E. Capitol Drive, Milwaukee (414) 961-2597, 2826 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee (414) 755-3202 and 7000 W. State St., Wauwatosa (414) 778-2012

Salmon courtesy of Sendik's Food Markets


Seafood

The city of beer and brats now appreciates the more refined flavors of fish and shellfish from around the globe. Shop exotic or everyday from fishmongers with an obsession for the freshest and finest the ocean has to offer.

Empire Fish - With wholesale and retail shops in the same building, nearly all seafood (fresh, frozen or smoked), is readily available at the best prices. Empire caters to the at-home cook, so you won’t find prepared sushi. They do carry a wide selection of nori sheets, wasabi paste, rice and sushi-grade fish, such as yellow tail, tuna and shrimp. Wild crop fish is seasonal, but watch for varieties caught by Hawaiian divers, or a perfect piece of salmon. Lobsters and crab legs are available in all sizes. The retail side is undergoing a face-lift, for brighter spaces and top-of-the-line equipment.

Good Harvest Market - Seafood at Good Harvest Market is held to the highest standards. It is always fresh and never includes artificial sweeteners or MSG. The World Wildlife Fund reports that 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are over-fished, so Good Harvest chooses seafood from environmentally friendly suppliers that maintain healthy fish stocks and preserve surrounding ecosystems. For that reason, you’ll never find Chilean sea bass, says Christine Omdoll, meat and seafood manager. She also mentions a preference for local fisheries. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find international selections. Look for farm-raised tilapia, Alaskan cod, striped marlin, Hawaiian mahi-mahi, Florida red snapper, jumbo scallops and yellowfin tuna from the Marshall Islands. Omdoll also recommends her smoked salmon spread: "It flies off the shelf."

Grasch Foods - The world provides tasty oysters, caviar, scallops and fresh fish at Grasch Foods. If you’re in the market for seafood, you’ll find stone crab claws, three sizes of fresh shrimp, lobster tails from Maine and Honduras in addition to live lobster, and a plethora of dips and spreads made with baby squid, octopus and wasabi lobster. Prefer fish? Choose from Scottish wild salmon; Hawaiian ulua, onaga, ono, mahimahi and ahi; salmon from Norway, Scotland, Alaska and the Great Lakes; and domestic or imported herring. Sushi rolls are located in the prepared case.

Mitchell’s Fish Market - This restaurant also does retail business. "Anything served in the restaurant is for sale," says executive chef Justin Rupert, "and we can have special orders within 24 hours." The catch-and-carry menu features six or seven varieties of oysters, wild blue mussels, four sizes of shrimp in all stages of preparation, calamari tubes and tentacles, crab legs, live lobster or just tails, and two types of clam. At least 12 species of fish change daily, with exotic options like South American parrot fish. "We have a freshness obsession," Rupert says. Also available are ingredients to prepare gumbo, chowder and lobster bisque, premade crab cakes and sushi-style salmon and tuna.

Sendik’s Markets and Sendik’sFine Foods - An obsessive fussiness with freshness and quality is a necessity when selling seafood products. Patty, the seafood manager at Sendik’s Fine Foods, will refuse products if they don’t meet her standards, and purchases whole species as often as possible to ensure freshness. Meri Jo is meticulous about cleanliness at Sendik’s Markets, ensuring the case is emptied and scrubbed several times a week. "If someone said our seafood department smelled, she would take it personally," says her brother John Sendik, vice president of the stores. Check their cases for white sea bass, farm-raised salmon, rainbow trout, Great Lakes whitefish, walleye and swordfish, as well as shellfish like softshell crab, oysters, clams and shrimp. A smoked fish platter will be a hit at your holiday table.

Other places to note:

St. Paul Fish Co. at Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St., Milwaukee (414) 220-8383; West Allis Fish Market, 5909 W. Burnham St., West Allis (414) 545-6144; Al’s Seafood Market, 6001 W. Mequon Road, Mequon (262) 238-1212 m

 


This story ran in the December 2008 issue of: