Perf. Arts

New book paints Badger state's culinary portrait



By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

January 30, 2014


WAUKESHA - Eric’s Porter-Haus in Waukesha, its faŤade “a page from ‘Gone with the Wind.’” Seven Seas in Hartland, the steak and seafood establishment that stages a Sunday champagne brunch and serves notable wines. Klement’s Sausage Co. - which spawned those celebrated Miller Park-based Racing Sausages - and that “funky bar and cafŽ” Lulu’s, both in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood.

The foregoing are but a few of the venues cited in a nifty new paperback book called “Food Lovers’ Guide to Wisconsin.” The work of prolific local writers Martin Hintz and Pam Percy is subtitled “The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings.” A number of “Great Bars” are succinctly profiled in the guide, as well.

In the introduction, Hintz and Percy note that “almost every town and hamlet in the state has at least a couple of restaurants or specialty food producers of note.” Consequently, one “can munch (his or her) way from one end of Wisconsin to the other. This happy trek is fueled by steak and schnitzel; tortes, tarts and tostadas; or fried perch and fresh baked pumpkin pie.”

Geographical divisions in the guide include greater Milwaukee, Central Wisconsin (pre-eminently Madison), Eastern Wisconsin (including Door County) and relatively short sections labeled Western Wisconsin and Northern Wisconsin. More than a dozen recipes are shared, among them Milwaukee Meritage chef Jan Kelly’s for sauerkraut and bacon bread pudding. Helpful appendices, which arrange “Eateries by Cuisine” and purveyors by type (bakery, butcher, cheesemonger, chocolatier, sandwich shop, etc.), and an index conclude the 344-page book.

The aforementioned introduction features an events calendar. It reminds readers that January and February are respectively marked in Appleton by the Chili Cook-Off and local chefs’ Death by Chocolate celebration, while March is the month of Monona’s Maple Syrup Festival and August is, of course, State Fair time in West Allis.

The guide is a veritable bubbler (we’d say fountain, but the book concentrates on Wisconsin, after all) of trivia. Informational boxes and in-text paragraphs point out that the first Milwaukee bar opened more than 175 years ago; that the state’s agriculture industry “employs almost 354,000”; that Milwaukee’s News Room Pub houses America’s oldest press club; that Seymour’s annual summer Burger Fest memorializes hometown boy “Hamburger Charlie” Nagreen, who created the sandwich of his nickname some 125 years back; that, were the Badger State “a country, it would rank fourth in total world production of cheese, just behind the total United States’ output and that of Germany and France”; that Racine, home to kringle-filled bakeries on Douglas and Washington Avenues, “claims the title as the most ‘Danish City in America.’”

Informative, to-the-point writing is also sufficiently colorful and very readable. Ted’s Ice Cream & Restaurant in Wauwatosa is described as “the place to come for ice cream, malts, sundaes and bottomless cups of coffee.” Oakland Gyros near the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, which is open until 3 a.m., is “where the cops, bus drivers and students go for Greek.” The Groppi Food Market in Bay View is “still bustling at a century-plus.” Goats grazing on the roof of Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant in Sister Bay “is not a baaaaad idea for an attraction.”

There are a number of other favorite Milwaukee restaurants described in the book: Three Brothers in Bay View, Karl Ratzsch’s downtown, the earlier-mentioned Meritage on Vliet Street, The Packing House on East Layton Avenue, Pitch’s on Humboldt Avenue near Brady Street.

Such metro area establishments as Kegel’s Inn, De Marinis, Bunzel’s Meat Market, Ray’s Butcher Shoppe and Brookfield’s Venice Club were omitted, but then again, as the authors state early on, “This book only ripples the surface of Wisconsin’s food scene.”