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Feature Fri Jan 25 2008

To There and Back Again: Milwaukee

Eating is one of the top highlights if not the best thing about traveling. Any opportunity to take a plunge into the unknown is thrilling and exciting, even if what you experience doesn't match what you're comfortable with. Sometimes it's just good to get away and do everything you'd do at home somewhere else.

I recently took a day trip to Milwaukee and condensed a food tour of the city into fewer than 12 hours. My friends pointed out that we were like Hobbits, enjoying second breakfasts and third lunches in order to get it all in. We opted not to stay overnight and spread out our tour because this was more of an adventure, to see how much we could see and eat in one day. That the city is a mere 1 1/2 hour drive only helped our case. It's a cheap and fun way to spend a day and you don't end up losing your entire weekend by being out of town.

We headed up I94 for about an hour before arriving at the kitchy Apple Holler at about 10:30 a.m. Although they offer a $9.99 weekend breakfast buffet, we opted to just walk around browsing and sampling the little jars of dips and sauces before hitting up the bakery and ordering the shit out of apple filled and flavored pastries: an apple dumpling, five apple cider donuts, two apple turnovers, an apple fritter, and a turtle apple. When my friend asked the seemingly sweet old man behind the counter whether or not the turtle apples were good, his response was a gruff, "If you like apples covered in chocolate, caramel and nuts."

20080116MilwaukeeFoodTour04We walked outside and devoured the donuts because they were the best. The other pastries were too dry and lacking in flavor (but not sugar). The turtle apple was exactly as you'd imagine it to be: crazy sweet and kind of delicious, but it got old after a few bites and ended up as a snack for the way back home.

Once we got up to Milwaukee, we stopped and hung around the Bay View neighborhood which is south of downtown, browsing through different shops to pass the time before our next meal at the Milwaukee Public Market.

20080116MilwaukeeFoodTour08We were expecting an indoor, Midwestern version of Seattle's Pike Place or an indoor farmer's market. What we encountered was something more like an upscale grocery store. That it was so organized and very clean made it feel a bit cold despite its busy-ness. Most of what was being sold was nothing you couldn't find in a nice grocery store, but there was at least a focus on local fare including cheeses and meats, beers, and produce. There are about eight different vendors from which you can order lunch. The four of us did some mixing and matching and ended up with a cup of seafood gumbo and a freshly baked roll, some carrot juice and a turkey wrap, a shrimp po' boy, and a Kalua pork sandwich, which was by far the most exciting thing. The shrimp on the po' boy were plump and perfectly cooked, but the flavor explosion I was hoping to get from the sandwich was more like a flavor puff of air. The seafood gumbo, while I didn't end up trying it, was reportedly good, but kind of oily and the turkey wrap was lacking.

The public market is definitely worth a stop if you're making the trip up to Milwaukee. However, if you're expectations are high, you're likely to be disappointed.

20080116MilwaukeeFoodTour15After polishing off lunch, we drove up north of downtown, across the river to the Lake Front Brewery for the "infamous tour." Five bucks gets you a souvenir pint glass and four 6-ounce pours for the tasting. Lake Front is like an over-sized home brew operation where the beer is decent (though not the best) and the people are kind. The tour was filled with Marquette students who I doubt got the buzz I did off the total of 20 ounces of beer.

As if injected with silliness, courage and warmth, we scrambled up the hill directly across from the brewery and did some more walking around in the cold before heading over to one of my favorite spots in all of Milwaukee: Roots Restaurant and Cellar.

20080116MilwaukeeFoodTour32Having discovered this gem about a year prior, I was excited for tasty cocktails and interesting appetizers in the Cellar, which is slightly cheaper, cozier and more casual than the upstairs restaurant. We ordered the White Cheddar Nachos with pulled pork and the Butterscotch Pork Ribs that came with pickled cherries to go with our four varied cocktails. The food was satisfying though just slightly underwhelming. This time, my expectations for a flavor explosion was instead a flavor pop. I normally dislike cherries, but they provided a complimentary tang that was missing in the butterscotch sauce on the ribs.

With more room in our bellies left to fill before heading back home to Chicago, we decided to forgo dinner at Roots (the entrées, even in the cellar, are about $30 each) and instead get burgers at Sobelman's, the self-acclaimed home of Milwaukee's best burgers.

20080116MilwaukeeFoodTour20We got to the burger joint just after the Packers' win against the Seattle Seahawks in the second round of the play offs and were fortunate to get seated immediately. Decked out in green and gold, the staff here was stellar and their Wisconsin accents were on fire. We each ordered the signature burger, going all out as it was our last meal of the day. The Sobelman is a 1/3-lb Black Angus Beef burger piled in caramelized onions, jalapeños, cheddar and swiss cheeses and bacon. This was bliss in a buttered bun, the flavor explosion I'd been hoping for all day. With salty fries and a New Glarus Spotted Cow to wash it all down with, I was satisfied and ready to go home. But not before hitting up Discount Liquors for some take home beers you can't get in Illinois.

Click here for more photos of our Milwaukee Food Tour in Day.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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