Last year, the theme for our annual Shepherd Express City Guide was Hidden Treasures of Milwaukee. Writing and researching was a delightful experience and our only frustration was the number of treasures—those less familiar boutiques, bistros and places that brighten our city like little jewels. Because our city is so rich with great places for dining, shopping and pleasure, we decided to continue the treasure hunt for a second year.
Many of the choices were suggested by our readers, whose opinions we always value. Much lively discussion was had over whether a treasure can be hidden in plain sight or must be far from the main thoroughfares. The 2013 City Guide is a cross-section of old and new restaurants, bars, businesses and landmarks representing many neighborhoods and facets of Milwaukee’s social and cultural life. There is so much to write about and we have only touched the surface. We will work hard to feature more treasures each week in future issues of the Shepherd Express.
Louis G. Fortis/Publisher
A & J Polish Deli
1215 W. Lincoln Ave.
A & J embodies what a true Polish delicatessen should be. High quality meat and groceries at reasonable prices have made this place an institution. Outstanding kielbasa, delicious perogies, fresh Polish pastries and just about every Polish delicacy imaginable are available. Shoppers range from neighborhood locals to out-of-state visitors who make a special stop whenever they pass through the city. Open seven days a week, but go early on Sundays to avoid the after-church rush. (Susan Harpt Grimes)
4156 N. Oakland Ave.
Benji’s Deli hasn’t changed much since its early days as a Shorewood essential, in 1962. Neighborhood folks grew up on the Jewish deli’s corned beef, matzo ball soup and hoppel poppel, and it’s the kind of place where the regulars know the staff by name. With its diner seating, banquette counter, glowing deli cases and Spartan atmosphere, this old-school deli is really all about the food. Favorites include the chocolate phosphates, potato pancakes and pastrami sandwiches. (Danielle Stevens)
1335 N. Third (King Drive)
A home aquarium is among the healthiest of tranquilizers. The gentle hum, the glow, the iridescent beauty and mysterious intelligence of fish and underwater plants soothe and fascinate. Everything necessary to build and maintain a fresh or saltwater tank is available at this compact, unassuming shop. With 40 years in the business, friendly owners Judy and Brian Mosehart are true specialists in both basic and unusual varieties. Browsing the assorted cichlids, angels, lionfish, tangs, triggers, coral, live rocks and other exotica is a pleasure and an education. Prices are very humane. (John Schneider)
3705 N. 124th St., Suite 400, Brookfield
Though Café One24 shares a building with fast food restaurants, it is a bastion of “clean eating.” A classy, modern dining room and high-quality, locally sourced food quickly puts patrons in the right mindset to eat well. The menu features fresh foods from vendors like Growing Power and Empire Fish. All dishes are prepared to be delicious and interesting, yet heart-healthy. Meals are complemented by One24’s craft beer and wine (by the glass or bottle) list. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday. (S.H.G.)
9104 W. Oklahoma Ave.
The loaf of Italian bread is as warm as the service. And those are only two things to recommend about Catarina's. Parked inconspicuously along West Oklahoma, the Italian restaurant features a romantic, old-school interior—the booths are like little hideaways—and some of the best Italian recipes for chicken, fish, beef and veal dishes in town. The filet will melt in your mouth and the preparations and servings for all entrées are quietly exquisite. Enjoy a glass of chianti and the opera or 1950s jazz on the stereo. (David Luhrssen)
1415 E. Brady St.
Even though Brady Street is a prime nightlife area, pinpointing the location of this tattoo parlor can be difficult. Residing in what was once possibly a house, Cutthroat is squeezed between a beauty salon and the Nomad Bar. Really, the only thing giving it away is the neon bird in the window. For those that fear tattoos, no worries! The place is small yet has the feeling of an art gallery. All the artists are extremely sincere and knowledgeable about their craft (Steve has done some work on me) and, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend any place but this. (Maxwell Thiesenhusen)
Diamond Jim’s Stoneridge Inn
11811 Janesville Road, Hales Corners
Remember relish trays? Remember supper clubs? At Diamond Jim’s, dinner still starts with a tray of carrots, black olives and sweet peppers. The appetizers are comfort food staples. Cheddar cheese spread with crackers? You won’t find that at some trendy Downtown spot. Dinner specials come from the American classic end of the culinary world. A la carte is not a phrase native to English and it’s not on Diamond Jim’s menu. Dinners come with soup or salad and are served with choice of potato. Another great touch: live music on Saturday nights with guitarist and singer Red Deacon. (D.L.)
1134 S. First St.
Downtown Books, which has migrated between several locations on or near Wisconsin Avenue, opened a new branch last year in the Antique Center-Walker’s Point. Occupying an entire floor, the used bookstore includes a neatly arranged CD and vinyl section, and is seemingly the gathering station for every VHS still extant in Milwaukee. But true to its name, books are its business, from the familiar to the forgotten, arrayed in more or less orderly fashion in categories from poetry and literature, to history and technology. (D.L.)
N26 W30227 Maple Ave., Pewaukee
Tucked away on the west shore of Pewaukee Lake, Dylon’s Steakhouse is an old-fashioned supper club with a youthful flair. The century-old knotty pine interior opens onto a glassed-in addition with a splendid view of the lake. The service is congenial and the food, excellent and generously portioned. The steak melts in your mouth, the Friday fish fry is huge and well prepared, and meals come with choice of soup or salad, an old-fashioned relish tray and a loaf of sourdough bread. There dozens of specialty and dessert drinks (who else serves a kamikaze nowadays?), an ample wine list and scrumptious homemade desserts. Dylon’s is open for dinner seven days a week. Reservations are recommended. (D.L.)
Fattoni's Italian-American Deli
7212 W. North Ave.
The fat man in question is Tony Mandella, longtime city resident and culinary arts prodigal son. He grew up working at family grocery stores and his aunt’s Brady Street restaurant, learning the art of food from his mother and grandmother. When Wauwatosa legends Peter and Sue Venturi stepped back (from North Avenue’s historic Arcade Building) he jumped right in, and didn’t fix what wasn’t broken. He kept the carved beef, pulled pork and meatball sandwiches and added home-style food to go—frozen and hot-and-ready. Ultimately, he restored an old-fashioned approach that is too often lost. Fattoni’s is a comfortable, neighborhood-friendly and family oriented mom-and-pop-shop. (Willy Thorn)
Fox Bay Cinema Grill
334 E. Silver Spring Drive
The Fox Bay Cinema offers the convenience of real food and drink during a show, without the slick, multiplex wrapper. The original 1950s art deco theater was remodeled and modernized to keep up with technology, even showing movies in RealD 3D. A full menu of prepared-to-order food; table service; and a solid beer, wine and specialty drink list has kept the Fox Bay on the radar as a first-rate place to see a movie. (S.H.G.)
7233 West Lincoln Ave., West Allis
You might overlook Golden Gyros in West Allis as a great place to fix a custard craving. Don't—their custard is easily some of the best in the area. Daily offerings include a variety of shake and sundae flavors (including baklava!) and chocolate and vanilla ice cream cones. They also feature a decadent flavor of the day, from tiramisu to Oreo cream or European chocolate truffle. Add Golden to your list of must-visit Wisconsin creameries. (Heather Zydek)
Hank Aaron State Trail
Lake Michigan to Waukesha
The Menomonee River Valley is the geographical backbone of the city. And yet, it is still mostly under-developed, under-visited and under-utilized; written off as a mere border dividing North Side from South (rather than a region unto itself). Enter the Hank Aaron State Trail. Named for American sport's greatest statesman, the long-promised, longer-awaited thoroughfare threads the valley like a 10-mile stitch connecting the lakefront to the west through the Menomonee Valley via dedicated trails, marked streets, asphalt pavement, crushed limestone and a re-decked bridge. It already hosts urban youth ventures and a 5k run/walk. But its best days may be yet to come. (W.T.)
325 W. Silver Spring Drive, Glendale
Under the looming shadow of Bayshore Towne Center, Irina's Kitchen is a locally owned restaurant proudly serving "Real Homemade Food." They make their own bread (rye, white, whole wheat and pumpernickel) and their own soups and corn beef hash, among other things. Irina's looks like a cozy breakfast café—and it offers unique morning meals like fried matzo, a nova lox omelet and a German breakfast with eggs and bratwurst—but adds a sandwich menu and dinner entrées to the offerings. Top it off with a tall bottle of Ukrainian beer. Irina's is open Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (D.L.)
1634 W. North Ave.
While the neighborhood has fluctuated wildly, not much has changed inside. Classic charm and humble character permeate; high-backed booths, open grills and a stainless steel soda fountain. Jakes’ perhaps has Brew Town's most diverse clientele, too: federal types, factory workers and teachers awaiting takeout with Downtown lawyers and the likes of Herb Kohl and Bud Selig. The menu is limited: sandwiches heaped high (corned beef is its own category), soup, pickles, potato salad and takeaway (deli items by the pound). Jake's is an amazing survivor of urban decay, fast food, faster food, niche marketing, mass-produced chain sandwiches—and still it stands. It’s a landmark, anchor, institution, damn fine sandwich and the stuff of legend. (W.T.)
Joan of Arc Chapel
Marquette University campus
East of 16th Street, between Clybourn and Wisconsin Avenues
One of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest structures is a medieval outpost on Downtown’s outskirts; a French landmark, in a city overrun by German beer barrels, sausage and gemütlichkeit. Before being tucked neatly into Marquette’s campus, it stood for 500 years as the Chapelle de St. Martin in France's Rhone River Valley, near Lyon. Joan of Arc prayed there, legendarily, before a statue of Mary, ending her petition with a solitary kiss on a (still extant) stone. Also there: a famous knight (Chevalier de Sautereau) entombed in the floor. Moved to Milwaukee and fitted with modern concessions (electric heating), it was dedicated to history’s greatest teenage girl-warrior-saint, May 26, 1966. (W.T.)
36154 Wisconsin Ave., Oconomowoc
The hunt is part of treasure’s allure. Here’s a rough map: take 94 West to Hwy 16 and travel northwest through the hilly lake country to the eastern edge of Oconomowoc. The seasonal drive-in restaurant there, built by Scotsmen in the 1940’s, looks surreally out-of-time. Even boarded up for winter—with snow covering the expansive lot where waitresses in kilts attend you at your car in summer—American history is palpably alive for better and worse. The menu is standard drive-in take-out fare. I’m told the custard made in the original machine installed some 60 years ago is awesome. (J.S.)
Kochanski's Concertina Beer Hall
1920 S. 37th St.
The very best of Poland and Germany under one roof, in the shadow of towering factories, just a hair’s breadth off a major industrial thoroughfare? What's more Milwaukee than that? Ah yes. Alcohol. How about the state’s widest Polish beer selection? Abundant sweet, strong Polish country liquors and Deutschland’s highest-quality craft ales? Still not convinced? Kochanski’s has Milwaukee's most eclectic live music: blues and bluegrass, punk, rockabilly, surf—even dueling live stages used on weekends. And polka, proudly. Kochanski's ain't scared of nothin’. A venue of such magnitude tucked on a residential street (minutes from Miller Park)? Believe it. Kochanski's is all that—classic cantina, historic beer hall, throwback, stylized music venue and more—with juice to spare for ethnic pride: discounted Tyskie beer and jezynowka (blackberry brandy) during open polka jams. (W.T.)
Little Free Libraries
In this world of e-readers and reduced funding for public libraries, the Little Library movement couldn’t have come at a better time. When encountered, out for a stroll, or perhaps on a necessary dog walk, the little wooden boxes filled with books to borrow or exchange, can make someone’s day. The rules are simple: help yourself to a book that interests you, return it when you are done or replace it with a book that you’d like to share. What a great way to inspire more reading and foster a love of books. (S.H.G.)
3146 S. 27th St.
Everyone knows the classic South Side drive-in, Leon’s. But another veteran is just across the street. Mazos—in business since 1934, and at this location since 1948—is a cozy diner with tables and a small counter. It’s known for burgers and real ice cream malts and milkshakes. The only other sandwich choices are a Reuben, grilled cheese and BLT. The burgers are big—Kopp’s-size big—made from lean beef, ground daily. There are just two cheese choices, American and Swiss. Onions are raw or fried. The most complicated creation is the burger supreme with bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and Thousand Island dressing. Many people consider this the best burger in the area. Go early, since Mazos closes at 7 p.m. (Jeff Beutner)
9201 W. Center St.
Vietnamese food lovers living on the West Side used to have to travel a bit to get authentic dinners. Over the past couple of years Miss Saigon has filled that niche for hungry crowds in a quiet Wauwatosa-Milwaukee neighborhood, providing delicious dishes like pho, lemongrass chicken and fresh spring rolls. Fresh fruit smoothies are a tasty addition to meals. Big windows and a bright interior lend a very airy feel to the dining room. (S.H.G.)
Muskie’s Gourmet House
800 Milwaukee Ave., South Milwaukee
Muskie’s serves a fine selection of daily specials, including a Friday fish fry with choice of lightly breaded cod, walleye and perch. The pizza dough is made in house; there are seven burgers and such unusual bar food appetizers as sweet potato wedges and fried dumplings. Many small touches brighten the menu (where else is “Greek dressing” an option for salads?). Portions are generous, service is friendly and the dining room walls are covered with vintage photos of South Milwaukee. “Gourmet”? Let’s just call it good food. (D.L.)
2206 S. 10th Ave., South Milwaukee
Nona’s Café is the sort of place where old friends gather over endless cups of coffee and the morning paper to discuss the Packers or the Brewers. The friendly owners know almost everyone who comes through and welcome newcomers warmly. The food is good and reasonably priced. All breakfast offerings, including all the usual egg dishes plus baked oatmeal with apricots and a chocolate waffle, are under $6. The sandwich menu with its Italian beef, burgers, tuna melts and mushroom rice plate tops out at $6.50 and the five available panini run at $6.75. Nona’s atmosphere is pleasantly unassuming, with plenty of green plants on one end and a drum kit for the owners’ band on the other. (D.L.)
6430 W. National Ave.
Visit the quirky, converted house on the corner of National and S. 65th for gorgeous artisan accessories at very reasonable prices. Packed to the brim with handcrafted jewelry, purses, scarves, candles and more, this beautiful, privately owned establishment is the perfect place to find a gift for that hard-to-shop-for friend, or a treat for yourself. Remember to stop in during the month of your birthday for a free pair of earrings. (Selena Milewski)
1422 N. Fourth St.
Though incredibly innovative, it’s tough to find. Located in an old, industrial section of East Milwaukee, this art gem is possibly one of the most enjoyable places I’ve ever set foot in. Even if you’re not a big art fan, the building is breathtaking, complete with classic cream city brick and gorgeous hardwood flooring. The exhibits are constantly changing (Nathaniel Donnett’s show runs April 18-June 29) and to ensure an ongoing flow of creativity, Redline offers a beautiful onsite apartment, so the exhibiting artist is often living right above the gallery and working on site. (M.T.)
Riverwest Filling Station
701 E. Keefe Ave.
This new Riverwest eatery/bar offers 30 craft beers on tap (including 64-ounce take-home “growlers”), and imaginative recipes. The owners gutted and reinvented the old Albanese’s, unearthing a maple floor and adding original art and a fetchingly modern configuration of windows. It radiates boho classiness, but pushes that posture with pricey beers. Among the menu’s distinguished options are spicy Indonesian scallop curry with udon noodles, and temperate miso-tahina sauce over steamed vegetables and tempeh. (Kevin Lynch)
Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse
6823 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa
After a brief closure and change of ownership, the Rosebud reopened last autumn to the great relief of local cinema fans. The cozy, hallmark loveseats remain, and upgrades to the sound system only enhance the movie experience. Snacks, pizza and sandwiches fill out the menu, which includes an excellent beer, wine and cocktail selection. With its new lease on life this date night Mecca is sure to thrive for many years to come. (S.H.G.)
5133 S. Lake Drive, Cudahy
Strikingly (and unpretentiously) elegant, Sheridan’s is a study in black, gray and creamy off-white with bentwood chairs, elliptical mirrors and marble-topped tables. It’s a lovely spot for breakfast, with a menu that tracks from conventional (Denver omelet) to unusual (vegetable hash) with unique touches all along the way. Try the lingonberry syrup with the pancakes. Sheridan’s opens at 7 a.m. and also offers lunch, dinner, a Friday fish fry and a happy hour. (D.L.)
South Shore Cyclery
4758 S. Packard Ave., Cudahy
Although there are many bike shops in the area, South Shore Cyclery is a perennial favorite with bicycle enthusiasts from all around Milwaukee. A large selection of bikes for sale, a knowledgeable staff and a finely tuned service department are among the myriad of reasons customers keep coming back. What also sets South Shore Cyclery apart is the impressive collection of vintage bicycles in their American Bicycle museum. Hundreds of bicycles ranging from the 1860s through the 1980s are on display for visitors to enjoy. (S.H.G.)
Verduras Tea House and Café
181 N. Broadway St.
It’s hard to say whether the exotic aroma is wafting from the tea (the menu is extensive) or the sandalwood and incense in the adjoining Artasia import shop. The effect is pleasant, regardless of the source. And so is Verduras’ food, whether a cookie or scone to go with that tea, or the soup and sandwich specials. Look for the spicy butternut squash soup, one of the changing specials. Verduras is a cozy nook in the heart of the Third Ward with many vegan and vegetarian options. (D.L.)
629 E. Silver Spring Drive, Whitefish Bay
Today, most people go to big box stores for sundries and supplies, but not too long ago variety stores were the place to shop. Now, true variety stores are hard to find. Winkie’s is one of the few remaining in the Milwaukee area. A trip to Winkie’s will conjure up fond memories of a childhood perusing the aisles of your local Ben Franklin for penny candy, school supplies and greeting cards. Winkie’s has modernized a bit over the years, and has a dynamite candy counter and top-notch card selection, plus all the nostalgia you could hope for in the variety-filled basement. (S.H.G.)