10 MKE Restaurants to Get Your Comfort Food Fix
It's dreary, it's snowy, and did someone say polar vortex? When winter's on full blast, you may feel like hibernating, but you have to get out of the house sometime. There's no better way to warm up than with a big plate of comfort food. Whether it's stewed, deep fried or on a biscuit, there are plenty of restaurants where you can get your comfort food fix in Milwaukee.
Practically everything on the menu at Serbian restaurant Three Brothers is comfort food. Eastern Eurpoean stews like beef goulash and chicken paprikash are served with stout little potato dumplings. Any number of vegetables here come stuffed and braised in tomato sauce, from bell peppers to zucchini. This is one of the few places you'll find stuffed roast goose, served with homemade pickled cabbage. But beyond all of those dishes still lies the best thing on the menu: burek. The dinner-plate sized pie made out of layers of crispy phyllo dough and either meat or spinach and cheese takes one hour to prepare, so call ahead or plan on enjoying some brandy while you wait.
You'll undoubtedly be sick at some point every winter, and there's nothing like chicken soup to make you feel better. The Soup Market is my pick for soups in Milwaukee with its numerous locations and open hours after lunch, a rarity for soup places. You'll find chicken noodle or chicken dumpling on every location's menu every day, plus 6-8 other varieties. The cheese tortellini with Italian sausage, 5 alarm spicy chili with beans and the vegan carrot ginger soup are all good choices too.
I may not have had pho for the first time until college, but it's one of my favorite comfort foods anyway. The version I've had at Pho Cali on 27th St. has always been rich and full of flavor from anise, cinnamon and fish sauce. The bowls are huge, so forgo the temptation to order the large unless you plan on taking leftovers home. Get the pho special which includes all their beef choices, plus tendon and tripe and meatballs. If you're looking for something different, try the bun bo hue, a traditional spicy beef soup with noodles, lemongrass, chile oil and various meats like congealed pig's blood (don't let that stop you from trying it).
Nothing quite matches mom's meatloaf for making a person feel warm and cozy, but the meatloaf at Comet Cafe comes close. It's made with Wisconsin grass-fed ground beef and it's bacon-wrapped for a smoky kick. You can get it as a platter with bacon-chive mashed potatoes, veggies and a big ladle of beer gravy, but the open-faced meatloaf sandwich is where it's at. A giant stack will arrive at your table, consisting of: two slices of salted rye bread, thick slice of mealoaf, mashed potatoes, grilled tomato, onion and more bacon, again all topped with beer gravy. I bet your mom never served it like that.
Mac and cheese is definitely a sometimes food, so when I'm craving it I usually go all out and get the cheesiest, creamiest version I can find. Triskele's fits the bill, with just enough homemade cheese sauce to keep the pasta from drying out during its spin under the broiler to crisp up some breadcrumbs. And since you're already eating mac and cheese, you may as well go for it and add the optional griddled Polish sausage on top. It's like the adult version of when your mom used to serve you boxed mac and cheese with sliced up hotdogs.
No one does comfort food quite like the Irish. Between the Guinness pot roast and braised lamb shanks, there are a ton of options at County Clare to warm you up. This is one of the best places to order shepherd's pie, which actually comes with lamb, as it should. (Cottage pie, made with beef, is also available.) The root soup is a local favorite, made with sweet potatoes, carrots and leeks. And of course there's always the corned beef, whether you get it in a Reuben, a boiled dinner or wrapped up and deep-fried egg roll style. It doesn't hurt that there's a lovely fireplace in the pub, either.
You cannot have a comfort food discussion without including soul food. Mr. Perkin's, a small diner-like place in the Rufus King neighborhood has been serving up Southern fare for decades. You will never go wrong ordering the fried chicken or the fried catfish, both with sides like braised collard greens, fried okra, candied yams and mac and cheese. Don't be alarmed when you order corn bread and it comes out looking like a pancake—that's just how they do it here and it's great. They only serve breakfast and lunch, so plan to go early in the day. If you're getting breakfast, don't pass up the pillowy homemade biscuits and jam. No one will blink twice if you order sweet potato pie for breakfast, either.
For many in the Milwaukee area, comfort food means German cuisine. You can't go wrong with sausages, especially since Mader's uses lots of Usinger's, made right across the street. The aptly named Bavarian platter include bratwurst, knackwurst and weisswurst, plus smoked pork chop and potato dumpling. For something even heartier, give the sauerbraten a try: braised beef is topped with a raisin and gingersnap sauce, served with spatzle and red cabbage. And then there's various types of schnitzel, breaded meat, often topped with mushroom cream sauce. All are guaranteed to make you feel at home.
Comfort food isn't just for dinner, but brunch too. Palomino's brunch is centered around their big, homemade buttermilk biscuits. You can get a fried chicken thigh and spicy honey tucked into a biscuit with cheesy grits on the side, classic biscuits and gravy with eggs, or just savor a biscuit with homemade jam and a side of bacon. Hearty Southern favorites like chicken and waffles and chicken fried steak also make an appearance. The humble BLT sandwich gets a Southern upgrade in the form of a thick smear of pimento cheese and tomato jam, making it more substantial and just brunchy enough.
Capri di Nuovo
What's a comfort food list without lasagna? Fresh pasta sheets, rich tomato and meat sauce and tons of cheese all baked together will make anyone happy. The lasagna at Capri di Nuovo is baked in a ceramic dish that gets completely covered in cheese. It makes for a thick layer of toasted, melty mozzarella that's perfect for stretching out onto crunchy garlic bread. Gild the lily and opt for a layer of fresh ricotta cheese to up the creaminess factor even more. Add a salad and you can pretend it's a square meal.
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