Milwaukee’s Best Restaurants for Small Plates
Love it or hate it, it appears small plate dining is sticking around for a while. Fans of the trend like that it allows you to try many different dishes, often in a communal style with lots of sharing. If you want to branch out from traditional large entrees, here are some of the restaurants in Milwaukee you need to check out.
2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave.
Offering a large, ever-changing menu, Odd Duck is the gold standard of small plates in Milwaukee. Their menu is exclusively small plates, with the largest items being charcuterie and cheese boards. That's not to say that the amount of food you get on each small plate is indeed small. Plates here are big enough for sharing and you'll feel as though you got your money's worth at the end of your meal, a concern people with big appetites often have. There are generally around a dozen plates with various meats and seafood and a dozen vegetarian options. Food is presented in clever, creative ways and often on lovely ceramic dishes to boot. Some of my favorite plates here have been carrot fritters with Israeli couscous, wild mushroom risotto and pork carnitas.
2457 S Wentworth Ave.
Goodkind's menu has a mix of small and large plates, though I believe many people still share large plates too. It's located in the old Mama DeMarini's space in a residential neighborhood of Bay View. It was fully renovated into a casual, Bohemian-style space with lots of potted plants and a large bar front and center. Champagne battered oyster mushrooms and crispy fried calamari are menu staples, and both are delicious and come in a huge portion. The deep fried lemon slices on the calamari are a great touch. Besides those two, you'll likely see a lettuce salad, a cheese-based plate and a rotating mix of what's in season, like comforting Italian meatballs on garlic bread. In the large plate category, get the spicy crab and pepperoni bucatini to share—it's been on their menu since they opened. And always grab a cocktail.
1818 N Hubbard St.
When Roots, a beloved restaurant in Brewer's Hill closed a number of years ago, Milwaukeeans let out a collective sigh. Luckily, the restaurant that replaced it, Wolf Peach, has also garnered a spot in peoples' hearts. The central focus is on the wood-fired oven behind the bar. From it, you get smoked bone marrow gratin, roasted octopus, and yes, a number of pizzas with toppings like poached eggs, brussels sprouts, guanciale and red onion jam. Veggies lovers, try the wood-roasted broccoli with almonds, dried apricots and calabrian chiles; it's a perfect mix between slightly bitter char, sweet fruit and spicy peppers. There are a few large plates mixed into the menu, but you can generally tell those apart from the price.
1230 E Brady St.
Easy Tyger focuses on Asian-inspired small plates and snacks. In fact, they call themselves an Asian Gastropub, something that's not exactly common in Wisconsin. The menu is seasonal and local, with most everything having some sort of Asian influence. Sometimes that influence is apparent, like with the salmon yakatori with pickled carrot and daikon or the Korean pancake with house kimchi and tempura oyster mushrooms. But sometimes it's less apparent or completely absent, as in the Jamaican jerk wings with slaw and mango chutney. The pig ear nachos are worth a try if you've never experienced pig ears, a common Asian ingredient. They're fried crisp to act like chips, then topped with pickled chiles, lime crema, radish, cilantro and cotija cheese.
125 E National Ave.
La Merenda was one of the first small plate-only restaurants in Milwaukee, opening in 2007. Their small plates come from all over the globe, so this is the only place you're likely to follow up Polish food with Indonesian. The menu is divided into three sections: Field (veggies), Sea (seafood), and Pasture (meats). A number of different salads, plus Columbian empanadas, Spanish patatas bravas, and sweet potato pierogies, among others, make up the vegetarian dishes. As for seafood, try a Thai penang curry with pork and smoked scallop meatballs with shrimp and roasted peanuts. Then head to Argentina for a grass-fed beef tenderloin with chimichurri and mashed plantains.
524 S 2nd St.
Interestingly, this is the only restaurant on the list that considers themselves a Spanish restaurant, even though the original small plates, tapas, are Spanish. (Thankfully, we've moved past calling any small plates “tapas.”) You can get all kinds of traditional tapas here, from pan tomate, tomatoes rubbed on grilled bread, to jamon serrano and manchego cheese. Mussels or shrimp in garlic butter and tortilla, similar to a potato and onion frittata, are also classic choices. On the big plate side, try a paella with chicken and seafood that serves 2-4. In the evenings, MOVIDA operates The Churro Shop out of the same space. Freshly fried churros are available for takeout, delivery or to eat at the bar with various dipping sauces. That sounds like an acceptable small plate to me.
1716 N Arlington Pl.
Though it's generally known as a wine bar, the menu of small plates and snacks at Balzac is pretty extensive. It makes sense though, because what's better with a couple glasses of wine than nibbling on a few things? The cheese plates are quite good, both on the regular menu and at happy hour, and are downright gorgeous. Their signature mac and cheese with five cheeses and toasted panko breadcrumbs gets a lot of attention as some of the best in the city. Duck nachos with bacon and gruyere and crab cakes with chipotle aioli are both also popular choices. Definitely order dessert, and definitely take advantage of their happy hour specials.
814 S 2nd St.
AP tends to fly under the radar a bit, but their menu of eclectic small plates can rival the more well-known spots. They have an awesome wine list and a contemporary, slightly rustic vibe. You won't feel out of place at all sitting at the long bar, enjoying a plate or two, even by yourself. Meats and squash play heavily on their small plate menu at the moment, which changes seasonally. Bone marrow is served with red onion jam, horseradish and sourdough for spreading. Fried chicken gets an Asian spin with a soy ginger vinaigrette. Butternut squash is stuffed into agnolotti and served with spinach, Pecorino Romano, brown butter and balsamic. If you're somehow still hungry, you can always try their cheeseburger.
5100 W Bluemound Rd.
The menu at Story Hill has some larger plates, but with menu headings of Taste, Share and Pass, clearly they figure it's all for sharing anyway. The Taste portion of the menu includes small salads, soup, bread and small bites, like the chicken meatball with truffle honey and green peppercorn sauce. Roasted potatoes are served with slivered garlic, jalapeno mayonnaise, and the real kicker, meat drippings. A spinach saute is presented with red onion, apple cider gastrique, quark cheese and smoked pork loin bacon, because you can never have too much pork. Some of the large plates, like the crispy cast iron chicken, are perfect for sharing. The dish is four chicken thighs, along with sherry giblet pan gravy. The small plate brunch is extensive, with crepes, flatbreads and shakshouka, a Middle Eastern dish of eggs baked in tomatoes.
1101 S 2nd St.
A restaurant, cooking school and rooftop garden all rolled into one, Braise is all about bringing local food to the community. The menu is mostly small plates, except for a few entrees that are served family style for two. Steamed pork buns are one of the signature dishes, with shallot vinaigrette and crushed spicy peanuts tucked into fluffy little buns. The current winter menu is filled with root vegetables, cheeses and braised meats. Braised cabbage and roasted rutabagas make a substantial salad with cranberry, walnut, cheese and spiced honey. Filipino braised pork is served with a crispy scallion rice cake and carrot radish slaw. Be sure to request a seat on the rooftop patio in the summer—you'll be surrounded by their kitchen garden with a view of the Allen Bradley clock.
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