The Crowd Got Fed at Radio Milwaukee's Annual SoundBites Fundraiser

Feb. 10, 2017
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As a music writer I’m used to being spoiled with free tickets to concerts, festivals and other events that I’d happily shell out my own money for. No event makes me feel more pampered, though, that Radio Milwaukee’s annual SoundBites fundraiser, a decadent, $125 ticket event at the Iron Horse Hotel featuring food from than a dozen of the city’s most esteemed chefs.

If you’ve been to a few tasting events before you know that they can sometimes be fairly frugal affairs, with restaurants seemingly sharing their cheapest dishes. There was nothing frugal about the selection at this year’s SoundBites, though, which featured chefs from institutions like Amilinda, Bavette, and the Pabst Theater Group building beautiful dishes around ingredients like mussels, leg of lamb, and duck confit. The chefs here come with something to prove.
The fundraiser’s high-concept hook is that each tasting station features not only a chef, but also a Radio Milwaukee DJ, staffer or friend of the station who has picked out a song, so it’s a food and music pairing. As a culinary experience, it's a little silly, to be honest—there aren’t taste receptors on the tongue that are somehow activated by sound—but as a social exercise it's wonderful. The setup allows guests to get some face time with voices they may only have heard on the radio. And since booze flowed generously at this event (guests were greeted with champagne before they even took off their coat), everybody was in a jovial, chatty mood. I enjoyed snacking on Story Hill BKC chef Joe Muench’s chimichurri-slathered smoked pork hand pie while chatting with “guest musicologist” Trapper Schoepp about his upcoming album, a roller-coaster-themed project that sounds pretty great.
And while music doesn’t enhance taste, it certainly can enhance mood. If many of the dishes were high-end, the music choices were refreshingly unpretentious. Tandem chef Caitlin Cullen’s spicy, arugula-adorned spin on shrimp and grits was accompanied by Marcus Doucette’s pick, “Soul Food” by Frankie Seay, a no-brainer pairing of soul food with soul food. A desert table from Parkside 23 simply paired sweet treats (chocolate eclairs and a fried bananas foster) with a sweet song (The Lemon Twigs’ “I Wanna Prove To You,” selected by Radio Milwaukee’s Makenzie Boettcher. And while I don’t know what Jordan Lee’s logic was pairing UGK’s “Int’l Players Anthem” with Company Brewing chef Nick Boyd’s butterkake-cheese stuffed okra (a sort of jalapeno popper, only with okra, bacon and sweet potato instead of jalapenos), I’d be hard pressed to name any experience that wouldn’t be more enjoyable accompanied by UGK’s soulful standard. If there were a Mexican restaurant that played the song on continuous loop I’d probably go several times a month.

The night wasn’t a contest, but I’ll crown a winner anyway. The best dish I had came from Nathan Rader, executive chef of the not-even-open-yet Kindred. If his roasted cauliflower and Waygu short rib (served with crunchy morado beans and spiced sunchoke puree that couldn't have complimented the cauliflower any better) was any indication of what his Kinnickinnic Avenue restaurant plans to serve, Bay View is about to have another treasure on its hands.
I already mentioned the booze, right? Because there was a lot of it. Thief Wine had a tasting station, as did Bittercubbe. I sampled one of Bittercube’s Old Fashioned, an intensely alcoholic concoction of Twisted Path dark rum, Bittercube’s Trinity Bitters, demerara and grapefruit oil. No, I didn't know what demerara was, either—apparently it’s a kind of sugar, although there was nothing sweet about this cocktail. As a lifelong Wisconsinite I’m used to Old Fashioneds that taste like some kind of imaginary Jolly Rancher soda, but Bittercube’s breathalyzer-busting version was designed with serious drinkers in mind.

Milwaukee Brewing Company had a tasting station, too, which gave me a chance to try the brewery’s new Sheepshead Oatmeal Stout, which they infuse with Anodyne Coffee Roasting Company’s Atomic Blend coffee. I wanted to love it, since MKE Brewing’s late Polish Moon Milk Stout stands as maybe the best Milwaukee-made stout I’ve ever had. This one didn’t have the full, creamy body of a great oatmeal stout, though. It was flat, almost as if it had been watered down by the coffee. The taste was on point, at least, with the espresso flavor complimented by some malty, almost waffle-esque notes. It'd make a killer nitro beer, if they ever wanted to go down that road. 

On my way out I made a second stop at the event’s sprawling Wisconsin cheese table for another helping of its star attraction—Marieke Guoda’s addictively nutty Foenegreek Guoda—and washed it down with the rest of my Sheepshead stout. Like everybody else there, I went home very full.


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