Something changed during this last visit to Milwaukee. It’s like it suddenly became cool. Overnight it found its stride. With mid-century modern design sweeping the nations’ subconscious collective aesthetic, supper clubs and Manhattans suddenly feel like the right thing to do. But it’s more than mere recycling of time and trends, an age old pattern that is inevitable. Right now, even such metropoles as New York and LA are embracing these midwestern traditions. My last visit to the big city, and suddenly bartenders not only knew what a Brandy Old Fashioned was, they had it at the top of their cocktail list. Comfort food is dominating chic restaurant menus. My thought would be that this speaks to a cultural desire to find community amidst chaos. Simplicity and wholesome sensibilities. Budget friendly things to do and familiar places to hang out.
We got a little taste of tradition on this past visit to Wisconsin. We hadn’t long, but here are a few recommendations if you are looking to get back to a simpler time, or at least, an approximation.
Jackson Grill: We left the supper club choice up to our friends, and they scored big. This restaurant was plopped on the corner of some seemingly random street not far from the Milwaukee Brewer Stadium in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One lit tree, golden old school block address stickers above the door and a simple sign told us we were there. Inside, the atmosphere was warm. It was dim, old Christmas carols were playing, a string of lights made the wooden bar feel festive, and we were seated in a room of about 7 tables with massive snowflakes dangling from the ceiling. The walls were some kind of wood or cork, we couldn’t decipher. Here, there is no wine list. You get an old fashioned, a manhattan, a beer, red or white wine. Everything we ordered was delicious, but my friend and I were eyeing our partner’s choices: pork chop and baby back ribs (oh my God, these were good). Never mind the bartender massaging the chef’s shoulders on your way to the bathroom. They are, uhhh, family here?
(photo borrowed from: http://www.planet99.com/milwaukee/restaurants/jackson_grill.html)
Milwaukee Street Traders: Tucked down a Lang-lined side street in old downtown Delafield, ‘Traders’, as the locals call it, always seems to be bustling with people of all ages, no matter what time of day. They seem to do it just right for a quaint cafe. They have a lovely offering of homemade quiches, muffins, oatmeal, sandwiches and soups. The surroundings recall old school midwestern paraphernalia, books and board games. It is comfortable. It’s just the places I would go after sledding all day for a hot cocoa.
Red Circle Inn: Word has it this was where the first bar was built in Wisconsin, as it dates back to 1848. We were saddened to find that the ancient bar was removed, parceled and its remnants were to be found in the upper level for private events. Saddened at the white acrylic looking bar (this was to make customers feel it was more ‘in the now’—uhhhh, right), we ordered our cocktails. A one man show was singing old jazz standards who went by the name “Back in the Day Dan”. He was our saving grace. He had an awesome voice, and they made some tasty drinks. Overall, it was really fun, and we would go back.
LeDucs: This is my standby whenever I go back home. They make the best custard vanilla malts for miles. In my humble opinion, better than even the all-famous Kopp’s. I learned this time ’round that they have a pretty mean fish fry everyday of the week as well. Battered in beer like a good ‘sconi cod, we were happier than fat kids at Willy Wonka’s factory with this lunch.
Lapham Peak: Unfortunately, we are not invincible to the calories found in custard, fish fries, baby back ribs and eggnog. We went on an awesome run at this local park run by the Department of Natural Resources. The area is noted for its deep kettles and high moraines, hence my high school was Kettle Moraine. We felt it for sure, but it was just what we needed. If you want to go on leisurely walk, there are numerous trail options, a lovely pond at Hawk’s Hollow, you can hike up to the Tower, which serves to be the higher point in Waukesha County–an outstanding view in Autumn! Also, if you like Nordic skiing or mountain biking, this region offers some of the best!
How to make a damn fine ol’ fashioned: Before heading to the supper club, we met for old fashioneds at my friends’ mid-century modern home in Wauwatosa. Their furniture fit the mold perfectly. It was one of the best homes I have seen in a while. They made me the best Brandy Old Fashioned I have ever had. Honestly. And they even shared the recipe…
4 ice cubes in a double old fashioned glass
3 dashes of bitters (they prefer Fee Brothers, made in Rotchester NY)
1 or 2 splashes or Grenadine or cherry juice from the jar
A squirt of a fresh orange slice
2 shots of Brandy (higher quality the better)
Top off with 7-up. THIS IS CRUCIAL. Not sprite. Not sierra mist. Only 7-up.
Garnish with cherries and orange slice (addition of a olive optional).
You read it correctly. No sugar my friends. Trust me on this.
Actually, I was amazed at how the olive balanced the cocktail’s sweetness. I love the addition and now find it necessary.
(Photo borrowed from: blogs.thatsthespirit.com)