Food has long contributed to the overall experience of a vacation, but now, more than ever, food has become the reason for travel. Culinary tourism has cities competing to provide the best, most local, and most unique food options to define one’s vacation.
Although known for its fish frys, cheese curds, and frozen custard, Milwaukee is home to several James Beard Award honorees, each located in distinct neighborhoods. Travelers from around the globe flock to their restaurants each year, and these extraordinary chefs have made Milwaukee a culinary destination.
On Milwaukee’s trendy East Side, visitors flock to Ardent, both for its unique take on dinner and for its famous “Red Light Ramen”, served after 11:30 p.m. on the weekends by 2015 James Beard nominee Justin Carlisle. From locally-sourced foods to ramen broths simmered over 12 hours, Ardent has become a “must eat” spot in Milwaukee.
On the bluffs of Lake Park, located right on Lake Michigan, Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro has been the epitome of French dining in Milwaukee for decades. Often winning local awards for “Most Romantic Restaurant” and “Best View”, the kitchen is helmed by Chef Adam Siegel, a 2008 James Beard winner. Both the menu and the extensive wine list represent Siegel’s talent and owner Joe Bartolotta’s commitment to the overall dining experience.
Sanford is located in Milwaukee’s vibrant downtown in the former grocery store owned by its namesake’s family. Founder and former executive chef Sandy D’Amato (himself a 1996 James Beard Award winner) started the high end restaurant in 1989 and won accolades from Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Esquire, and Wine Spectator. In 2012, Chef D’Amato sold the restaurant to his then-sous chef Justin Aprahamian, who won the Beard Award in 2014.
Chef Dan Van Rite of Hinterland Gastropub is a three-time Beard nominee, and changes out his menu regularly so as to focus on the freshest ingredients and most unique pairings. By partnering with fisherman across the country, as well as local growers and ranchers, Hinterland customers are treated to extraordinary fish and game, as well as hand foraged mushrooms and heirloom produce. Hinterland’s location in the Historic Third Ward District makes it a popular spot for locals.
Not to be outdone, Milwaukee’s Braise is committed to local food sourcing, using ecological practices of aquaculture, composting, and vermiculture. Chef David Swanson, a 2015 Beard nominee, focuses on sustainability as well as a “nose to tail” approach, where nothing is wasted. His efforts and community-centered philosophy have helped to grow more businesses in Milwaukee’s eccentric Walker’s Point neighborhood, and created a flourishing food scene in just five years.
Just south of Braise is Chef Peggy Magister’s Crazy Water. A 2010 Beard Semifinalist, Magister’s take on American fusion cuisine is based in tradition and utilizes seasonal, local and organic products. The restaurant is located inside a former feed store and vintage tavern, but the locals know it as “the place where they cook in the front window”.
In the Washington Heights district is Meritage, with 2012 Beard Semifinalist Chef Jan Kelly. Originally from California, Kelly opened Meritage in 2007 and successfully blends local ingredients with an international wine list for a contemporary take on American cuisine.
What’s dinner without a nightcap? Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge is Milwaukee’s oldest cocktail lounge and a 2013 Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. This local gem is always a favorite, serving over 450 specialty and classic cocktails in a vintage environment.
Check out VISITMilwaukee.org for insider tips on new restaurants and fully planned culinary itineraries, featuring Milwaukee’s James Beard Award honorees.