Friday, August 10, 2012

Of Macaroni Pizza and Vintage Cocktails: Four Spots in Milwaukee to Try

In my flight report to Milwaukee, I mentioned that some of the stereotypes about the city are true. How else do explain a macaroni and cheese pizza pictured here? The only way this could have come about was plenty of beer and cheese, just like the classic Wisconsin dish of.. well.. beer cheese soup.

This pizza was served up at Ian's Pizza, which is a chain that started in Madison, Wisconsin. Coming from a college town and moving to the drinking town of Milwaukee, this seems like a perfect fit. This is pure, unadulterated drunk food with more than a hint of uninhibited college student experimentation. Macaroni isn't the only noodle that they put on pizzas: Chicken Penne Alfredo pizza and Lasagna Marinara are both on the menu.

Overall, the pizza is actually pretty good. Macaroni and Cheese turns out to go with pizza crust really well and all of the slices looked good. The other one pictured here was a barbeque chicken pizza with pineapple, which happens to be pretty similar to my all time favorite pizza flavor: Curry chicken with pineapple (from Sweden).

A beer helps to really appreciate Ian's and fortunately, the beer scene in Milwaukee has moved beyond Miller Time (although the Miller brewery is still there and going strong). Among the microbreweries that are popping up, I met with some friends at the Horny Hideaway, which is part of the Horny Goat Brewing Company. The location is great for a summer night and there are even volley ball nets with sand, if you feel like that. The open air restaurant and bar is pretty fun, but the beers aren't exactly the best in the world. They trade more on their "friendly" mascot and tongue in cheek names, over their actual flavor.

But so what? On a warm night, with a breeze and a plate full of loaded 'tots, the beers work just fine and it's a huge step up from the macrobrews that Milwaukee is known for. On top of that, this is one of several microbreweries that have popped up. Sprecher, Lakefront, and Big Bay are all in the area now, as well as some specialty Belgium bars.

Finally, one last stop at the brand new Glorioso's. The market has been in business for almost 60 years and has been a member of the Italian community here just as long. We dropped by for lunch and some Italian cookies, which are actually from a bakery just down the street. Sadly, while Seattle once had a thriving Italian community in the Rainier Valley (known as the "Garlic Gulch"), they just don't bake 'em like this there. Our Borracchini Bakery, which does make excellent cakes, doesn't make their cookies like this. The Sciortino bakery beats them hands down. 

At the market here, they also offer up a sandwiches and Italian dishes at their deli counter. In our case, we went with the Italian Beef (right) and the Felice Special (left).

Finally, after a long day, one great thing that you can still find in Milwaukee are classic, dimly lit cocktail bars. In particular, two bars stand out in my mind: Byrant's Cocktail Lounge and At Random. At Random is a small white nondescript house with cocktails that are best served either on fire or with ice cream. The atmosphere looks like it hasn't changed significantly since the early 1970s. There was even a black velvet clown painting on the wall when I was there, but the drinks are top notch.

Byrant's in contrast goes for the opposite end. It's not chic and trendy in there, but things are far more polished. It looks like what chic and trendy looked like 40 years ago. Inside, they serve up tropical drinks based on what flavors you tell them you like or dislike. There is no set menu to browse, although their website does have a couple standards you can order by name. Overall, it's a great place to end the night or hang out.

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