Dear Tony

My name is Nick, and I’m from Milwaukee, WI. We’ve never met before, at least not in person. I know you’ll never read this, but I’m writing to get a few things off of my chest about you. Forgive me for rambling a bit; I’m not that good at this yet, but I’m working on it.

On Friday morning last week, your body was found by your best friend, in a hotel room in Strasbourg, France.

The world got a little darker that day.

Chefs, cooks, and food service industry acquaintances of mine, as well as travel enthusiasts, music lovers, gun nuts, immigrants, family, friends, media representatives, and both the former and the current President of the United States (ugh) have all had something to say about your passing. Not all of it was pretty, but for so many people, you were so much more than a TV show host. You were a traveling companion, a drinking buddy, a friend. To a select lucky few, you were a family member, a husband, and a father.

Out of everyone devastated by your death, it’s them I envy the least.

I first started watching Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations on Travel Channel while I was in high school; a dweeb-y kid who played way too many video games, suddenly realizing that the world was so much bigger than my sleepy Midwestern hometown of Kenosha, WI. I was immediately drawn in by both the beauty of the places you were visiting, and by how relatable you were to me. You weren’t just a chef, or a writer, or a comic book producer, or a TV host. You were human, like us. You had your scars, and the stories behind them.

As I grew older, I followed your career closely, watching Parts Unknown on Netflix every time the dishes piled up in my sink, and reading Kitchen Confidential, Naked Lunch, and On The Road every time I traveled by plane or went on a road trip, and tweeting at you every now and again to come see the food revolution taking place right here in Milwaukee. When I broke up with my now ex-fiancee earlier this year, I went back and watched A Cook’s Tour to help me get over it. Even though we’ve never met, you’ve been there for me.

Every episode of every show you produced, you approached with all the charm and tact of an old-school chef, but there was a sort of Disneyland-esque sparkle in your eyes along with the gruff exterior, in the way you savored the foods and experiences you encountered. And through it all, you never disrespected the places you went or the people you met; you always treated every older woman like your own grandma, and you weren’t afraid to get your hands dirty prepping vegetables or butchering meats. If a Koreatown artist said that Sizzler was the best growing up, you went to fucking Sizzler, just to get a better understanding of that childhood influence. If a chef in Canada wanted to go ice fishing, you froze your ass off in a shanty. Whenever you went to a location, you made sure to learn the history of the place and how it influenced the culture of the people who lived there. Your approach to food preparation, to travel, and to the silly seriousness of life in general was a huge inspiration to the way I lived my life as I grew older. Your attitudes about immigration, about the underprivileged, about warmongering, about racial relations and cultural differences, and about love and humanity and life, have all helped shape me into the man I’ve become today.

As I’ve watched you over the years, what always struck me is your ability to find the heart and soul of a place, or a group of people, or a cuisine. Whether it’s the wild Latin and African musical influences and long, hot nights of Central America, or the juxtaposition of deep, revered tradition and absolute candy-coated lunacy of Tokyo, or the devastating, ancient beauty of Rome, you always had a local’s appreciation for where you ended up. Your authenticity made you a fixed point of reference for appreciating the places you’ve been for what they are, not what your producers wanted them to be. By the way, that bullshit with the frozen octopus would have eaten me up, too. Fuck that overly-produced, jumping-the-shark garbage. Tell real stories.

Since your passing, I’ve tried to live my life just a little bit more like yours; finding excuses to turn off the cartoons and old movies, getting my ass up off the couch and getting outside, going to different parts of town, and having some good food and drinks with some good friends. You’ve helped me make so many positive connections in my own life, and taught me so many lessons about acceptance, dealing with pain, keeping an open mind, and always being willing to explore new places and cultures. I would’ve loved to have the opportunity to hang out with you and toss a few back at Wolski’s, and just listen to your stories some more.

I don’t know why you chose Strasbourg, France as your final destination. Maybe it had something to do with your famed NYC bistro Les Halles, or your French heritage, or the love of rural French cooking that started with a single, fresh oyster in your childhood.

But I miss you. The world misses you.

Rest in peace, Tony.

A Tale of Two Milwaukees: The Tandem

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The Tandem’s imposing lit sign glows above the cracks of Fond du Lac Avenue.

Where we are right now in Milwaukee is endemic of our destiny as one of the great Rust Belt cities; stuck between our past as an industrial powerhouse and the crippling reality of poverty, joblessness, hopelessness, and confusion of the modern era. And yet at the same time, parts of our city are flourishing in many ways; new construction downtown, new industries, creativity, artistry, and entrepreneurship are starting to take root in the cracks, so to speak, in our post-industrial pavement. At the same time, we are slowly coming to terms with the fact that there are two Milwaukees: One of rich whites, and another of poor minorities. We are simultaneously one of the best cities for white Americans to live, with a thriving downtown, good architecture, strong businesses, and multiple colleges that makes us a “hidden gem of the Midwest”, and the location of the 53206 area code, the worst place to be African-American in the United States.

I am white, male, and moderately successful. I live twelve blocks away from 53206.

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Seriously, if you live here, go watch this.

Throughout the city, there are many small efforts that aim at resolving this duplicity, and in bringing together the fractured parts of the city of Milwaukee, making us whole again. I had the unique pleasure of seeing, from a short distance, the growth of a restaurant that hopes to help become a bridge between white and black Milwaukeeans through one of my favorite mediums: food. Continue reading

After Dark: Red Light Ramen by Ardent

Milwaukee seems to be developing a tradition of people lining up at night to enjoy the sumptuously seedy underbelly of the city’s best institutions. From Rocky Horror at the Oriental, to adult sleepovers at the Public Museum, to clandestine missions at the Safe House, we’re a city of night owls. And nothing appeals more to midnight wanderers of the East Side than a good, hot bowl of ramen. Enter the city’s latest culinary success story, Red Light Ramen.

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Continue reading

Contact your Alderperson, Milwaukee!

There has been a lot of controversy regarding the decision of the People’s Flag of Milwaukee contest and its final flag selection; now that a candidate has been selected, the real work must follow. Here is a Facebook post I wrote to my alderman, Nik Kovac, 3rd Aldermanic District, Milwaukee:

Dear Nik,

As you know, I’ve been passionately observing the People’s Flag of Milwaukee contest for some time, and today, only after the announcement of the final decision, I see all kinds of haters and belittlers crawling out of the woodwork, and even more saying how little they care. Changing the flag is SECONDARY to solving this bigger problem. We NEED to be proud of our city.

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The People’s Flag of Milwaukee

The votes have been counted, the decision has been made. Today, June 14, is Flag Day. The People’s Flag of Milwaukee has been chosen.

Last year, Roman Mars, podcaster and member of the North American Vexillological Association, published a TED Talk in which he called out North American city flags for being poorly designed. The absolute worst in the North America? None other than yours truly, the City of Milwaukee.

Hearing this, Steve Kodis, a Milwaukee resident and graphic designer, initiated a contest to determine a new flag for the city, one that would make Mr. Mars and the rest of NAVA proud, as well as represent Milwaukee to its citizens and admirers. Over 1,000 entries were submitted at milwaukeeflag.com, and a panel of judges including local graphic designers, Milwaukee historian John Gurda, and NAVA member Ted Kaye, determined the 5 finalists out of 1,006 submissions. Through an online poll of over 6,000 voters, the winning flag design, by a very slim margin, was Robert Lenz’ “Sunrise Over The Lake”.

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Now, this may have been the city’s choice (or, all 1% of Milwaukee’s population that voted, that is), but it is far from a replacement for Milwaukee’s current, love-it-or-hate-it flag. However, the flag is being submitted to the Milwaukee Common Council for a vote, to determine whether it will replace the official Milwaukee city flag. You can find your local alderman or alderwoman here, and petition them to adopt the flag (or ditch it).

Either way, this is an exciting time for Milwaukee, as we finally are getting some attention drawn to the city flag. Whatever the outcome, this discussion is good for the city and its people, and will result in a unifying symbol of the city which will serve as a reference point for future discussions and growth.

Like the flag? You can purchase it for $50 as soon as the store is open, and fly it yourself. Don’t like the flag? I’ll be keeping an eye out for Original Milwaukee flags available for purchase, and post a link when I find one (if I find one).

Save the Yield Bar!

Recently, a much-beloved bar on the East Side, the Yield Bar, closed its doors to end an 11-year run, after their building (1932 E Kenilworth) changed hands to a new owner. However, they aren’t down for the count just yet. A GoFundMe page has been started to save the Yield Bar, and help establish some of the money required to reopen in a new location. Click this link to donate and help save a great bar!

Image lovingly stolen from Brew City Review

Milwaukee: What’s new?

Boring Introduction

Ladies and gentlemen, I haven’t been totally honest with you.

I said this would be a food blog, but it’s become a bit more than that to me. This is my love letter to the city where I grew up, its food, places, people, and overall beauty.

Milwaukee was the first city I really lived in; I grew up about 50 miles south of here, in Kenosha, and I never really felt like I fit in there. I had far bigger aspirations than would fit in the woodsy bedroom community of Pleasant Prairie or the raise-your-kids neighborhoods of the city of Kenosha. I had my head in the stars too often. Being in a robotics program in high school introduced me to the city, but coming here to attend college at MSOE really made me fall in love with it.

Now that I’m a bit more worldly, I have my Bachelor’s degree, a good job downtown, and a beautiful fiancee, I’ve been meaning to give back as much as I could to the city that’s given me so much, and this blog is one of the ways I intend to do so. I wanted to get back to this in a way that I see fitting; starting off with gushing about what’s going on with the city and why I’m so excited, before taking the chance to dive back in with the food, music, architecture, events, and people that deserve to be praised.

Continue reading