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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Where Old and New Meet: Transfer Pizzeria Café

Imagine, if you will.

It’s the late 1940s or early 1950s. America has cemented itself as the enforcer of the free world, wielding nuclear weaponry, military mass, and sheer willpower, and bringing justice to those who are threatened wherever evil amasses. The American populace is riding high on post-war enthusiasm, embracing the new technology and economic luxury provided by our victory over the Axis of Evil, breathing easy after the elimination of both the Nazis and the Japanese war machine, and generally resting on its laurels.

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Milwaukee Street Eats 2015 – May 15th, 2015

2015-05-15 17.55.37Name: Street Eats 2015
Location: Catalano Square Park, 138 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: n/a
Style: Varies
Price Range: $20 for 14 tickets, ~8 tickets per entree

2015-05-15 17.56.26This past Friday, Shepherd Express played host to the third annual Street Eats festival in Milwaukee, a gathering for all things delicious and vehicle-based in the city. As per usual for these types of fair-fare festivals, enterprising businesses set up camp in the park, while the majority of the food trucks parked along either side of East Menomonee Street, along the park’s northern edge.

2015-05-15 17.48.52Sydney and I arrived around 6:00pm, halfway through the events of the festival. We had to park a couple of blocks down Erie (following the river), but the walk wasn’t bad, considering the breezy spring weather and slightly overcast skies. The main thoroughfare along Menomonee was packed with visitors, perusing the makeshift signs most of the trucks had set up for their limited wares. As expected for this type of event, most trucks were not offering their full menu, but were instead selling a limited number of items to ensure they wouldn’t run out.

2015-05-15 17.52.21We dropped by the ticket booth, and (after some confusion involving a faulty card scanner) were able to pick up $20 worth of tickets, and a free Frisbee, the latter of which is now lying forgotten somewhere in the backseat of my car, I think. It made a good plate during the festival, though, as neither Sydney nor I are very good at throwing Frisbees (without sending them sailing into nearby traffic or bystanders).

2015-05-15 17.50.26The mysterious Xiong Family Foods truck was there as well; notable to me for being the only truck I couldn’t find any information about on the Internet. They must’ve been doing well by word-of-mouth alone, as they were out of several products (including Banh Mi sandwiches, a dish I have yet to try) by the time we got there.

2015-05-15 17.51.49A personal favorite of mine, Hard Wood Cafe, was also present; notable for serving delightful pork products out of a purely wooden trailer instead of the traditional sheet-metal truck, Hard Wood Cafe had one of the longest lines at the festival (other than the beer line, of course). We decided against them as well due to the fact that I wanted to try something I hadn’t tried before, combined with the long line and some indecision between Sydney and I.

2015-05-15 17.50.45Bavette la Boucherie and Club Charlies, both brick-and-mortar institutions along Menomonee Street, had stands out on the street selling limited versions of their menus to festival attendees. I was tempted to try Bavette’s wares, but I figured I’d wait until I could try their restaurant proper for a real representation of their food. I’ve heard their charcuterie is delicious and fresh, since they operate as their own butcher shop, so you’ll probably read my review of them sometime soon. Trying to summarize them here would be doing them a great disservice. Club Charlies, on the other hand, looks more like a decent place to go in for a beer or shots than it does as a place to sample quality food, but I won’t judge them by their cover.

2015-05-15 18.06.03Before making our food purchases from the trucks, we decided to stop by the stand for Dave and Buster’s, which had a prize wheel set up in the grass next to a table full of cheap prizes. We both spun the wheel, hoping to get a gift card or discount, but instead we both ended up getting hacky-sacks. Just my luck, I guess.

2015-05-15 18.08.32We decided on Pulled Pork Nachos (6 tickets) from Five Star Nacho, a truck which wasn’t on the original billing for the event. Apparently, they were added after the press for the event went out, or they were just sneaking in to try to capitalize on tip money. Either way, ordering from them (as I’ve read online is usually the case) was rather confusing; they had a painted-on menu on the side of the truck, a whiteboard menu out front, and a paper menu taped to the window.

2015-05-15 18.15.13Only the last of these three menus showed what was actually available during the event. Our order took about 5 minutes to deliver, since we were about the fourth group waiting on an order. The food itself, though, was piled high with lettuce, cheese sauce and tomatoes, on a decent-sized serving of flavorful pulled pork, and topped with a ton of thick-cut scallions. Now, Sydney isn’t a big fan of onion, but I assured her that the sliced shoots (whatever they were) weren’t that spicy or bitter by taking a handful of them and popping them into my mouth; to my surprise, I didn’t end up completely dying from the taste of raw onion.

2015-05-15 18.16.04The dish blended the cleanness of the tomatoes and onion with the almost-gamey flavor of the pork, and the fresh corn tortilla chips sagged just a little bit under the cheese sauce, causing us to have to fold them over the toppings to get a good bite. We emerged victorious from the pile, our hands and faces covered in bits of cheese, very happy with our accomplishment.2015-05-15 18.32.47

2015-05-15 18.23.302015-05-15 18.23.50Our other stop-off during the event was at Meat on the Street, a Filipino-styled meat truck serving spicy beef, chicken and pork adobo in both stick and bowl form, over rice (white and garlic rice available). Because I wanted to share, I decided on getting a bowl of the Pork Adobo with Garlic Rice, which I immediately sided with a generous squirt of Sriracha.

2015-05-15 18.29.10The bowl was HOT, by every definition of the word; the rice was straight out of the cooker, and I burned my mouth a couple of times trying to balance cooling it down and shoveling it into my greedy maw. The pork was cut into little chunks, and still had little whitish bits of parboiled fat and sinew that had not quite fallen off during cooking. The adobo flavoring (essentially, Hispanic allspice, for those not in the know) combined with the garlic rice and Sriracha gave it a hell of a spicy kick that never overpowered the raw flavor. In addition, the truck also sold soda and water for a ticket each, so we picked up a Pepsi and a Mtn. Dew, which beat the hell out of waiting in line for a half-hour for drinks that cost 3 tickets each.

2015-05-15 18.29.31Sydney and I sat on the edge of the fountain area, eating our food and listening to the band that had come to play. I wished I had enough tickets for a beer, but neither of us wanted to get in the uber-long line. We stopped and took a few pictures in the modern-art sculptures along the park’s western edge before heading out to meet up with a friend.

2015-05-15 18.43.10All in all, the event was fun, but the mood was brought down a bit by the cost, the clouds, and the long lines. The park where the event was hosted was a little small for the number of people which showed up, and there was a definite lack of seating space compared to other events I’ve attended in the city. The food was good, and the entertainment was present, if not terribly entertaining. All that aside, though, I think it was a good way to celebrate the first real warm days of spring.

Wolf Peach – May 9th, 2015

Name: Wolf Peach
Location: 1818 N. Hubbard St, Milwaukee, WI 53212
Phone: (414) 374-8480
Style: European, Tapas, Pizza, Cocktails
Price Range: $10-$30 for entrees
Website: http://wolf-peach.com/

2015-05-09-190059_16926333194_oAs I wrote in my first post, on Saturday, May 9th, my girlfriend and I visited Wolf Peach, in Brewer’s Hill. Unlike I wrote in my first post, however, my mother was unable to attend, due to unexpected circumstances. Oh well. What started as a Mother’s Day reservation turned into a lovely date, and it gives me an excuse to take her somewhere else in the city as a rain check.

The Arrival

We arrived just after 7:00pm, for our reservation. The restaurant was very busy, but our table was ready and waiting for us. While we didn’t get the best seat in the house, we still had a corner view of the city. Not that it matters much to us; the view of the open kitchen from our table was splendid. However, for those willing or able to get reservations for the balcony space, the restaurant boasts an amazing view of the Milwaukee city skyline from the top of Brewer’s Hill.

2015-05-09-190302_17546643602_o             

img_20150509_191836991_17362730219_oThe first thing we noticed was the mismatched glasses and silverware. Combined with the simple, rustic decor (which I must admit is a bit of an annoyingly common theme in Milwaukee restaurants), it lent a nice soft glow and home-y attitude to the place. Our waiter was a charming bespectacled gentleman with more than a passing resemblance to Johnny Depp in Ray-Bans, with a friendly, genial attitude and an excellent smile. We ordered our drinks and took the time to peruse the menu; Sydney ordered a Sprite (she’s still 20, after all) and I ordered an Ace Perry, a Californian pear cider with a delightful crisp sweetness. Since we had a curtain call at 9:00, I decided not to get any of their handmade cocktails, though at least one was calling my name, a cocktail centered around rhubarb spirits.

After a quick toss through the menu, we decided on the following:

  • Smoked Bone Marrow on Toast
  • Deviled Duck Eggs
  • Margherita Pizza
  • Milk-Braised Pork Belly

Since the restaurant ascribes to the “como viene” service style (basically, restaurant speak for “as soon as it’s done”), the waiter informed us that the dishes would be sent out to us as they are done, and paced appropriately. Prepared, I had him enter the bone marrow, duck eggs, and pizza first, and hold off on the pork belly for later. The table service was friendly and professional. We held onto one menu and the drink list.

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The First Course

Our first course to arrive was the Deviled Duck img_20150509_192530825_17548969751_oEggs. Served in quarters atop a sauce accurately referred to as “Green Goddess”, and topped with pickled garlic chips, the dish was a sneaky way to get around Sydney’s dislike of everything egg-related other than hard-boiled and deviled eggs. Neither of us had ever had duck egg before, and it was delightful. While the duck egg and the deviled yolk blend was fresh and well-composed, the sauce and garlic chips gave it the perfect amount of smoke, spice, and herby, lemony tartness. For a “vegetarian” dish, it had just the right amount of waterfowl flavor hidden inside to hold it up.

The Second Course

Hot on the heels of the duck eggs came the miraculous sizzle of the smoked bone img_20150509_193005544_17522724376_omarrow. Smoked and baked, and covered in a light coating of sea salt and parsley, it was by far my favorite course of the entire evening, and it came highly recommended by the waiter. Scooping the slippery, soupy, jellylike marrow out of the bone cavity and onto a piece of toasted French bread or ciabatta was a fabulously visceral experience, a delicious foreplay preceding the orgasmic taste of the smoky, fatty, savory marrow and the crispy fresh bread. Sydney and I couldn’t stop scooping and shoveling until well after the bones were drawn clean and all of the juices were mopped up by the remaining bread.

img_20150509_193404570_16928764333_oThe Third Course

The third plate to come out of the kitchen, following just after the last of the 2015-05-09-194639_17362607279_omarrow was mopped up, was the margherita pizza. Now, “Wolf Peach” is another word for the tomato, as the restaurant gladly reminds you, and they are quick to point out their 6,000-pound pizza oven featured prominently behind the bar, at the entrance to their open kitchen. That considered, a good sign of the caliber of a pizzeria is how well they do the classics. The margherita scored high marks in my book, and I come from a town known for its pizzerias. The crust was soft inside and browned outside, but not under- or overcooked; the sauce was plentiful and fresh, and not overpoweringly herby, and the cheese was sweet, slightly salty, and perfectly melted. Overall, everything blended well and bit cleanly and freshly, with the right texture and no excesses of any flavor. I’ve heard that the chorizo pizza with poblano and spicy honey is notable, and the slow-poached egg stands out, but I wanted to keep it simple and let the core ingredients speak for themselves and for the restaurant. (Plus, there’s more for me to try the next time I visit.)

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Intermezzo

As soon as we took the last two slices of pizza off the tray, Sydney ventured the 2015-05-09-190234_16926339554_oquestion of dessert; as if on cue, the waiter slid a couple of dessert menus slyly across the table and gestured downwards, while turning to me and asking about getting the pork belly started (which we had asked to delay a bit). It took a second for Sydney to realize he had placed the menu in front of her; we all got a good laugh out of it. It had been an hour, and the restaurant had cleared out to about half capacity, from being nearly full when we walked in. The sun was down, and the hanging lights cast a nice gentle glow around the room, cut slightly annoyingly by the kitchen lights visible above the kitchen staff’s heads. The music was cool and just audible above the dull buzz of conversation, without making it hard to hear.

The Fourth Course

Our braised pork belly arrived minutes later; a roughly hockey-puck-sized 2015-05-09-201239_17548971285_oround of pork encircled with crispy belly fat and cooked to a crunchy edge. Along the side was an accompaniment of sliced fennel, mizuna, and red radish sliced thin, coated in a light tossing of some sort of oil or subtle vinaigrette. The bottom of the bowl contained a thin layer of the milk braise and pork juices, which served as a dunking sauce for the crispy, flaky pork belly. Sydney and I ended up feeding each other bite-for-bite, which went faster than expected due to the fact we kept trying to rush each other so we could have our turn! The pork was salty and bacon-like, without the excessive greasiness; it had the cleanliness and flavor of fresh, well-fed pig. What I later identified as lavender salt helped trap the juice inside the pork; it ran out in small trickles with every cut into the puck of meat.

Dessert

As we wrapped up the pork belly, the waiter dropped off the check along with our desserts; we had informed him previously that we had a curtain call at 9, and he respectfully upped the pace of the remainder of our meal. We had ordered the Turtle Trifle for Sydney, and the Strawberry-Basil-Pistachio Trio for me.

20150509_203019_17362692269_oThe Turtle Trifle was served in a sundae glass, topped with ice cream, covered in 20150509_203058_17548922821_opecans and caramel atop more vanilla ice cream, all over layers of chocolate mousse, chocolate pudding, and what appeared to be vanilla pudding. Underneath the glass was a thick glob of caramel. I believe mascarpone was involved, but I’m no expert at recognizing layered dessert components, and I forgot to grab a picture of their dessert menu… (Note to self: Take pictures of all menus!) Anyway, the dessert tasted like a cold, parfait-like version of a Turtle confection; the nuttiness of the pecans and the salty sweetness of the caramel bounced off the vanilla and chocolate very nicely, and kept demanding we go back for more and more until we were nearly licking the glass.

The Trio was a whole different animal. The strawberry square was a soft, spongy 20150509_202935_16926445204_olayering of softened crushed pistachios and basil in a cakelike blend and a strawberry filling of some sort, topped with three cubes of sugared strawberry jelly, and floored by a thin layer of white chocolate sheeting. Next to that was a spread of lemon pudding coated in dry crushed pistachios, and on the side was a small scoop of pistachio gelato. There was a lot going on in the dish, and as opposed to the smooth blending of the trifle, this one was more of a combination of bright flavors with more muted tones. The lemon pudding was shockingly tart; it looked like vanilla in the dim light, but had an addictive sour clash to it that made cleaning it up a bit of a challenge due to our time obligations for the evening. The jelly cubes were a bit stronger than expected, and notably herby, but were delightful in texture. The square was a little muted and soft, but held up nicely with the firmer, stronger white chocolate, and the pistachio gelato, a big personal favorite of mine, tasted better than any I’ve had before.

Conclusion

Wolf Peach is a delightful, locally-sourced restaurant with both artfully-rearranged classics and new concoctions that don’t sacrifice flavor and simplicity for the sake of experimentation. The setting is rustic and garden-focused (yes, they have their own functional herb and vegetable garden) in a thoughtful way that takes advantage of the surrounding environment to great effect, using the location on the hillside to set up both dining levels with a stunning view of the city skyline. The beer and wine list is bountiful, and the cocktails, while I didn’t get to partake, looked clever and delicious. The service is excellent, with great attention to detail, such as pacing and the needs of the group; it didn’t fold under the pressure of a Saturday dinner rush, either. The music and lighting set just the right mood for a celebratory gathering, a romantic dinner date, or just a finely-crafted cocktail and appetizer at the bar. Even parking is fairly available on the non-metered surrounding streets.

20150509_202353_17548999865_oAll in all, I’d give Wolf Peach a 9.5 out of 10; it comes highly recommended for a moderately classy date or party tucked into a hidden corner of Milwaukee that few are familiar with, but deserves its own praise. The missing half-point only comes from the prices being just a tiny bit high, preventing me from going there on a regular basis (I’d go back every week if I could afford to), combined with a single misstep in the dessert service being handled by a slightly awkward server.

Stay tuned to this blog for announcements on my next restaurant review or dinner engagement.