What’s Packing a Punch at the Public Market?
The menu board at Thai-namite politely asks customers to please specify their spice level according to the 1–3 scale offered, and every once in a while, some brave soul— or bonehead, depending on your take — opts for the 3. “I’m obligated to ask ‘are you sure?’ when someone wants a 3,” Sierra, the cashier and designated voice of reason, told me. “I’ll usually talk people out of it and just give them some chili flakes on the side if they need it.”
The Milwaukee Public Market is buzzing with energy and hungry Wisconsinites as I make my way to Thai-namite, a Thai food option in between the seafood section and a family market. The eye-catching chalk menu is overflowing with brightly colored chalk, a look that matches the vibrant flavors and foods listed. The menu reads like a novel, offering rolls upon rolls of sushi, several different curries, spring rolls, fresh rolls, and, of course, pad Thai, among dozens of other things. This is where I meet Sierra and order my pad Thai, asking her kindly if I could distract her for a few minutes. After bashing my dinner choice, she agrees with a smile , glad to have something interesting to do on an otherwise typical night.
To clarify, Sierra didn’t necessarily bash my order; she simply stated that pad Thai was the most popular order among customers, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. California rolls and the volcano chicken rank high in sales alongside pad Thai, she tells me, due to the familiar names and flavor profiles of the dishes. Her favorites differ from the customer favorites, preferring the Ebi tempura, red curry, and Holy Basil for their powerful tastes. “Thai food is flavorful,” Sierra said, “and unlike Chinese food, which a lot of people mistake us for. [Thai food] is healthier, with a lot of protein and veggies and spice.” The spice component is an essential element here, and definitely not something to be taken lightly.The head chef, whom Sierra nicknamed ‘Dad,’ never skimps on the spice, and has a tendency to put a little extra kick in every dish.
Despite the extensive menu and obvious popularity with customers, the Public Market location of Thai-namite is the smaller of two, the other storefront being on Brady Street. Sierra works both, switching between the vendor-style booth and the full-service restaurant as necessary. The atmospheres differ greatly and Sierra finds herself more content at the Public Market, enjoying the intimate work space and the diverse people she encounters both roaming the market and working the vendor stations. “Cute kitchen boys are a plus,” she smirked as, indeed, a cute kitchen boy passed through; couldn’t help but agree.
The market setting gives her more than just attractive coworkers. Her close relationship with ‘Dad’ gets her plenty of delicious off-menu dishes. She informs me that a new location is opening soon, and that the chefs are working on some new recipes for the occasion; expect to see salmon and banana rolls in the near future.