17 ways to celebrate the Class of 2017
Toast your grad at great Milwaukee restaurants
By Christopher Stolarski
Senior Communication Strategist, Office of Marketing and Communication
The Milwaukee dining scene has fast become something of a destination. So much so, in fact, that Milwaukee was recently lauded as one of America’s most underrated food cities.
Whether you’re from the area or traveling from farther away, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate Commencement over a great meal. Here’s a taste:
1. The splurge
Really want to experience fine dining at its finest and not care about the bill for a night? Head to Ardent on Milwaukee’s East Side. Three-time James Beard Award finalist Justin Carlisle’s intimate spot is anything but fancy — yet the food is world class. The chef/owner and his crack team pull inspiration (and beef) from Carlisle’s family farm in western Wisconsin, all with an elevated attention to detail and some playful culinary techniques. Go for the tasting menu with the wine pairings for a truly memorable experience.
2. Alternate: Perennial Lower East Side favorite Sanford. James Beard Award winner Justin Aprahamian delivers top-flight food in a cozy white tablecloth spot.
3. The foodie spot
The Walker’s Point neighborhood just south of the downtown area has become known as a foodie’s haven — inventive and approachable farm-to-table spots line its thoroughfares. The crown jewel is Chef Thomas Hauck’s c.1880, where the food and service is among the best in the city. A two-time James Beard semifinalist, Hauck will make you fall in love with familiar ingredients all over again.
4. Alternate: Goodkind, an unassuming spot in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. Have a larger group? Try their family style rotisserie specials.
5. The burger joint
If the true American classic is your speed, take the bridge over the Menomonee Valley to Milwaukee’s South Side where Oscar’s on Pierce serves up one of the best burgers in town. From fun variations like their famous Big O (topped with chipotle jack, smoked gouda, bacon, chorizo, fried onions and jalapeños) to the more standard take, Oscar’s is a burger lover’s paradise. Oh, and treat your son or daughter to a cold beer — they have a great selection.
6. Alternate: Few Marquette traditions hold up like Sobelman’s. Try the on-campus location or the original down in the Valley.
7. The steakhouse
Ah, the other American classic. Few restaurants say “special occasion” like a steakhouse, and you’re in luck: there’s one just north of campus. The Five O’Clock Steakhouse is part Rat Pack hangout, part Wisconsin supper club, and their steaks are popular for a reason. So, grab an Old Fashioned or martini at the bar, and travel back in time for the evening. Just bring your appetites.
8. Alternate: Prefer a swankier scene? Try Milwaukee’s newest offering, Rare. Sister restaurant to its Madison namesake, this is the place to feel like royalty.
9. The family table
If you’re looking for something kid friendly or a place with a menu that can handle a variety of tastes, Cafe Benelux in Milwaukee’s Third Ward will definitely meet your needs. A popular weekend brunch spot, Benelux boasts a broad menu, a huge beer selection and a rooftop patio that rivals most outdoor dining areas in the city. With its proximity to the popular Milwaukee Public Market and other Third Ward shopping destinations, a trip to Benelux can make for a fun afternoon.
10. Alternate: The Milwaukee area’s newest hot shopping destination is the Mayfair Collection in Wauwatosa. In addition to great stores (Nordstrom Rack, anyone?), there’s a whole host of fun, family friendly restaurants to choose from.
11. The layover
Milwaukee is, after all, a city settled by immigrants, so consider one of the numerous ethnic options such as DanDan, a lively Third Ward sit-down restaurant that puts a fun spin on the Chinese take-out food many grew up with. Led by two of Milwaukee’s most celebrated chefs, Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs, DanDan really makes dining fun — and the food is outstanding to boot. (If soup dumplings are on special, you’ll want to order some.)
12. Alternate: Travel to Spain and Portugal without leaving Wisconsin Avenue at Amilinda. Here, Chef Gregory León knows that, above all, good food should be flavorful.
13. The small plates
Sharing is fun, especially with a small group. Bay View icon Odd Duck has small plate dining down to an art and a science. The menu is plentiful, divided into meat and vegetarian options, and even the most carnivorous of your group will rave about the veggie plates. Make a reservation well in advance — this place sells out every night, with good reason.
14. Alternate: Marquette alumnus Peter Sandroni was one of the first to bring tapas style dining to Milwaukee with his Walker’s Point fixture La Merenda. It, too, fills up fast.
15. The briny deep
Whether you’re a proper pescetarian or just looking for great seafood (yes, it does exist in Milwaukee), new hot spot Third Coast Provisions has some of the freshest, most well prepared fish and shellfish around. A large space that’s equal parts classy and comfortable, Third Coast also features an excellent selection of oysters and other raw bar items.
16. Alternate: Perched on the Lake Michigan shoreline between the Milwaukee Art Museum and Discovery World, Harbor House is, quite literally, the restaurant with the best view in Milwaukee. Oh, and the food is incredible too.