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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Dining

Pasta Tree has been a homecoming dance dinner favorite for decades.

Homecoming dinner destinations from past to present


For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."

For many high school students and their parents, back-to-school time is almost immediately followed by homecoming season. For some, homecoming means football, school spirit and attending a school dance.

Every autumn, nervously or not nervously, invitations are extended to the homecoming dance or groups of friends decide to go together in a group. Either way, there are many decisions to be made from who's going to drive (or whose parents are going to drive) to what they are going to wear to where they are going to eat.

A few Milwaukee restaurants have been school dance staples for decades, including The Pasta Tree and Benihana. Other popular now-defunct Milwaukee restaurants included the pricey Grenadier's and the English Tea Room in The Pfister Hotel.

According to Chris Ward, whose college-aged daughter attended Ronald Reagan High School, many kids these days go to homecoming in groups and pick places to eat that are more affordable.

"They tend to go in groups – even when they are paired up – to cheap places. The Reagan kids go to the Denny's on Howell, the IHOP on Layton, the Griddlers on Layton. Places that are tolerant or apathetic to loud, giggly teenagers," she says.

Shorewood parent Ava Hernandez had a similar experience. "We dropped a car full of 'em off at Ma Fischer's last year," she says.

The trend to go in groups rather than one-on-one to dances has increased in popularity for a variety of reasons that are hinged on affordability as well as comfort factor.

"Kids like to go in groups, otherwise it feels awkward for both. And the place needs to be big enough to accommodate large parties. Buca di Beppo, Joey Buona's comes to mind for Downtown," says Milwaukee's Anthony Garrison.

Chains seem to be popular homecoming dinner destinations, perhaps because they tend to be more affordable and also because they are often near or at malls where many teens like to spend their time. Olive Garden, Cheesecake Factory and the aforementioned Buca and Joey Buona's all serve a fair share of dance goers during homecoming season.

"I remember people going to Olive Garden and Pieces of Eight," says Angela McManaman, who grew up on Milwaukee's South Side. "I was invited to neither, but I was OK with that."

Ruby Tuesday is another popular chain restaurant destination for school dance goers.

"Last year we saw a ton of homecoming dance kids at Ruby Tuesday. It seemed like a good place, kinda formal but not too stuffy," says Patty Zastrow-Jankowski.

Some groups or couples like to pick quirkier or lesser-known dinner destinations. Beck Tesh, for example, remembers going to Safe House for homecoming dinner.

"I had fun at the Safe House before a dance once," she says.

Even before price, location plays the largest role in where kids eat, especially if they are depending on parents for a ride. For example, Elaine Alred lives in Grafton, and her teens always go to in-town restaurants.

"It's Charcoal Grill, Water Street Brewery, Ale House or, more recently, the new Atlas BBQ here in Grafton," says Alred.

Mitchell Wakefield, who graduated from Shorewood High school, is the owner of Tess on the East Side. Naturally, the restaurant attracts homecoming groups and couples from the neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods.

"We see a lot of Shorewood High School and Riverside kids here at Tess," he says.

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