For the sixth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Concordia University. 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 2012."
I had awful table manners as a child. In middle school my mother had had enough. She decided to launch an assault on my loud, hasty chewing and my fondness for putting large wads of butter in my mouth.
I think this etiquette initiative came about in response to a comment made by my grandfather, who asked, upon hearing I was to dine at a friend’s house: "You let her eat in front of people?"
The best way to turn me into a lady, Mom thought, was to take me to where Milwaukee ladies eat – the places her mother had "lunched" at, when genteel housewives still did such things. In an elegant environment with elegant food, she thought, I could not help but become elegant.
I’m not sure if it worked – I still eat too much and too quickly, my elbows are always on the table and I always manage to get crumbs everywhere. But God bless my mom for trying, because now I have some wonderful memories of several great Milwaukee restaurants that have since closed their doors or reincarnated themselves.
These are the ones I particularly miss.
Boder’s on the River
I was only there twice and I can’t remember anything about the food, but my mother seemed to think it was the kind of delicately rustic place Jackie Kennedy would dine. The beautiful setting sticks out in my mind – quiet, calm and rural. The 1840 farmhouse was bought by the Boder family in 1929 and converted into a seasonal tea room. In 1954 Jack and Dolly Boder opened it for year-round dining and operated the restaurant with their children until it closed in 2001; the family was also involved in the Woolen Mill Inn in Cedarburg, Chalet on the Lake and Wuff’s Island Inn in Mequon and the John Ernst Café in Milwaukee. The family published a cookbook in the 1970s and used copies can still be bought on Amazon. Go on eBay to find some cool matchboxes and postcards from the restaurant’s heyday.
Established in 1968, Pandl’s was the "go to" place in the North Shore for a wedding reception or graduation party until closing in 2009. Most vivid in my memory is the view; seating in the back room allowed for a breathtaking sight of the wood and wildlife. Julie Pandl has written a wonderful book, "Memoirs of a Sunday Brunch," about her father’s restaurant and I recommend you check it out.
The Polaris at the Hyatt
The Polaris showed the city at its best. The food was great and the atmosphere just could not be beat. I do remember panicking when I came back from the bathroom because the table had moved; the outside circle of the revolving restaurant is on a track. Luckily this place is still open for special events. My cousin hosted cocktails here after her wedding, and let me tell you something, there is no better place to get a little bit tipsy than in a revolving circle at the top of the Hyatt. I have a high opinion of the Milwaukee skyline even when I’m sober, but after a few vodka tonics I find it positively fascinating. Read Jeff Sherman's blog from when it closed to the public in 2009.
The Boulevard Inn
My favorite place that my mother took me, and I requested that we go back every year on my birthday – which we did until it closed in 2003. The swanky lobby of the Cudahy Tower thrilled and impressed me ("This must be what people live like in New York or something..."). I was starstruck because I had heard Simon Dow, then-artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet, had a penthouse there. The first time I went to the Boulevard Inn I must have been about 10, and every subsequent visit we ended up having the same waiter, a charming man with an accent. I want to say his name was Jacques but that might just be my mind trying to assign an easy, appropriate name to a waiter’s face. He was very chatty and disarmingly informative. "My wife and I were supposed to come home from Jordan on 9/11; our flight got canceled, of course. My son was conceived that day." "Oh. Okay. Um, I’ll have the filet mignon." I haven't been to Bacchus yet, but it's on my list.
Eagan’s on Water
Also operated by the Pandl family, Eagan’s closed in 2011 after 18 years. My family and I would always go here the the opening night of the Milwaukee Ballet's "The Nutcracker." I remember that in 2000 I had an ice cream sundae served in a giant martini glass, which made me sick (in the good way). The wall decor was interesting and flamboyant, a take-off on Degas paintings, I think. The last time I ate there was the night before my two best friends and I left for college; we cried and hugged and ate too much, and swore that nothing would change. But of course, it did – of course, it always changes.
The past two years, the Polaris restaurant has hosted incredible all-one-can-eat buffets on Easter and Mother's Day. I attended all four with friends. Sure hope that tradition continues in 2013. Wish they would hold these buffets every Saturday evening. They would sell out once the word got out. Sensational 360degree view as the restaurant slowly makes a complete turn every hour. The Hyatt must make far better use of this sensational space. And the buffets have a senior rate, too.
The past two Easters and Mother's Day the Polaris at the Hilton served an incredible all one can eat buffet. I went with friends to all four. I assume they will be doing that next spring, as well. Sure hope so. Still am amazed they do not do these buffets on Saturday evenings year around. They would be selling out.
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