Milwaukee Food Tours share culinary history
While visiting history buffs have long been able to learn about Milwaukee via guided tours, Theresa Nemetz now offers the same peek into Brew City to food-loving tourists.
Nemetz -- who works in Marquette University's alumni office and is also the passion and organization behind Milwaukee's Mini Cooper Car Club -- recently launched the first Milwaukee Food Tour.
The 2.5-hour walking tour starts at Zaffiro's Pizza on Farwell Avenue and ends at Mader's Restaurant on Old World 3rd Street, taking in the Brady Street neighborhood and the treats near Mader's.
Although she had planned to begin offering the tours in June, advance buzz was so good that she launched on May 10 instead. Nemetz currently offers tours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
"I've had a passion for food, passion and Milwaukee," says Nemetz. "I love Milwaukee. For a couple years I've done this just with friends, where someone would have someone coming into town and they'd ask if I'd join them for the day and taken them to a couple places to show off the city.
Then, when friends had employers or clients come to town, they'd ask me to do the same thing. So, I realized that this is a passion, this is something I really enjoy doing and people really see me as being able to do this as a guide."
That Nemetz's first walking tour is heavily focused on Brady Street is no coincidence, she admits.
"I chose this area because I'm Sicilian and my great-grandparents emigrated from Sicily and they settled in this area," says Nemetz. "I grew up in the Riverwest area. I've gone to all these places on Brady Street since I was an infant. So for me this was the obvious, most comfortable thing to start with."
Tours meet outside Zaffiro's, where Nemetz offers an overview of the history of the neighborhood. Then it's inside for a sample of Zaffiro's beloved thin crust pizza.
The tour makes 10 stops, at places like Peter Sciortino's Bakery, Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Usinger's and Mader's. At each stop, tour guests get a sample of a signature dish. For example, Sciortino's dishes up sumptuous mini cannoli.
On the way toward 3rd Street, Nemetz likes to detour down Knapp Street, because the guests love to take snapshots in front of the row houses there that recall the house where television's "Laverne & Shirley" lived.
Although the history is important, Nemetz says the tour can help time-strapped visitors sample the city's tasty delights.
"Food really brings people together and everybody loves food. When people travel they want to have that culinary element but Milwaukee doesn't have anything like this. There are walking tours but not culinary walking tours. So this is a great chance to taste the city. Where someone might come to town and only have time for one lunch, well now they get to sample 10 different kinds of food and learn a little bit of history along the way."
You, like Nemetz, might be surprised to learn, however, that most of her tour guests so far, haven't come very far ... yet.
"So far the people taking the tours have been local folks," says Nemetz. "Tomorrow is a group of teachers celebrating the end of year and they're doing this as a cultural diversity thing.
"But (now) people have been finding out about us through Google and I've had people booking from New York, Seattle, Chicago, L.A., Florida."
Nemetz says that local businesses, once they understand what Milwaukee Food Tours is doing, are eager to be involved. And the response from the public has been so good that Nemetz expects to add another tour guide -- she currently leads them all herself -- by late summer and at least one more tour -- perhaps Bronzeville or the Third Ward -- by next year.
"The timing is really good," says Nemetz, "and people have been really excited about it."
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