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."
Sitting in the Milwaukee Brewers dugout nursing a bottle of water, Craig Counsell looked out over Miller Park in perhaps the most serious interview he's ever had.
Never mind the two World Series rings. A National League Championship Series MVP? Child's play.
It's Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, and we need to know where Counsell – a Whitefish Bay native and now Special Assistant to Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin – heads to eat.
"My two staples would be Crazy Water and I like Buckley's," he said. "You've got to like just the atmosphere of Buckley's. It's laid back. I like that place. Crazy Water has a dish – the short ribs. I order the same thing every time I go there. Buckley's is just that good, quiet place to have a good meal. It's an easy place to go."
Because Counsell is from here and still lives here, he likes to move around a bit and find different spots to eat. He's the go-to man for Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and others non-natives on the Brewers staff for food.
"He just went to Maxie's. He liked that," Counsell said of Roenicke's recent stops. "Hinterland. That was good. He'll try everything. So he likes anything new, anything different to try. Ron likes to eat and try all the restaurants in Milwaukee, so he's come to me and asked me for places. And if he gets to a new place that I haven't been to he's going to tell me about it."
Counsell once sent former manager Ken Macha to Cedarburg for a truly 'Sconnie experience at a little known steakhouse.
It's how athletes get around – word of mouth.
"Restaurants work on word of mouth from your friends," Counsell said. "You can write the greatest review in the world, but my friend's review is more important to me. It just is. In the sports world, that's where we get our places. If I'm going to Cincinnati I'm going to a player from the Reds that I know to tell me where to go because he's going to probably know the places that aren't just right around the hotel. Often as athletes we know what we see in that little walking distance around the hotel and until we get someone else to tell us something else, we're creatures of habit, so that's where we end up."
Now, here's some word of mouth – from the athletes, right to you – on where they like to go to eat.
John Axford, pitcher, Brewers: There's a few different spots that I really like, and they're all very different. My favorite steakhouse would have to be Carnevor. I always like going in there. They always treat you right, treat you well in there. Every time I'm in there getting a steak I always get the foie gras topped on it, which I absolutely love there. That's one of my favorite spots to go.
On the other side, some of the best chicken wings I've ever had are at the Points East Pub on the East Side. It's actually a fantastic bar you can go into, play your own music on the jukebox and have a good time with some local people. They have some fantastic wings in there they spice up just right, get a little hot and throw them on the grill for you. They're really good.
Another one is Sanford. I didn't realize I lived close to it two years ago when I was living on the East Side. Then friends of ours came to visit and thanked us with a gift certificate from there and we're like alright, we'll check it out and it was like four blocks away. We're like "Holy cow, how did we not know this?" We walked through the neighborhood and it was just a house right there on the corner. It has been fantastic every time my wife and I have gone. It's one of the best dinner atmospheres. They always remember that my wife (Nicole) has Celiac's disease. That's what's good about Carnevor, too. She can't have gluten so they bring her gluten free bread and at Sanford they always remember, so when you get the seven course meal the chef always mixes things up for her and I really do appreciate that and I know she does too. It's always been phenomenal every single time we've been at Sanford. It's a great little, cozy neighborhood atmosphere.
Craig Counsell, Assistant to the General Manager, Brewers: I've been to the off the beaten path places I guess just from living here so long, which is why places like Crazy Water and Buckley's appeal to me because I feel like they're kind of more local a little bit. For a steak Carnevor is tough to beat. It is tough to beat. I think it's great. They make some of the best steak. That's where I'm going. For a burger, Kopp's is the best burger. Pizza is Zaffiro's. Zaffiro's is a slam dunk. I rarely go west to eat. If you're Downtown or on the East Side, you don't go west to eat. I just don't. For me, there's nothing. I haven't heard of anything, or eaten anything, that would make me do it.
Mason Crosby, kicker, Packers: My wife (Molly) loves it, the Asian fusion restaurant Umami Moto. That's my wife's favorite and I love it, too. I love those three restaurants in that one area (on Milwaukee Street). As far as in downtown, those are the spots we love the most. I love the Kobe sliders. The first time I went there was when (offensive lineman) Daryn Colledge was here and he ordered up a couple orders of those. Those were delicious. I remember those the most.
Donald Driver, wide receiver, Packers: Carnevor. That's my spot. They know exactly what I want to get there (smiles). But I normally go in and I get the rock shrimp and I get the calamari and I get a nice 8-ounce filet. Omar knows exactly what I want when I get there. He takes care of me.
The Brewers are the team that spends the most amount of time in Milwaukee, and Yovani Gallardo and Marco Estrada help take you through their Mexican favorites.
Jeff Foss, defenseman, Milwaukee Admirals: My favorite meal would have to be the Rustico Carne pizza. Don't tell Dean (Evason, Admirals Head Coach), but I eat a lot of pizza and the Carne is the best one I have had in my life.
Brett Goode, long snapper, Packers: I love Carnevore. That's where I go every time I go down there. The food is just unbelievable.
Jared Jenkins, wide receiver, Mustangs: (A Milwaukee native, he found himself playing the same role as Counsell this past year with his teammates.)
They usually ask for some chicken, some down south cookin' type stuff. That's what usually what they ask me about. Me and one of the coaches were talking about Redd's Snapper which is this place that serves fish and chicken. And JJ's (J & J Fish & Chicken). They've never disappointed me and I know that they'd be able to go there.
Rob Jeter, head men's basketball coach, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: There are a lot of great restaurants on the east side. If we're talking breakfast, you can't beat the Hoppel Poppel from Benji's. If it's dinner, then the meatloaf at Harry's is the pick. It comes with wasabi mashed potatoes to give it a kick. It's like dinner and dessert all wrapped into one.
Martin Maldanado, catcher, Brewers: I like Cubanitas just because I like their Latin food. I also like Cheesecake Factory just because I'm a big pasta fan and they've got good pasta there.
Chris Mueller, center, Milwaukee Admirals: The best dish for me is at The Knick for a couple of reasons. Obviously it tastes great, but it is also one of the few restaurants that is open with a full kitchen for our post-game meals. I always get the calamari because it is extra crispy and the steak frites. It's fantastic.
Joel Przybilla, center, Bucks: I'd want to go to Mo's Steakhouse. The Kobe beef filet, surf-n-turf, with a lobster tail. That's the only time I go Downtown is for that. I live out in Brookfield, I have since my rookie year, so I like to go to That's Amore. That's my (spot). Tony's (in Brookfield). Good pasta. It's great.
Larry Sanders, forward, Bucks: When I get here I have to order a pizza from Zaffiro's. I have to get a Zaffiro's pizza. They also have it at The Pfister now. And probably some Mr. Perkins – that's like a soul food spot. If I went Downtown, I'd have to say Carnevor. That's pretty good. I'm a P.F. Chang's guy, too. I might order some P.F. Chang's and then get some pizza from over here.
Keith Tozer, head coach, Milwaukee Wave: The chicken Parmesan from the Calderone Club.
Buzz Williams, head men's basketball coach, Marquette: Broken Yolk. Two very softly scrambled eggs, two pieces of perfectly cooked bacon, one slice of French toast.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.