October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, special features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food. Bon appetit!
In an interview during last year's Dining Month, Comet Café's executive chef Adam Lucks asked a very important question: What ever happened to meatloaf?
Though his question was rhetorical -- and in response to the upsurge of uber trendy restaurants catering to a more complex palate -- it got us thinking. And with another Wisconsin winter already well on its way, we thought there might be others of you out there like Lucks, staring at menus that use seven words to describe a potato and wondering, "What ever happened to meatloaf?"
Don't worry, it's around; you just have to know where to find it. And while some places on this list seem a natural haven for old-school home cooking, others might come as a surprise.
Milwaukee might be the Mecca for feel-good foods, but it's also not afraid to put a new twist on an old classic. Take, for example, Comet's signature meatloaf with beer gravy; it's the thickest slice of 'loaf you're likely to find and it's served with bacon-chive mashed potatoes. But as you're smothering your entire plate with beer gravy and thinking it doesn't get much more home-style than this, you noticed the little rabbit icon to the left of the menu listing. That's right; that bunny means this meatiest of meals is available vegan style. And so is the Salisbury steak.
Here are a few other places that feature foods of the finger-licking variety while simultaneously serving the sans-meat set.
Brocach Irish Pub
1850 N. Water St., (414) 431-9009
Staple Irish dining traditions like the bangers and mash and shepherd's pie were certainly expected when this pub and restaurant opened, but the vegetarian version of the pie, which substitutes mushrooms and barley for the beef in a dense, rich gravy under a fluffy pile of colcannon mashed potatoes, was not.
2491 S. Superior St., (414) 747-1007
The general consensus here is that "if it's good, it's better fried." Case in point: a pickle. (Trust us). The menu favors calorie-ridden, down-home cooking in many forms, and generally has a vegan equivalent for every heaping pile of Southern-friend chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy and sweet potato casserole.
Stonefly Brewing Co.
735 E. Center St., (414) 264-3630
Owner Julia LaLoggia calls her Riverwest menu "progressive pub food." Staying true to our brew roots, the brewery's craft beer ends up in almost every dish, whether it's in the sauce, the batter or in a pint glass. But for every order of bangers and mash braised in pale ale or serving of the "brat and tot" (tater tots layered with bratwurst and cheese, then baked) there's the "tofu and tot" or tofu pot pie equivalent.
A modern twist on tradition
There are some diners among us, however, for whom such classics are far too sacred for soy substitutes. For those who prefer a traditional take on their old favorites in a modern setting, these restaurants aim to please.
316 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 291-2655
Want to find out how the French do meatloaf? They begin with Strauss veal, wrap it in bacon and serve it with garlic mashed potatoes under a mushroom reduction. Who knew?
Kilawat (inside the Intercontinental Hotel)
139 E. Kilbourn Ave., (414) 291-4793
The meatloaf here also comes wrapped in bacon and is delicately placed atop a bed of mashed potatoes with a small heap of crispy onions covering it. The cool thing about chef Robert Ash's comfort food menu is that it's largely locally-sourced from area farms and orchards.
Maxie's Southern Comfort
6732 W. Fairview Ave., (414) 292-3969
Maxie's does New Orleans and Southern comfort-influenced seafood and supper so well it would make Scarlet O'Hara proud. You'll find classics like chicken fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo, ribs, and shrimp and grits for dinner. Come hungry, but don't fill up on the complementary cornbread before your meal arrives.
170 S. 1st St., (414) 270-0438
This Fifth Ward favorite has an interesting mix of old-school deliciousness (notice that meatloaf sandwich listing, followed up by the sloppy joe and BBQ rib versions), as well as more contemporary culinary delights. The famous mac and cheese, for example, is prepared with goat cheese, roasted chicken and rosemary.
Don't mess with the classics
Then, of course, there's the places who probably deserve the most credit, those family-style restaurants that have blatantly ignored any Atkins or South Beach diets and proudly featured meatloaf and the like all these years, hot dining trend or not.
Ma Fischer's Family Restaurant
2214 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 271-7424
This 24-hour diner can handle the heartiest of appetites, even at 3 a.m. It doesn't quite adhere to any specific ethnicity, but if we had to categorize it, we'd call it classic American - there are pork chops and meatloaf and fries - with a touch of Greek (try the spanakopita).
Miss Katie's Diner
1900 W. Clybourn St., (414) 344-0044
Many Milwaukeeans remember Miss Katie's as the place where Bill Clinton ate on one of his visits during his presidency. But, the big-portioned platters here will taste just as good and American under any administration. It's good stick-to-your-ribs eatin' -- burgers, meatloaf, pork and BB ribs. Vegetarians, stay clear.
Mr. Perkins' Family Restaurant
2001 W. Atkinson Ave. (414) 447-6660
This very well might be the only restaurant in Milwaukee where you'll find pork neckbones on the menu, but the rest of the soul food selections get the mouth watering with a mere mention: fried pork chops, corn cakes, boiled okra, fried perch in a cornmeal crust and, of course, meatloaf.
Real Chili Restaurant
419 E. Wells St., (414) 271-4042
Until this point in the article, chili has been largely ignored, though it is a true American legend. And in Milwaukee, no one does it better than Downtown's Real Chili. The 77-year-old establishment will never, ever let you leave hungry as it piles layers of noodles, meat, beans, cheese, onions and oyster crackers (if you wish) in a bowl that looks dangerous to finish. If for some reason chili's not your thing, there's a small selections of burgers and dogs to choose from, as well.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”