October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."
Here at OnMilwaukee.com, we're not such big fans of playing into the beer and brats stereotype that has dogged Milwaukee for ages.
It's not to say that we don't like beer, brats and cheese -- we love 'em, in fact. But we know that Milwaukee's cuisine has evolved beyond these fattening staples, and we're more interested in unearthing the area's eclectic cuisine and exotic eateries.
But stereotypes often have their roots in reality, and like it or not, there's a bunch of food that may not be unique to Milwaukee, but is uniquely Milwaukee.
So, let's talk about brats.
Obviously, brats are German and have been around a lot longer than Milwaukee. The first reference of brats, in fact, dates back to 1404 in Thuringia in central Germany. But in Wisconsin, and in Milwaukee, specially, brats are more popular than just about anywhere in America.
A young employee at County Stadium named Bill Sperling introduced the sausage to major league baseball in 1953, and Miller Park remains the only stadium in baseball that sells more brats than hot dogs. Go even farther back, and locally, Usinger's has made the delicacy since 1880, while the Klement brothers bought the Badger Sausage Factory in 1956.
Frozen custard, by comparison, wasn't invented in Milwaukee -- you could get it at Coney Island back in 1919, and earlier in France. But it's certainly become known as a Milwaukee treat, with the oldest custard stand, Gilles, being in existence since 1938.
Another Milwaukee staple is Real Chili, which opened in Milwaukee in 1931. Founder Francis Honesh worked at Chili John's in Green Bay, which opened around 1910 and is still in business. How famous the institution has become is debatable, but the ubiquitous "Real Chili: It's Not Just For Breakfast Anymore" bumper stickers have literally been plastered all the way to the South Pole (a wall of fame graces the northeast corner of the Downtown shop).
And Riverwest is home to the famous Ma Baensch's herring, profiled in this 2004 OnMilwaukee.com story. Kim Wall bought the business in July 1999 from the Baensch family. Lina "Ma" Baensch and her two sons started selling pickled herring in 1932, during the Great Depression. In 1954, Ma moved the company to the Locust Street building, which was formerly a Patrick Cudahy meat locker.
Of course, talk to other Milwaukeeans, and you'll get a bunch of different opinions on the food that made Milwaukee famous. We polled our own office, and came up with this list (in alphabetical order). Add your own using the Talkback feature below.
- Alterra coffee
- Beer cheese soup
- Butter burgers
- Cannibal sandwich (raw ground beef and onions on rye bread)
- Fish fry
- Fried cheese curds
- Frozen custard
- Ma Baensch's herring
- Real Chili
- Secret stadium sauce
- Speed Queen ribs
- Sunday morning hot ham and rolls
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.