Milwaukee is a city on the cutting edge of restaurants, with all kinds of places opening and flourishing, and chefs winning prestigious awards. No matter what it is you want, you can find it well prepared and well served in this city.
But there is another type of restaurant that also goes into the culinary reputation of a city: the greasy spoon.
I love greasy spoons. I’ve been in hundreds of cities and wherever I am, though I like the fancy places, I love the greasy spoon. And I have a pretty clear definition of what qualifies.
The food can’t cost much. It has to have lots and lots of fried stuff. It needs an expansive menu with a greasy spoon version of well-known ethnic dishes. It needs to have Formica and vinyl, and a counter is nice. It needs friendly female servers and pictures of food on their menu. And it needs to serve bottomless cups of coffee.
Breakfast served at any time of the day is a bonus if you get it.
Milwaukee has its share of greasy spoons, and here are five dotted around the city that lead my pack. I have left George Webb restaurants off this list because I don’t think a chain restaurant should qualify.
Ma Fischer’s: This is the gold standard. It has everything, plus it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can get everything from barbecue ribs and eggplant parmigiana. Go to Ma Fischer’s at 3 a.m. on a Saturday night, and the scene is like the best, craziest reality show you ever saw. There is also a secret about this place: It makes fantastic soups. The split pea soup is the best I’ve ever had anywhere.
Pegasus Restaurant: This West Allis favorite has the biggest menu I’ve ever seen. They have 18 different salads, 20 specialty sandwiches, 14 pasta dishes, six Greek dishes and eight Mexican dishes. And that’s just for starters. It has very friendly female servers, and the words "portion control" have never been uttered in the place.
Paul’s Omega Restaurant: This South Side spot seems like it’s always crowded. It used to have great Greek style lamb chops, but I think I was the only person who ever ordered them because they aren’t on the menu anymore. You can still get a lot of combos including barbecue ribs with either chicken, breaded shrimp, jumbo shrimp or shrimp scampi. Omega also boasts open doors for 24 hours.
Champion Chicken: On the Northwest Side, you can go to Champion Chicken and look at a menu that will undoubtedly have exactly what you want. The place has an annual chicken fest that features Milwaukee magician David Seebach, who is the brother of the owners. In a unique twist, it has a Big Dinner menu, "set up for the Hungry man." The only problem is that it isn’t open for breakfast. If fried foods are your thing though, Champion has got you covered.
Landmark Family Restaurant: Located in Bay View, even surrounded by a whole bunch of higher end, trendier places, Landmark stands out. People say there are more than 100 items on the menu. It also has a lot of formica and vinyl (this is crucial). It features daily specials that tend to focus on a certain type of cuisine, whether it be Mexican, Italian, etc. A nice touch is that sandwiches come with a cup of soup.
There may be more great places, but none of them are on my radar screen. Be sure to add your own in the comments.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.