For the ninth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2015."
With such a burgeoning dining scene, it can sometimes take some effort to keep up, much less think back about how Milwaukee has become such a diners’ delight.
But OnMilwaukee’s own senior writer and dining guru, Lori Fredrich, has made it easy. Fredrich has written the first real in-depth book about Milwaukee’s exciting dining scene and how it got that way.
Mixing history, trends, profiles of current chefs and more, "Milwaukee Food: A History of Cream City Cuisine," published in paperback by The History Press – and illustrated with color and monochrome images by Joe Laedtke – is a feast of information.
I turned slightly to my left to ask Fredrich about the book and what she learned while researching it.
OnMilwaukee: Tell me a bit about your new book. Is it history, is it current, etc.?
Lori Fredrich: It's a bit of both. "Milwaukee Food: A History of Cream City Cuisine" traces the rise of the culinary scene in Milwaukee and its transformation from agricultural and industrial roots to a burgeoning culinary destination. With homage paid to the chefs and restaurants of yore, the book weaves the tale of the city's growing dining scene through the stories of the chefs and restaurateurs who've contributed to its sea change.
OnMilwaukee: What did you learn during the process about Milwaukee food that you didn't already know?
Fredrich: I learned so much. I don't think it's possible to complete a project like this and not acquire a wealth of knowledge in the process. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of writing the book was spending time really getting to know Milwaukee chefs – their inspirations, motivations and feelings about the direction that the culinary scene is going.
It was enjoyable – and often eye-opening – to make connections between individuals throughout the book. For instance, Nick Burki, co-owner of Coquette Cafe was actually instrumental in making the connection between Goodkind's husband and wife chef team of Lisa Kirkpatrick and Paul Zerkel. And Chef Mike Engel of Pastiche is great friends with legendary Grenadier's chef Knut Apitz; in fact, they regularly play golf together.
OnMilwaukee: Was there anything that really surprised you?
Fredrich: I was delighted to discover that – despite our persistent inferiority complex – people have been talking about Milwaukee's food scene for some time. Renowned food writer Roy Andries De Groot visited Milwaukee on multiple occasions during the 1970s and had a variety of very positive things to say about our culinary scene. At one point, he even compared Milwaukee to San Francisco, a city which – at the time – was just beginning to appear on the national map for its dining scene.
OnMilwaukee: I assume you had a word count you were expected to follow. Was that sufficient, you think, to include everything you'd hoped to, or did you have to do some pruning?
Fredrich: I did. The books in the American Palate series are standardized at around 140 pages and, as a result, I had to be somewhat judicious about the number of restaurants I featured. In terms of Milwaukee dining prior to 1990, I put my focus on identifying well-known restaurants that illustrated the breadth and diversity of dining present in the city over the course of a century. From there, I worked to focus on the real drivers of Milwaukee's contemporary food scene – explicitly the chef driven restaurants in the city.
Certainly, there were areas on which I would have loved to have placed more focus – including the producers who shape the diversity and quality of the dishes being created by talented chefs around town – but, in the end, I chose to weave their stories through the book with more subtlety, allowing the chefs to speak about the people and farms with which they work.
OnMilwaukee: Pretty appropriate that your first book is about food, isn't it? Are you already mulling ideas for the second one?
Fredrich: Yeah, food is pretty much my gig these days. Right now I'm just basking in the sense of relief that I have the first book under my belt, and taking some time to really contemplate where to go next. I will admit that I've probably caught a bit of the book writing bug; and I've begun to percolate on ideas for my next project – from cocktails to ethnic cuisine – but I haven't really narrowed down the scope at this point.
I'm a big believer in following my gut, and I love it when new projects develop organically. So, I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open and looking for the right opportunity to come along.
A number of other Milwaukee and Wisconsin-related books have flooded sites and shops lately, too. Here are a few of them...
While I have the foodies’ attention, I oughta point out travel writer Mary Bergin’s new "Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook: Iconic Fare and Nostalgia From Landmark Eateries," out in paperback from Globe Pequot.
While Milwaukee author Ron Faiola’s supper club book took a personal look at this beloved Wisconsin tradition, Bergin heads deeper into the kitchens of these casual eateries to offer up a broad selection of recipes for everything from beer battered fish and potato pancakes to German potato salad, oysters Rockefeller and schaum torte.
UWM professor emeritus of classics David Mulroy has published a new verse translation of ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus’ Trojan War tragedy, "Agamemnon," through University of Wisconsin Press. Thankfully, Mulroy also dishes up an introduction that explains to general readers what’s going on, as well as the enduring importance of this ancient classic.
A few years after Barbara Miner’s incisive and insightful look at school segregation and attempts at desegregation, Golda Meir Gifted and Talented School teacher James K. Nelsen offers "Educating Milwaukee: How One City’s History of Segregation and Struggle Shaped Its Schools."
Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press, the book is an important walk through the history of school segregation in Milwaukee – three eras Nelsen calls "no choice," "forced choice" and "school choice" – and how it has affected the drive toward an ever-expanding voucher system that uses tax revenue to fund private and religious schools.
Lord knows how Jerry Apps manages not only to write at least a book a year for Wisconsin Historical Society Press, while also never failing to take interesting, engaging, entertaining and informative angles on the Badger State. His latest, "Wisconsin Agriculture: A History," is among his best: a gorgeous, illustrated hardcover (perfect for holiday gift-giving) that explores the history of agriculture in general, but also of specific crops like corn, soybeans, tobacco, cranberries and more, in Wisconsin.
In the style of Apps’ rural-focused work is mystery novelist Kathleen Ernst’s similarly attractive – and beautifully illustrated – "A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons," from Wisconsin Historical Society Press. In this non-fiction work, Ernst follows the daily lives of Midwestern pioneer settlers as they work and play and captures the hardships and the joys and, above all, the kind of, well, pioneer spirit that drove them forward through it all.
Marquette University Press recently published Dr. George L. Kelling’s timely "Policing in Milwaukee: A Strategic History," based on more than 40 years of observing police departments in dozens of municipalities. Here Kelling traces the evolution of Milwaukee’s policing approaches across the 20th century and into the current era of community policing.
Lastly but not leastly, UW Press and WHS Press each offer up a new title on Wisconsin music that shoots directly into the top 10 list of books on the subject.
Local historian and WMSE radio show host Matthew J. Prigge offers up "Milwaukee Mayhem: Murder and Mystery in the Cream City's First Century," out in paperback from Wisconsin Historical Society Press. Suicides, murders, brothels, missing heads ... it's gruesome and compelling at the same time.
First, writer Rick March and photographer Dick Blau collaborate to bring polka music to the page in "Polka Heartland: Why the Midwest Loves Polka," a gorgeously illustrated hardcover book that explores the history and the inimitable phenomenon of the Midwestern polka scene. The photographs, especially, capture the vibrant spirit of this enduring immigrant music and the joy it continues to bring to the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the new Americans that brought the music with them through Ellis Island.
I don’t even really know what to say about James P. Leary’s encyclopedic and thoroughly exhaustive and astonishing "Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937-1946," which you can find locally at Acme Records in Bay View, among other outlets. That it was published by UW-Press in collaboration with Dust to Digital should give you a clue, however.
Across more than 400 pages, Leary – a professor at UW-Madison – documents folk music throughout Wisconsin during the late 1930s and early 1940s. These are songs sung by lumberjacks, performed at country dances, sung out in the fields; songs sung in 25 languages, capturing the diversity of Wisconsin culture.
But, wait, if you order now you get not one, not two, not three ... but five CDs of these recordings. So exhaustive is this package that one entire CD is packed full of lumberback songs! But that’s not all. "Folksongs of Another America" also includes a DVD with the documentary film, "Alan Lomax Goes North: The Most Fertile Source."
At $60, this is a steal and will make a perfect holiday gift for the passionate music lover or Wisconsin history buff on your list. If there isn’t one on your list, buy it yourself and find an entire world opened up right in front of your eyes ... and ears.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.