It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, who's winners we will dish out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!
As far as I’m concerned, the best matzo balls in Milwaukee were made by my grandmothers. Since neither are with us anymore, you’ll have to take my word for it.
In fact, if you’re looking for "Jewish penicillin" in town, you don’t have a ton of choices. The two heavyweights are, and always have been, Benji’s and Jake’s. Both are great. But for my money, I pick Benji’s. Here’s why.
It’s never changed one bit. Whether you’re dining at the Shorewood location, or their "newer" spot in River Point shopping mall, Benji’s is spectacularly consistent, and has been so for my whole life – and much longer than that. Same with Jake’s, of course, but Benji’s was on my side of town, and I went there a lot. I still do.
It’s no longer owned by Werner "Benji" Benjamin, but he was a presence there long after he sold the restaurant in 1994. Opened originally in 1963, Benji’s was probably the first restaurant I ever went to. It’s certainly the only restaurant still around that I was also going to in 1974. The place looks different since they pulled out the carpet and lightened things up. If you want to really travel back in time, go downstairs to the bathroom. Stare down that hallway that probably hasn’t changed since the early ‘60s.
I remember my grandpa making smalltalk with Benji. (To the best of my knowledge, Benji is still alive at 93.) While my main course has changed a little in my 45 years – though for the last 25, it’s been a corned beef sandwich on challah – the side has always been a cup of matzo ball soup. I don’t need a menu.
It’s my ultimate comfort food.
Not everyone has been so enamored with Benji’s matzo ball soup. One of my grandmas used to say that Benji just waved the chicken over the soup, which I never totally understood, but I think she meant to say that it wasn’t chicken-y enough. Others prefer Jake’s, which is really good, too.
But for me, the density, the color, the saltiness … even the price ($4.50) are perfect. It gets a little steep once you add in the sandwiches: I recently took my daughter to the north shore location, and our dinner of soup and sandwiches topped $50.
However, when it comes to classical Jewish food in a city with only two real choices, it give me nachas to know both are excellent, and one makes the matzo ball soup I plan on continuing to eat for the rest of my life.
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.