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!
Though some restaurants have long lives – in Milwaukee one thinks of Mader's or Jack Pandl's, for example, many more seem to come and go, victims of poor economies or bad management or changing culinary tastes, or a host of other reasons.
Here are a few from the past that I miss ...
Joe Wong was well-known in Milwaukee's Chinese community, but thanks to his popular restaurants, he was a familiar face to non-Chinese here, too. Wong immigrated to the U.S. in 1916, landing in Madison and studying engineering at Wisconsin. Fortunately for Milwaukee, Wong came here, where his dad had opened a restaurant Downtown. Later, the Wongs added a place on Third and North.
In 1945, Joe Wong opened La Joy at 4720 W. Lisbon Ave. and for decades it was perhaps the best Chinese restaurant in town. Each time I visited it felt like a great treat and a splurge. I remember the food being delicious and the atmosphere being mysteriously dark.
Though La Joy (and its building) are gone, its owner's name lives on, immortalized in the name of Wong's Wok, founded by his grandsons Paul Wong and Edward Chin.
For about five years, I worked second shift Downtown at Milwaukee's daily morning newspaper, the defunct Milwaukee Sentinel. Thankfully, for some of those years there was a pizza by the slice restaurant at 228 W. Wisconsin Ave., just across the alley from the old Grand Theater, called New York Pizza Express (where it replaced the Milwaukee Dog hot doggery).
I ate a lot of pizza in the place, which had a long counter along the right side and a seating area a few steps up in back, just like a real NYC pizzeria. It opened in 1986 but only lasted a few years.
Soon after, I lived just off Downer Avenue and I spent a lot of time at The Chancery, especially on all you can eat shrimp night and all you can eat fried chicken night, which were a boon to a young 20-something on a tight budding journalist's salary. Now, even The Chancerys on 27th Street and in Tosa Village are closed.
A few doors south was Brewster's and later Webster's on Downer, where there is now a Starbucks. I passed countless hours – and gained countless pounds – noshing on cinnamon rolls, drinking coffee and doing The New York Times crossword puzzle there over the years. It's probably a good thing it (first moved then) closed, or I'd be morbidly obese.
Which dearly departed Milwaukee restaurants do you miss most?
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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.