Looking for new spots to try? Lori Fredrich will be dishing out her top five picks in 20 different dining categories throughout the month of October.
Some days nothing hits the spot like a really great sandwich. But what makes that sandwich great? The best of the best (even the simple ones) are as well thought-out as a fine dining dish.
It starts with high quality ingredients; and that applies from the bread right down to the condiments. It’s also about balance. A badly built sandwich offers little in the way of texture; its flavors are muddy and it provides little in the way of a true "wow" factor.
Fortunately, Milwaukee’s sandwich game is pretty solid. And these five spots serve up hand-held treasures that are more than just good.
1. Meat & Co.
This pop-up-turned-food truck started serving up its deli-inspired sandwiches at Zocalo Food Park this June, and it's quickly become a staple stop for those who love a great sandwich.
Options range from the oh-so-simple (and delicious) tomato sandwich and spot-on mini muffuletta to the Lunch Box, a substantial sandwich featuring griddled mortadella, white cheddar, Duke’s mayo, Zapp’s Voodoo chips and fresh vinegar-based slaw served up on thick-cut toasted white bread. It’s a textural wonder that brings on all the good deli sandwich feelings.
That said, I’m particularly fond of the Veg & Co. which features crisp panko-crusted eggplant topped with house pomodoro sauce, kalamata olives, fresh mozzarella and basil served up on a tender roll spread with garlic confit. It’s fresh and comforting all at the same time.
And you really shouldn't miss Meat & Co's Chopped Cheese, an East Coast classic featuring seared ground beef chopped with melty cheese and topped with cheese, shaved onion, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and Duke's mayo. It's a glorious mess of burger-esque deliciousness.
2. Bavette La Boucherie
Bavette has been one of my top sandwich picks for years, and it’s because they build phenomenal ones. You’ll see variations move on and off the menu; but it seems you can’t go wrong.
Over the years, I've fallen hard for selections like their truly phenomenal beef tongue reuben, which might be the best rendition of the sandwich I've tried. The same goes for their roast beef with truffled mushroom duxelle, braised kale, roasted grapes and onion, which is a sweet and salty melange of deliciousness (with ultra tender beef, to boot). Both of those have fallen off the most recent menu, but that's allowed me to venture into new territory.
Among the best sandwiches I've tried is their fried chicken. It's embellished with hot honey butter and topped with tender, flavorful collard greens (which I'd gladly eat on their own), housemade garlic pickles and pimento cheese. It's simply an edible work of art.
3. The Truck Stop
But, after closing up that shop in March of 2022, they moved their business right down the road, taking over the food service at the popular Brady Street hang-out Hi Hat/Garage, where they're slinging their exceptional birria tacos on Tuesdays, plus a full menu of outside-the-box burgers, loaded fries and (most importantly) inventive sandwiches.
One that I can't get out of my head is their brisket grilled cheese, a masterpiece composed of toasted 9-grain bread filled with tender braised brisket, melty cheddar, provolone and muenster cheeses, peppadew peppers, caramelized onions and arugula. The sandwich has a bit of everything from its crisp exterior and umami-meatiness to a pop of acid from the peppers and a fresh peppery bite from the arugula. It's fantastic.
Head to aperitivo for drinks and you’ll find great noshable items, low abv cocktails and lovely wines to savor as they would in Italy. But at lunch, this gem of a spot has a full menu of delicious sandwiches. You’ll find gems like the Medianoche, a take on the Cuban sandwich featuring panini pressed pork shoulder, ham, swiss, yellow mustard and pickles; as well as the Chicken Caesar, which pulls all the things you love about a Caesar salad into a sandwich. I’m particularly fond of The Pritzlaff, a warm sandwich featuring braised beef, caramelized onions, blue cheese, roasted mushrooms and mayo. It’s the sort of lunchtime sandwich that calls for a nice bottle of earthy red wine.
5. Riley’s Sandwich Co.
I have a love hate relationship with steak sandwiches, which can run the gamut between tender and flavorful to tough, gristley and mealy. Such is not the case at Riley’s, a take-out only shop where beef filet is treated to a sous vide bath, ensuring tender mid-rare meat that’s consistent every time. You can find the tender beef on numerous sandwiches, from Philly-style sandwiches to over-the-top options like their Lumpia City Collab (cheese, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers and a five-cheese mac lumpia for good measure). But if you’re looking for a good classic option, grab the Steak Kensington, which is gussied up with roasted mushrooms and onions, melted mozzarella and creamy horseradish spread (the Oakland Style version subs out garlic for the horseradish).
The sous-vide treatment is also used on Riley’s organic chicken breast sandwiches, which can be ordered up as a Philly, cajun, bbq, taco dip, jerk chicken, Nashville hot or “wannabe banh mi”; I’ve not yet tried them all, but their chicken parmesan option is a solid choice topped with garlic bread crumbs, a tasty marinara sauce and melted mozzarella. Trust me when I suggest adding the spicy giardiniera; it ramps everything up a notch.
If you visit their new Third Ward location, you can head next door to their dog-friendly bar, Riley's Social House where they've got a full bar, including over 20 craft brews on tap.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.