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.
These days, enjoying fresh, high quality seafood in the Midwest is far easier than in the past. That’s good news for seafood lovers (including me) who want to enjoy great fish and shellfish dishes in between trips to the coast. That said, sourcing matters; and it comes at a cost (as the adage states: “You get what you pay for). Fortunately, if you choose well, your experience will be well worth the splurge.
Here are five local restaurants that take care to deliver some of the best of the sea.
1. Third Coast Provisions
Third Coast Provisions offers guests both an opulent dining experience (gorgeous, but not intimidating) and a menu of creative seasonal seafood options from oysters on the half shell to indulgent shareable starters like lobster potholes featuring lobster and jumbo lump crabmeat slow-poached in cultured butter with herbs, garlic and white wine (it’s served with plenty of sourdough bread for soaking up the delicious sauce).
Entrees include offerings like Alaskan halibut with green coconut curry, summer vegetables, crispy sticky rice and palm sugar vinaigrette; excellent takes on “surf & turf” with a choice of shrimp, scallops or lobster: and staples like a lobster pot pie with seasonal vegetables, mushrooms and black truffle butter.
2. Lupi & Iris
Unsurprisingly, seafood plays a significant role at Lupi & Iris, which offers a menu focused on dishes inspired by the French and Italian Rivieras.
Offerings include starters like char-grilled Spanish octopus with romesco sauce; wood-grilled calimari; and steamed mussels and clams. But there's also traditional bouillabaisse; wood-grilled lobster and roasted snapper served with Niçoise tapenade and rosemary. And while I've yet to sample the bulk of the menu, the seafood dishes I've tried have been above reproach.
Among their pasta dishes, you'll find spaghetti frutti di mare featuring mussels, littleneck clams and shrimp steamed in white wine and scented with leeks, garlic and a whiff of umami-rich anchovy. This dish delivered on every level from its tender pasta to its umami-rich sauce and beautifully prepared shellfish.
Another winning dish is their branzino, which is steamed in parchment with braised artichokes, fingerling potatoes, tomatoes and basil. It's a light-yet-fulfilling entree that delivered more in flavor than the sum of its parts.
3. Harbor House
Pristinely sourced seafood is a hallmark at this lakefront restaurant where the view makes the experience all the more noteworthy. Ask for a view of the lake and you might even forget you’re not dining on the coast.
As for their seafood selection, you’ll always find a lovely slate of carefully sourced fresh oysters (often varieties from both the East and West coast), along with standards like shrimp and crab cakes. Move into the entrees section and you’ll find accessible fish preparations from pan-seared scallops with squash risotto; to pan-seared rainbow trout with roasted cauliflower, winter squash, brussels sprout leaves, and lemon thyme beurre blanc
4. Mason Street Grill
Some think of steak when they hear “Mason Street Grill,” though seafood would be just as apt an association. This Downtown staple always has numerous lovely fish dishes on offer, along with a slew of memorable staples.
I’ve often stopped by for a drink just to indulge in their signature buttermilk battered surf clams (served with tartar sauce and lemon). And I always watch for their yearly offering of stone crab, a rarity in Milwaukee, but an undeniably sweet treat when you can find it.
But even the regular menu turns up delicious offerings, from seared scallops with creamed spinach, smoked tomato cream and roasted corn to herb crusted halibut with roasted pepper sauce, lemon beurre blanc and jalapeno relish.
5. St. Paul Fish Company
If you’d prefer a more casual environs, you’ll find it at St. Paul, where you can choose between the bustle of the Public Market in the Historic Third Ward or the spacious rustic crab shack vibe at The Cannery, their dine-in eatery near the Mequon Public Market. Either way, since they double as a fish market, their expertise is sourcing great fish.
Visit and you’ll find casual staples like oysters on the half shell, steamed mussels or clams and their popular New England style lobster roll. But you’ll also find a slew of grilled fish options, along with popular items like pan seared jumbo day pack scallops served with rice, vegetables and a choice of sauces. In Mequon, you can even get New England style crab, lobster or seafood boils.
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.