Some might assume that trying to avoid meat and dairy in a state that boasts a barn and silo on its license plate could prove problematic. Yet, for all it's fish fries, custard stands and pre-game burger grilling sessions, Milwaukee is also awash with ethnic eating options and actually, dining out vegan style in a town that prides itself on its beer and brat reputation is a lot easier than most people might think.
In fact, finding a vegan beer and brat here isn't all that difficult -- Lakefront Brewery's beers are made without honey and you can find Tofurky beer brats and franks at Beans & Barley, Outpost Natural Foods, Riverwest Co-op and Whole Foods Market.
While we don't have any strictly vegan dining destinations, there are plenty that are vegan-friendly. Here are some healthy and hearty highlights.
Beans & Barley
1901 E. North Ave., (414) 278-7878
Although not completely devoid of meats, Beans' menu is predominantly vegetarian with ample and varied vegan options. The dairy-free black bean burrito ($4.75) mixes Mexican rice with beans, avocado, tomato, olives and onions, and many of the sandwiches -- like the tofu burger and the TLT (tempeh, lettuce and tomato) -- can come sans mayonnaise. Breakfast is also a winner here with some of the best tofu scramble in town, pesto scrambled tofu or tofu breakfast burrito, matched with vegan sausage patties and a soy latte.
Bel Air Cantina
1935 North Water Street,(414)226-2245
Upscale mexican food with daily specials. Tuesday is Taco and Tecate Tuesdays. Happy hour from 3pm to 7pm.
3401 S. 13th St., (414) 383-3353
19555 W. Bluemound Rd., (262) 780-2998
Indian food is known for being heavily vegetarian, and Bombay Sweets is one of only a few 100 percent meat-free restaurants in Milwaukee. Some dishes come with homemade cheese, ghee or cream here, but the entire menu is described and displayed in photographs on the wall, so it's fairly easy to determine which to avoid. The food here is more than affordable, so allow yourself to start with a few 75-cent samosas and then wade your way through the curries and flat breads.
2797 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 727-0761
1609 East North Avenue.,(414) 270-1880
This new Bay View pizza-by-the-slice (and by the pie) place is loaded with vegan varieties. The Mediterranean -- with basil, sun-dried tomatoes and Tofurkey sausage -- the Anne Curry -- with curry sauce -- and super veggie pizzas come cheeseless, although these are not offered by the slice, so bring some friends to help you take down the 20-inch. They also serve vegan breadsticks and calzones that are literally bigger than your head.
1947 N. Farwell Ave., (414) 273-7677
Comet Café is great about offering a meat- and dairy-free substitute for much of its comfort food menu. We're talking hearty meals like vegan riblets -- in barbeque or hot sauce -- a vegan gyro, a vegan reuben with "fake" thousand island dressing, and, of course, its famous and signature vegan meatloaf dish.
East Side Ovens
2899 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 769-1062
This Bay View bakery performs baking magic as everything it offers -- from cookies to muffins, scones, cupcakes, pies, fruit dumplings, cakes, fruit bars, bread and rolls -- is preservative-free, cholesterol-free, egg-free and dairy-free. Aside from headquarters, you'll also find their bakery all over the Milwaukee area, including at Anodyne Coffee Roasters, Beans & Barley, Koppa's Farwell Foods, Sendik's locations, Outpost Natural Foods and Whole Foods Market.
Marchese's Olive Pit
1100 S. 1st St., (414) 384-9555
Local pizza lovers swear by the Olive Pit's amazing, flaky crust, and local vegans swear by the soy cheese option, Dan's vegan pizza ($18). It feeds two or three people and features an olive oil, garlic and herb brushed crust with green and black olives, mushrooms, artichokes, tomatoes, serrano peppers and, of course, soy cheese.
2941 S. Superior St., (414) 747-1007
Palomino is the vegan's junk food paradise. The fare here is greasy, fried and delicious, and like Comet, it's sister restaurant, much of the menu can easily be made with meat or without. The chicken fried tofu sandwich and "toffalo" wings are huge hits, especially when paired with vegan ranch sauce and a heaping pile of tater tots. Although it seems impossible, try to save room for dessert, as the ever-changing pie and cake menu is vegan-friendly and decadent.
Riverwest Co-op & Café
733 E. Clarke St., (414) 264-7933
Every single item on the breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks menu is vegetarian and can be prepared vegan. Breakfast offers a huge helping of tofu and veggie scrambler ($6.50) as well as pancakes, breakfast burritos and vegan bakery. The lunch and dinner offerings are plentiful, with items like tempeh reubens and BBQ tofu sandwiches (both $6.50). Added at-home bonus: The Co-op now delivers via bicycle!
1818 N. Hubbard St., (414) 374-8480
Roots does food fine and fancy and most of the menu features some form of meat, but you can certainly make one very vegan three-course meal, if you wish. For an appetizer, start with fava bean dumplings ($9), which come with sumac dressed summer peppers and a potato-garlic aioli. The Yuzu marinated avocado and peashoot-sesame springrolls with mashed cashews ($12) is listed under salads, but is more of a mini-meal. For an entrée, try the baked fennel artisan couscous ($20) for an explosion of saffron, lemons, and Moroccan olives.
Thai A Kitchen
2851 N. Oakland Ave., (414) 962-8851
Since there aren't too many dairy dishes here and they'll happily substitute tofu for any of the meats in the entrees, eating vegan is pretty easy if you remember to ask your server to hold the fish sauce.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”