Back in February, Travel + Leisure published an article claiming to chronicle "The Best Cheap Eats in Every State." It was recirculated this weekend by fellow Conde Nast mag, Food & Wine.
I happened to come across it while doing a bit of relaxing weekend reading, and it piqued my curiosity.
It’s a big task, being sufficiently well traveled – let alone sampling enough restaurants in each state – to make recommendations for the "best" anything across 50 states. But hey, I thought, maybe a publication like Travel + Leisure has the bandwidth to actually do a good job with the topic.
Pieces like this also tend to catch my interest, in part because – despite increased media coverage of the state’s food scene – Wisconsin still has a tendency to be a fly-over zone when it comes to accurate, well-informed dining recommendations.
This article was no exception.
In fact, the recommendation from Ali Khan, food blogger and host of Cooking Channel series "Cheap Eats," was downright unenlightened.
According to the article, Khan has sampled eats in far flung states like Alaska and Hawaii. He’s also tromped through restaurants in states including Arkansas, Iowa and Idaho. He has fond memories of his first Italian beef sandwich, which he ate in Chicago (a mere hop away from Milwaukee, I might add).
And yet, for whatever reason, he’s never set foot inside the borders of Wisconsin ... which means his pick for what to eat here is just as about as good as throwing the food dice in a Google search.
Unsurprisingly, his pick for "best cheap eats" reflects that, along with a tiring – and stereotypical – pick for what he’d choose to eat here.
"Bratwurst was the first sausage I ever loved and though I have yet to travel to Wisconsin, Sheboygan would be my first stop in the Dairy State," Khan said.
Here, he'd be sure to stop at Al and Al's Steinhaus, which specializes in German cuisine and has been in operation for more than 56 years. For just $6.95, you can get a double bratwurst sandwiched between a Sheboygan hard roll.
An audible sigh escaped my lips as I read yet another prosaic recommendation about our fair state.
Certainly, we boast a proud German heritage here in Wisconsin. And family-owned spots like Al and Al’s Steinhaus are mainstays among quirky one-of-a-kind spots throughout the state that seem to hail from another era. And bratwurst, well, it’s delicious.
But isn’t it about time to dig a bit deeper into Wisconsin cuisine?
The fact is, until members of the mainstream media can get past the idea that Wisconsin is all about bratwurst and beer, the scope of our state’s burgeoning dining scene has little chance of being recognized for being much more than an irksome Midwestern cliche.
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.