Take the Milwaukee Challenge: The Wicked Hop vs. Trocadero's Bloody Marys
Nearly every bar in Milwaukee claims to make the city's best Bloody Mary. That's why we asked the readers of OnMilwaukee.com to help us narrow the field to two. Last month, we presented you with a list of nearly 40 bars, and we took the top two vote-getters for this latest Milwaukee Challenge.
You picked Trocadero, 1758 N. Water St., and The Wicked Hop, 345 N. Broadway. We dropped in over the course of the week and ordered their standard Bloody Mary (to compare apples to apples). Our editorial staff made their picks (except for Managing Editor Bobby Tanzilo, who claimed that a Bloody Mary would induce vomiting -- that's enough to earn a free pass). And here are the results: OMC chose The Wicked Hop as the city's best, by a vote of four to one.
Feel free to comment on our opinions using the Talkback feature below.
Molly Snyder Edler
Pick: The Wicked Hop
Prior to this challenge, I was certain that my favorite Bloody Mary was on the menu at Eliot's Bistro, 2321 N. Murray Ave. However, after trying The Wicked Hop's version of this popular daytime drink, I am definitely reconsidering. The Wicked Hop's Bloody Mary is truly a meal in a glass stuffed with a meat stick, blue cheese filled olive, portabella mushroom, a shrimp and mozzarella "whip." In short, it's spicy, icy and only $6.
The one down side is that we weren't able to choose our beer chaser, and it came with a small glass of average tap beer (The chaser was Stella Artois. -ed.). Still, it blew away Trocadero's Bloody, which was 50 cents more and less flavorful. It also didn't have enough ice, nor was it stocked with as many food items, although it did have a delicious piece of pickled asparagus and a pickle. (In retrospect, it seems strange that despite all the fixins', The Hop's Bloody Mary didn't have a pickle.) The other nice thing about Troc's Bloody is that it comes with a little bottle of Heineken -- a "tiny Heinie" -- instead of a glass of tap. However, the Trocadero version needed more ice and it tasted like it came from a mix, whereas The Wicked Hop's tasted like it was made to serve.
Bottom line: If you're looking for a hearty brunch cocktail -- perhaps to serve as the much-needed "hair of the dog" -- The Wicked Hop has a Bloody with your name on it.
Pick: The Wicked Hop
The Bloody Mary might very well be my first love affair with the mixed drink. I was the kid who ordered tomato juice instead of soda on the airplane and preferred pickles to ice cream for dessert.
That being said, I have specific criteria for what make a Bloody Mary worthy of praise and was pleasantly surprised when one I'd never before tried -- The Wicked Hop's $6 glass of garnishments -- turned out to be one of the best I've tasted in Milwaukee.
Naturally, it came packed like a meal -- beef stick, shrimp (although, as a vegetarian, I opted without), blue cheese stuffed green olive, marinated mushroom and piles of mozzarella cheese that took the shape of thick Japanese noodles. And that was just the garnishments.
The drink itself appeared more brown than red in color, accentuating the bevy of spices used. The beauty part was that for everything you could see floating around amongst the ice and vodka -- crushed red pepper, garlic, black pepper and god knows what else -- it wasn't a spice that even the mildest palate couldn't handle. It was more savory than spicy in the "hot" sense, making it a very accessible drink for anyone who doesn't see mixing tomato juice with liquor as a crime against humanity.
In contrast, Trocadero's traditional Bloody Mary ($6.50) came off as rather bland and ordinary (although, it should be noted that Troc's specialty Bloodies, such as The Frenchie, are extraordinary, but to keep it fair, we had to go with the basics for each bar). I asked for it without Worcestershire sauce, but the waitress only told me after she delivered it to the table that they couldn't do that because it was a pre-made mix (whether homemade or not, she didn't specify). Little extras like the spicy bean, asparagus and the "Tiny Heinie" chaser make it a drink worth drinking, but it just didn't stand up to The Wicked Hop's.
Everybody has funky quirks when it comes to food and drink. My lovely wife, for example, will pluck a tomato off a cheeseburger like she's moving radioactive waste. But, she doesn't flinch when there are tomato chunks in pasta sauce and will happily dunk a grilled cheese sandwich into a bowl of tomato soup.
Personally, I wouldn't touch a glass of grapefruit or tomato juice solo, but I can handle either when mixed with vodka and ice.
In my universe, the Bloody Mary was invented for hangovers, football tailgate parties (or both, depending on a particular weekend's degree of difficulty). Since I generally work at most of the football games I attend, it seldom occurs to me to order a Bloody Mary.
(The last time I attended a Badgers game, I had a Bloody Maria, which swaps tequila for vodka).
I missed the OMC staff "field trip" to Trocadero for Round 1 of the Bloody Mary contest, but I was on hand to sample The Wicked Hop entry with my co-workers. I found the drink to be flavorful and satisfying and gave an "A" grade to the accoutrements - shrimp, sausage stick, cheese whip, mushroom and cheese-stuffed olive. As I sipped from the Stella Artois chaser, I knew instantly that I was consuming one of the better Bloodys in town. I didn't think anything could top it.
Then, I went to Trocadero.
That drink, prepared in a shaker as I sat at the bar, was born of vodka, tomato juice and a homemade mix that the bartender told me included "at least 10 different ingredients." I found the drink to be more zesty and vivacious than The Wicked Hop's solid effort. I didn't see the Hop bartender prepare our drinks, but I got a sense that they were stirred, not shaken. That could have been the difference.
Trocadero's classic drink didn't match the Hop's for extras (though I did like the lemon and lime garnishes and the pickle and asparagus spear), but substance won out over style. The complex flavors from that homemade base were consistently strong all the way to the bottom of the glass. The short Heineken chaser was appreciated. Next time I'm in Trocadero, I'll try a "Frenchie," which is made with Grey Goose vodka, a bleu cheese-stuffed olive and a dash of Dijon mustard.
This was an extremely close race; a coin flip, really. Both drinks were outstanding and I may have to do another test during a football weekend.
Pick: The Wicked Hop
I spent the first 30 or so years of my life avoiding tomato juice as if it was Polonium 232. Which is why, as a fairly recent convert to the world of Bloody Marys, I wasn't sure I could succinctly compare two of Milwaukeee's best. But it was really no contest between Trocadero and The Wicked Hop. Even before trying The Wicked Hop's entry, which was about five days after Troc, I had a feeling I could predict the winner … and I was right: The Wicked Hop blew Trocadero out of the water (or, in this case, vodka).
Nothing seemed too terribly wrong about the Bloody Mary at Trocadero, except for the suspicious lack of ice. For such a thick and substantial beverage, skimping on the ice department isn't a good idea. It also tasted a little weak, and sure enough, its low-alcohol content left me sober as a judge. The presentation was nice, complete with a "Tiny Heinie," a pony-sized Heineken that made me feel like Andre The Giant whilst holding it. The drink, though, seemed a little underdressed, with an olive, a pickle, asparagus (pickled), a lemon, a lime and a surprisingly spicy bean -- nothing too terribly out of the ordinary. Considering Troc's excellent reputation for top-notch cocktails, many of which I have personally enjoyed, I had the distinct feeling that I was drinking a pre-mixed cocktail, and while not extraordinary, it tasted just about fine -- if not a little pricey at $6.50.
The entry from The Wicked Hop was like comparing High Life to Cristal (one might be the champagne of beers, but the other is the champagne of champagne). This well-stocked pint glass was chock full of stringy cheese, a beef stick, a stuffed olive, a marinated mushroom and more (though I took a pass on the shrimp). It was icy cold, just spicy enough (more zesty, really) and plenty strong. The server didn't offer a choice of chaser, but I could hardly complain at the lil' Stella Artois that came alongside. Filling, packing a power punch and full of accoutrements, I wanted another.
Until now, I thought Milwaukee's best Bloody hailed from 4th Base. But at a measly $6 for a veritable liquid lunch, I think OMC readers got it right. The Wicked Hop makes one wicked awesome Bloody Mary.
Sobelmans has been making better bloodies for longer than either The Wicked Hop or Trocadero's has been open. Theirs are both just imitations. Is there anything that The Wicked Hop won't steal from Sobelmans?
Miller High Life is actually the champagne of beers. Otherwise, I would agree with most of what the eds chose!
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