In Dining

C. Adam's Bakery manager Laurie Smith holds a key lime pie the rivals the best in Key West. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

Darren Brook roasts beans at Cedarburg Coffee and Roastery. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

Tracy Stokes of Denver sips a margarita at Margarita Paradise (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

Sarah Boileau assembles a pita for a customer at Aladdin's build-your-own-pita bar. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

In Dining

This is what hot chili frozen custard looks like at Kehr's Candies. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

Eating my way through the Milwaukee Public Market

Name the biggest and most eclectic food court in the Milwaukee area. I bet you didn't think of the Milwaukee Public Market in the Historic Third Ward.

The market has dramatically remade itself since its 2005 debut, becoming a large and lively restaurant and bar that also offers coffee, candy, wine, baked goods, frozen custard, grocery items, flowers, tee shirts, packaged spices and kitchen gadgets. Many of the original merchants remain, but others have cycled in and out of the facility.

The second floor dining mezzanine inaugurated when the building opened has been augmented by stools and tables at three of the vendors' stalls – Margarita Paradise, St. Paul Fish Company, and Thief Wine Shop & Bar. Customers can dine in or take out at the market, and last Wednesday I went on a hunt for food that particularly appealed to me.

My expedition was purely subjective, following the quirks and whims of my palate, and the search illustrates the huge range of available edibles.

Walking through the Water Street doors on the west side of the building, I first stopped at Margarita Paradise, a satellite operation of a long established West Allis restaurant. Perch on one of the 14 bar stools – there is also a trio of two-top tables – and order a cucumber margarita accompanied by chips and one of the more than 20 home-made salsas offered. The avocado jalapeno sounded good to me.

Follow that up with the seafood burrito, filled with shrimp or fish. It's $9.95, with the option of adding rice and beans for another two bucks. Margarita Paradise's extensive selection of tequilas is available by the shot ($6 to $45).

If you are more of a wine sipper, Thief Wine Shop & Bar has plenty of it. It offers 2-oz. samples for $2.50 to $5.75, 5-oz. glasses for $5.50 to $11.75, carafes for $12 to $26, and wine flights for $9.75 to $12.25. A selection of beers from craft to Schlitz is available for $3 a bottle.

The Thief Wine bar seats 16, and another 14 persons can be accommodated at tables. A snack menu includes sauteed marcona almonds sprinkled with sea salt ($3.50), a Mediterranean olive plate ($6) and artisanal cheese plates ($9 and $11.50).

You won't find booze at Aladdin, but you can slurp a cool mango lassi ($3.75), and I am going for that. Aladdin serves Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine at the market. Lassi is a smooth yogurt-based drink containing Indian spices.

Aladdin features a build-a-pita bar that gives customers the opportunity to choose type of bread – flat or pocket – and fillings from three categories ($5.55). For example, you can select chicken curry salad from the first group, spinach spread from the second, and tomatoes, tabouleh and a roasted veggie mix from the third. Well, maybe that combination is a little weird, but you get the idea.

I would also buy some roasted red-pepper hummus to take home for later. I'm addicted to it.

Wandering over to the southwest corner of the market, I pay a visit to Cedarburg Coffee and Roastery. Although the beans are roasted right there, I am drawn to the baked goods, which are made back at the home office in Cedarburg.

A thick slab of "Best Ever Banana Pecan Bread" ($2.50) has caught my eye. Can it be as good as my sister's?

Another item intrigues me here. Cedarburg sells an insulated coffee travel mug with an imbedded chip that allows customers to load money right onto the cup. Just wave the mug in front of a reader when buying your coffee on the run.

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