There's no escaping the strong German heritage in Milwaukee, and cheese is as ubiquitous as beer. But at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart , which has been around for more than 70 years, a revitalized beer, wine and cheese program at their Westown location focuses on locally-produced, artisan varieties.
"The stereotype has always been curds and cheddar ... which is true. But we've always had our artisanal cheeses. They tend not to get the press or attention," said Trevor Smith of the Wisconsin Cheese Mart.
Raw goat, aged gouda and gorgonzolas come from award-winning producers like Pleasant Ridge and Carr Valley. You'll probably find those local names at places like the Odd Duck, a casual yet eclectic four-month-old restaurant in the Bay View neighborhood, where the cocktails and salads contain local produce, the fried green tomatoes contain jalapeno goat cheese and roasted corn and the namesake duck breast rests over Swiss chard, plus a hash of bacon and potatoes.
A few minutes drive north, in Walker's Point - in the shadow of the Allen Bradley clock - sits The Noble, a cozy, intimate little speakeasy with a compact menu of local, seasonal items, such as scallops with habanero-apricot jelly and Israeli couscous.. or steamed mussels with chorizo sausage.
"Casual, upscale, comfort food. We do keep it fresh. Trying to keep it a little more sincere, a little less commercial. A little less processed," said David Kressin, a co-owner at The Noble.
Same philosophy applies downtown at the Harbor House, an enormous, light-filled space on the water, run by the Bartolotta Group. Seafood is the focus here - think oysters, clams and lobster, with stunning views of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum.
Just a few blocks away, the same restaurant group runs Bacchus, in an old high-rise near the water. The bar is dark and warm, and the bartenders were trained by a couple of Chicago mixologists. The cocktail program is ambitious; well beyond the old Milwaukee stereotypes of Schlitz and PBR.
"You know, there's been a scene for it for a while, and there's been places opening up specifically for that. You know it's in different restaurants, but a lot of people are paying attention to what's going on and you know...really trying to make some awesome, unique drinks," said Brian Ojer, a bartender at Bacchus.
Also worth noting: Hinterland and the Rumpus Room. Plus the Clock Shadow creamery for one-of-a-kind ice cream.
215 W. Highland Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53203
2352 S Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53207
704 S. 2nd St., Milwaukee, WI 53205
550 N. Harbor Dr., Milwaukee, WI 53202
925 E. Wells St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
1030 N. Water St., Milwaukee, WI 53202
Clock Shadow Creamery
538 S. 2nd St., Milwaukee, WI 53204
222 E. Erie St #100 Milwaukee, WI 53202