PUSH YOUR TASTE BUDS BEYOND THEIR LIMITS WITH THESE 10 ADVENTURE FOODS
BY KRISTINE HANSEN | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN BISHOP
Sometimes, to get out of a rut, you have to think outside of the plate and detour from familiar foods. Two years ago, TIME Magazine coined the phrase “discomfort dining” to describe just that, and a new adventurous approach to eating out. So whether it’s animal brains or a pizza topping you could never imagine, here are 10 local eating adventures to experience.
1. Foie Gras
925 E. Wells St.
Leave it to Adam Siegel, who snagged the James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest in 2008, to shake things up in the fine-dining world. As executive chef of not only Bacchus but Bartolotta’s sister restaurant Lake Park Bistro, he straddles the concerns of regal and formal dining with a want for innovation. Instead of offering plain-old foie gras ($17), he dresses it up with a sweet touch of blueberry compote, French toast and maple syrup, along with earthy notes in bacon and quail egg. For all the foie-gras virgins out there, this is your dish. And no, it’s not on the breakfast menu. The foie gras is served nightly as a small plate, the perfect introduction to a more traditional five-star meal of Filet Mignon or Porterhouse, if you wish. (But for the adventurous at heart, sides to these dishes are creative, such as red-beet purée with Scottish salmon or bourbon-peppercorn cream with Filet Mignon.
2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
Wisconsinites are, by nature, picky about their beer. That’s what makes the Beermosa ($5) unusual: the fact that beer, its primary ingredient, is mixed with orange juice. Say what? However, the citrus nature of O.J. infuses bright acidity into a mellow beer (New Glarus Spotted Cow), making this a perfect brunch beverage. Known for touting locally grown foods, and supporting a couple dozen farms in the state, brunch (Saturday and Sunday only) dishes are no exception. Wisconsin maple syrup tops thick slices of brioche toast for its French toast and locally farmed eggs in the Farmers Breakfast. Open since 2009, Honeypie has quickly morphed into a popular brunch spot for the Bay View neighborhood and beyond.
3. Pan Seard Strauss Veal Brains
222 E. Erie St.
Within this gastro-pub environment in the Third Ward, which opened its doors in 2007, but has earlier roots in Green Bay as a microbrewery and restaurant, lies a serious love for meat. Lots of meat. Housemade liverwurst. Rabbit liver pâté. Duck leg confit. Wood-fire grilled strauss free-range veal chop. This also includes veal brains ($13) that are pan seared and tossed with chanterelle mushrooms, kale and sherry-pink peppercorn pan jus. Open for dinner only, the restaurant supports many local farms and ranchers.
4. Ethiopian Samplers
Alem Ethiopian Village
307 E. Wisconsin Ave.
As early as five years ago, Milwaukee was a dry city when it came to Ethiopian dining. Now there are two choices: downtown Milwaukee’s Alem Ethiopian Village and the East Side’s Ethiopian Cottage. At Alem Ethiopian Restaurant, which opened in January 2008, you can tour this country’s cuisine via one of three samplers — vegetarian ($16.75 for one person, $28.25 for two), carnivore ($45.75, enough for two people) or meat stews ($17.75-$19.25 for one, $32.25-$36.25 for two). But first, throw out the idea of convention, eating with utensils, and rely on your hands as Ethiopians do.
5. Frogs’ Legs
& Wine Bar
3033 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
When this Bay View French-oriented eatery opened in 2009 it did so with bravery: Pastiche introduced Milwaukee diners to frogs legs ($9), a delicacy rarely found in this city but very common on Parisian bistro menus, as well as Provence, Burgundy, Lyon, Bordeaux, you get the idea. It’s a close second to escargots. Though a bit trepid, I ordered up a plate as an appetizer and dug right in as my fish entrée was being prepared in the kitchen. Dipped into a light batter and deep-fried, the four frogs legs are accompanied by a side of Remoulade sauce (an upscale version of tarter sauce that’s typically mayonnaise- or aioli-based.) Unfortunately, this delicacy is available only on the dinner menu.
6. Fake ’n Eggs
2491 S. Superior St.
Shuck the thought of dairy-fresh farm eggs the minute you walk in the door of this unpretentious, down-home restaurant that counts many vegans among its fans. Tofu scramble, instead of eggs, with a “juicy” seitan steak ($8.95) are offered during the Sunday brunch. Getting back to the needs of a hangover breakfast — Palomino features “hangover” sandwiches each Sunday — hash browns and toast are served alongside the vegan specialty that in a blind taste test just might confuse carnivores. (For the record, you can also order meatier plates like Mason-Dixon Waistline, a chicken-fried steak with grits, two eggs and sausage gravy.)
7. Quail Egg Shooter
Wasabi Sushi Lounge
15455 W. Bluemound Road, Brookfield | (262) 780-0011
In Asian food cultures, quail eggs are commonly used to prepare a variety of dishes. But the States has not quite gotten on board with the practice. Give quail eggs a test drive at Wasabi Sake Lounge, which opened in 2008, and is worth the hike from downtown Milwaukee. For your shooter ($6), which is on the small-plates menu for both lunch and dinner, choose from fresh oysters or uni, which is combined with citrus ponzu, sake, ohba, quail egg, green onion and a hint of chili oil. Once you’ve got the shooter down, peruse the sushi menu, what Wasabi is best known for.
8. Raw Bar
550 N. Harbor Drive
Another new restaurant (open since the summer of 2010) in town, Bartolotta’s Harbor House, on a slender peninsula wedged between Discovery World and Milwaukee Art Museum, introduced Milwaukeeans to the convenience of raw oysters, ceviche, clams (top neck or cherrystone), shrimp, cold Maine lobster and crab claws, of the caliber that normally you’d have to fly to Boston or Florida to experience. Unsure about what to order? Simply point to one of four pre-selected towers ($24-$75), including “The Yacht” (four oysters, four clams, three shrimp, crab claws, ceviche and a half-pound lobster, $49). Harbor House also let’s you build your own tower of raw oysters from a market list. My dining companion and I seized the server’s recommendation and developed a platter of half a dozen raw oysters sourced from New York’s Long Island and the Pacific Northwest, reveling in the communal saltiness and fatty texture, but also noticing that size can vary depending on the waters in which they are caught.
9. Raw Tacos
3815 N. Brookfield Road, Brookfield
Raw food diets — where the food is cooked at a temperature of less than 115 degrees — are all the rage for health-food fanatics. The concept made an appearance in a “Sex and the City” episode a few years back, yet for most people the concept is still untapped. Open since the winter of 2008 in Brookfield, the menu (lunch and dinner) at Café Manna is mostly raw, 100-percent vegetarian and heavily influenced by the seasons. Its raw tacos ($15) — by far the most inventive in this food trend because, for one thing, the staple of ground beef or breaded fish is removed — are a customer favorite. Refried beans, seasoned nut-based “meat” and lettuce are stuffed into three corn shells, and topped with salsa and cashew sour cream. “It’s something that we brought on last fall and they have stayed with us,” says Andrea Solomon, general manager.
10. Mac ’n Cheese Pizza
2035 E. North Ave.
Tradition rules when it comes to pizza toppings. For decades most pizzeria menus have been the same. Black olives. Tomatoes. Onions. Pepperoni. Sausage. Off-beat diners might select the anchovies or barbecue chicken. Ian’s Pizza, whose first location is in Madison, takes creativity a step further by tossing noodles and baked cheddar cheese on top of its pies. “It is the most popular pizza. It’s about even with one of the meat slices we do called Smokey the Bandit,” says Ryan Donovan, general manager. Available by the slice and by the pie, and after closing time at the bars (Ian’s is open until 2:30 a.m. weekdays and 3 a.m. weekends), as well as daytime lunch, if Mac n’ Cheese is too weird, no fear. Tuna Noodle Casserole and BBQ Steak & Fries are also on deck for adventurous eaters.