July 3, 2015
What was once a dusty corridor of small machine shops and soaring warehouse spaces, Milwaukee‘s Walker’s Point neighbourhood has evolved into the city’s Restaurant Row.
Located just south of downtown and the Third Ward, this founding city neighbourhood has become a trendy dining destination, with more than a dozen restaurants, distilleries and food producers – most located on or just off of 2nd Street.
Artisan chocolate, gin, beer, ice cream and cheese are all produced within blocks of each other, with most of the chefs using their products in intriguing dishes and drinks.
“Walker’s Point has really become an incubator of great food,” says Teresa Nemetz, owner of Milwaukee Food Tours. “The thing I’ve noticed on the Walker’s Point Dine Around Tour is that people are just blown away by what this neighbourhood offers. It’s this amazing gem.”
It’s the diversity that drives Walker’s Point, says Darnell Ashley, owner of Milwaukee’s famed barbecue joint, Ashley’s Bar-B-Que, who opened his second location, Ashley’s Que, on the corner of National and 2nd, just two years ago. “One of the things that makes Milwaukee great is that it is a melting pot for everything, and you really get that here in Walker’s Point,” says Ashley. “You really have something of everything, and all of a sudden, no matter where you look, there’s a new shop or restaurant opening up.”
Just a decade ago, the street offered only party bars and many empty, industrial buildings. Then, people like Peggy Magister moved into the neighbourhood. Magister, who trained at the California Culinary Institute, became a trailblazer when she opened Crazy Water in 2002, in what was once an old German beer bar. The heart of Crazy Water was behind the bar so there, Magister placed her kitchen, and passersby on 2nd Street could enjoy watching her create her California fusion cuisine from the front window. “This really has the historic flavour of old Milwaukee, but the food here is really now, and you can find something for everyone on this street,” Magister says.
Magister and her nephew Justin Anthony recently opened the A.P. Bar and Kitchen. “This is really an up-and-coming neighbourhood,” Anthony says. “You know, it’s funny – you’ve got one of the city’s hottest boutique hotels, The Iron Horse in walking distance, you’re close to downtown and the freeway, and you have these great restaurants and food producers in these amazing buildings.”
Just about everything is local at Braise Restaurant and Culinary School, 1101 S. 2nd St. Chef David Swanson not only uses local ingredients and teaches classes about them, but he also procures ingredients for other area restaurants through his first in the country Restaurant Supported Agriculture or RSA. Like a CSA but for chefs, Swanson brings fresh produce, meats and dairy products from local farms and distributes them to chefs. He also hosts farm dinners – both at his restaurant and at his favourite farms. “There’s such a disconnect between what’s being grown and what’s being consumed,” Swanson says. “We work with about 400 different, local farms.”
But you don’t need to travel outside the neighbourhood for mozzarella and other fresh cheeses. Clock Shadow Creamery, Milwaukee’s first cheese factory and one of only a handful of urban creameries in the country, also makes its home on the corner of Bruce and 2nd streets. “Our advantage is we can get cheese to people that’s fresher than anything people can import or get from across the state,” says cheesemaker Bob Wills.
What really makes Walker’s Point stand out, Wills says, is the sense of community. On a recent afternoon, Wills was grilling Uruguayan styled cheese outside the creamery, using borrowed grills from his neighbour, Saz’s Catering Company, when a man who works at Milwaukee Brewing Company came up to him with a six pack of beer. “I’m out there grilling, and it’s rainy and cold, and he comes up to me, saying “˜It’s not right for somebody to be grilling without a beer’. The sense of community here is just growing all the time,” says Wills.
Wills’ cheeses are also paired with chocolates across the street at Indulgence Chocolatiers, which not only sells truffles but also pairs them with wine, beer and cheese.
Wills’ sense of community originally included sharing space with Purple Door Ice Cream, but flavours such as salted caramel and whiskey were so popular, owners Lauren and Steve Schultz needed a larger production space so moved down the street to their own quarters, where they sell tasting flights of ice cream, along with traditional treats. The whiskey they use is Kinnickinnic, made by Great Lakes Distillery, which is, naturally, located a few blocks away.
“When we first moved here, Milwaukee Brewing was working on opening their brewery, and there were pretty limited things going on,” says founder Guy Rehorst. “Now, there’s Brenner Brewing, and Madison’s MobCraft Brewing is moving into the neighbourhood”.
Walker’s Point is also home to the city’s other two distilleries, Central Standard and Twisted Path. “Frankly, when we had the idea to open a craft distillery, Walker’s Point was the only neighbourhood in town we were focused on,” says co-founder Evan Hughes. “Everyone in the neighbourhood has that entrepreneurial spirit and is extremely creative.” The Central Standard is unique in that its tasting room bar doubles as its make room, and visitors at times can watch the distilling process from a bar stool.
“The food scene here is nothing shore of spectacular right now,” says Jennifer Streicher, general manager of the eclectic Black Sheep Tap Wine Bar, which offers both haute dogs and gourmet sausages with dramatic, ovine-inspired art on the walls. “I dine out in Walker’s Point more than all the other city neighbourhoods combined. I’d call it a mecca of passionate new restaurateurs more concerned with quality and creativity than profit.”
One of the more creative restaurants to open recently is Movida, an authentic Spanish tapas bar located in an old machine shop. “There’s really a dynamic, diverse and eclectic scene here,” says Andrei Mikhail, one of the owners of Movida, who lived in Madrid for more than a decade.
International tapas like roasted heirloom squash ravioli and South American empanadas can be enjoyed on the expansive, lounge-like patio at La Merenda. Just last year, owner Peter Sandroni opened Engine Company No. 3 in an old fire station, where lunch and breakfast are served every day except Monday.
But for Monday brunch, head to the Noble, a tiny restaurant packed into a bar that serves dinner other nights of the week. Still hungry? Head to Blue Jacket for seafood and cocktails; mushroom and locally foraged food at Morel; and the Monday farmers’ market on the green roof of the building where Clock Shadow Creamery is located.
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Written by Jeanette Hurt