This is the first of a three-part series by our resident Moto-Foodie Ken Aiken. You can find part two here and part three here.
I had flown into Kansas City, hopped onto a waiting Harley, and for the next three days and four states rode with the chief executives of Best Western Hotels, Harley-Davidson, and a few cohorts to arrive in Milwaukee at the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Museum.
As the headquarters for Harley-Davidson since 1903, this is indisputably a biker-friendly town. It’s also famous for its breweries—Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz—and becoming known for its craft beers. Harley-Davidson retrieved their motorcycles in the parking lot of the museum almost before we could put the kickstands down. No matter, Visit Milwaukee had invited me to stay a few extra days and would supply me with a driver to enable me to explore the food scene in their city.
It was Sunday morning and the founder of Milwaukee Food Tours, Theresa Nemetz, had invited me on their Bloody Mary Brunch tour in the Third Ward. For 2 ½ hours I tagged along as our guide maneuvered a fairly large group through a succession of very busy restaurants—The Wicked Hop; Swig Milwaukee; Evolution Milwaukee; and Rustico—each featuring their own unique elaboration of the classic Bloody Mary and signature brunch specialties.
It was my understanding that this particular cocktail was cure for a hangover. After my third Bloody Mary I simply couldn’t take anymore and switched to Mimosas, yet this was the most professional and entertaining guided food tour I’d ever joined.
The walking tour ended at the Milwaukee Public Market.Filled with vendors selling fresh produce; artisan chocolates, wine (with a wine bar); seafood (with an oyster bar); wood-fired, brick-oven pizza; beer on tap; and more. Upstairs were tables for casual dining and a demonstration kitchen area used for cooking classes.
Markets such as this one provide a rather reliable insight into the nature and extent of a city’s foodie scene. While not extremely large in extent, the high quality and variety of retail products being sold suggested that Milwaukee was a vibrant culinary destination.
I killed a little time exploring boutiques and peering into display windows in the Historic Third Ward before taking a 15-minute walk to my next destination in the Walker’s Point district.
For a man who doesn’t drink much, it was ironic that mid-afternoon found me
sitting at the bar in the Great Lakes Distillery. I was aware that they were producing genuine absinthe, but somehow a couple bottles of experimental cherry hooch were pulled from somewhere and I became a fan.
Vodka, gin, whiskey, and bourbon followed as I received an orientation about modern distilling while dutifully sampling their products downstairs next to the micro-still. Their blended whiskey was far too “young” for my taste, but the gin is the best I’ve ever drunk.
Fortunately, my temporary abode, the Iron Horse Hotel, was located almost directly opposite the street from the distillery. The Iron Horse Hotel is a hip, boutique-style, biker-friendly abode located on the northern edge of Walker’s Point.
My room overlooked the Harley-Davidson Museum—a five-minute walk—and the downtown Milwaukee skyline. With the Smyth Restaurant and a very popular bar on the first floor, it was an ideal base from which to explore Milwaukee.