Sunday, December 23, 2007

More Than You'd Expect

Milwaukee is more than you'd expect for a Midwestern U.S. city not commonly considered a tourist destination. With a few hours to spare while visiting on a business trip last week, I made some pleasant discoveries:

I stayed downtown at the boutique Hotel Metro, with its art deco-inspired design and all-suite rooms with two flat-screen TVs, huge sunken tub and Aveda amenities. Be forewarned, though: a number of the rooms face a parking lot that has annoying bright lights shining and a series of loud noises (cars honking, trash pick-up) all night long...

The city's revitalized historic turn-of-the-century warehouse and manufacturing district known as the Third Ward is buzzing with coffee shops, galleries and restaurants.
Thankfully, the coffee craze has hit Milwaukee and it's more than Starbucks! Alterra Coffee Company is a specialty coffee roaster known for its commitment to social and environmental responsibility and its practice of sourcing specialty coffees via direct relationships with growers. Their Third Ward location at 1st and Pittsburgh is a cozy spot to hang out. My machiatto lived up to their espresso roast's description as "thick, lasting, reddish-brown crema; full, caramel-toned, mouth-coating body; soft, berry-sweet acidity; and flavors like chocolate, roasted nuts..."

Barclay Gallery, around the corner from Alterra, is a combination fine craft gallery and restaurant. The cafe's airy, light-filled room was packed when I stopped by at 1 pm. Although I resisted the tempation to grab a bite, I found myself drawn to the handmade watches by Uruguayan artist Milieris. Unable to pick between two options, what would you have done?

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a must-see for its architecture alone. The first Santiago Calatrava-designed building in the United States, the museum features a 90-foot high glass-walled reception hall enclosed by the Burke Brise Soleil, a sunscreen that can be raised or lowered creating a unique moving sculpture. I have to admit, I didn't actually check out the collection...

I had a delicious meal at Bacchus, located in an historic apartment building about a 15 minute walk from the hotel: a creamy lobster bisque skillfully poured over lobster chunks centered at the bottom of the bowl, followed by red wine braised beef shortibs with sweet potato puree and wilted brussel sprout leaves. But it's the wine list that impressed me most - the first I've seen with a table of contents!

The Vintage Wine Shop at 632 E. Ogden Ave happily fulfilled my search for a couple of bottles of interesting Oregon pinot noirs and German rieslings not readily available in Toronto. (414) 220-4217.

Last but not least, our pleasant cab driver Omar was at the ready whenever we needed a ride from place to place. His cellphone number is 502-533-6700.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pub Grub That Comforts Stomach & Soul

We ventured out in the snow last night to a surprise birthday party on Queen West. Waiting in the cold for the streetcar, it was an evening made for cuddling under blankets at home in front of a fire. Dinner at Mitzi's Sister turned out to be a satisfying substitute - comfort food, high-end pub grub, cozy bar and neighborhood hang-out all rolled into one.

We started out with a bowl of the soup of the day, cauliflower with asiago ($4.95). Creamy and cheesy with bits of bacon strewn about, our host summed it up best with "by the time you reached the bottom of the bowl, the bacon had infused the soup with a delightful smoky flavour." Oven roasted chicken wings were substantial and meaty, a welcome change from the typical anemic version drowned in batter and fried (1 pound for $9.95). My mouth was on fire from the hot sauce on the side, but nothing a cold hard cider on tap couldn't cure ($3). Sweet potatoes made a surprise appearance in the basket of twisted sister fries served with zesty jalapeno mayo ($5.25). Onion rings were positively addictive! The requisite blowing out of candles took place atop luscious chocolate and vanilla cakes from the Sweet Tooth Pastry Shop on the Danforth.

The friendly atmosphere turned a gathering for a friend's birthday into a real party. Two tables set off from the rest of the crowd let us freely mingle, toot horns and break out in song, seemingly without bothering anyone! We barely noticed the gust of wind and snow on our way out onto the street, our needs for nourishment from good food and friendship completely met.

1554 Queen Street West (between Landsowne and Sorauren)