Photography By Holly Leitner
An easy 10-minute car drive south of downtown is the gateway to Milwaukee’s dining and imbibing neighborhood of the moment. In the last three years alone, an artisan chocolatier, small-batch brewery and a martini lounge are among the new settlers, bumping up against a bustling tapas spot with a farm-to-table bent and a romantic french bistro serving delicacies like frog legs.
Lining South Kinnickinnic Avenue and South Howell Avenue, from East Oklahoma Avenue on the south to East Lincoln Avenue North, are no less than a dozen restaurants. Their common thread is intimacy. These are not boisterous, spacious eateries. Instead, one cozies up to a small table inside the living-room-style space of Lazy Susan – open since April of 2014 – where white lacy curtains hang in the windows and the chef dishes up interpretative plates like Swiss-chard pancakes and rabbit mole tacos. Or one slips into the long, narrow space that became the Vanguard in late October for a mid-day Bellomo Italian (pork sausage topped with fennel, pesto and Wisconsin’s own Sartori Sarvecchio Parmesan).
It’s an air of unpretentiousness that drives these spots, and nowhere is that more true than at Goodkind, tucked into a residential neighborhood on South Wentworth Avenue, inside a former pizzeria. Several seasoned restaurant employees teamed together to open the farm-to-table restaurant last summer. Sourcing from 20-some regional farms, the end results are shareable dishes like seaweed chips with pepper jelly, or a hearty leg of lamb crusted with lavender and anchovy or bacon-and-cheddar risotto or pork-cheek donut (with smoked sugar and chocolate-raspberry sauce) for weekend brunch. Cocktails are just as heralded as the food, including “Wunderkind,” crafted with two local spirits (death’s door Wondermint and great lakes distillery Absinthe).
There’s a strong farm-to-table mantra pulsing through many more dining rooms in the neighborhood, including Odd Duck. The day’s dinner menu is written based on what purveyors drop off that morning. Open since 2012, the globally inspired tapas menu dances between selections like pickled raw and roasted carrot salad with burrata and arugula puree, or smoked duck breast donburi with orange miso broth and togarashi (chili peppers from Japan). It is thoughtfully divided into Animal and Vegetable categories so carnivores and non-meat eaters can easily navigate. Charcuterie and cheese platters — featuring many local products — are a popular starter for groups. Locals complain that it’s tough to get a reservation here but that only makes snagging a table a more coveted experience.
Sweet treats are in abundance in Bay View. Honeypie – open since 2010 – is a comfort-foods- driven eatery where the cream pies, frosted cupcakes, cookies and fruit pies are locally famous. (Even vegans can eat the treats here.) For weekend brunch, the line snakes outside the door, but it’s worth the wait. At Chocobella, open since 2012, the art of hand-painted chocolates is on display. Truffles, caramels and even miniature chocolate purses are decadent delights.
But the neighborhood’s shining star is the Avalon theater, fresh off a $2 million renovation and open since December. The Mediterranean revival historic theater was last open nearly 15 years ago, and designed by Russell Barr Williamson, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. It first opened in 1929. Plop into a theater seat and a tray slides out, perfect for ordering upgrades to typical movie fare. Instead, one can order a spiked root beer float from the cocktail menu or one of six specialty pizzas, for example. There is also a lounge in the lobby serving food and retro-inspired signature cocktails like the Fonzie Old Fashioned.
Proof of Milwaukee’s storied suds history is at District 14 Brewery & Pub, which quietly opened in late 2014 near the triangle intersection of Bay View, where South Kinnickinnic and South Howell Avenues meet East Lincoln Avenue. Patrons can sample a beer flight — there are always between eight and 10 on tap, with three brewed in-house and others a strong focus on Wisconsin craft beers. On select nights there are trivia competitions and the menu is limited to pizzas, but what better pairing with a cold beer?
This article originally appeared in the 2015 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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