Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Milwaukee! When I first decided to visit Wisconsin as part of my project to visit all 50 states, I wasn’t exactly sure how to spend my first 24 hours in Milwaukee. I only had a vague and stereotypical sense of what one might find in Wisconsin.
Would there be rabid packs of green-bespackled Green Bay Packers fans roaming the streets, looking to smite anyone wearing Minnesota Vikings Purple? Did beer flow from the city fountains? Would alarm clocks wake one with the sounds of Fonzie yelling “AAAAY!” or Laverne and Shirley singing, “Schlemiel, Schlimazel?”
I was pleased to discover that 24 hours in Milwaukee contained none of these strange happenings. Instead I found delicious foods from every nationality, avant-garde art, and all the Brandy Old Fashioneds a girl could ask for. It’s Sunday, Monday Happy Days every day in Milwaukee!
24 Hours in Milwaukee
Where to Stay?
You’re going to want someplace comfy and conveniently located to rest your head while you’re enjoying your 24 hours in Milwaukee. That’s why I recommend Knickerbocker on the Lake! It’s very affordable, the rooms and clean and comfy, and it’s a convenient walk away from lovely Lake Michigan!
24 Hours in Milwaukee
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which can happen in Wisconsin, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Milwaukee
Morning: Brady Street Lunch Tour
No matter what city you’re in, a food tour can help you get to know the city’s architecture, history, and culture in a tantalizingly delicious way. I was sort of expecting the food tours in Milwaukee to consist of brats and beer. (And you can definitely find a tour like that, if your heart so desires.)
Fortunately for the rest of us, Milwaukee Food and City Tours offers a Brady Street Lunch tour. This tour will take us around Brady Street, a neighborhood with a fascinating diversity of immigrant populations. And you know what you find where there’s immigrants? Delicious food! This is the perfect way to start a 24 hours in Milwaukee.
24 Hour Tip
Some of you may be thinking that it’s a little ridiculous to start the morning of my itinerary with a lunch tour. Well, the tour starts at 11, which is technically in the morning, Internet Stranger, so don’t get huffy with me. But if you need something to do beforehand, just take a stroll around Lake Michigan. It’s within walking distance of Brady Street. I just hope a Great Lake is exciting enough for you. Once the walking is out of the way, let me share with you…
approximately top 5: brady street lunch tour edition
1) Zaffiro’s Pizza
One of the first immigrant communities to move into the Brady Street area were Italians. And what’s a partially Italian food tour without a slice of pizza? Zaffiro’s has been in Milwaukee since 1954. Just looking at that red and white checked tablecloth, and I already feel like I’m on a Roman Holiday.
I’m a native of New York City, and we’re supposed to be die-hard pizza snobs who refuse to eat a slice outside The Big Apple. But I enjoyed Zaffiro’s cascades of cheese on top of a psychotically thin crust. The fact that it was nothing like a basic New York slice made it much more appealing to me.
2) La Masa Empanada
Italians are far from the only immigrant community to populate Brady Street. A more recent arrival has been immigrants from various Latin American countries. We stopped at La Masa Empanada to taste one of their treats made from scratch. We had three kinds of empanadas to choose from. I selected the beef with egg, olive, and raisin.
It sounds kind of like a joke answer to the question, “What’s a Wisconsin empanada?” But in fact the sweetness of the raisin and the salty olive made a delicious combination. (I couldn’t really taste the egg, except I’m sure it added some richness to the dish.)
3) Italian Bakeries and Markets
You thought we were done with the Italians? Oh no! There can never be enough time for Italians on a food tour. We didn’t just stop at restaurants on the Brady Street Lunch Tour; we also feasted on a pastry from an old-school bakery. The Peter Sciortino Bakery was founded in 1947. The Sciortino family sold the business to three employees in the 1990s, but they have continued to make all the goods from scratch every day.
I was a lucky duckling because our pastry selection here was my favorite dessert of all time: the humble cannoli. (Internet pedants, be aware that I know cannoli in Italian is plural. But no one actually treats it like a plural in English, so if you’re thinking about sending me an angry email, fuggedaboutit.) This cannoli gets my seal of approval because it was filled freshly in front of me. There is nothing worse in life than a soggy cannoli.
But we didn’t have to eat this cannoli all by its lonesome. It was paired with some fresh bread from Peter Sciortino, along with a meat and cheese platter from Glorioso’s Italian Market. While we were waiting for our guide to buy the meat and cheese, we were able to explore the market and learn many helpful food facts from the posters.
I am even more interested in learning about pasta and sauce pairings than I am in learning about wine and cheese pairings. Carbs > booze.
4) Brady Street Churches
My favorite story about the diversity of immigrants in the neighborhood was related to the three churches. There used to be one Irish, one Polish, and one Italian Catholic church in the neighborhood. Attendance eventually dwindled and the community couldn’t support three different congregations. So the communities combined into one church, and now they alternate the language of the service each week. That’s more cooperation than you see in the actual European Union nowadays!
5) Red Lion
Our penultimate food stop was at Red Lion Pub. As you can see from my photo, the pub has a veddy British Isles theme, from the Guinness logo on the mirror, to the pop art of Queen Elizabeth. But this pub is not here as an example of British immigration. Our guide said that a trendy pub like this shows how the neighborhood has gentrified over the years. This pub only opened back in 2014, which is a far cry from the 1940s Peter Sciortino Bakery.
I thoroughly enjoyed my shepherd’s pie made with rich lamb in this adorable rooftop garden. However, I wasn’t sure whether I preferred this kind of Cool Brittania themed gastropub to the mom and pop shops like Peter Sciortino and Zaffiro’s. (Who am I kidding? I preferred the cannoli. That’s why the quote from The Godfather is “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”, not “Leave the gun. Take the shepherd’s pie.) But it’s nice to see old businesses and new ones coexisting side by side.
Fun fact: it’s actually illegal to conduct a food tour in Milwaukee and not stop for a beer. And you shouldn’t spend 24 hours in Milwaukee without stopping at Wolski’s for a brewski. Wolski’s is such a local legend that you can even get a bumper sticker that says “I Closed Wolski’s” if you in fact manage to stay in the place past closing time. (We each got I Closed Wolski’s bumper stickers for taking the food tour, which I think is worth the entire price of admission.)
Wolski’s is the kind of classic dive bar that I thought only existed in Elmore Leonard short stories. It certainly proves its old-school bonafides by hanging a Milwaukee Braves pennant on the wall. You probably know them better now as the Atlanta Braves, aka my favorite baseball team. As much as I like pizzerias back to the 1950s, when I see that horribly racist drawing on this pennant, I’m very glad to be living in 2019.
24 Hours in Milwaukee
Afternoon: Milwaukee Art Museum
What’s that rising out of the Great Lakes, you might ask? Is it a broken harp? A cruise ship for Guitar Band aficionados? A giant’s hastily discarded dress shirt collar? No, Internet Stranger. It’s the Milwaukee Art Museum. It combines avant-garde architecture with classic art in a way that I really enjoy.
Plus if you manage to turn just the right corner, you can find a button that will make The Death Star self destruct, so that’s a plus. Some people are afraid of/bored by/afraid of how bored they are by art museums. But there’s no need to be afraid or bored with Stella Jane here to guide you towards…
approximately top 5: Milwaukee Art Museum edition
1) Still Life #51 By Tom Wesselman
When I saw this painting, I literally laughed out loud. If I were going to make a joke about what sort of paintings they would hang in the Milwaukee Art Museum, I would say that it would be a still life of a can of PBR. Yet the Milwaukee Art Museum has cleverly beat me to the punch! Is that an orange or some other citrus fruit next to the PBR? Is this is a Milwaukee drinking ritual of some sort? Heavy Drinkers of Milwaukee, please feel free to email me the answer!
2) Madonna and Child By Nardo Di Cione
Now I will walk you through a history of Western painting in 4 steps, and you will enjoy it! During Medieval Times, most painting would have been of religious subjects like the Madonna and Child you see pictured above. This painting is interesting stylistically because it’s somewhere in between the stylized figures in Medieval painting and the more realistic people in the Renaissance.
That’s why the Madonna looks almost like a real woman with the enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa. However, the baby Jesus looks like a strangely buff shrunken man sitting on her shoulder, and not like a real baby in the arms of its mother. Also those hands can’t be right. I simply can’t believe that the Virgin Mary had fingers like Slender Man.
3) Moses Presenting the Tablets of the Law
After the Medieval period, the Renaissance arrived. Any painter who was any painter suddenly had to go to art school and learn about things like perspective and chiaroscuro, so that’s why the paintings start to get more realistic. “Moses Presenting the Tablets of the Law” by Philippe de Champagne dates to the 17th century.
You can see how diligently de Champagne worked to bring Moses to life. Every detail from the shades of gray in the beard to the dirt under the fingernails is flawless. You almost wouldn’t be surprised if this Moses leaned out from the picture frame and bellowed, “THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE”.
4) Le Salon
So apparently once you start painting realistic Moseses instead of shrunken buff baby Jesuses, all bets are off. Now we get to the 18th century and rich people all over Europe are collecting fancy portraits of themselves, paintings and sculptures of Greek and Roman mythology, and even paintings of random countrysides and ships and carriages in the snow.
Looking at all the wealth and beauty gathered into one space here, it’s kind of no surprise that so many people who were living this large ended up getting guillotined in the French Revolution. Their art collections were simply to die for.
5) The One With the Little Boy in The Red Hat
OK, that’s not the actual title of this painting. I forgot to write it down. We come to a later stage of European painting, the Painting of Ordinary Folk in their Ordinary Houses living their ordinary lives. This downer looks like it was painted to advertise a cover version of “What About the Children?” I can feel myself pulling out my checkbook to send Sally Struthers a donation because these cherub-faced kids are really tugging at my heartstrings.
Apparently the red cap the boy is wearing signifies that he was a partisan of the French Revolution. Again, when some adorable little French children were living in disheveled hovels while others were spending their days gamboling about Daddy’s salon, it’s no surprise that the French Revolution happened. Allons enfants de la patrie!
24 Hours in Milwaukee
Evening: Dinner at Bavette La Boucherie
Though I am not a vegetarian, I welcome my vegetarian readers. I try to indicate veggie-friendly restaurants whenever possible. Today, however, will not be one of those occasions. Today we dine in a butcher shop. Bavette La Boucherie is one of the most celebrated restaurants in Milwaukee. It’s also a working butcher shop as well as a restaurant, so it may take you a moment to get seated, if the maitre d’ is helping someone at the meat counter. But once you are seated, get ready for the finest meaty treats Milwaukee has to offer.
approximately top 5: Bavette La Boucherie Edition
1) Brandy Old Fashioned
I had never heard of a Brandy Old Fashioned until I arrived in Milwaukee. A whiskey old fashioned had always been fine with me. But apparently a BOF is just about the most Milwaukee cocktail out there. It’s even featured in the book Around the World in 80 Cocktails as a Milwaukee treasure. It’s a bit sweeter than a whiskey old fashioned, sort of like the Doris Day to a whiskey old fashioned’s Rock Hudson.
2) Deviled Eggs
Every dish I ate at Bavette La Boucherie seemed to be saying to me, “We’re fancy but we’re pretending we’re not”. Nothing screamed this louder than these deviled eggs. They look like ordinary deviled eggs your Great-Aunt Iva would make for a family reunion picnic, but in fact they are made with smoked trout and trout roe. And I’m pretty sure your Great-Aunt Iva has never heard of trout roe.
3) Beef Cheek Reuben
Before my 24 hours in Milwaukee, I thought I knew all about the Reuben. After all, I’m from New York City, where many say that the Reuben was invented. But back home, a Reuben is made with corned beef, sauerkraut, melted Swiss, and Russian dressing. But this obviously wouldn’t be cutting it for a restaurant in a butcher shop. That’s why their Reubens are made with tender beef cheeks. You get less tendon and salt with the beef cheeks, and to be honest, I can’t think of a single thing you’re giving up. All Reubens should be made with beef cheeks from now on, says I!
Even if the beef cheek Reuben is not available, I definitely encourage you to experiment with one of Bavette La Boucherie’s more unusual cuts of meat. How often do you get to experience fine dining in a butcher shop? Live a little, Internet Stranger! Stick that tongue in your mouth!
4) Corn Pudding
The desserts at Bavette La Boucherie are seasonal, so it makes sense that in summer you can snack on corn pudding tossed with summer berries. It tastes as summery as a game of Capture the Flag at Camp Anawanna. Also it’s a good decision to snack on something light after all that beef cheek.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Milwaukee, Wisconsin!
What would you do with 24 hours in Milwaukee? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Milwaukee right now? Can a painting of PBR really be considered fine art? And how fast would you get a can of seltzer thrown at you if you tried to order a beef cheek Reuben at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Milwaukee. If you have time for another 24 hours in Milwaukee, try this itinerary!