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A Good Land That Keeps Giving

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November 25, 2014

By Kyle Cherek
Host of Wisconsin Foodie


There was a time when the best way to taste the highlights of a region was to dine at one of its grand hotels. They combined cosmopolitan sophistication and regional flair. Though much of how and why we travel has changed, a few of Milwaukee’s better hotels have kept this tradition alive, offering a sense of place through food.

A fine hotel nestled in one of the most fertile places on earth ought to deliver special dishes that reflect gifts of the soil.  Chef Aaron Miles at Milwaukee’s Intercontinental Hotel does just that.  It is true that ingredients available to chefs with seasonal acumen do narrow by November, but for an accomplished chef, that is where the fun begins. Chef Miles has a “no butternut squash policy” in his kitchen. “The stuff is ubiquitous,” he told me.  Instead he populates the late-season [email protected] fall menu with Minnesota wild rice cakes, root vegetable blends colored with rutabaga, winter carrots and parsnips, with enough autumn vibrato to hold their own against a lamb shank brined in IPA from Lakefront Brewery. He cooks with an eye toward the season, without falling back on old standards or the overwrought crutch of “comfort food,” heavily sauced and bereft of spirit.

Just a dozen blocks to the South, Chef Bradford Shovlin’s menu for Smyth at the Iron Horse Hotel evinces his Midwest heritage and accomplished training. After stints with Chef Bruce Sherman of Chicago’s North Pond (a 5-time James Beard Best Chef Award nominee and 2012 winner) and time in other esteemed kitchens, Shovlin brings a delicate, culinary inventiveness to the hotel that Condé Nast Traveler Magazine listed among the 100 best in the country.

My favorite of Shovlin’s opening dishes takes lush Beluga lentils which give way to locally -sourced kale, cauliflower, hazelnuts and Pleasant Ridge Reserve (one of the rock stars of Wisconsin cheese). Another dish that reveals his poised, seasonal sensibilities, is the bison tartar from nearby New Belgium, Wisconsin. The farm, called Lake View Buffalo, is helmed by a fifth generation farming family. I filmed a Wisconsin Foodie at the farm in 2011, and the majestic animals and the family that raises them were highlights of the whole season. Eschewing the standard tartar preparation, he pairs it with a horseradish-cured egg yolk, caper berries and Sarvecchio (a Wisconsin Cheese that beat the parmesan-making Italians at their own game when blind tasted at an International Cheese composition in 2012 as “Best in Class.”) 

This deep into the season, the natural predilection is to hunker down, to find a place that offers the warmth the soul seeks as the days get that much shorter.  Milwaukee, to its credit, has always been known as one of the more friendly places; an honest city, in the sense that, when you visit, we are genuinely glad you did.  As autumn rolls into winter, I am glad that my city remains a place where one can tuck-in and savor the memorable cooking and hospitality of a good land that keeps giving.


The Holiday Shuffle: 5 Things to Do When They’re STILL Here

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By Jennifer Posh
Content & Copywriting Specialist
VISIT Milwaukee

So you’ve carved the turkey and decked the halls. You’ve exchanged hugs and learned all about Cousin Susie’s new job and Uncle John’s broken toe. You’ve done everything that the holidays require…and your out-of-town guests are still in your house. Luckily, Milwaukee is full of seasonal delights to get you out of the house and all back into the ho-ho-holiday spirit.

A performance of A Christmas Carol by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Try one of these foolproof methods for forgetting whoever it is that keeps leaving their wet towel on the bathroom floor and remembering that you’re family and you love each other.

  1. Ride the Jingle Bus – Seeing all the beautiful holiday lights downtown is easy. For just $1 per person, you can take a 40 minute tour on a comfy Coach USA bus and marvel in the festive panorama on display. With each tour led by a helpful Milwaukee Downtown Public Service Ambassador, this is a great option for first-time visitors who’d also like to get to know the city. You’ll also get to enjoy complimentary cookies and cocoa in the “Warming House” while waiting to board the bus, along with a holiday coloring book for the kids.
  2. Check out a holiday show – From stone-cold classics like the Milwaukee Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s “A Christmas Carol” to kid-friendly fun like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” at First Stage and irreverent laughs at “A Cudahy Caroler Christmas” at In Tandem Theatre, everyone in the family will find something to spark some holiday cheer.
  3. Get active in North Pole style – After too much turkey, pie and all the other stuff in between, you’re probably ready to get a jump start on your New Year’s resolution to start exercising. Milwaukee is home to both the Santa Rampage, a merry cycling pub crawl where both riders and cycles are decked out in their holiday finest, and the Santa Hustle 5K. The Rampage is BYO-Costume, but signing up for Santa Hustle will get you a jolly sweatshirt along with your own Santa hat and beard.
  4. Visit the Kooky Cooky House – A beloved Milwaukee holiday tradition from the 1960s and 70s is being revived this year at Discovery World. A visit to this whimsical automated cookie factory is free with museum admission. Any long-time Milwaukee residents in your family? Give them the opportunity to introduce the new generation to this wacky classic.
  5. Take a brewery tour – So this isn’t exactly holiday related. So what? You’re in Milwaukee, and brewery tours are a great way to entertain a big group. Anyone who’s still in a sour mood after the hilarious tour at Lakefront Brewery, meeting the hologram of Frederick Miller at MillerCoors, sipping a delicious root beer alongside German-style brews at Sprecher Brewing or facing off with the brewery scoundrels of Milwaukee Brewing Company is nothing but a straight-up Scrooge.

Don’t let close quarters and overly-strong ‘nog ruin your magical holiday memories. It’s the season of good cheer, after all – let the city bring fun and festivity back to your holiday visit this year.

(Five wasn't enough for you? Find more local holiday events here!)