Brr! Dishcrawl Was Freezing But Delicious
Milwaukee's second annual event toured four Third Ward restaurants in near-zero weather.
About two years ago, Milwaukee joined the ranks of 125 major metropolitan areas in North America, such as San Francisco, Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas and Montreal, in hosting a “Dishcrawl.” On Tuesday, February 11, I attended Milwaukee’s second annual version of the event.
Dishcrawl was founded by Tracy Lee, a self-described “groupie of chefs” in San Jose, California in 2010. She started with no investment – nor any real business model – and developed the company to the point where she could quit her “robot” job in the corporate world, as she described it. The company’s purpose is a delightful one: to show that food is the best way to bring communities together and to provide opportunities to meet new people while enjoying great food in your home town.
Dishcrawl offers participants guided tours through four restaurants in one night. The first restaurant serves up appetizers, the second offers up a more substantial serving, the third is the main course and the fourth is dessert. Adding fun, the choice of restaurants is kept secret until everyone meets at the first place, lending an air of surprise to the whole experience.
Dishcrawl “Ambassadors” are selected by the organization in each city across North America (and, soon, in Great Britain) from among a city’s best chefs, foodies and other popular culinary figures. They facilitate culinary crawls, featured chef meals, and more social dining experiences. Its heart of operations is in California’s Silicon Valley. You can find it online here.
Tickets for Milwaukee’s second Dishcrawl cost $45 each. Drinks are extra, which participants must pay for at each location themselves. Everything is done on line. The initial meet-up place is divulged via email just a few days before the date. Our group of 33 diners met at Riverfront Pizzeria Bar & Grill at 509 E. Erie Street in the Third Ward. While last year’s Milwaukee Dishcrawl took place Downtown, this year’s event was centered in the Historic Third Ward. The email advised us to wear comfortable shoes because we would be doing some walking, from restaurant to restaurant. Now, I realize there was no way to know in advance that we would be suffering through the worst winter in over 20 years, but still, walking all over the Third Ward in February? Really?
Well, we do it in January for winter Gallery Night, so my companion and I were not going to let the 1° F. temperature discourage us (too much) from taking part because, after all, we’re hardy Wisconsinites, and that’s what we do – we do stuff when it’s cold as hell outside! (And, no, I’m not a native, but I’ve by now lived here longer than anywhere else, so I consider myself to be a Wisconsinite. Brrr.)
And that’s a shame because it’s good – at least what I could ascertain from the plate they put before me holding three components: (1) Insalata Caprese, (2) roasted red pepper, spinach and artichoke dip with dipping croutons, and (3) Mediterranean pizza. The salad was spot on; sliced, fresh Roma tomato, Mozzarella and basil. Simple. Fresh. The way it’s supposed to be. The artichoke dip tasted tangy, zesty, fruity and cheesy. I’ll go back for more! The pizza was very good indeed – very thin, crisp crust, fresh olives, tomato bits, fried sausage crumbles, herbs, cheese. A work of art. Though they were a little stingy pouring the wine, it’s an attractive place, clean, with modern décor, awesome food — so where have I been for seven years?
Next was Water Buffalo at the intersection of Water and Buffalo streets. I admit it, we drove there from Riverfront Pizzeria because the weather was insufferable (there go my Milwaukee credentials). This was another place I’ve never tried. Water Buffalo boasts a cozy, yet airy space tastefully decorated with rustic, yet modern appeal. We each had a glass of Italian proseco that matched perfectly with a spread of Louisiana crab cakes, spaghetti squash with quinoa meatball and chicken rolls with homemade guacamole. The crab cakes were firm, perfectly browned and a little spicy, nice. The treatment of the quinoa made for perfectly textured “meatballs” to top the squash “spaghetti.” That was truly a welcome vegetarian option. The chicken rolls were crispy puff pastry stuffed with spicy chicken, onion, poblano chili, Mexican queso blanco and avocado sour cream. Absolutely delicious, and very friendly service.
The event was extremely well organized, but even the best-planned events have glitches. Ours came by way of our third stop, The Smoke Shack, experiencing more business than was apparently anticipated so they couldn’t serve us at the scheduled time. So it was off to what should have been the fourth and final destination for our group, Milwaukee Cupcake Company at 316 N. Milwaukee Street. The venue was just too small to host our large group and lacked enough seating for all of us. This might have been remedied by putting out a few folding chairs temporarily, but as it is, we all lined up at the glass counter to the rear of the house to get our three miniature cupcakes, juggling them in our hands on a small, white napkin. Logistics aside, one of the little cupcakes was a decadent Strawberry Champaign that is to die for. The other two, Peanut Butter Cup and Red Velvet were also splendid. Now, I don’t really care much for cake (strange, I know), but even I enjoyed them – later on, that is. We saved ours in little brown paper bags they gave us to transport the cupcakes to the next restaurant, which is how we worked out the evening’s glitch for ourselves.
Which bring us to The Smoke Shack, located just next door (thank the Polar gods) at 322 N. Milwaukee Street, our last stop. Again, my friend and I had never been there before, so the night was a true adventure. I was struck by the charm of the Smoke Shack’s décor – both inside and out. You can tell the owners put a lot of work into it. The front entrance is, indeed, a quaint, little shack that ushers patrons into a cozy environment accented by tin-roof-mason-jar-lighting and country-style etiquette where your flatware is presented to you folded in homey, kitchen-towel napkins. On the tables, an array of different barbeque sauces are just a reach away in lazy-Susan carousels. At the end of the visit, patrons receive Smoke Shack wet wipes to help clean away all the barbeque sauce.
Our group was presented a plate with three items: Kansas City Egg Rolls (pulled pork, Monterrey Jack cheese, cabbage, mustard and Kansas-City-style barbeque sauce in a crispy-fried egg roll), Sloppy Joe Sliders with brisket (slow-smoked brisket, green peppers and onions in their Texas-style barbecue sauce) and unusual chicken nachos with brightly colored corn tortilla chips topped with a chilled chicken salsa. To the side was also plated a tiny nest (too tiny, really) of mixed greens with just about the best, zippy and spicy dressing I’ve had in a long time. Though the slider and the egg roll were tasty enough, I did not care for the chilled chicken topping on the nachos. That seemed to be the verdict with others at our table. The ambiance is what would make me want to return to this place.
I should mention that the Dishcrawl staff will accommodate vegetarian diets and any special, dietary needs a group member has. To find out when the next Milwaukee Dishcrawl will take place, contact Milwaukee Dishcrawl Ambassador Justin Lockridge through the dishcrawl web site.
Recipe: Beef Brisket with Homemade Barbeque Sauce (serves 4).
This is done in a slow cooker and really turns out a succulent, beefy brisket to make sandwiches with or simply pile high on your plate and cover with the zesty, homemade sauce. If you don’t have a slow cooker, do yourself a favor and get one because you don’t know what you’re missing out on. I like to toss in a few, whole Yukon gold potatoes and an onion cut into quarter-wedges to cook with the meat.
¾ cup water
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon beef bouillon granules (I use a teaspoon of beef “Better than Bouillon”)
½ teaspoon dry mustard powder
½ teaspoon Mexican-style chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne), or to taste
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2½-pound beef brisket
For the Sauce
½ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
For cooking liquid: In a bowl, combine water, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, bouillon, mustard, chili powder, red pepper, and garlic; reserve ½ cup liquid for sauce (be sure some garlic slices are in it!).
Do not trim fat from brisket before putting it in the slow cooker (do that after it’s done). If necessary, cut brisket to fit into cooker; place in a 3½ – 4-quart crockery cooker with the fat-layer on top. Pour remaining liquid over brisket.
Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 10 to 12 hours or high-heat setting for 5 to 6 hours.
For the sauce, combine ½ cup reserved liquid, catsup, brown sugar, and margarine in a small saucepan. Simmer on low heat, just so it’s slightly bubbling, until reduced by at least a third (about 45 minutes to an hour). Fish out the garlic slices and serve sauce with the meat.