Cari Taylor-Carlson
Dining

Vanguard Is a Milwaukee Treasure

Heaven for sausage lovers. And those who aren’t will be amazed at how varied the fare is.

By - May 13th, 2019 02:58 pm
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The Vanguard. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

The Vanguard. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Many times, I’ve said to friends, “Let’s meet at Vanguard. They have awesome sausages. Trust me.”

In response, I get rolled eyes, because really, it’s hard to get excited about a sausage. That is, until you belly up to the bar, or sit at a communal table at The Vanguard, and order a Milan Cevapi. This “No bun” sausage, a mix of pork, lamb, oregano, and coriander, comes with ajvar, a condiment made with red pepper and olive oil, tzatziki sauce, feta, sweet pickled red onion, and iceberg lettuce. They serve it with four pieces of lightly charred pita to soak up the flavors of the ajvar. This is fine dining in a sausage, a gourmet meal in a paper box, which can only be improved with the addition of a glass of the recommended Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA.

Chris Schulist and Jim McCann opened Vanguard in 2014 after they did a total makeover of a rundown bar on Kinnickinnic, Bay View’s main street. They hired Chef Shay Linkus, a master wurstmaker (with the perfect name), who took sausage to new heights of culinary alchemy.

Now there’s a new chef and an updated menu. After Linkus moved on to open Snack Boys, and Schulist and McCann hired Chef Patrick “Paddy” Joyce, the menu changed and grew, pleasing hundreds of regulars, people like me who can’t get enough of their creative take on sausages and hot dogs.

The first thing you’ll notice when you bite into a sausage is its tender skin. This surprise in the mouth happens because Chef Joyce, and his team of Artie Bucco, Dan Scherra, and Sean Weber, use the sous vide method to precook the meat. This boil-in-a-bag routine, in temperature-controlled water, intensifies the flavors while the casings soften and almost completely melt into the filling. After the meat reaches the proper temperature, a chef finishes the sausage on the flattop or on the grill.

This insures every meat is completely cooked before it reaches the grill, even the Duck BLT, which, according to Schulist, some customers have questioned because of its pink color coming from sun-dried tomatoes in the mix.

After more than a few visits to Vanguard, I can report on several hits and not a miss among them. The Thai Breaker, made with pork, lemongrass, ginger, and cilantro, served with peanut sauce, shredded carrots, lettuce, and more cilantro, was a brilliant marriage of flavors. The Curry Chameleon, another “No bun” sausage, made with chicken, pork, tamarind, raisin, and Thai basil, had a spicy green curry sauce, along with bamboo shoots and cashews. They served this sausage over fries, making sort of a bastardized poutine.

If you order from Classics, they’re served naked, but you have a choice of add-ons: onion, relish, hot giardiniera, sport pepper, and Vanguard hot kraut. Even the Bratwurst, one of the Classics, has a twist, with its combination of pork, nutmeg, marjoram, and ginger. Also, under Classics, vegans and vegetarians will appreciate three dogs made with seitan: Red Curry, Chorizo, and Italian.

If you want regional, go to the Sausage by the City section (with six cities’ sausage specialties) for a Milwaukee Hot Dog with cheese curds, cheddar cheese, and cheese whiz. For a touch of Seattle, you can add cream cheese, cheddar, and onion. For something south of the border, try the Tijuana with sour cream, chipotle relish, jalapeno, and cheddar.

To my delight, there are now three choices of Poutine: Belgian Beef, South Buffalo, and the one I ordered, Roasted Garlic. If you’re a fan of fries smothered with goat cheese mornay, fried basil, mushrooms, and garlic ragout, order size large as I did. A little gluttony is in order when it comes to poutine. The same goes for the fries, order large, as they are crisp, down to the last scrap. When you order those fries, you don’t want to overlook the tiny fine print at the bottom of the menu where you’ll find the list of dipping sauces, each for an additional 50 cents.

From the Sides, Pan-Fried Green Beans, a shareable, are blistered, spicy from chili flakes and horseradish, and have expanded the vocabulary for ways to serve ordinary green beans. Also, from the Sides, you don’t want to leave without ordering the Baked Potato Balls with sour cream, cheese whiz, bacon, and chives, four spicy potato balls smothered with so much delicious, they are hard to share.

They have a Lunch Special on Monday-Thursday, 11-3, which includes a free soda, and an order of fries, or, for an additional $2.00, you can add a PBR.

When our long-awaited spring arrives, there’s a patio out back with communal picnic tables and two shade trees for the dog days of summer.

Here’s a caveat. Don’t get too excited about the aforementioned sausages as the menu changes often; but rest assured, it doesn’t matter, because whatever you find in your cardboard box, it’s all good. Very good.

On The Menu

Photo Gallery

The Rundown

  • Location: 2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
  • Phone: 414-539-3593
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mon-Sun
  • Walk Score: 84
  • Website: http://www.vanguardbar.com
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/vanguardmke
  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanguardmke
  • UM Rating: 3.9 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)
  • Menu size: 50
  • Price range food (small plates): $2.00-$9.00
  • Wine list size (glasses): 8
  • Price range wine (glasses): $8.00
  • Beer list size (tap): 12
  • Beer list size (bottles): 43
  • Cuisine Style: Beer, hot dogs

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