Cari Taylor-Carlson

Don’t Try Fairgrounds for Food

Chicago-based chain’s local cafe has a great selection of coffees, teas. The food? Meh.

By - Nov 19th, 2019 05:32 pm


Fairgrounds Coffee. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Fairgrounds Coffee. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Fairgrounds Craft Coffee and Tea story is “all about discovering something new and seeing something that makes one say WOW,” as the cafe’s website notes. And you might be inclined to say “wow” about the cafe’s vast number of Rishi Tea varietals, the multiple coffee choices, the list of 10 Elixirs or maybe even the comfy couches and chairs. 

But maybe not about the food.

So let’s start with the elixirs because the Butterscotch Chai made with butterscotch infused tea, organic salted caramel flavor, and dusted with cinnamon, was my favorite drink at the café. It may or may not have delivered the dictionary definition of an elixir, “…a sweet substance or solution that cures the problem at hand,” but it sure tasted good, this small cup of caramel sweetness. Other elixirs on the menu include black and tan coffee infused with grass fed butter and coconut oil known as Alternative Energy, or the Flower Power Milk Tea with Matcha, the powder of specially grown green tea, or Jasmine Butterfly Pea Flower Tea, with jasmine syrup and whole or coconut milk.

If one of the elixirs didn’t cure your ailments, you might check out the Vosges Chocolate Truffle Mocha as I did, only to have it arrive not steamy hot like my Butterscotch Chai, but instead, barely tepid. I did enjoy the accompanying chocolate truffle.

The tea and coffee options with their own separate drink menu will leave you in a quandary. How do you decide among 11 kinds of organic tea, whole leaf, hot, or iced, and seven varieties of coffee from the Basic Brew Bar. One solution for your dilemma might be a flight, three eight oz. pours for $12.89.

The owners also paid close attention to small details like the copper cups used for the self-serve water. According to the sign posted nearby, a copper cup is known to “…reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and boost immunity.” Which I guess makes water an elixir, so long as it’s in a copper cup.

Fairgrounds sits at the corner of Astor and State on the ground level of the Vantage on the Park apartments, formerly the Park East Hotel. All traces of the most recent occupant, an Indian restaurant, have been erased. In its place, the café is an upbeat space with plenty of tables for people to settle in with laptops. Natural light from floor to ceiling windows gives it a cheery vibe, as do the friendly people working the coffee and tea service. This is one of several Chicago-based Fairgrounds Coffee cafes, including five in the Chicago area, one in Minneapolis, and one in Los Angeles. And now one in Milwaukee.

It has a typical café menu with a number of breakfast choices. The Fried Egg and Bacon Sandwich with harissa mayo on an English muffin had one tiny sliver of bacon. I would have enjoyed it more if the yolk, along with some runny white, hadn’t spilled down my arm while I tried to eat the sandwich. 

The El Paso Bowl with brown rice, black beans, avocado, scrambled egg, and charred tomato salsa, lacked flavor. There was something brown on the bottom of the bowl that may have been dressing, but it was bland, and there wasn’t much of it. The Santa Fe Salad had a tasty chipotle buttermilk dressing, but brown spots on the avocado had an unfortunate negative influence on the rest of the salad.

Noa’s Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup was likewise disappointing. It appeared that the cook toasted the bread, added cheddar cheese, then, nuked it in a microwave. The soup had good tomato-basil flavor, however, like the aforementioned Vosges Mocha, it came to the table barely tepid. My companion’s Roast Beef Sandwich with Monterey jack cheese, on multi-grain bread had a good balance of meat, cheese, cucumber, tomato, and a sliver of red onion.

At Fairgrounds, the owners want us to recall happy times from the fairgrounds of our childhood. With that in mind, I ordered Funnel Cake Fries. They were tasty, just like funnel cakes of yore, coated with cinnamon sugar, and shaped like French fries. Since they ran out of chocolate sauce for this special treat, the server brought raspberry jam instead, plus a $5.00 coupon for our next visit. Pastries from Stone Creek Coffee, morning buns, muffins, and scones, to name a few, equally tempted my sweet tooth.

But sweets aside, this is not a place to look for good food. Fairgrounds is about drinking coffee and tea in all their glorious abundance. And that’s where they shine.

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On The Menu

The Rundown

  • Location: 1001 N. Astor St.
  • Phone: 414-231-3167
  • Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mon-Fri, 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Sat-Sun
  • Website:
  • UM Rating: 4.5 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)

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One thought on “Dining: Don’t Try Fairgrounds for Food”

  1. Carl Baehr says:

    ” you might check out the Vosges Chocolate Truffle Mocha as I did, only to have it arrive not steamy hot like my Butterscotch Chai, but instead, barely tepid.”

    The mocha I had was also “barely tepid.” I don’t know why it is difficult to make in hot, but it was expensive and I wouldn’t spend the money for another one.

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