Wisconsin from The Best Food and Drink in Wisconsin for 2018 Gallery
The Best Food and Drink in Wisconsin for 2018 Gallery
Wisconsin calls itself “America’s Dairyland,” and it takes the responsibility seriously. That, combined with its large German and Irish populations, gives the state a hearty meat-and-potatoes cuisine — perfect for those long, dark winter months. Needless to say, it’s pretty tough to determine the best steakhouse in the state or best burger, but we’ve got that and more as part of our first annual guide to the best food and drink in every state.
There is another area where the state famously excels: beer. The birthplace of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller beer has enjoyed a flowering of smaller craft breweries in more recent years. Among these, New Glarus was our choice for the top brewery, and its limited distribution keeps it an explicitly local tradition.
Courtesy of The Elegant Farmer
Best Apple Pie: The Elegant Farmer, Mukwonago
The Elegant Farmer is perhaps most famous for its signature apple pie baked in a paper bag. The unique cooking method, using a brown paper bag, creates a crunchy top crust and light, flaky, old-fashioned bottom crust that has earned it the title of best pie in America on more than one occasion.
Facebook/The Old Fashioned
Best Bar: The Old Fashioned, Madison
Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs, The Old Fashioned has beers, brats, cheese, and more. Opened in 2003, the bar is utterly Wisconsin (its motto is “Where Wisconsin is king!”), complete with a food menu that highlights local specialties from Wisconsin producers to create traditional home-cooked feasts like fish fry, prime rib, and wood-fired chicken. The drink menu is similarly rich in state pride, featuring 52 Wisconsin beers on tap and about 100 bottled beers, wines, spirits, and specialty drinks — including its namesake, the classic, hand-muddled old fashioned, which is pretty much the state cocktail. As if the food and drink weren’t enough of a draw, the tavern also has a rewards program, called “Big Shot,” through which points ($1 equals one point) can be redeemed for merchandise like bumper stickers, tap beers, Wisconsin cheese, or even a party.
Courtesy of New Glarus Brewing Company
Best Beer: New Glarus Belgian Red
Best Burger: Original Solly Burger at Solly's Grille, Milwaukee
Family-owned and -operated since 1936, Solly’s claim to fame is the butter burger, one of the last and finest examples in the nation. Fresh-ground sirloin is delivered daily from a local butcher, and the shakes, fries, and burgers, complete with a healthy dose of real Wisconsin butter, are prepared in full view of diners. About 15 toppings and burger varieties are available, but the trademark Original Solly Burger is the way to go. Each 3-ounce patty gets cooked on a large flat-top griddle and is topped with impossibly flavorful stewed onions and a pat of butter — at least 2 or 3 tablespoons’ worth — before being placed in between two halves of a soft white bun. The butter melts into the meat and into the bun, and it’s unlike any other burger you’ll experience.
Yelp / Ben M
Best Chili: Chili John’s, Green Bay
Chili John’s was founded in Green Bay in 1913 by Lithuanian immigrant John Isaac; a second location that opened in Burbank, California, in 1946 is still considered the new kid on the block. This chili ain’t pretty, but it’s certainly delicious. Served over spaghetti and beans, it’s available in mild, medium, hot, or extra hot varieties.
Peking House / Yelp
Best Chinese: Peking House, Milwaukee
This contemporary and stylish downtown gem serves plenty of Chinese-American staples, but owner Jessica Liang’s restaurant really shines when you flip to the “House Special” section of the menu, which is loaded with more than 100 Sichuan specialties.
Five-flavor beef shank, Long Chang-style rabbit, Lai Fung whole fish, Dong Po special pork hock, cumin lamb, dan dan noodles, and even stir-fried kidneys with pickled chiles are all on point, and working your way through the menu is a crash course in real Szechuan cooking. If you’re with a group, Peking House also happens to serve Milwaukee’s best hot pot.
New Glarus Brewing Company
Best Craft Brewery: New Glarus Brewing Company, Green County
New Glarus, located in a charming Swiss-heritage town, is co-owned by Dan Carey, a diploma master brewer formerly with Anheuser-Busch, and his wife and co-founder, Deborah Carey. They produce six year-round beers, including the lauded Wisconsin Belgian Red, and seasonal specialties like Uff-da and Fat Squirrel.
Best Cupcake: Classy Girl Cupcakes, Milwaukee
If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. At least that is what Erica Elia thought when she baked the cupcakes for her own wedding. When her guests told her that they were good enough to sell, she listened! Today, Classy Girl Cupcakes sells cupcakes every which way you can imagine. In the mood for a push-pop cupcake? Check! How about an ooey-gooey cupcake truffle or bomb? Check! And while she does have classic cupcakes in specialty flavors, we are particularly intrigued by the cupcakewiches, which house flavored buttercream between the top and bottom slices of a cupcake. Though she only has five on the menu, we recommend you try the cookies and cream cupcakewich, a Ghirardelli chocolate cupcake encasing Oreo buttercream and rolled in crushed Oreos.
Best Dive Bar: Silver Dollar Tavern, Madison
There’s a lot of cheap beer in Wisconsin, but the $8.50 pitchers at the Silver Dollar Tavern in Madison are hard to beat. You’ll find all your classic dive tropes here: shuffle board, pool, ATMs, dartboards, a jukebox and poker machines. It’s a great laid-back respite from your everyday life.
Best Doughnuts: Manderfield’s Home Bakery, Appleton
Manderfield’s Home Bakery has been following its baking traditions since 1934, and although it is known for all of its baked goods, its yeasted doughnuts are definitely a key reason for its popularity. They sell out incredibly quickly, so make sure you reserve yours in advance to avoid disappointment.
Dane County Farmers’ Market
Farmers Market: Dane Country Farmers’ Market, Madison
The Dane County Farmers' Market is America's largest producers-only farmers' market. Their primary mission is to unite the urban and the rural cultures seeking to foster a community and provide an opportunity for farmers and consumers to deal directly with each other rather than through third parties. They have also created educational programs and scholarships that provide grants to promising students interested in agriculture. Stock up on Saturdays and Wednesdays with “the tastiest selection in Madison.” Reviews highlight the quality of produce and reasonable prices.
Anchor Bar Superior
Best French Fries: Anchor Bar, Superior
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives featured this Wisconsin eatery, which serves only burgers and fries. That’s it. No chicken, no fish, no problems. Its fries are straightforwardly awesome and are described on the bar’s website as “Fresh potatoes just minutes ago,” which we’re pretty sure is the best description in the history of French fries.
Best Fried Chicken: Tomken's Bar & Grill, Milwaukee
Tomken’s Bar and Grill serves fried chicken “hobo-style,” with fries, coleslaw, and Italian bread, and the thin batter that doesn’t let the crunch overpower the poultry’s natural flavor. If you’re lucky, your visit might fall when the “sauce of the week” is the Nutty Rooster, which consists of peanut butter loosened with sriracha.
Ken C. / Yelp
Best Grocery Store: Woodman’s Markets
Woodman’s Markets is a clear winner in Madison. Woodman’s is the place to go for all your needs on the cheap. One local reviewer said: “I love Woodman’s. This is the cheapest grocery store in Madison and it's open 24/7. Produce is good; I never really have trouble finding something fresh.”
Best Hot Dog: Vanguard, Milwaukee
This popular Milwaukee sausage shop has several regional-styled dogs on their menu (the Buffalo, for example, is topped with Red Hot gravy, blue cheese, and celery salt), and they’ve really gone overboard in inventing the “Milwaukee-style” dog: It’s a hot dog (or one of the several other types of sausage available) topped with not one, not two, but three different cheeses: shredded Cheddar, Cheez Whiz, and deep-fried cheese curds. Only in Wisconsin!
Seven different sausages are available (including bratwurst, jalapeño Cheddar brat, and two different vegan options), and they’re served on a warm, freshly baked roll and topped with your choice of onions, kraut, spicy kraut, hot giardiniera, relish, or short peppers. But if you want to go upscale, you can also choose from 15 different “styled sausages,” including the popular Bunkhouse: a bacon-wrapped cheddarwurst topped with fried jalapeños, Cheddar, barbecue sauce, and guacamole.
Best Italian Restaurant: Ristorante Bartolotta, Wauwatosa
Renowned chef Paul Bartolotta’s flagship Italian restaurant is located on the outskirts of Milwaukee, and it’s been drawing guests from downtown for more than 20 years. A must-order is the Uovo in Ravioli (a single large raviolo encasing ricotta, spinach, and a whole runny egg yolk). Other standouts include hand-cut pappardelle with slow-braised duck ragù, a half chicken roasted under a brick, and whatever is on the chef’s three-course seasonal menu.
Best Mexican Restaurant: Taqueria Guadalajara, Madison
This small and unassuming taquería one block from Monona Bay is a beloved institution in a city not known for its culinary diversity, and during peak times the line can stretch out the door. The secret to its success? Using all fresh ingredients and making all of its proteins in small batches. This is most evident in the juicy carne asada made with high-quality local beef and grilled until a perfect medium.
Most Expensive: Republic Chophouse, Green Bay
This classy Green Bay steakhouse is a great place to drop some serious cash. A $26 seafood platter is a good way to start your meal, followed up by $49 bone-in veal chop, $51 cowboy rib-eye, or $57 lobster. If you’re feeling especially spendy, opt for one of the “reserve cuts,” which include a $69 Kansas City strip or a $79 bone-in dry-aged 22-ounce rib-eye.
Steve S. / Yelp
Best Pizza: Zaffiro’s Pizza, Milwaukee
First-generation Italian-American Liborio "Bobby" Zaffiro opened Rock-a-Bye Tap, where he started serving thin-crust pizza with the help of his brother John before they opened Zaffiro’s in 1956 to make a go of it full-time.
It all worked out beautifully for the Sicilian-blooded brothers until John's 1988 retirement. Bobby died the year after, at which point his wife and two sons took over. Zaffiro's has stayed in the family, and is now helmed by Bobby's son Michael Zaffiro.
However, the tradition of a thin-crust Milwaukee pie topped with about three to four times as much cheese as crust lives on at this Wisconsin icon where, among the 11 classic pies on the menu, you’ll find two “E”-centric menu items with one difference between them: The E has everything (toppings-wise at least), and the EBF has everything but the delicious (yet divisive) anchovies. If you’re not an anchovy devotee, opt for the latter and appreciate one of Milwaukee’s pizza gifts to the nation. Or try one of their two new pies: the Italian Veggie Supreme and the Meat Lovers.
Best Sandwich: Great Wisconsin Sandwich at Fromagination, Madison
The restaurant’s name might be a slightly awkward portmanteau of “fromage” and “imagination,” but we like where its head’s at. One of the country’s finest purveyors of artisan cheese, Fromagination specializes in local cheeses that are very difficult to find out of state, and they also happen to be turning out some spectacular sandwiches. Just about every one they make is a winner, but our money’s on the Great Wisconsin sandwich, a three-cheese miche loaded with Genoa salami, Italian prosciutto, Tuscan salami from Madison’s Underground Meats, and mozzarella and provolone from Monroe-based Roth Cheese. It’s the best of Italy and Wisconsin, all in one sandwich.
Yelp/ Fred K.
Best Soup: Beer & Cheese Soup at The Horse & Plow, Kohler
The Horse & Plow is located inside Destination Kohler’s The American Club, a luxurious retreat that was previously the compound where Kohler’s famous fixtures were made and its employees lived. This comfortable pub was once the taproom for Kohler’s employees, and it’s the best place in the state for a bowl of beer and cheese soup. Wisconsin is all about the cheese, and three local cheeses go into this soup — Wisconsin Cheddar, Wisconsin Swiss, and Wisconsin jalapeño jack — along with a hefty dose of good local beer.
Mr. B’s A Bartolotta Restaurant / Facebook
Best Steakhouse: Mr. B’s, Milwaukee
Paul Bartolotta is a renowned restaurateur, best known for his eponymous seafood restaurant at the Wynn Las Vegas (which he left earlier this year) and his 20-year-old Bartolotta Ristorante on the outskirts of Milwaukee, but he’s proven that he’s mastered the art of steak with his nearby Mr. B’s. At this classic Italian steakhouse, the steaks are aged for up to 35 days, and are flown in fresh from Nebraska or Colorado. Sit out on the patio and go for the 35-day-aged prime Colorado rib-eye; on a gorgeous night with the stars overhead, you just might think you’ve gone to carnivore heaven. For more states, check out our ultimate guide to the best food and drink in every state for 2018.