In September on a gorgeous late summer weekend, Dan and I went down the road to visit our friends, Nora and Nate, in Milwaukee. As a kid growing up in Madison, trips to Milwaukee meant one of two things: a ballgame at decrepit- but lovable- County Stadium to watch Rob Deer, Robin Yount and Cecil Cooper lope around in baby-blue uniforms or a “we’re tired of winter and need to get out of the house and feel humid air” trip to the domes. This time around, upon arriving at Nora and Nate’s attractive and sunny hard-wood floored apartment across from the river, we abandoned our car for bicycles and pedaled unchartered (by us) Mill-e-wah-que territory. I believe I said aloud more than once: “I never knew Milwaukee had this many trees!”
Our first trip on the wooded bike path took us to Lakefront Brewery, home of one of my all-time favorite beers, Fixed Gear Red Ale. Our tour guide was an interesting combination of angry and cheesy, yelling at participants for talking but also leading us in a somewhat-inspired rendition of the theme song from ‘Laverne and Shirley.’ But, as all good brewery tour guides do, he kept us in the beer throughout the proceedings.
After the tour we traded our tokens for various samples of Lakefront’s offerings and sat next to the river until they kicked us out for a wedding.
Giggling as we were ushered away from the brewery, we hopped our bikes for the beach, weaving through the neighborhood where our cat, Danger Boy, was found mewing under a porch as a kitten. We made our way to Bradford Beach where our friend, Craig, was singing on a stage set up on the sand a hundred feet from Lake Michigan.
I reveled in the feeling of being on a surprise get-away as we cruised away from the beach past parks, old pavilions and people out enjoying the air. Dinner came next. Nora and Nate wanted to take us to their favorite restaurant, Roots. I traded shorts for bell-bottomed jeans, french-rolled my pant leg, threw our headlamps in my purse and we were off- another trip down the bike path took us to the restaurant on the hill, overlooking downtown. I believe I said aloud more than once: “I never knew Milwaukee had this many hills!”
Upon arriving at Roots, we noticed a nervous energy filled the air. Soon the news floated down to us- this was the last night this extremely popular farm-to-table restaurant would be serving dinner. Nora and Nate were crushed with the news, but we decided to live it up. We sat outside and were lucky to have their favorite waiter, a charming man with an even more charming South African accent. He and I must have thanked each other a thousand times over the course of the evening. We sipped on red ales and started with mussels nestled in a tomato broth that I sipped as a soup long after we divvied up the meaty mollusks. Next came the main course- Nora, Nate and Dan all opted for the grass-fed steak as I decided on the vegetarian succotash. I almost didn’t order this dish as the word ‘succotash’ for me conjures up images of a bad summer camp meal full of frozen corn and mushy lima beans, but in the end, I went for it, mainly on the recommendation of our waiter, who at this point in the meal I felt ready to trust with my life. The succotash was, in a word, heavenly. I can’t really describe it much more, except to confide in you that, in the middle of this fine-dining restaurant, I looked around to see if anyone was paying any attention before I picked up my plate and licked it clean.
I have only done that (in public) once before and it was the plate of the chocolate bread pudding at the Rendezvous Bistro in Jackson, Wyoming. If you’ve had it, you understand. (Additionally, that night our waiter in Wyoming informed us we were in the plate-licking section so it was okay.)
After the succotash we ordered dessert, but I honestly don’t remember what it was. I do remember, however, that Nora ordered tea, knocking the socks off our waiter when she asked for rooibos tea, apparently a favorite in his native South Africa. Delighted, he brought us a full tea service, complete with tiny pitchers of milk and honey. It was the perfect end to a beautiful dinner- sipping hot tea as the evening air grew chillier. We bid Roots goodbye and put on our headlamps, biking home through the quiet dark in the middle of the city.
The next morning Nate made us a delicious meal of eggs and bunsen burner coffee. We lazed around before deciding on one more adventure before Dan and I had to make our home. We were off to the biergarten. We headed the opposite direction on our bicycles two miles and landed in this magical place next to the river where I could spend every Sunday afternoon from here to eternity.
There were steins of beers, pretzals with mustard, good friends, corgis and a two-piece band featuring an accordian player from Slovenia. Alice Cooper was right. Milwaukee is the good land and I can’t wait to go back.