Where to find the best comfort food in Milwaukee
Pizza, breakfast for dinner, casseroles, crullers — we all have foods that stick to our bones and bring us comfort.
"Anything fried like fried chicken, potatoes, hot cereals, pizza — those are kind of universal comfort foods I think for a lot of people. But I think there are some Milwaukee ones that are influenced by our ethnic heritage," says dining critic Ann Christenson.
From German to Mexican cuisine, if you're looking for recommendations on where to indulge in comfort foods found in the Milwaukee area, Christenson wrote all about it in her December Milwaukee Magazine article, “Food for the Soul.”
"This is such a nostalgic food story, so it's also so based on what is comfort food to you? What did you have as a kid? What you [had] growing up is so much a part of what becomes comfort for you, it takes you back to a time when you felt safe, warm, protected — all those types of feelings," she says.
Here are some of her top recommendations:
Mac and cheese: Honeypie Cafe
While Christenson also includes Fool's Errand and Maxie's, she says, "immediately I thought of Honeypie because they just have an amazing mac and cheese there."
Fish Fries: Erv's Mug
"They just do a really fantastic job with their fish fry. And to me it's really classic because you can get potato pancakes and the apple sauce and the marble rye bread, along with your fried fish, your fresh tartar sauce. That to me is just a classic fish fry."
While most restaurants will have whitefish and cod on their fish fry menu, if you're looking for fried perch specifically, Christenson recommends going to Tess on Milwaukee's East Side.
"It's a place you may think about for fish fries. They're known for their kind of new-American style cuisine, but they do a really great panko breaded perch and it comes with an Asian style coleslaw," she says. "There's so much history to fish fries but there's definitely a place to bring in different types of ethnicities — less of an Old World take on it and more of a New World take on it, which I love seeing."
Soul Food: Mr. Perkins Family Restaurant
The restaurants has been around for decades, and Christenson says it's probably the top place in town to get soul food.
"Their recipes, their dishes are so well known — their friend catfish, their peach cobbler, these are certain things that people go back to again and again," she notes. "They put so much heart and soul into their food I thought that they deserved really a story, too, sort of telling who are they? Where did they come from? How did they start doing this, how get into this business? So we tell a little bit more than soul food — it's a story about a family."
Honorable mention to make at home: Casseroles
Convenience foods became a growing trend in the 1970s and 80s according to Christenson, and casseroles could get all your food groups into one dish. "You've got your starch, you've got your protein, you've got your vegetable, maybe," notes Christenson. "But I think what's interesting is the people don't realize there's sort of a history to that."
From lasagna to paella to Shepherd's Pie, "anything sort of cooked in the same vessel all together is really a casserole," she explains. "So I found that to be really fascinating, you know, growing up on what I thought was an American dish is really more than that. It has a lot of history and it has an equivalent in so many different countries."
"Especially as things get more tense and more uncertain in the world, we turn to these things. Food is very much a comfort," Christenson adds.