Thursday, August 29, 2013

Vegan on Vacation: Milwaukee, Wisconsin...

Lake Michigan and Milwaukee Skyline

Sunday the 25th was my anniversary, six years married, boy how time flies! My husband and I have been together as a couple for 9 years total, and to me that seems like a length of time worth celebrating, especially in this day and age. However, since we’re going on vacation next week it was a bit impossible to do anything too extravagant on our actual anniversary, but we still wanted to get away. Personally I really love day-trips. If you’re smart about things you can get a lot done in a day, and my husband and I are experts at whirlwind travel. Unfortunately most of the places that are within driving distance of Chicago we’ve already been too, and there isn’t that much of interest less then 3 hours from the city anyway.  Still, I wanted to do something, and so I started thinking about Wisconsin. I actually really like Wisconsin, it’s a pretty state, and out of all the times I’ve been there I’ve never once had a negative experience with anything or anyone. The people in Wisconsin are always brilliant, and friendly, and super nice. A total relief from the rude, and insane people that live in Chicagoland. So I was interested in going back, but I also wanted to go somewhere new. I briefly considered Door County until I remembered it was a 5 hour drive, and better suited for a 2 day getaway. Then I remembered that my husband and I have never been to Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a place we always talk about going, and somehow we never go, so I thought what the hell? No time like the present right?

Milwaukee Museum of Art 

Now I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking Milwaukee? Really? Who goes to Milwaukee when they live in Chicago? Well, I do. In case it hasn’t been abundantly clear I’m the kind of person who wants to travel everywhere, I want to go a lot of places that most people have no interest in going. I love adventure, and I love to explore and I’m not typically interested in the kinds of things that other people are. You might think that Milwaukee is some lame-o Midwestern town, but you would be wrong. I had no expectations of what to expect when I got there and I was really surprised at how much I loved the city. My husband loved it too. I have to say that after living in the extremely overcrowded and overpopulated Chicago for the past six years, Milwaukee was a breath of fresh air. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever visited a city with such a low population density before and I loved it. Chicago you see is a city of 3 million people, (Not including the suburbs and year-round tourism) and that’s about 2 million people more then I can stand. Whereas Milwaukee is a city of just less then 600,000, and it didn’t exactly seem as though the tourism industry was booming there.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am most definitely a city-dweller. I love cities, and I love city life, but I am far more comfortable with Vancouver’s 2 million people. I could never survive living somewhere like Manhattan with 9 million inhabitants. So for me being in a city of less then 600,000 was brilliant, it felt like a ghost town to me and I loved it. I loved not having to fight for a spot to sit by Lake Michigan. I loved not having to fight for parking spots. I loved being able to walk down the street without having to bump into 50 people. I loved not getting pushed around at a crosswalk. I loved that cars actually stopped at cross-walks - they rarely do this in Chicago - I loved that people in traffic stopped to let us in - this also never happens in Chicago - I loved not having to wait in lines. I loved going into a restaurant and not having to wait 20-45 minutes for a seat even though it was prime dining hours. I loved how nice everyone was. Everyone we encountered was super nice, helpful and seemed genuinely happy - very unlike Chicago.

After living in Chicago, Milwaukee was like another universe, and the best part? Milwaukee is Vegan Friendly! Seriously, at only 1 hour and 45 minutes away Milwaukee is like a little haven.

Riverwest Co-Op

We started our morning off with a nice breakfast at The Riverwest Co-op Café. Which is a really cool all vegetarian Café next to a co-op. The Café has many vegan options, in fact most of the stuff on the menu can be veganized. They had so many amazing choices for lunch, but I really wanted breakfast since I don’t get vegan breakfast out very often. I ended up ordering the Breakfast Burrito with tofu scramble instead of eggs. My husband ordered the Breakfast plate which was a tofu scramble, toast, and home-style potatoes. Both meals were excellent. Their tofu scramble had such wonderful flavor and I loved the avocado, rice and beans that were also in the burrito. I was really tempted to get a shake, but I wanted to save my appetite because I knew we’d be going to several other places for food during the day.

Breakfast Plate - Tofu Scramble, Home-style Potatoes
& Toast 

After we ate I took a quick look around the co-op and they had some really cool stuff. All the usual health food and vegan items you might find in a Whole Foods or similar health food store,, plus they had local produce and some other local goods. Very neat. I have to say that The Riverwest Co-op has gotten some real mixed reviews on Happy Cow and so I wasn’t sure how our experience was going to be, but it was wonderful. I’m not sure what the negative reviews are all about but there was no mixup that our meals were suppose to be vegan, and everyone at the café was friendly. They did seem very busy and perhaps a bit aloof but they certainly weren’t mean as some reviewers have suggested. If you need a good meal in Milwaukee I highly recommend this place.

Breakfast Burrito 

After breakfast we went to The Miller Domes - or Miller Conservatory, as it’s officially called. - which is a very small botanical conservatory but it’s also a really cool place. We pretty much had it to ourselves which was nice. Unfortunately the tropical dome was closed on our visit, but I really enjoyed the dessert dome. I also really loved that their gift shop had so many cool books on herbal remedies, growing herbs, and growing plants in general. Very neat to see that in a small place like this. Then we headed over to the Milwaukee public Market to see what we could find there, and man is there some great stuff in there! Local produce, artisan foods and gifts. I bought a jar of Cherry Butter, and a jar of Plum Tarragon Jam because I’m a big fan of jam’s especially strange ones. I also bought some Chipotle infused Olive oil and Pineapple infused Balsamic Vinegar at ORO di Olivia. They had all kinds of cool Olive oils infused with different flavors and tons of awesome Balsamic Vinegars from the traditional dark to white. I wanted to buy so many bottles, but at $15 a bottle I limited myself to only 2.

Next we headed over to The Green Kitchen which is a cool little lunch spot in the Public Market. We weren’t exactly hungry after are delicious breakfast but I wanted to get something. Now, The Green Kitchen isn’t a vegan or vegetarian place, but it is vegan friendly. They have at least one sandwich and one wrap that is naturally vegan, and I think there are 2 others that can be made so by just asking for it without cheese. They also have a salad bar, smoothies, and fresh juices. We opted to get some juice to wet our whistles after so much walking around. I forget the name of the juice I got but it was a mixture of pineapple, grapefruit, strawberry and mango I think. My husband got a tropical drink as well with pineapple, mango, and some other stuff. Both juices really hit the spot, they were so delicious!

Boats on Lake Michigan 

Next we headed off to walk around Lake Michigan. Now Milwaukee doesn’t have quite the skyline of Chicago, and their Lakefront isn’t quite as developed but the one thing I loved about walking around the Lake here is that there weren’t a million other people doing the same thing. In fact we could walk or sit wherever we wanted because there were only a handful of others at the Lake, most of the jogging or biking. It was brilliant and we even saw a couple getting married by the lake. Very cool. This is also the site where the Milwaukee Museum of Art is, and it’s a really neat futuristic looking building. Great for taking photos.

The River Walk

After the Lake we tried to find this vegan bakery called East Side Ovens Bakery. I was so in the mood for some vegan brownies. Unfortunately they were closed when we got there, so we headed over to the evil Big Chain Coffee shop that starts with and S and got iced lattes instead. Not as good, but since it was about 90'F out we really needed the cool down. After sipping our drinks we drove back into down town and walked around The Third Ward for a while, looking around at shops and things. By then it was late afternoon and it being a Sunday a lot of places were closed but I didn’t mind. Coming from Vancouver and having been to Europe a few times I’m used to places closing down early.

The River Walk

When we’d had enough of The Third Ward we went down to the River and walked along there. It was a great walk because not only is it a beautiful area, but it was also shaded and a nice breeze was coming off the river. We watched Kayakers and Sunday Boaters enjoying the water and took lots of pictures of the buildings. Then we found the Bronze Fonz which my husband was particularly excited about. Now if you don’t know what that is it’s a bronze statue of the actor Henry Winkler, who played the iconic character Fonzie on the popular 70's t.v. show “Happy Days.” even though the show ended a year or two before I was even born I still grew up watching it. I used to watch the repeats in the morning before school, along with other t.v. shows from that time period and earlier. My husband liked the show too, but since I haven’t seen it in probably a decade I didn’t remember until we got to Milwaukee that it had taken place there - hence the statue. Pretty neat if you like pop culture things.

Customized Pizza - Marinara, Fried Potatoes, Artichoke,
Vegan Cheese, & Garlic 

All that walking got us hungry enough for some dinner and so we went to Transfer Pizza, which is also not vegan or vegetarian but they actually have 12 vegetarian pizza’s and all of them can be made vegan because Transfer has a vegan cheese option. Or you can create your own pizza. We ended up getting Bob’s Special which is spinach, mushroom, onions, garlic sauce, and cheese. We got vegan cheese of course and the waitress kindly informed us that the garlic sauce wasn’t vegan and said we could switch it out for marinara which we did. We also got a customized pizza with vegan cheese, fried potatoes, garlic, red sauce and artichokes. Both pizza’s were excellent though I think I liked the customized pizza just a little more. I mean fried potatoes on pizza? This is really a great idea and one I rarely ever see. I also really liked the atmosphere at Transfer, and our waitress was super nice and friendly.

Bob's Special - Marinara, Spinach, Mushrooms
Vegan Cheese, and Onions

After dinner we wanted some bar food. Or more accurately I wanted bar food. I had heard about a Bar called The Palomino and how it has excellent vegan bar food. To find vegan bar food in a non vegan bar is such a rarely novelty that I just couldn’t pass it up. So we went on over. I have to say I was a little nervous about it because The Palomino has gotten some really bad reviews on Happy Cow with people saying the food is greasy and that the staff are really horrible and mean. Many people said that the staff were indifferent to vegans but honestly that was not my experience at all. Our waitress was super nice and helpful. Not only was she really friendly but she answered our questions and was prompt with her service. We weren’t neglected or left on our own, so I’m not sure what those reviews are all about. I would definitely go back to The Palomino, in fact it’s exactly my kind of bar. I’m not a bar person you know, or a drinker, but really the thing I hate most about bars is that they’re overcrowded, way too loud, and usually full of smoke. That wasn’t the case at The Palomino on this particular evening. The music was a perfect volume and it wasn’t jam-packed. It had a small-town bar feel, and kind of reminded me of Merlott’s from “True Blood” in atmosphere.

Vegan Chicken Wings, Sweet & Spicy
With Vegan Ranch

Anyway, as for food we ordered the Chicken Wings - veganized of course - we got a combo plate of half spicy half sweet wings, which came with a vegan ranch. The wings themselves were made out of tofu and seitan and I have to say they were so realistic in taste that we actually had to ask the waitress if they were really vegan. She seemed amused by the question and assured us they were. I don’t know, maybe it’s because it’s been so long since we had actual chicken but these tasted spot on to me. Texture wise they were so moist, and the breading was perfect. Since we were pretty full from dinner we didn’t have a lot of room to explore more of the menu but we capped off the night with a fried vegan apple hand-pie. Which was super delicious, and moist. It was the perfect end to the night.

Fried Vegan Apple Hand-Pie

I actually had such a nice time that I can’t wait to go back to Milwaukee for another visit, and now that we know how awesome it is hopefully we’ll go back sometime soon. Chicago might be considered a vegan Oasis in the Midwest but being a city of 3 million it really should have numerous vegan options. On the other hand you typically don’t expect a city of less then 600,000 to cater much to vegetarians and vegans, but Milwaukee is super vegan friendly, to me they’re much more of a vegan oasis in the Midwest because you don’t expect it, and when you find it you’re so unbelievable surprised and outrageously happy.

PS: This is only a small sampling of the amazing vegan options available in Milwaukee. There were actually quite a few places for us to choose from when it came to dinner options, and a few places we’d originally wanted to go to were closed. So I’ll be sure to check out those places on my next trip to the city and let you know about them.

Riverwest Co-op Cafe
733 E Clarke St, Milwaukee,

The Green Kitchen
400 N Water St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Milwaukee Public Market

Transfer Pizza
101 W Mitchell St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Palomino
2491 S Superior St, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


  1. I have lived many places but Milwaukee was my favorite! people are always surprised by that. Next time you go, check out the Comet Cafe - great food, mostly veg/vegan.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion, The Comet Cafe is actually one of the places we were thinking of going. I let my husband decide, I asked him 'Comfort Food or Pizza?" and of course he chose pizza :) Next time I'll get to comet though.

    People are surprised when I tell them how much I loved Milwaukee too, it's such a neat city!