It’s me, home again from a trip to Milwaukee for Christmas. It was fun, and perhaps this is a good place to share one of my favorite memories. My mom, a quirky woman who doesn’t cook that often (but does a fine job when she does), made a roast of some kind to serve to my brother and me on Christmas Eve. Along with it, she served store-bought au jus, which was way too salty, but afforded me this adorable moment.
Passing me the au jus, mom said, “Darling, did you want the du jour?”
I mentioned the right phrase to use and talked about how it’s weird that Americans have appropriated French prepositional phrases as nouns into our culinary lexicon. To this, my brother kind of grunted/smirked at me and said, “Yeah, that’s what I was just about to say.”
In my free time after Christmas, I met two dear friends for a few drinks downtown. Kallie and Shawn are Milwaukeeans who live in New York, which is perhaps subconsciously why I suggested Elsa’s on the Park, as the Elsa’s people also own the equally fabulous Bar 89 in Soho (pictured on the right).
I have always loved this Milwaukee–Soho connection. Elsa’s and Bar 89 share a contemporary industrial vibe and a menu chock full of creative, never-pretentious burgers, chicken, pork, sandwiches, and salads. It’s as though the same lively party is going on simultaneously in Milwaukee and Manhattan. For a girl who started in one and aspired to the next, I always like to be reminded of how seamless these two restaurants are.
There’s two other distinctive traits these restaurants are individually known for. For better or worse, Bar 89 is remembered far and wide because of the loo. Everyone knows that if you are 1.) in Manhattan and 2.) want to take a memorable pee, you go to Bar 89 on Mercer. On the second floor, overlooking the open dining area, is a wall of bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling glass doors that fog up only after you step inside and close the door.
And for Elsa’s? This place is remembered far and wide for its diversity. Everyone knows that if you are 1.) in Milwaukee and 2.) craving lively and colorful camaraderie, you go to Elsa’s. One review called it “the UN” of restaurants. This picture was taken at 7, when the bar was almost full of cable-knit sweaters, long-sleeve denim shirts, and jeans (and apparently, lots of white people). By the time we left, every table, corner, hallway, and standing area was stuffed with people of every stripe, color, and fashion statement. I noted how rare it is that I get to eat dinner next to two black guys wearing full-length fur coats and heavy gold bling bling around their neck, and marveled at how any one restaurant could be so casual and fabulous all at the same time.
We weren’t there for entrees, so we shared water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and this salad. I’m pretty sure it was called Greens N’ Galette, but what’s galette about this? In any case, these flatbreads were covered with olives and bacon, the bacon was served with honey dipping sauce, and it was all so delicious followed by a glass of wine and lots of catching up with my pals.
The best part about this all? The smart people behind Elsa’s and Bar 89 also own Kopp’s Frozen Custard, which means the burgers and fries are always amazing. These restaurants are essentially two of the swankiest casual burger joints I know.