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Beyond Brats: What to Eat in Milwaukee

 Find the best spots for custard, brunch, beer and more in Wisconsin's biggest city.

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The Original Farm-to-Table Scene

Forget about its brats-and-beer image: Milwaukee’s dining scene has overcome its cheesy past. Because Wisconsin is second only to California in its number of organic farms, there’s an abundance of cheeses, fresh greens and root vegetables for restaurant menus. But lest you think Milwaukee’s all about cozy cafes, the state’s largest city’s dining scene dips into ethnic fare — such as Szechuan and German — as well as fine-dining (with seven James Beard Foundation Award-winning and –nominated chefs and counting). Quite a few chefs cut their chops across Europe, in New York City or Chicago, and on the West Coast before returning to the Dairy State, showing true allegiance to the city’s evolving culinary scene. Here’s where to book a table.

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Tasting Menu: Sanford

An original when it comes to fine dining in Milwaukee, Sanford Restaurant founder Sandy D’Amato was crowned the city’s first James Beard Foundation Award winner in 1996. Though he’s decamped to Massachusetts where he now runs a cooking school in Massachusetts, the classic French restaurant (bolstered by ingredients sourced from Wisconsin farms) — born out of his parents’ grocery store on a residential East Side street — continues under new owner (and former sous chef) Justin Aprahamian with a nightly a la carte menu and two tasting options. Go for the seven-course Surprise Tasting Menu, which is offered Monday through Friday only, folding in any allergies or dietary restrictions.

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Photo: Kevin J. Miyazaki

New Restaurant: DanDan

Fed by their love for Chinese food, and an epic road trip to Chinatowns across the U.S., two Milwaukee chefs named Dan, Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs, opened DanDan last summer, named after not only them but the popular Szechuan noodle dish. Fusing high brow with low brow, the menu features delicacies like Peking duck, fried red snapper with pineapple fish sauce, and a stellar wine list (sourced from boutique wineries around the world) alongside pork pancakes, dumplings and potstickers. The popular $13 lunch special includes an appetizer and an entrée. A newer addition is the 10-course, pop-up dinner series EsterEv in the restaurant’s private-dining space, Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. The menu changes monthly.

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Custard: Kopp’s

If you haven’t licked a scoop of frozen custard, some might say you’re missing out on the Midwest’s most-delicious sweet. Kopp’s has three locations (in Glendale, Greenfield and Brookfield), each with old-school flair (think white-paper hats for the workers, and stainless-steel counters). Founded by Elsa Kopp in 1950, the business is now managed by her son Karl. Pro tip: Check out the Flavor Forecast on Kopp’s website, should you be deciding which day to visit. Flavors are often inspired by restaurant menus, including creative combinations like Tiramisu and Maple Syrup & Pancakes.

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