In 1999, Dave Sobelman was serving burgers and pitchers of beer to blue collar workers in the rough and rugged Menomonee Valley. With the checks he cashed on weekends from the humble factory workers he began ordering some of the finest ingredients for this burgers - locally baked country-butter rolls and the best beef available.
Then one day, Dave walked out of his burger bar and saw a newspaper stand for the Shepherd Express. The cover story highlighted the Top 5 "Pub Grub" locations in Milwaukee and Dave's did not make the list. This omission was a turning point in Sobelman's history.
After seeing the article, Dave called the author of the story and invited him over for a burger. The local writer came into Sobelman's the next day and sat at the bar, ordered a PLAIN burger, and a beer. That very next week, Dave Sobelman had his own feature article on the front page of the Shepherd Express praising the burgers at Sobelman's Pub and Grill as the absolute best in Milwaukee.
Dave became wild with the possibility of fame after seeing his name and acclaimed burger in print. So with the help of this wife - Melanie - Dave began placing his energies into continuously providing the most quality ingredients and best tasting menu he could create for the public - and of course this menu included drinks. Dave's location is after all, a storied Schlitz tavern.
It's really not what's inside the glass that makes Sobelman's Pub and Grill's signature bloody mary stand out. The drink, or "Bloody Masterpiece" as it's affectionally called (not to be confused with the "Baconado" or "Crown Mary"), arrives with 13 garnishes. Brussels sprouts, celery, sausage, cheese, and even a cheeseburger slider stick out of the drink like an edible bouquet. The creative drink has garnered many fans, not to mention a feature on Good Morning America.
That slider garnish serves as an introduction to Sobelman's menu. The husband-and-wife team will proudly tell you that they have always had the best burgers in Milwaukee, and they back up the claim with a 2013 Readers’ Choice Award from Milwaukee Magazine and three other local Best Burger Awards in the last 3 plus years. Each Certified Prime Black Angus patty is sandwiched between a fresh baked country-butter roll and rests beneath toppings such as homemade chili, diced jalapeño, or The Piggyback's pork belly, which comes drizzled in bourbon sauce. These burgers have often been imitated around the city, but never duplicated. Aside from burgers, the cooks craft chicken cordon bleu sandwiches and host a Friday fish fry with beer-battered cod.
Despite the creativity shown on the menu, Sobelman's Pub and Grill's original location on St. Paul Avenue has a timeless element. The Sobelmans make great use of their building and they've kept original Schlitz tavern elements such as beer-barrel tables and strict adherence to the law of gravity in the revived Menomonee Valley neighborhood. Simply put, Sobelman's Pub and Grill is Classic Milwaukee.
One of the best BLTs in Madison doesn't have bacon on it. Dubbed the TLT, owner Jennie Capellaro's meat-free version swaps out the pork for strips of tempeh, a type of cultured soy. The sandwich's smoky flavor won over the critics of 77 Square, claiming Best BLT honors in 2010. PETA named it one of the country's best vegan BLTs in 2012. Every year since 2012, it has been named "Favorite Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant" by The Daily Page, and it has been featured on The Restaurant Show in both August and September of 2014.
Jennie and her team at The Green Owl Cafe strive to similarly surprise their diners by coaxing out unexpected flavors from their vegetarian and vegan dishes. Championing freshness, they prefer to work with local suppliers, such as Blue Skies Berry Farm and Voss Organics. One of the only vegan brunch places in Madison, guests can substitute tofu for the organic range-free eggs in many dishes, and enjoy bloody marys with house-infused black pepper vodka. They also periodically throw their popular Raw Nights, treating guests to prix fixe dinners comprised of all raw courses. Jennie matches her menu's celebration of nature with a rustic, wood-paneled interior and an outdoor patio where diners can catch the free vitamin-D capsules regularly tossed down by the sun.
While working at a national pizza chain, Scott Gittrich looked at the palette of ingredients around him and wondered why pizza seemed so limited. Then in 1991 he got his chance to experiment. He opened the first Toppers Pizza, combining a fun, party-fueling atmosphere with edible concoctions that topped housemade dough with unexpected delicacies such as mac ‘n' cheese and a deconstructed gyro. More than 19 house specialty pies make use of freshly kneaded dough, transporting classic recipes and unheard-of combinations to get people excited about pizza again. And the people respond, enjoying the treats as much as Scott himself, who once went 60 days eating at least one meal a day from Toppers.
Today Toppers Pizza stretches across the country, peppering the Midwest and reaching to the East Coast. Along with pizzas, the cooks oven-toast their grinder sandwiches, which are built on artisanal french bread and stuffed with ingredients such as chipotle chicken and italian sausage. Signature Topperstix—breadsticks adorned with cheese, garlic butter, and toppings such as bacon and pepperoni—accompany pizza orders, silencing rumbling bellies until the early morning.
Twisted Cuisine swirls together gourmet flavors from across the nation in a rotating roster of seasonal eats. Drop in during meridial hours for a lunch order of pulled pork with the Super Trooper (braised pork shoulder with house-made barbecue sauce served on a split-top bun topped with coleslaw, $8) or a build-your-own-burger bonanza—one angus beef ($8.50), buffalo ($9), turkey ($8), or veggie ($8) patty on a bagel, split-top bun, or English muffin with choice of sauces and a bevy of optional, additional toppings such as bacon, avocado, and various cheeses (toppings 50¢ each). Alternately, shun the sun and pop in for dinner, beginning with jalapeño heart attack shrimp ($8.50), stuffed with jalapeno cream cheese, wrapped in bacon, and deep-fried to seal in their Neptunian juices. Experience the exotic with pan-seared kangaroo cutlets ($18), or take on a more domestic delight with St. Louis-style wild boar ribs slow-smoked and finished with a session on the grill ($19.50).
The faint melody of blues music and the aroma of smoking meat drifts out of the imposing white brick façade of the former American Bank & Trust building. It can inspire the occasional double take from passersby who don't know that the opulent space is now occupied by Gerald’s Smokehouse. Inside, where bank tellers once counted cash, there's now a meat smoker that roasts ribs.
Restaurateur Gerald Bester has striven to preserve the building's old-fashioned bits of grandeur. The former deposit slip column has been upended into a long table, and the bank vault serves as the centerpiece of the dining room and as a time-out room for fussy dining companions. Sunlight pours through the service window at the end of the bar. Mr. Bester has also updated the space by transforming the second floor into a VIP lounge furnished with flat-screen TVs, leather couches, and an outside smoking patio.
Mr. Bester, who has a background in entertainment and promotions, strives to lure in international musicians, comedians, and poets to the restaurant’s stage. “I knew from an early age I wanted to be an entrepreneur," he says. "Comedy, bands—I just wanted it all in one location, with good food and good drinks.”
In contrast to the oft-elaborate décor, Mr. Bester keeps the food casual, offering southern-style barbecue. His chefs smoke ribs atop beds of apple-pecan and hickory wood and serve the meat alongside heaping sides of fried green tomatoes and collard greens.
Owners Brian Glassel and Tim Nicholson eventually teamed up to bring Glass Nickel Pizza Co. to fruition in 1997 after spending their teenage years working around the nostalgic aromas of baking pizzas in Wisconsin eateries. They met while working in the same pizzeria and shared a passion for gourmet pies, so they spent a year planning and dreaming. Then they gathered a small but dedicated team to flip the saucy dough and accommodate patrons with first-class customer service, including the provision of tall glasses brimming with cold beer. Their dedication to this modus operandi helped the restaurant to bloom into a statewide fixture with several locations throughout Wisconsin.
While keeping pizza the star of the menu, Brian and Tim augmented it by adding battered-fish baskets, meaty lasagnas, stacked sandwiches, and crispy chicken. Committed to quality, the duo uses house-made sauce and dough, as well as Boar’s Head deli meats. With an equal commitment to their community, they help to support various nonprofit organizations and keep all their restaurants green through the use of ovens that shut off when not in use, energy-efficient appliances, LED lighting, and cars that run on used vegetable oil and time-travel only when absolutely necessary.