The Edmond Sun

Local News

October 21, 2011

From tea shops to public markets, Milwaukee fascinates

EDMOND — My trip to Milwaukee had a disturbing start. I missed my plane.

Not the understandable “got stuck in traffic” kind of missed my plane. First clue was when I went online to print my boarding pass and the message said, “No boarding passes are available for this flight.”

It was shortly after that that I realized I’d missed it by a whole day! After negotiating with the airline — and paying a big “stupidity fee” — I got rebooked for the next day. Arriving 24 hours late, I hit the ground running. Here’s what I saw in Milwaukee in the following 24 hours.

The Milwaukee Public Market: This large, indoor space in a historic downtown area holds 20 different specialty food vendors and a Saturday outdoor market. As you might expect, cheese is big in Wisconsin — and I have the cheesehead to prove it.

Several different stalls sold locally produced cheeses — both finished cheese and the state snack of choice, cheese curds. Among the other choices were baked goods, chocolate and other candies, gourmet sauces and mixes, spices, fish, meat and coffee. Other stands offered food — all in all, a foodie’s delight.

Watts Tea Shop: With a 139-year history, this ladies-who-lunch spot is also great for gentlemen. Sam Watts, the fifth generation of the family, told us, “In the past six years, we’ve raised the bar to bring the tea room up to an elegant, high-end, country-gourmet restaurant.”

Chef Jason Stevens looks young enough (and probably is!) to be my grandson — but he brings a world of experience to his job. He brought out dish after dish for us to sample. He blends classic French cuisine with the contemporary farm-to-table trend and gives old favorites new twists.

What sounds more tea-roomy than chicken salad? Be prepared — Chef Jason’s Asian Chicken Salad consists of a crispy rice paper basket filled with spring greens, soba noodles and julienne vegetables topped with a sliced, marinated chicken breast, dressed with ginger soy vinaigrette and dusted with sesame seeds. And that dish was just one of a number of interesting and tasty offerings he’d prepared for us.

The Tea Room is on the second floor of the building — the first floor houses George Watts & Son, a beautiful shop with china, silver, crystal and luxury gifts. The emblem of the store, a fixture of downtown Milwaukee, is a gingko leaf. This is an homage to George Watts, who in the 1940s chose to plant disease-resistant gingko trees in front of the store. His choice was vindicated when Dutch Elm Disease threatened many of the city’s trees.

The Pfister Hotel: From the moment you walk into the barrel-vaulted lobby and view the ceiling mural with cavorting cherubs you’ll know you’re in for a heavenly stay. And you’ll be in great company. In its 118-year history, the hotel has hosted dignitaries and celebrities from presidents to Pavarotti, Elvis Presley and Paul McCartney.

The hotel is noted for having the world’s largest (hotel) collection of Victorian art. In addition, the hotel has an Artist-in-Residence program — visitors can watch the process of creation and purchase original artworks.

And yes, this is where I stayed. I loved exploring the hotel and sampling the cuisine in the Mason Street Grill. The Pfister has received the AAA Four-Diamond Award 35 times. I know why.

The Safe House: Described as a spy-themed nightspot is as close as I can get to telling you what it is. Alcohol is available but youngsters are welcome (with an adult) to all areas. Of course, they won’t be served an alcoholic beverage. That said, I’m going to recount my experience.

We walked down a deserted alley and stopped at a door marked “International Exports, Ltd.” We rang the bell and the fun began. We were ushered into a tiny reception area. Each of us was asked to whisper the password to the receptionist.  Of course we were clueless.

We had to prove our bona fides by performing a silly stunt — in our case, making a train and adding sound effects — before we were allowed to enter a maze of rooms with spy themes. Among the décor pieces were actual artifacts, for example, an original cell door from an East Berlin prison.

We also discovered closed-circuit TVs where we could watch other visitors trying to gain entrance. It’s impossible to describe this place accurately — and if I did, I think they have to shoot me.

Alterra Coffee Roasters: We had breakfast here in the Milwaukee River Flushing Station built in 1888. This interesting business has taken this historic structure and incorporated the latest eco-friendly technology. And they roast great coffee — all from Fair Trade beans. Menu items include breakfast pastries, soups and sandwiches. In fine weather, outdoor dining and the great view of the Lake Michigan waterfront makes this spot a destination.

We left Milwaukee after breakfast. My visit was ’way too short — my bad! But even if I’d had 24 more hours, I couldn’t have done this fascinating city justice. I can’t wait to come back.

ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond resident.

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