Taste the Great Outdoors
Best place to eat in Milwaukee? On the patio
It’s no secret that Milwaukeeans like to dine outdoors in the summer. Here are a dozen great places to do exactly that.
• CAFÉ AT THE PLAZA
One of the pleasures of summer in Milwaukee is eating in the intimate little outdoor courtyard at the Plaza Hotel.
Tucked between two wings of the hotel, the place is all bricks and vines. And it’s also a lot of new dishes and drinks, with an emphasis on locally sourced food.
Matt Miller, who signed on as chef at the Plaza last August, says the restaurant, which centers around a curved lunch counter inside, has room for 48 in the courtyard. It’s about doubled its drink menu, and crafts cocktails exclusively with spirits from Great Lakes Distillery. One cocktail, the Courtyard Cooler, combines Rehorst gin with Rishi Tea (also local).
They’ve also brought back corned beef hash, lemon poppy seed pancakes – and a barbecue burger, seasoned with sauce from Milwaukee’s Iron Grate BBQ.
• CAFÉ CALATRAVA
This cafe at the Milwaukee Art Museum offers outdoor seating in summer overlooking Lake Michigan.
And this year it has a new chef, Zac Groh, who has managed James Beard Award-winning restaurants. Groh plans to create new dishes inspired by the museum’s art and architecture.
You can sample his creations outside. “Cafe Calatrava has full-service daily outdoor seating 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is a perfect spot for weekend brunch, lunch, light dinner or bottle of wine and an appetizer,” says Laura Simson, the museum’s marketing coordinator.
Looking for something quick and easy? Try the East End Wine Bar, where you will find European-style small plates that you can eat there or carry out.
Both dining options are accessible without paying museum admission.
• GREAT LAKES DISTILLERY
“We put a lot of care and effort into our patio area,” says Guy Rehorst, founder of Great Lakes Distillery. “It’s a spacious area with lots of lush greenery and we have very comfortable cushioned wicker furniture to lounge on,” with handcrafted cocktails using the distillery’s 13 award-winning spirits complete the setting, he says.
“Many guests come during the weekday as a meeting place or a great outdoor spot to work from,” he says. “It’s a great patio for relaxing with friends.” People “hang out on our patio for hours” after distillery tours, he says, adding, “It’s just a great outdoor spot.”
Great Lakes Distillery’s tasting room, at 616 W. Virginia St., is open for tours and cocktails every day. Lunch and dinner are served Tuesday through Sunday.
• SCREAMING TUNA
When Cristian Vega and Jeff Bronstad opened Screaming Tuna in 2011, they didn’t know Walker’s Point was about to take off as the home of great new restaurants. “We got a little lucky,” says Vega.
The place is at the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers, with a great view of Downtown and all the water traffic visible from the riverside patio. “It’s got an award-winning view,” Vega says of the patio, “arguably the best view in town.”
The restaurant is open until 10 p.m. during the week and 11 on Friday and Saturday nights, so it’s a great venue for festival fireworks. The patio seats almost 100, says Vega, and fills up during the summer – especially for the $10 bottomless mimosas on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and regular discounted sushi specials.
• JACKSON’S BLUE RIBBON PUB
Jackson’s, at 1203 N. 10th St., is a bar and restaurant in the heart of The Brewery complex, the former home of the Pabst
There are new residential projects in the works nearby and a hotel, and Pabst has just opened a new microbrewery and restaurant. Owner Mark Zierath welcomes all this activity.
Jackson’s is ready for the increased patronage all this will bring, especially in the summer. The place has a beautiful courtyard capable of seating over 100 patrons. This year it offers full food and beverage service, bag toss and bocce, with live music on Saturday evenings and a tent for private events – among plantings and flowers. Jackson’s runs shuttles to Miller Park and the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“Check out this perfect blend of old meets new,” Zierath says.
• PIER 106 SEAFOOD TAVERN
Pier 106 is a nautically themed bar and restaurant with a patio on the Milwaukee River serving upscale pub food.
At 106 W. Wells St., right across the river from the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pier 106 is known for its fresh U10 scallops, great happy hour specials and one of the largest riverside patios on the Milwaukee River.
The nautical interior of the eatery is complete with crab trap chandeliers. The U-shaped bar provides a great social area to enjoy the happy hour specials such as $6 Louisiana crawfish.
Pier 106 serves lunch and dinner daily, and Sunday brunch. The place also can break up into three separate areas, courtesy of sliding doors that provide venues for private parties and sales meetings.
• BARNACLE BUD’S
Tucked away in a remote corner of Bay View, on the Kinnickinnic River, is a little bar and restaurant with a big commitment to outdoor dining.
When Gene McKiernan bought
Barnacle Bud’s 25 years ago, its clientele consisted mostly of boat owners docked in the neighborhood. Now it’s a destination, drawing casual diners from all over the city.
“I used to cook and tend bar,” McKiernan says. “My wife was the wait staff.” Now he says there are 50 employees serving customers on a wood deck that can seat up to 100 in front and another 175 in back. The inside space seats about 25.
Boaters now make up just 15 percent of the clientele. And the deck can fill up on pleasant days, or when Bud’s hosts parties such as crawfish boils. The menu is heavy on seafood, including an oyster bar.
McBob’s Pub & Grill, at 4919 W. North Ave., serves American and Irish pub food and is known for its corned beef and Reuben sandwiches. In warm weather this fare is served both inside and on a pleasant backyard patio and beer garden, which seats 38.
Owner Christine McRoberts says the patio has banners that provide some shade, and the fenced-in space has flowers and fresh herbs growing. It’s also dog friendly, and lighted at night.
But this year McRoberts is dressing it up even more, with a patio arch and hanging metal birds. “Visually, the patio’s going to be a lot more vibrant,” she says.
It’s also often packed with diners, McRoberts says, especially before Brewers games, as there’s a shuttle from McBob’s to Miller Park.
• LIBBY MONTANA
Libby Montana Bar & Grill in Mequon has not one but two outdoor dining areas – a front porch that is an extension of the original bar and a spacious back patio that can accommodate large groups and families.
It also has a volleyball dome with sand courts that hosts leagues and also can be rented out. Volleyball players can relax on the porch with a drink or a snack between matches.
The restaurant is located at the firstmile marker on the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, so it’s a great stop for bikers, too, says owner Libby Wick.
The kitchen is open daily and features a variety of food including half-pound burgers, grilled fish, pastas and salads. And don’t miss the Friday fish fry, prime rib and pot pie specials on Saturdays, and of course brunch on Sundays.
• HARBOR HOUSE
Harbor House offers a premier lakefront dining experience and the freshest seafood flown in daily from both coasts. The interior features a three-sided bar, a raw bar, an open kitchen and a private
dining room available for special events and parties.
An outdoor patio features a full bar, Adirondack chairs and unparalleled views of the lake, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Milwaukee’s skyline.
Harbor House specializes in oysters, selling more than 10,000 each month. In addition to fresh fish and seafood options, the menu offers a variety of specialty dishes, from steak and pasta to sandwiches, salads and a signature hamburger.
The kitchen is led by executive chef Andrew Fisher, and operations are overseen by general manager Christian Damiano, certified sommelier, who joined the Harbor House team in 2015.
• VILLA AT HEAVEN CITY
Owner and executive chef Robert Klemm (formerly of INdustri Cafe), calls Villa’s patio a “garden oasis,” and he says it’s nothing shy of breathtaking.
The garden of flowers and edibles is both community-supported and maintained by the people of Mukwonago, he says. The patio holds 14 tables, ranging from two to six seats each. Tiki torches line the walks, helping to deter bugs. Live music is performed weekly and leashed pups are welcome, Klemm says.
This 1920s mansion is located only 13 miles from Waukesha, 29 from Lake Geneva, 32 from Milwaukee and 93 from Chicago. You can book reservations online: www.TheVillaHC.com
• BALISTRERI’S BLUEMOUND INN
Balistreri’s Bluemound Inn is a full-service restaurant at 6501 W. Bluemound
Rd. The Inn features a full bar including a wine list, draft beer, martinis and ice cream drinks. The menus are lunch, dinner, late night, pizza and dessert, which are available to dine in or carry out.
There is outdoor patio seating, and dining areas accommodate the needs of disabled diners. Private parties are accepted with prior reservations, and the place can serve groups up to 45 in each dining room.
Sunday brunch is available. Other perks include shuttle service to Milwaukee sporting and theater events. Reservations are accepted for all meal times.