When you go to a remote South Pacific island with Tony Bourdain, you go cliff-diving and slash through the jungle with a scimitar to eat some weird but highly-prized exotic fruit. But when you go to an island with Rachael Ray, you eat macadamia nuts and free pineapples on a tour of the Dole plantation in Hawaii. When you go to the Bay area with Tony, Thomas Keller makes you a Marlboro sorbet. When you go to San Francisco with Rachael, you snort clam chowder out of a sourdough breadbowl on Fisherman’s Wharf. When you go Vegas with Tony, you eat at Bouchon and then play a sweaty, messy game of paintball. When you go to Vegas with Rachael, you wear a rayon leopard print peplum jacket and go to the prime rib buffet that’s only $4.99 because it’s off the Strip.
I try to be an adventure travelling Tony Bourdain on the outside, but secretly, on the inside, I think am a Rachael Ray tourist dork. Minus the leopard print on the jacket (leopard print is reserved for underwear). Oh God, someone please slap me. I can totally imagine Rachael going to Usinger’s like I did, sampling their sausages, and asking “How awesome is that?!” I don’t know Rachael, why don’t you tell us how awesome it is?
Hopefully, though, somewhere along the Miller Brewery Tour, after all the free samples that fit within her $40 budget, Rachael will snort-laugh so hard that she’ll spill right over and do a big fat belly flop into a vat of beer, and won’t find her way to the relatively new Milwaukee Public Market. Is that mean? I think it’s kind of funny, actually.
I love farmers’ markets. I love them so much that earlier this year, I spent a whole week fighting freeway traffic all over LA just to visit a different market every day. We are lucky in southern California because there are at least three farmers’ markets going every day of the week, somewhere around LA and OC. Even through the winter, the markets are open, just a little less crowded, and not quite as overflowing with produce. The farmers’ markets are one of the few things that make LA not just bearable for me, but pretty much awesome. I used to joke with JP about California versus Wisconsin, asking “Do they have farmers’ markets in Wisconsin?” Um, duh, Wisconsin is pretty much all flat farmland. “Oh. Well do they have avocados at the Wisconsin farmers’ markets?” No. “Aha! And do they have stuff like cheese at the farmers’ markets in Wisconsin?!? Huh? Do they?” That got me an incredulous stare. Cheese State. Right. I didn't win that one.
The Milwaukee Public Market is a little different from the regular weekly farmers’ markets in LA. It’s a permanent, all enclosed fixture in the historic Third Ward area of Milwaukee. It features specialty food vendors, about half of which are actual farm/produce stands. The Public Market is more along the lines of the 3rd/Fairfax permanent “Farmers’ Market” in LA or Pike’s Place Market in Seattle rather than the collection of farmers under foldable tents that temporarily take over the streets of Santa Monica on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
I knew I was going to like this place when we found parking on the street and right away. Strange, isn’t it? How a stupid thing like parking can affect my opinion like that? LOL!
We wanted to get coffee first, so we walked through the market fairly quickly as a first go-round, looking for a cafe. Cedarburg Coffee, a Wisconsin-based coffee roaster, was all the way on the opposite end. On the way there, I snatched a sample of havarti cheese from atop a glass case filled with rows and rows of cheese. The coffee line was long, but it moved quickly. With a steaming hot cup of Americano, I could now enjoy a leisurely stroll through the market.
There aren’t too many details about the market. Around the perimater, there are a bread bakery, a cheese vendor, a butcher, a fishmonger, specialty food things like sausages and jams and vinegars. The center vendors are mostly all produce. The end stall was a Mexican produce vendor, and was selling tropical and other fruits that had been imported from Mexico and South America. I
almost burst out laughing when I overheard someone ask what the hell a pomegranate was. Really? I thought pomegranates were everywhere, thanks to Pom Wonderful. Oh, the things I take for granted. Then again, I was tickled green when I saw Brussels sprouts. I don't see Brussels sprouts on the stem much at the markets here.
I was just looking since couldn’t really buy anything. I was on vacation. I wouldn’t be able to buy baskets of apples and take it back to Pugslie’s house to bake a pie. And why the heck would I buy a bunch of handmade tortillas to take back home to LA? If I lived in Milwaukee, though, I could see myself shopping at the Milwaukee Public Market every week, especially since there is as actual farmers' market that takes place on Saturday mornings right behind the Public Market, and they have visiting chefs, like Rick Bayless!!
Hopefully, the Milwaukee Public Market has sense enough, though, to leave Rachael Ray off their roster of visiting chefs. LOL!
Milwaukee Public Market
400 North Water Street