Cool vibes and great pizza are recipe for success at Via Downer

Written by Mike Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 27 June 2013 13:42

The main dining room at Via Downer.

When we think about gourmet cuisine, pizza rarely comes to mind. But the latest iteration of a familiar restaurant space on Milwaukee’s East Side has the potential to change our point of view.

VIA Downer, which opened in 2010, operates in the space once occupied by Pizza Piccolo and Ristorante Bartolotta – neither of which achieved VIA Downer’s popularity. The atmosphere is urban cool, and the buzz on any given Friday night is high-energy and collegial.

Gauging the fare at The Gage

Written by Mike Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 13 June 2013 15:13

Even in downtown Chicago, Tuesday night is not a time you’d expect to find a waiting list at a restaurant offering upscale comfort food, as The Gage Chicago calls its fare. But the pre-theater crowd we joined on a recent Tuesday night literally spilled out into the street, and when a table in the 300-seat restaurant emptied, it didn’t stay vacant long.

Much of this may be owing to the restaurant’s proximity to Chicago’s theater district. But the kitchen plays the leading role in the restaurant’s success, producing some true wonders that make The Gage a stop worth making, and the slightly upscale prices worth paying.

Wines add sizzle to summer grilling

Written by Mike Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 13 June 2013 15:06

Nothing says summer like food sizzling on an outdoor grill. If you have a skewer of fresh organic vegetables and sushi-grade cut of Ahi tuna sizzling on the grate, chances are you’ll want something more refined than a cold one to wash it down.

Fortunately, whether you’ve got steaks or scallops on the barbecue, wine can bring a level of sophistication to your al fresco feast. Following are some recommendations to please your palate and raise the quality of this summer’s outdoor dining experiences.

Diners, drive-ins and dives – the Wisconsin edition

Written by Wisconsin Department of Tourism Friday, 31 May 2013 10:47

The rise in popularity of diners, drive-ins and dives can be attributed at least partially to the Food Network’s popular television show “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” But in Wisconsin, these earthy, quirky establishments have always enjoyed broad appeal. The state has dozens of eclectic and fun local eateries, some of which have actually been featured on the TV show.

Ranging from places that have been around for 70 years to newbies that capture the dive vibe, here are a few hot spots (in alphabetical order) that are the perfect place to grab a burger and a chocolate malt. Yes, a malt! They still exist.

Kasana brings culinary vision to Third Ward

Written by Mike Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 16 May 2013 12:24

Food is an art form to Ana Docta, president of the Kasana Group, a collection of culinary enterprises promoting a rich mélange of fine, nutritious and sustainable dining for Milwaukee foodies. Docta hopes to make Kasana’s adjoining bistro, gallery and commercial kitchen at 241 N. Broadway into the city’s premier gastro-hub and culinary incubator for budding chefs.

Docta has a strong culinary background on which to base her ambitions. A native of Argentina, she formerly served as a corporate food and beverage consultant and owned a restaurant in Porto Allegre, Brazil, before moving to the United States. In addition to Latin American influences, Docta’s food exhibits a strong commitment to health and nutrition, an appreciation gained during her formal training as a ballet dancer.

The winners of the coveted James Beard Foundation national chef awards for 2013 include the Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City for Outstanding Restaurant. Tied for Outstanding Chef were David Chang of Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City and Paul Kahan of Blackbird in Chicago.

Beard's best of the best in cookbooks, food writing

Written by J.M. HIRSCH,
AP writer
Monday, 06 May 2013 13:06

No trendy restaurants. No fancy equipment. No hard-to-find hipster ingredients.

The pages of this year’s top food publication don’t read like your average gourmet glossy. That’s because the only trend ChopChop magazine – named publication of the year by the James Beard Foundation – cares about is how to get America’s children eating healthier.

The Mint Julep is steeped in history

Written by Mike Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 02 May 2013 14:59

Our first mint julep was poured in the infield at Churchill Downs prior to the running of the Kentucky Derby. It seems so long ago now that horses might have been the primary mode of transportation then. 

An overworked bartender took the year’s official 12-ounce Derby souvenir glass, tossed in a handful of ice cubes, filled it with a brown distillate we took to be whiskey, and then stuffed a mint sprig down next to the cubes. Voila! Instant ecstasy, or so we thought after the first three drinks. We even heard they ran a race that day.

Several days and many aspirins later, we found out there’s more to creating an authentic mint julep. And, of course, you’ll want to do things right if you plan on celebrating the 139th Run for the Roses on May 4.

The great potato-chip debate

Written by MIchael
and Jean Muckian,
Contributing writers
Thursday, 18 April 2013 15:22

Eva Longoria shows off the three finalists from “Do Me a Flavor.” -Photo: Courtesy Frito-Lay

Growing up in Milwaukee, we evaluated local brands of potato chips for their crispness, saltiness and other intrinsic characteristics. Admittedly, our judgments were guided by personal taste. 

When in the mood for light crispiness, we’d go for the Geiser’s chips, which were wafer-thin and heavy on the salt. When we needed something with more heft, we chose Mrs. Howe’s, which was perhaps a millimeter thicker than Geiser’s, a tad less salty and, in the years before the thick-cut, kettle-cooked varieties, the most satisfying chips for the money. (We think it was the fat content.)

Dane County outdoor Farmers' Market opens April 20

Written by WiG Thursday, 18 April 2013 21:09

The Dane County Farmers’ Market, a Madison tradition since 1972, opens its outdoor season on April 20, 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

The Capitol Square in downtown Madison is the setting for the largest producer-only farmers’ market in the nation. All of the products are produced in Wisconsin.

Ancient harvest
Controversy surrounds quinoa's modern success

Written by Michael Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:25

The ancient Incas relied on its nutritional and restorative powers. The Spanish conquistadors forbade its cultivation by native peoples they sought to enslave. Now the entire world is turning its attention to what may be the original “super food.”

Welcome to 2013, the United Nations Year of Quinoa, an international celebration designed to recognize the social and nutritional importance of the native Andean crop. The South American plant and its seeds have increasingly become part of healthy diets worldwide, but the boon in interest has proven to be a double-edged sword for the Andes’ independent quinoa farmers. Those who grow it are getting rich, but their neighbors who have to buy the traditional dietary staple can no longer afford it. That’s causing some problems. 

Wines for spring
Enjoy a splash of Spain and Portugal

Written by Michael Muckian,
Contributing writer
Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:19

The Rueda region of Spain, located in the heart of Castilla y León, is world famous for its red wines. -Photo: Courtesy Brindco

Thoughts of Old World wines do not always bring Spain and Portugal to mind as top producers. But they should. After France and Italy, the Iberian Peninsula is the third largest producer of wines in the world, with 3 million acres under wine grape cultivation in Spain alone.

You might think that’s an awful lot of sherry and port, for which the two countries were historically known. But acreage devoted to the famous fortified wines is just a small part of the region’s total wine output. More and more, Spain especially is combining traditional cultivars with New World winemaking techniques, resulting in some fresh, bright approaches that are quickly finding their niche in the ever-expanding wine world.