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Ceremony, Author's Note Topic 3: The Restaurants of Milwaukee

· Murders of Substance,amwriting,Extras

I’m in a writing group here in Sacramento (the “farm-to-fork capital”), and my fellow writers are often telling me that reading my books makes them hungry—Fenway Stevenson loves those lengua tacos at Dos Milagros. My new series, MURDERS OF SUBSTANCE, doesn’t fall too far from that tree. 

The first book, Ceremony, is set in Milwaukee, a city of about half a million people about 100 kilometers north of Chicago. For three years, I worked for a company headquartered in Milwaukee, and I traveled there a couple of times every month. As a business traveler, I ate most of my meals out—and discovered how fantastic the restaurants in Milwaukee are, even if I was mostly limited to ones I could walk to from the Third Ward.

I set quite a few scenes from Ceremony in these restaurants, but, to my taste buds’ chagrin, I had to cut quite a few of them during the edits. I miss these restaurants, and plan to go back as soon as I can (what with the pandemic… and me living 2,000 miles away…) 

  • Bavette. A tiny butcher shop with a restaurant on Menomenee Street in the Third Ward, Bavette has literally the best roast beef sandwich I’ve ever had in my life (and there’s no close second). That transcendent sandwich is one of the few constants on the menu, and the specials are usually phenomenal too. In my first draft of CEREMONY, two of the law enforcement pros assigned to the murder have a discussion about their theories of the murder over these roast beef sandwiches and bowls of the not-authentic-but-still-delicious pozole. But the scene ended up more as a restaurant review than a strategy discussion, so it unfortunately ended up on the cutting-room floor. Maybe I’ll share the scene with my subscribers after the book is published in August!
  • La Merenda. Located on National Avenue, their international tapas menu—constantly changing—is fantastic. The empenadas are great, as are the salads (yes, the salads). Also terrific: everything else on the menu.
  • Tre Revali. The restaurant at the Journeyman Hotel (fictionalized in CEREMONY) is terrific. Inventive dishes, especially if you’re an adventuresome seafood eater (the octopus and the black cod are the two best dishes on the menu).
  • Engine Company #3. A few blocks down from La Merenda, this is my favorite brunch place. The rotating menu includes dishes are from all over the world, and I’ve never had a dish there that hasn’t been top-notch. (Their Bloody Marys are great, too.) I wrote a scene in this restaurant, but had to change it when the visit had to be in the early evening instead of brunch (they’re only open for breakfast and lunch.)
  • Milwaukee Brat House. This is maybe a step up from a dive bar, but there was nothing I liked more during a business trip then spending a Tuesday night in the Brat House stuffing myself with special-order brats and cheese curds and washing it down with a Spotted Cow or two.
  • Milwaukee Ale House. On the banks of the Milwaukee River in the Third Ward, the Ale House has a few unique (and tasty) beers, including Louie’s Demise (an amber ale) and the blueberry tea-infused Weekend at Louie’s. My early drafts of CEREMONY had the local cops taking the federal team out for beers (and the best cheese curds in Milwaukee) at the Ale House. This scene was also a victim to the Editing Monster. 

I haven’t even touched the great restaurants in the Bay View neighborhood (like Café India), or the great breakfast sandwiches at Colectivo Coffee (also victim of a scene cut), or the great barbecue at Doc’s Original Smokehouse… but I promise, if you find yourself in Milwaukee, do yourself a favor and go to a few of these places. I may have to set another book in the Cream City just to do a “research trip”!

Milwaukee has a vibrant restaurant scene—and as I’ve mentioned above, there’s more to Milwaukee than sausage and cheese curds. You can take a read through the decades of Milwaukee restaurant history—but before your supper club reservation, be sure to pre-order Ceremony!