One of the Midwest’s Finest Shopping Spots: Touring the Milwaukee Public Market

There's a lot more to Milwaukee's food scene than cheese and beer. For some of the best market fare around, check out this gem in the heart of the Midwest.Read More

Selection and quality are to- notch at Milwaukee's Public Market. (Source: Shutterstock / f11photo)

Sure there’s cheese, beer, and baseball in Milwaukee, but there’s also so much more. In fact, the foodies in the room would be pleasantly surprised to learn about the gustatory treasures that await in the Milwaukee Public Market. We’re talking verdant local produce, Caribbean truffles hand-dipped in dark chocolate, white balsamic vinegar from Modena, and fresh ahi tuna. For some of the best market fare in the city, check out this gem in the heart of the Midwest.

Milwaukee Public Market – the story

The Milwaukee Public Market sits at the heart of the city’s historic Third Ward, an industrial/warehouse district that cycled through booms and busts throughout its 170-year history. The area once thrived as a commercial railroad hub in the mid-19th century, only to succumb several years later to the national highway system and its trucks that moved goods more efficiently. Waves of Irish and Italian immigrants came and left, while the district – eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s – endured a slow decline through the mid-1990s.

Fortunately, later revitalization efforts in the Third Ward took hold, led in part by the Milwaukee Public Market project. Inspired by Seattle’s Pike Place Market – a destination for supporting local businesses and engaging the community more broadly – the market was built in the early 2000s at a cost of $10 million. Since then, the Third Ward has transformed from industrial wasteland to vital commercial and residential area with cafés, restaurants, shops, cultural centers, and arts venues.

Market overview  

Just eat your way through the market. (Source: Shutterstock / f11photo)
Just eat your way through the market. (Source: Shutterstock / f11photo)

With a nod to the Third Ward’s industrial past, the market building is a full city block of steel, brick, and glass, melded in a contemporary factory-chic design. Exposed steel trusses, ductwork, and walls of windows give it that Soho-loft, modern feel.

The main floor includes about 20 year-round specialty food stalls arranged in an easily navigable and inviting layout – perfect for noshing your way through the varied offerings. Seating is available upstairs in the Palm Garden, an area overlooking the main floor, for those who wish to enjoy their eats in a less ambulatory fashion.

The top-flight Madame Kuony Demonstration Kitchen, also upstairs, plays host to the market’s plethora of cooking classes on offer. Named for the beloved Wisconsin proprietor of the Postilion Restaurant at the School of Culinary Arts and Studio of Interior Design, the kitchen regularly invites local chefs, vendors, and celeb cookbook authors to share culinary secrets and best practices with the locals. Here you can learn how to wield that sous-vide cooker like a pro or make preserved Bloody Mary fixin’s for those rough, post-holiday party mornings.

Finally, the Draft Patio provides sunny outdoor seating as well as a choice of local brews from the 1941 Ford pickup truck parked adjacent. What’s this, you say? The pickup is kitted out with draft lines from local favorites Gathering Place, Vennture Brew Company, Enlightened Brewing, and The Explorium. It’s Milwaukee, after all.

Where to go

Go for Wisconsin's favorite snack: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds. (Source: West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe Facebook)
Go for Wisconsin’s favorite snack: Deep-Fried Cheese Curds. (Source: West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe Facebook)

Among the Milwaukee Public Market’s host of luscious produce, prime meats, fresh seafood, artisanal breads, cheeses, sweets, and prepared foods, there are a few stalls we just have to mention by name. In our view, these just can’t be missed:

Anodoyne Coffee Roasting Co. Stop in here for a small-batch, single-origin or blended brew to kick off your day in style. We like the Doughnut’s Friend Blend for its full-body taste and smooth finish – and well, because it goes well with doughnuts. But that’s another story.

The Spice House / The Culinary Toolbox. Breathe in … cayenne, ginger, cinnamon. Ah. These people know their spices. Not only do the friendly proprietors here arrange their fresh spices, seasonings, and aromatics by family, region, and specialty (we thought spices were only arranged alphabetically), but they can help you find exactly what you need to give that tired recipe some new zing and zip. Better still, grab a beautifully-presented gift box of seasonings for that special someone – the Salt-Free Seasonings Collection includes yummy blends from France, the Philippines, and Mexico. Delish. As if all this weren’t enough, they also carry a nice selection of quality kitchen items, as well.

West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe. Naturally, a fabulous cheese shop is on our list. At local favorite West Allis, you can select from over 200 varieties of cheeses, including imported brands and local cheeses made by some of the finest artisans in the state. There are also handmade sausages, brats and Bavarian-style meats, specialty foods, and a wide selection of wines to choose from. We recommend lingering at the in-store café for something off the breakfast or lunch menus. Our pick? Go with the Deep-Fried Cheese Curds – it’s a show stopper!

Aladdin – Taste of the East / Pitaworks. For a mouthwatering Chicken Shawarma grab-and-go, this is the place: tender slices of slow-roasted chicken, fresh lemon, garlic, fragrant herbs and spices, and tangy yogurt sauce wrapped up in a warm homemade pita, served with a snappy Mediterranean pickle. Really, does it get any better than this?

For a top selection of fresh seafood, fish, and prepared foods, head to St. Paul Fish Company. Just look for the blow-up red crab or blue marlin that hangs above the stall from the ceiling duct work. In the mood for fresh salmon tonight? What about steamed mussels over angel hair? Or a shovel full of plump pink shrimp? It’s all here, expertly purveyed by the seasoned St. Paul’s team. Oh, and they have amazing prepared menu items, too. Nothing beats their Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo when that icy wind blows across the lake.

Finally, for all your varietal needs, including a tasting or two, stop by Thief Wine. While we love its nifty name, we also loved its 750+ wines from traditional and emerging global regions. They also have a friendly staff available to help you make a selection, if asked. We like to top the day off at the adjacent wine bar with a glass of the Caposaldo NV Prosecco – not too tart, not to sweet and a steal at $7 for a 5oz taste.

What you need to know

The Milwaukee Public Market is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 8pm; Saturday from 8am to 8pm; and Sunday from 9am to 6pm. It gets crowded quickly, especially on weekends, so we recommend arriving earlier rather than later.

Parking is available on site for $5 for 1 hour and up to $16 for 4 or more hours. The first hour is free with a validated purchase and receipt. For more on updated schedules and events, visit the Milwaukee Public Market online.