Visiting Summerfest? Judiciously pass up the overpriced, unhealthy fairgrounds food and get your nosh on at one of the neighborhood unique eateries. Midwestern cool kids with a soft spot for heavy industry's orphaned buildings will love strolling around the formerly gritty Third and Fifth Ward area adjacent to the Summerfest grounds.
The Alterra coffee shop at the former Kramer International building, 170 1st St., works the raw space chic with concrete floors and metal-frame tables and chairs. The menu includes homemade soup, toothsome bakery item from Alterra's bakehouse, the Fair Trade-certified chocolate from Milwaukee's own Omanhene, hot and cold sandwiches and, of course, the coffee regulars' favorite controlled substance.
Describing the very French Harlequin Bakery, located in the historic Mitchell Building, 316 N. Milwaukee St., near its sister Coquette Café, can quickly run to breathless gushing. Madison has nothing like it, the latest feather in the cap of Milwaukee's gastronomic don Sandy D'Amato.
Charmingly fitted with the appointments of a typical European café, it dazzles with walls painted pistachio green and bon bon brown. The array of sweets including French macaroons, buttermilk doughnuts, buttercream-frosted cupcakes and a variety of cookies, repose artfully in their glass case. The flavorful Roman pizza is ideal for lunch.
For dessert, try one of their cheeky little brioche smothered in Nutella, the hazelnut and chocolate spread beloved by Europeans, or Harlequin's handmade truffles. The eatery even commissioned it own exclusive tea blend from the local Rishi Tea, Organic Harlequin Vanilla Black. Voulez-vous manger avec moi?
Broadway Bakery and Café, 241 N. Broadway, typical of mid-upscale dining in the Third Ward, shares space with its tablecloth-bearing sibling Bistro. Menu standouts include sandwiches and individual pizzas. Happily for big eaters, the portions are quite generous.
There's also a staggering array of baked sweets, but the real star here is unmistakably the gelato. If your lawyer friends are paying, sidle over to the adjacent Bistro to sup on Warm Goat Cheese Tartlets and Wild Mushroom Ravioli.
Bella Caffé, 189 N. Milwaukee St., is advantageously located at the corner of Milwaukee and Chicago streets. Summerfest is the perfect time to try a blended drink like the Fruit Tea Smoothie and Frappe. Get your bearings, cool off or read The New York Times. Bella is the go-to place in and around the Third Ward for meetings or a working lunch.
The soups, like the tomato bisque, can be a meal in themselves. Of the sandwiches, the fresh mozzarella and the three-cheese melt are especially fine. There are also baked goods and a tempting array of desserts, and, as quiet as it's kept, Bella makes the best mocha in Milwaukee.