Besides great internationally-themed restaurants and one-of-a-kind attractions (the article links for these subjects are below), Milwaukee is a great place to take the family. Here are three of my recommendations.
Skating on THICK Ice at the Pettit
Ice skating is a way of life in Wisconsin. So much so, that roughly 400,000 people of all ages come to skate and train annually at the Pettit National Ice Center. It has produced, via its training facilities, a number of champion Olympic ice skaters, including Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen. So it’s not surprising that America’s Dairyland has also been the mecca for speed skating in the USA for nearly a century.
I had never ice skated before, so my visit to the Pettit entailed me to finally lace up at this Official U.S. Olympic Training Facility (only one of two covered Olympic Ovals in the USA which is 400 meters around). There are public ice skating lessons as well as hockey classes. This wonderful facility houses two hockey rinks. Even runners aren’t left out – a 450-meter indoor running track surrounds the ice rinks and is used by the public and local college track teams when the weather is dreary outside. The average indoor temperature is a comfortable 55 degrees with less than 40 per cent humidity. This seems tropical compared to Wisconsin's brutal winters! The actual temperature of the Olympic Oval ice stands at 22 degrees. The Pettit is so large that it can house three 747 Jumbo Jets, or 13 million ice cubes on its ice surfaces!
How did my first time on ice skates go? Well, at least I was able to walk on the ice for over 100 meters, and on the speed skating track after being terrified at first of slipping and falling. I didn’t move gracefully, and the skates were starting to hurt my feet, which is why serious speed skaters will have them custom made for as much as $1,200.00 ($600.00 for the boots and another $600.00 for the blades). I’ve come to appreciate the athletic skill of figure and speed skaters for the way they make skating seem so easy.
Apple Holler is a Delicious Destination
The owner of Apple Holler, Dave Flannery, (he looks a bit like William Shatner), says that in order to be successful in a business dealing with the public, you have to create an experience beyond the selling of goods. Well, Apple Holler is one place that is full of experiences for everybody! I’d even recommend this venue to the Klingons! If you’re not careful, you may wind up spending the whole day here. You won’t have to worry about going hungry at Apple Holler either, as their onsite restaurant serves up hearty and tasty meals!
The experience that so many people come for is to be a part of the apple harvesting season (which generally runs from late July through October), so they can pick their own apples from the 12,000 trees spanning 60 acres. Apple Holler also contains seven acres of pumpkins that are ready for the Halloween season. It was a treat to wander around the apple orchard and pick a variety of apples from Honey Crisp (which is becoming the most popular apple) to Golden Delicious. Twenty thousand to 25,000 bushels of apples are picked each year by Apple Holler's customers. Given that a bushel is around 44 pounds, that means over a million pounds of apples leave Apple Holler by way of the apple picking experience!
And it isn’t just apples that bring in the people. During the Christmas season, Apple Holler offers sleigh rides, provides hay rides and Red Barn Theatre performances throughout the year.
Apple Holler’s bakery and gift shop features homemade goods, including Apple Cider Donuts (a must-try), fresh apple cider that’s smooth tasting and Wisconsin wine and cheese products! This family-run bakery is very busy, creating some 2,000 donuts a day. This doesn’t include all the other apple-related goodies like pies, apple on a stick fares, etc. The day I was there, over 1,000 school children were bused in from around the area, so the owner’s wife had the extra chore of making sure 1,000+ chocolate chip cookies were made for the kids. Nearby, Illinois provides the majority of Apple Holler’s business, including busing their elementary school-aged kids to watch the performance of The Legend of Johnny Appleseed. Kids and adults alike can even feed the goats, one of the most popular attractions.
Old World Third Street: Gateway to Food Heaven
Old World Third Street started out as a three-city block area of Victorian style commercial buildings built from the mid-1850’s until 1900. Today, various businesses like restaurants, shops and offices occupy this district. Take the family down Old World Third Street for many tasty examples of how quality food is to be prepareand. They may never want Ball Park Franks or Big Macs again!
Begin at Usinger's Famous Sausage, in business since 1880. It was started by German immigrant, Fred Usinger, and is now run by his great grandson, Fritz. Elves serve as the Usinger mascots. They are shown in a long Sistine Chapel-like wall mural (making the sausages) at the retail store. So not only will your appetite be satisfied by visiting the store, you’ll get some sausage culture, too!
Usinger’s offers a wide selection of sausages, including Barbe-brats, which have BBQ-type seasoning in them. Remember when you had to eat pan-fried liver as a kid and hated it? Well, liver sausages are quite different. The one I sampled was smooth, light, mellow and easily swallowed. Liver sausage contains many vitamins and a generous supply of iron. Usinger’s sells a variety of liver sausage products, including Milwaukee Braunschwieger Liver and Liverwurst Pate. Some sausages have cereal grains in them like Kiska, which can be made with oats and barley. Usinger’s features many link products, including Veal Wieners and Knackwurst. Summer Sausages happen to be the most popular of all, like pepperoni and Genoa salami. These are fermented and dried, so they keep well.
The most popular sausages during the spring and summer months are Brats; during the fall, Summer and Liver Sausage; and for wintertime; Ring Bologna, Knackwurst, Wieners, and Franks. The company’s philosophy is that they want people to appreciate the experience of eating food that’s been prepared with top notch ingredients, especially in regards to the younger generations, who’ve been raised on too much fast food. Usinger’s sells many of their products via catalog orders. Their website includes cooking tips for the meats they sell.
From sausage heaven to chocolate heaven, head to The Chocolate Tree. It’s well known for Ambrosia Chocolate and other Wisconsin-made products. Ambrosia makes a lot of chips and toppings for Eskimo Pies and Oreo Cookies. Because The Chocolate Tree sells many chocolate products to local establishments, bulkier chocolate items like ten-pound chocolate bar slabs or giant bags of cocoa weighing around 50 pounds can be spotted in this store.
The Chocolate Tree offers a lot of homemade goodies, too, including delicious choices of fudge. This includes Maple Walnut, which tasted quite smooth and wasn’t overly rich. They also sell top candies like imported and delicious Australian Kookaburra Black Licorice and sugar free salt water taffy that’s made in Salt Lake City. This business also sells homemade Amish folding baskets and many other gift items.
I always thought of spices as being those things that come ground up in small containers, but after visiting The Spice House, I realized that spices can come in all shapes and sizes. Take vanilla, for instance. Yes, it’s considered a spice because its beans have been traded as spices for ages, and quality vanilla comes from orchid plants. The vanilla beans that I saw were from Madagascar. They looked like long black worms!
You can actually smell the spices several feet outside this establishment, which supplies many serious cooks and restaurants in Milwaukee with quality spices, herbs and seasonings, including Saigon Cinnamon from Vietnam. This ground up tree bark has a strong but delightful scent and flavor. They even sell the hottest chili spice known to man – the ground dried Habanero Chile Peppers from the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s so potent, that to open a large container and then take a quick whiff would be hazardous to your health! Their dehydrated cheese powders come in such flavors as Blue Cheese and Cheddar Cheese, and make great toppings for soups and popcorn. Even sugar lovers of Milwaukee aren’t left out, as their crystallized and very powerful tasting ginger candy is the kind that goes back to Marco Polo’s time.
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart has been around about 70 years. Its address isn’t Old World Third Street, but if you turn the corner at West Highland Avenue, you’ll be there. Cheese is one of my favorite things in this world, so I ventured into cheese heaven and found out just how big the cheese business is in Wisconsin:
Three quarters of all milk coming from the state’s 1.8 million cows are used for cheese making. Wisconsin makes roughly 400 varieties of cheese, and produces two billion pounds of cheese per year, or close to one-third of the USA production! Brick and Colby originates in Wisconsin, which had at one time, over 2,800 cheese factories in the early 1900’s.
I sampled some of Wisconsin Cheese Mart’s 140 varieties of cheese, including the best tasting Parmesan cheese. It had aged for two years, and had a nice saltiness and tanginess to it. Another excellent and popular selection is their five-year old cheddar that definitely has a strong solid taste. The mart’s Gorgonzola (Blue Cheese) is fresh and creamy with a pleasant tartness to it.
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart is a catalog order company, too. Their website even educates consumers on how to make the most of their cheese experience via storing, shredding, etc.
Old World Third St. Merchants
Usinger's Famous Sausage: http://www.usinger.com
The Chocolate Tree: 1048 N. Old World Third St., Milwaukee, WI 414-271-5774. (no website).
The Spice House: http://www.thespicehouse.com
Wisconsin Cheese Mart: http://www.thecheesemart.com
Roy’s Travel Tips:
I've been using an awesome travel product called All Natural Shaving Oil both on the road and at home. The one-half ounce and two-ounce bottles are TSA security screen-friendly. It only takes around six drops to get a clean and smooth shave without any irritation. Great for pre-electric shaver conditioning. Women can use this, too! Go to http://www.pacificshaving.com for more details!
When traveling, it’s very important to eat as healthy as possible. An apple is the traveler’s best friend because of its nutritional richness. Apples are non-fattening, provide a great source of fiber, help to keep cholesterol in check and are heart-friendly!
Milwaukee Tourism Information: http://www.visitmilwaukee.org
Roy A. Barnes' first two Milwaukee articles are at:
Roy A. Barnes writes from the windy plains of southeastern Wyoming. Besides Bootsnall.com, you can read his travel-themed articles at Live Life Travel, The Traveler, Transitions Abroad, GoNOMAD.com, and American Australian Travel Magazine.