Surrounded by the laughter and conversation of my tight-knit family, I had an epiphany. It happened like this: I listened intently as my uncle told a story about an infamous childhood trip to the corner store going awry. Everyone around the table laughed as he described rescuing my (then-four-year-old) mother after she fell into a giant snowbank.
My mother and her siblings grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and I’d always loved learning about their childhood shenanigans. I peppered my mom with questions about my grandparents, their school, and the best places to eat German and Polish dishes. Since my own childhood took place in Arizona’s sunny desert, I never tired of stories featuring sledding and adventures in the snow. As I grew older I collected story details like postcards, creating a vision in my mind about what Milwaukee was like.
It was time to experience Brew City for myself, and I knew who I wanted to be my tour guide.
A market like no other
“I can’t believe we’re here!” Mom said again as we paused to take in the umbrella-topped tables, expanse of windows, and many plants outside of our first stop: Milwaukee Public Market. Grinning and nodding in agreement, I was so glad we finally booked our trip. After a moment of basking in the warmth of the sun, we were ready to head inside to grab some grub.
My first thought upon walking inside: How am I ever going to decide what to have for lunch? The renovated warehouse was home to more than a dozen vendors offering tastes from around the globe. I suggested we take a lap before choosing our culinary adventure, and Mom agreed.
We made our way around the building oohing and ahhing at the deliciousness surrounding us, pointing out interesting ingredients to each other. The smells of artisan baked bread, simmering Thai dishes, and roasting coffee made my mouth water. After sampling divine olive oil and splurging on souvenirs and wine to take home with us, we decided we could no longer ignore the rumbles of hunger in our stomachs. Mom opted for fresh fish and chips while I couldn’t resist trying the Chili Verde alongside a chopped salad with homemade dressing. From the upper deck, we exchanged bites of our meals, people-watched, and decided we’d never been to a cooler public market.
A walk along the river
Next on our agenda was exploring the Milwaukee Riverwalk. I loved the cool breeze from the river keeping us comfortable as we wandered along the three-mile path linking Milwaukee Downtown with the Beerline B and Historic Third Ward districts. Mom and I took pictures of the boats, bridges, architecture, and sculptures we passed, but there was one spot I’d learned about that I needed to stop by for a photo op.
“Ayyyy! If it isn’t the famous Arthur Fonzarelli!” Mom said with a laugh.
We waited our turn to sidle up to the Bronze Fonz statue, Milwaukee’s contribution to the nationwide collection of life-size statues dedicated to 1950s and 60s pop culture. After snapping a few pictures and ensuring they were “perfectamundo,” we continued our journey toward Old World Third Street.
While there were new businesses Mom didn’t recognize in the heart of the old German neighborhood, the cobblestone street and European-influenced buildings brought back fond memories. A stop inside Usinger’s to order a few famous sausages to be shipped home was first on Mom’s list, and no trip to the Dairy State is complete without sampling the finest cheddar at Wisconsin Cheese Mart. We searched for treasures in the multitude of shops until our feet were ready for a rest and our thirst for beer ready to be satiated.
A taste of Germany in Brew City
“Did you ever come here as a kid?” I asked Mom after ordering the featured local lager at Mader’s Restaurant.
She shook her head, “We didn’t get to eat out at restaurants very often.” Then she smiled, “But I’m glad I finally get to try this place with you.”
We sipped our flavorful, crisp lagers and chatted until our server stopped at our table with a tray. Our eyes widened when we were presented with our Tour of Germany entrée. Built for two, the plates were piled high with German potato salad, spätzle, and red cabbage. Butter-tender pork shank with an apple demi-glaze, pleasantly crispy wiener schnitzel, savory Sauerbraten, and classic Kassler Rippchen made our taste buds dance with every bite. As we indulged, Mom told me about her mother’s variations of everything we tasted, and I smiled remembering my grandma’s creative twists on recipes.
A breath of fresh air
The following morning, Mom was ready to show me the neighborhood she grew up in. After a quick breakfast, we made our way toward Greenfield Avenue. I loved seeing her old house and school, but I was most excited to get to Mitchell Park, which I’d heard was like nowhere else.
As we approached, I admired the massive glass domes that immediately caught my eye. The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, known best as The Domes, is home to plants from around the world. The first dome we explored was a miniature rainforest full of tropical plants. The lush foliage and brightly colored flowers made me wish I had a green thumb. In the desert dome we saw familiar yucca, cacti, and palm trees that reminded us of home, but there were plenty of new plants to discover. Finally, we headed over to the show dome, which rotates its theme five times a year. The spring flowers of every color were the perfect background for more pictures together.
Before we left, Mom pointed out the hills where she and her siblings would go sledding. She told me stories I’d heard a dozen times throughout my life, but seeing the setting for myself made the adventures come to life.
A beer for you and me
While there are many brewery tours to choose from in Milwaukee, we wanted to learn more about the beer our family had been drinking for generations. It’s Miller Time!
“This is definitely not something we did as kids,” Mom joked as we toasted the beginning of our tour at the Miller Brewing Company.
Kicking off the tour with a cold, refreshing beer was fine by me. We watched a brief film, visited the underground caves where the Miller empire began, and continued to learn about the company’s evolution over time. I became fascinated by the brewing process and how the technology has changed throughout 160 years. Watching the canning and bottling process completed with such precision amazed us. Mom was impressed by our knowledgeable, friendly tour guides.
Later, over dinner, we shared our favorite moments of this Brew City visit. I was glad to have finally shared this experience with my Mom, and it made me feel closer to her and our family heritage than ever before. As we clinked our glasses together, I promised myself this would not be the last mother-daughter trip we took.