Where to Eat and Drink in Milwaukee, According to 'Top Chef' Finalist Dan Jacobs

From Bay View's Goodkind to Third Ward's Donut Monster — and beyond.

<p>Stephanie Diani / Bravo / Getty Images</p>

Stephanie Diani / Bravo / Getty Images

When the 21st season of Top Chef premiered in March in Wisconsin, the uninitiated quickly learned that the Midwestern state is home to an amazingly standout food scene. The show has put a spotlight on the state’s traditional fish fries, supper clubs, farmers’ markets, and of course, its award-winning cheeses.

One contestant already well-versed in Wisconsin’s culinary landscape, though, was Dan Jacobs. The chef has lived in Milwaukee for more than a decade and is a co-owner of the restaurants DanDan and EsterEv, which recently reopened in a new standalone space in the city’s Bay View neighborhood.

“I’m so happy how the show has really showcased Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” Jacobs tells Food & Wine. “It’s an incredibly supportive, collaborative city. There’s an honesty in the food, and the dining scene is comprised of owner-operators, so you have people that are actually in their restaurants, that care about the people coming in the doors, and the details of the whole experience.”

Related: The 'Top Chef' Season 21 Winner Is Following in His Mentor's Footsteps

Below, Jacobs tells us his favorite places to eat in Milwaukee, including where to find cheese with a cult following, one of the country’s best burgers, and an espresso martini worth a special trip.

Donut Monster

Jacobs recommends Donut Monster for “creative, delicious donuts” that come in flavors like lemon poppyseed, and Twix, with chocolate, caramel, and a shortbread crumble. Owners Sara and Jackie Woods started selling their doughnuts at a farmers’ market, and now run three locations of the popular shop. “Jackie used to be a fine dining chef in Milwaukee, and then decided one day to make doughnuts and English muffin sandwiches,” says Jacobs. “And now he makes the best doughnuts and English muffin sandwiches in the country.”

<p>Courtesy of Donut Monster</p>

Courtesy of Donut Monster

Three Brothers

Jacobs sent judges Kristen Kish, Gail Simmons, and Tom Colicchio to Three Brothers, and now they’re also fans of the family-run Serbian restaurant. “It’s totally a throwback — cash only, it’s like walking backwards in time,” he says. “They have things on the menu that I remember my grandma would make, like sarma [pickled cabbage stuffed with beef and rice] and it’s so good, and so honest.” And, adds the chef, “Don't miss the burek, it’s their specialty.”

Kopp’s

“Kopp’s is the number one place that we always bring a guest chef,” says Jacobs, who adds that  the frozen custard spot makes a standout cheeseburger. “Kopp’s has been there forever, so people that grew up on it have nostalgic feelings — but I didn’t grow up with this, so there’s no nostalgic feeling for me and I truly believe it’s the best burger in America,” he says. And the vintage vibe adds to the restaurant’s flavor. “Everybody’s wearing white paper hats, it’s all stainless steel. You go, you get cheeseburger, fries, onion rings, you get whatever’s the custard of the day.” Jacobs’ favorite? Turtle custard, with caramel and pecans. And he recommends getting a quart to go.

Birch

For a special dinner, head to Birch — what Jacobs calls “one of the best restaurants in Milwaukee.” Owner and chef Kyle Knall came from Gramercy Tavern in New York City, and the Lower East Side restaurant’s menu centers around a hearth. “I’m a big fan of anything cooked in a wood grill, it’s basically a cheat code to make something taste more delicious — cook it on a live fire,” says Jacobs. “They do a Contramar-inspired fish dish with homemade tortillas, and it’s pretty exceptional.”

<p>Siege Food Photo</p>

Siege Food Photo

The Mothership

“There’s a great little neighborhood bar culture in Milwaukee that’s a ton of fun, and it’s full of a cast of characters,” says the chef. One example is The Mothership, in the Bay View  neighborhood. “I watched the Bucks in the finals there, it was just so much fun,” he says. And although the cocktail bar doesn’t take itself too seriously, they make seriously good drinks.  “They do a take on an espresso martini, and I will straight up crush them.”

<p>Courtesy of The Mothership</p>

Courtesy of The Mothership

Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern

For a memorable start to your day, Jacobs recommends heading to Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern. “Wolfgang and his wife Whitney created a really special place,” he says. “Kate and I go on Mondays or Tuesdays, usually, because it’s a little bit quieter. Their Big McAllister burger knocks it out of the park. And then if you have a second, go in back and check out Whitney’s little store, Orange and Blue Co. They sell a lot of products made by local artists in the city.”

<p>Courtesy of Uncle Wolfie's Breakfast Tavern</p>

Courtesy of Uncle Wolfie's Breakfast Tavern

Goodkind

Goodkind, the Bay View neighborhood restaurant run by Jacobs’ friends Paul Zerkel and Lisa Kirkpatrick, is also home to “an extremely interesting cocktail program,” says the chef. Led by their partner Katie Rose, they’re known for creative cocktails that incorporate ingredients like Manchego-washed gin, or hibiscus-infused mezcal. Some highlights on the ever-changing food menu, according to Jacobs, include linguine alla carbonara, and chicken. “Their whole menu is basically organized around rotisserie, and I love their roast chicken.”

<p>Michael Goelzer </p>

Michael Goelzer

Burnhearts

Burnhearts, the eclectic Bay View haunt, is one of the top beer bars in America — and a favorite for Jacobs and the whole DanDan team. “That's where the staff goes after work, we play pool,” he says.

Voyager and Nonfiction

Voyager and Nonfiction, both in Bay View, serve wines that are, “a little bit off the beaten path, a little bit different — and are also run by incredibly cool people,” Jacobs says.

<p>Anna Spaller </p>

Anna Spaller

Uplands Cheese Company

“Wisconsin cheese is definitely on another level,” Jacobs says. “We have some of the best producers of cheese in the entire world.” Among them is Uplands Cheese Company’s Andy Hatch, who makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an Alpine-style that happens to be the most decorated American cheese in American history. It’s included in the cheese course at EsterEv now — a Pleasant Ridge Reserve air waffle with caramelized ramps. They also make Rush Creek Reserve, only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas. “His cows graze on this one piece of land at this one time a year, and they make this one batch of cheese, and that's it,” Jacobs says. “When it’s gone, it’s gone, and so everybody just goes nuts for it.”

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