Last summer R.W. Apple did a nice piece in the NYT about "the meat that made Sheboygan famous," and there were some posts on this board about that piece. Since then, I'd been contemplating a Sheboygan road trip. Got my chance, and, man, was it worth it.
We started out with a stop in Milwaukee, at the new Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum. The building alone merits a visit, with its retractable "tailfin" (you can see it close and re-open every day at noon) and gorgeous lake views. The current exhibit, DaVinci and the art of Poland, is a stunner that is not to be missed. I found it heartening to see a major local cultural institution throw its considerable weight behind a Polish-focused exhibit. The exhibit closes Nov 24, so you need to make plans to get up there soon.
Onward, to Sheboygan. It's an easy 60-minute drive north of Milwaukee on 43, through Wisconsin farm country. Shared the road with Harleys and pick-ups. Since we wanted to follow R.W.'s lead, our first stop was Terry's Diner. Terry's is in a simple blue-collar neighborhood, in a green-tiled building with a parking lot twice the size of the diner. We bought the daily Sheboygan Press (with the front page headline "Deer-Bait Ban Kept to April 1") and stepped inside. The first thing I saw was one of those giant "claw machine"-things, where you pay for a chance to nab a stuffed teddy. We passed on that temptation, but later I noticed a female patron in a Packers jacket stop and gaze (a little too long, I thought) at the thing.
A total of four booths and 18 stools at the counter. The TV and radio competing at equal volume. An elderly couple at one booth, and a 20-something guy at a stool. One employee, an older guy, basically doing everything: taking orders, manning the grill, bussing, acting as cashier. It felt very comfortable and I liked the place immediately.
On to the chow! We both ordered double brats, mine with everything except ketchup ;-) . . . my companion's with everything ("it's a Sheboygan thing, I gotta do it"). And one medium Coke. We thumbed through the Press, watched our brats on the grill, and waited. Terry's factotum spread the semmel/kaiser rolls with butter and, when he pressed the brats and knew they were almost ready, put the rolls on the grill, barely grilling the outsides only. The assembly: two brats laid side-by-side on the roll, spread with coarse brown mustard, dill pickle slices, and raw white onion. Ketchup, unless you ask them to hold it. (BTW, there's ketchup on the table, so if you want to try just one squirt on your Sheboygan brat instead of wrecking the whole freaking thing, go that route.) Wrapped up completely in parchment paper and placed before you on the formica tabletop. No plate.
We tore them open and bit in, then immediately exchanged a knowing look across the table: "my god, we have hit the jackpot here." Or, as R.W. Apple better said it: "Bingo. Best in show."
Terry's is a relatively spicy brat with what I would call a medium grind of meat. You get an explosion of juice after the requisite "snap." The rolls are the perfect vehicle, with a thin but quite crispy crust, a slight cornmeal flavor, holding up just long enough for you to stuff the last bite into your mouth. The entire package cannot be improved upon. The total tab? $6.85.
Our second stop was City Bakery. We were on a search for semmel rolls. Found exactly what we were looking for there (if you don't see them, be sure to ask - they were in a basket on the floor in the back corner). I heard another customer refer to them as "hard rolls" and I asked the young woman behind the counter if they were "semmel." She wasn't sure ("is that the German name?"), but said she thought so. Very much like a kaiser: hamburger-bun-sized, dusted with cornmeal. It was exactly what we'd just had at Terry's.
Also picked up an eclair, which we ate in the car with a cup of hot coffee. It had a mildly heavy dough, a good-sized crumb, slightly crisp exterior, with a perfect custard and a thick slather of chocolate icing. Not a squishy eclair. We loved it.
City Bakery took me back a few years, when I saw the "pershing" rolls in the case. (the counterwoman called them "persians," which I understand is a morphing of the name.) We used to get these every week at the bakery when I was a kid in Ohio: a hole-less donut, no filling, with white icing and chopped peanuts on top. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.
We asked at City Bakery for a a place to pick up good brats. They referred us to Miesfeld's. Off we went.
Miesfeld's is a large, bright and clean full-service meat market featuring brats, sausages, bacon and hams. The variety of brats is amazing: classic, jalapeno, cajun, chili, cheddar cheese, garlic and onion, all beef, chicken, etc. Most brats are sold frozen. They also have several types of summer sausage, and hams. Our favorite was a particular type of mini-ham, which we didn't try but loved only for its name: "Ham Grenades" (a mini-ham with an apple pie spice glaze). We bought several types of brats, loaded the trunk and hopped onto 43 (Miesfeld's is right at the exit) south to Chicago.
Note: although the brats were frozen rock solid when we bought them, after 2-1/2 hours in the trunk on a 50 degree day, they were thawed to a point that I was not comfortable putting them back into the freezer. If you want to try to keep them frozen on the trip home, bring a cooler with ice.
All in all, a perfect day-trip to our chow-loving neighbors to the north.
1426 S 14th Street
1102 Michigan Ave
4811 Venture Drive
Corner, Highway 42, North
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