Help Plan a Cook's Tour of Chicago, Milwaukee & Madison
April 2, 2010 10:42 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite cooking/kitchen/food-related shops in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison?

Mrs. Webhund has a week-long conference downtown Chicago in mid-April and I'm tagging along. During the day I'll be all by my lonesome, so my plan is to scope out cooking/kitchen and other food/drink-related shops. Planning on covering Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. I'll have a car available to me all day and am planning day trips to Milwaukee and Madison as well. Would prefer to stay away from the old standards such as Crate & Barrel, Williams Sonoma, IKEA, etc.. Send me into the neighborhoods!

For example, I've been many times to the Spice House in Old Town and understand that there's a new cooking oil shop that's opened near them. House of Glunz down the street also qualifies (cobwebs are cool!). Places that offer cooking classes and/or demo kitchens are especially interesting to this foodie. Food, wine, beer, barware, liquor, kitchenware, cookbooks are all qualifying candidates.

Bonus points for independent shops. (NO restaurants, please!)
posted by webhund to Shopping (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Definitely check out the Chopping Block for classes. I'm not sure what they have during the day, but it's worth checking out. I took a cooking class there and it was super fun. They have a location in the Merchandise Mart, but if you want to get into the neighborhoods there's a location in Lincoln Square as well.
posted by awegz at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2010

And Drinks Over Dearborn would be worth looking into for wine/beer/liquor classes. It's near downtown and not really in fun neighborhood, per se, but the place is great. Cute little store on the second floor and they really know their stuff.
posted by awegz at 10:52 AM on April 2, 2010

Best answer: I was a huge fan of Tee-Gschwendner when I was in Chicago. A huge wall full of high-quality loose-leaf tea of a zillion flavors, plus fancy tea-making apparatus. If you like tea at all, stop here.
posted by aimedwander at 10:54 AM on April 2, 2010

Penzeys Spices is based in the Milwaukee area, although I now see that they have locations all over. Not sure if the stores here are any bigger because it is the homebase.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 11:00 AM on April 2, 2010

In Madison, there's a single strip mall across from Whole Foods on University Ave. that has the best concentration of foodie shops all together: Penzey's spices, Vom Fass sells various oils, vinegars, scotches and liqueurs IN BULK (and you can taste everything in-store) and a good kitchen equipment store whose name escapes me at the moment.

I highly recommend the calamansi-infused vinegar from Vom Fass -- it's one I couldn't hope to do at home, and a really unique flavor.

Before or afterward, just a block closer to campus on University is La Brioche, which would make a great stop for lunch or coffee and pastries. (WARNING: Good food, bad embedded audio of Bach for steel-string guitar on the website)

Really, though, if you're coming to Madison or Milwaukee, what you should be tasting is beer. If that's an interest I can recommend several brewpubs and craft breweries worth visiting. Not if you have to drive back to Chicago right away of course.
posted by dr. boludo at 11:01 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: sorry -- missed that beer is already on the list! In or near Madison: Great Dane brewpub, Ale Asylum Brewery, Capital Brewery and Beer Garden. 45 minute drive to the southwest, and well worth it IMO, is the New Glarus brewing company in a quaint Swiss-themed village. I am not the sort of guy who finds "Quaint Swiss-Themed Village" an appealing phrase. I am recommending it anyway because their beer is that good, it's a fascinating new green facility and their beer is unavailable outside of the state.

I'd gladly volunteer to accompany you on any of these excursions except that we're expecting our first baby some time in the next few weeks!
posted by dr. boludo at 11:09 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For all your ridiculously obscure and expensive gourmet food needs, there's Fox & Obel just north of the Chicago River. The café serves excellent short-order gourmet fare.

I also lived within walking distance of Freehling Pot & Pan for many years, and fell in love with it; it's small, but jam-packed with kitchen gadgets and paraphernalia. While you're in Hyde Park, walk down the street to Hyde Park Produce, check out the weird & wonderful fruits and veggies available there that week, and get yourself a sandwich. I recommend the "Goatshead Gobbler", a concoction featuring pastrami turkey, cream cheese, red onions, honey mustard, and giardiniera. If you're there on the weekend, buy an apple tart or a galette des rois for dessert from the French nuns selling pastries near the check-outs.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:10 AM on April 2, 2010

For a truly mind-blowing grocery store, give Sendik's a try. It's the only grocery I've ever visited with a walk-in cheese room, along with assorted other lovelies. (There are many groceries in the Milwaukee area named "Sendik's", but they are a chain of rather ordinary stores. The link above sends you to the website for the only Sendik's Fine Foods.)
posted by DrGail at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2010

Have you been to Sur la Table? They have cutlery, bakeware, coffee and tea, cookbooks and food.

(Hyde Park Produce is not worth the trip if you're not already in Hyde Park. The sandwiches might be good, and it's cool to see nuns selling tarts, but HPP has no vegetables I hadn't seen before. If you do go, though, snag some fried chicken from Harold's next door.)
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:57 PM on April 2, 2010

Seconding Vom Fass in Madison. Too bad it's in the most inconvenient strip mall on earth.

Also seconding dr. boludo's beer recommendations.

If it works with your schedule, I *highly* recommend getting to Madison early on a Saturday morning for the Dane County Farmer's Market. April 17th is the first outdoor market for this year, held on Madison's Capitol Square. It's one of the premier foodie stops in the country, and I believe the largest producer-only market in the country.

Kind of an off-the-beaten-path place to stop in Madison for a meal is Ironworks Cafe, a place on the east side that's run by teenagers in an alternative education program at East High. The weekend brunches lately have been pretty incredible, but the last time I was there for lunch was really good too.
posted by rocketman at 2:03 PM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

There's an independent cooking gadget/ accouterments store in Madison, on Monroe, not far from the stadium called Orange Tree Imports. It's not huge, but other than the mall stores, I think it's the largest store of its kind in Madison.
The largest "ethnic" (Indian, Japanese, Chinese) is a store just off the Beltline on Park called YueWah. It's perhaps worth a stop if you have particular ingredients in mind (not so much a "wander around and enjoy the atmosphere" sort of place).
There's an Italian deli, Fraboni's, which has two locations: one not far from campus and one on Monona Drive (the latter being larger). I would say the have the best selection of Italian meats in Madison, and imported foods like farro, polenta and canned tomatoes. They also have great sandwiches.
The places dr. boludo mentions are great; True Food is rather frou-frou, but has great pastries. I'd definitely recommend New Glarus as well.
posted by queseyo at 2:16 PM on April 2, 2010

Enthusiastically seconding queseyo's recommendations. The Kitchen Gallery on Willy Street is nice too.
posted by sulaine at 5:16 PM on April 2, 2010

Groppi's Food Market in Milwaukee has been around since 1910.
posted by desjardins at 10:41 AM on April 4, 2010

Best answer: Seconding all the Madison recommendations, especially the farmer's market -- which IS the largest producer-only market in the country. (FYI, Orange Tree Imports may well be overshadowed by similar stores in Chicagoland, but it's far from small and has a very distinctive personality. Sounds like it's exactly what you're looking for. Also, the strip mall with Vom Fass etc isn't quite directly across from Whole Foods, so don't get confused by the thoroughly average one that is directly across the way. And that "good" strip mall also has a decent though semi-overpriced Asian market -- but as mentioned there are far better ones on and near Park St.)

And adding a few!

* Surprised that nobody has yet said anything about artisan chocolates. Gail Ambrosius (on Atwood Avenue near that paragon of deliciousness Lao Laan-Xang) is definitely a good hit there. And there's Candinas, which has their original location out in the country as well as a newer place right on the Capitol Square.

* The National Mustard Museum (newly relocated to downtown Middleton from its spot out in the boonies in Mt. Horeb) may be of interest too. Not as pragmatic but definitely of interest to foodies. (In addition to the historic / regional mustards on display, they sell and provide tastings on a wide variety of mustards and condiments.)

* If coffee doesn't fall into the "no restaurants" ban, EVP (on Mineral Point at Speedway and also right next to the new library at Midvale and Tokay) is a very good bet. And in Milwaukee there's Alterra, which has been ranked as one of the best roasters in the country.

* You may be interested in the UW Dairy Plant / Store in Babcock Hall, off Observatory Drive. Their products (especially the ice cream) are spectacular. They offer tours but only to large groups -- but apparently there's an observation deck that anyone can use to take a look at the workings.
posted by sesquipedalia at 2:06 PM on April 11, 2010

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