Flavors of Milwaukee’s Brady Street Neighborhood

A Dash of Brady Street on a Milwaukee Food Tour

Taking a stroll with Milwaukee Food and City Tours on the “Brady Street Walking Lunch Tour” was like going back in time for me. I thought back to the days when Mr. TWS and I lived in Milwaukee and had an apartment on Prospect Avenue just a few blocks from where the tour began on Brady Street. I was glad that I had the chance to get a new look at this neighborhood near our old stomping grounds in Milwaukee and enjoy some delicious specialties of local eateries.

A stroll down Milwaukee's Brady Street on a Walking Lunch Food Tour by Milwaukee Food and City Tours

A stroll down Brady Street on Milwaukee’s East Side

Brady Street is a main drag in this ethnically diverse and historic neighborhood near downtown Milwaukee and within easy walking distance to the Lake Michigan shore. From the former speakeasy on the southwest corner of Farwell Avenue and Brady Street to the modern condos being constructed several blocks to the west, the street’s spirited and bohemian ambiance is reflected in its architecture, watering holes, shops, and restaurants.

Bars, cafes, and shops on Brady Street in Milwaukee

Bars, cafes, and shops on Brady Street

As we strolled along Brady Street between lunch stops on the 2-1/2 hour tour, our guide shared cultural and historical anecdotes about the neighborhood including its early Polish and Italian immigrants as well as the hippie days of the 1960s. Once a gritty area that people avoided at night, Brady Street had a Renaissance in the 1990s that rejuvenated the community while maintaining its eclectic and edgy character. I thought it was interesting that many buildings that looked like original structures of the early 20th century were actually constructed in recent decades with the intention of staying true to the designs of the past and blending in with the old buildings. Our guide also pointed out a few homes that are known as “Polish flats”, a typically one-story, four-room home built by Polish immigrants just beginning to make their way in the city. As they worked and the money came in, the homeowners raised the structure to add another unit below creating a two-family home for generating income as a rental unit.

Now let’s have lunch!

Zaffiro’s Pizza
1724 N. Farwell Avenue

Cracker-thin crust cheese pizza at Zaffiro's Pizza on Farwell in Milwaukee

Cracker-thin crust cheese pizza at Zaffiro’s

Our first stop on the tour was at Zaffiro’s Pizza, the only place that I’d previously been. It was one of our favorite pizza places when Mr. TWS and I lived in Milwaukee and we’ve often dropped in when we’ve been passing through town. It’s not fancy as you’ll see in a photo from my Milwaukee highlights post, but it’s got great pizza with a crispy cracker-thin crust. The ambiance is totally that of a neighborhood bar of 1954, the year that Zaffiro’s opened, with red and white checked tablecloths on tables in the small restaurant adjacent to the dimly-lit bar.

La Masa Empanada Bar
1300 E. Brady Street

A taste of Argentina with empanadas at La Mesa Empanada Bar

A taste of Argentina at La Mesa Empanada Bar

By the time we walked a couple of blocks from Zaffiro’s, I was ready for the next tasting. We switched our taste buds to Latin American fare at La Masa Empanada Bar, a restaurant opened in 2015 by siblings Megan and Brad Todd. I chose a flavorful Argentine beef empanada made with green olives, raisins, hard-boiled egg, and crushed chilies accompanied by chimichurri sauce and jicama slaw. I could easily have eaten another one or two. But it was quickly time to move on down the street to our next food experience.

Peter Sciortino’s Bakery
1105 E. Brady Street

Heading further west along Brady Street, our next stop was at Peter Sciortino Bakery. I loved the aroma of fresh-baked bread, pastries, and cookies that welcomed us at this old-fashioned Italian bakery. Peter and Grace Sciortino established the bakery in 1947 and the traditions have been continued with the Vellas, former employees who purchased the business in 1997. A regular customer happened to be making a purchase when we came in and gave our group an impromptu and sincere endorsement of the bakery.

Talking to a satisfied customer and sampling a luscious cannoli at Peter Sciortino's Bakery

At Peter Sciortino’s Bakery — a satisfied customer and luscious cannoli

Glorioso Bros. Grocery
1011 E. Brady

Who says that you can’t have antipasti after dessert? The next stop on the tour was Glorioso Bros. Grocery, an Italian grocery store with an extensive selection of Italian products — fresh produce, wines, cheeses, meats, gelato, and other Italian specialty products. In a small area of the store with tables and chairs, our group had a savory platter of salami, olives, provolone, prosciutto and Italian bread for dipping in oil. My favorites were the salami and cheese. Was I full yet? Almost, but not quite. So it was on to the next stop.

Delicious sampling of Italian favorites at Glorioso Bros. Grocery on Brady Street in Milwaukee

Delicious sampling of Italian favorites at Glorioso Bros. Grocery

Red Lion Pub
1850 N. Water Street

Service with a smile at Red Lion Pub in Milwaukee. Specialty -- Shepherd's Pie

Shepherd’s Pie served with a smile at Red Lion Pub

Look at that smile! The friendly service of the bartender in the photo above on the right added to the nice experience at the Red Lion Pub just three blocks off Brady Street along the Milwaukee River. This area is bustling with conversions of old buildings, including an old slaughterhouse, to condos. The pub serves traditional, made-from-scratch British pub fare and we had a delicious Shepherd’s Pie made with lamb.

Wolski’s Tavern
1836 N. Pulaski Street

Time for a beer at Wolski's Tavern on Pulaski Street in Milwaukee

Time for a beer at Wolski’s Tavern

We concluded our tour with local beer and a basket of popcorn on Pulaski Street at Wolski’s Tavern, a family-owned establishment that’s been in business for over 100 years. It’s in bars like these where regulars gather to chat and opine, particularly about sports. As we sipped a cold brew, a customer at the bar stepped over to our group which included three Boston Red Sox fans in full fan attire who were in town for a game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Brewers fans are as loyal as any, so we wondered what would happen. But there was no need to worry because there was only friendly banter between the sports fans of both sides. Keep your eyes open when you travel around the world for “I Closed Wolski’s” bumper stickers. Apparently, it’s quite a thing to get one.

Finally, I was officially and pleasantly full. The Brady Street Walking Lunch Tour is a casual, fun, and tasty experience that will definitely satisfy your hunger pangs and show you a side of Milwaukee that’s still a little under the radar.

Disclosure: Thanks to Visit Milwaukee for providing my Milwaukee Food and City Tours pass.

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14 thoughts on “Flavors of Milwaukee’s Brady Street Neighborhood

  1. Sue Reddel

    We just love Milwaukee! There’s always something new to discover every time you visit. We’ve been to Brady Street but your tour pointed out a few spots we missed. We’ll be checking them out on our next visit. Thanks!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      If you haven’t already been to Zaffiro’s, I’d put that first on the list. For me, it’s awesome pizza and great memories.

  2. Patti Morrow

    I was passing through Milwaukee a couple of years ago and decided to take a walking tour. I was surprised at how much I liked the city! I don’t think I got to sample enough of the local food though, and seeing everything in your post, I’ll just have to go back!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Even though I lived there and continue to visit, I hadn’t done an organized tour. I think I might do some others when I’m there next. It’s sometimes easy to overlook things on your own.

  3. Michael Taylor

    I am planning a trip to Chicago later this year. Would be recommend a side trip to Milwaukee? If so, what is the best way to get (I don’t drive) and how long should I spend there?

    1. Cathy Sweeney

      A side trip to Milwaukee is a great idea if you’ll have time during your visit to Chicago. There’s so much to see and do there, too!. Milwaukee is only about 80 miles north so you could do a quick day trip or spend a few days. Amtrak runs from Chicago to Milwaukee, but you might want to rent a car so that you can get around more easily around town.

  4. Anita @ No Particular Place To Go

    I’ve never been to Milwaukee and I can see now that I need to fix that mistake! Such a vibrant city and I was surprised to find out the buildings on Brady street were fairly recent instead of a century or two old. The information about the Polish flats was especially interesting and (drooling) the photos of the food, especially the empanada, were tantalizing!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      That bit of information about the buildlings was very surprising to me, too. I think it’s pretty cool that they did that to keep the character of the neighborhood.

  5. Frank

    Milwaukee has so much diversity when it comes to its cultures … definitely on my list to visit when I get around to doing a great American road trip!

  6. alison abbott

    I’m always so anxious to travel overseas, but there are so many wonderful spots to explore right here in my own backyard. I have a lot of New England on my agenda this summer, but need to get into the midwest and taste some of the wonderful diversity and culture that makes the US such a remarkable microcosm of the world. Milwaukee sounds like a great place to start.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Milwaukee would be a perfect start for exploration of the Midwest. It’s often just thought of as flyover country, but that is definitely not the case!

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