midwest college & coffee tour (part 4)

see Part 1 (Pittsburgh & Columbus)
see Part 2 (Indianapolis)
see Part 3 (Chicago)


The City
I first visited Milwaukee a year ago, and I fell in love with it. It’s kind of like a mini Chicago. Some interesting old buildings, a feel of a real history to the place, great food, landscape dominated by the lakefront. And the added bonus of a bronze statue of the Fonz along the riverfront, known, fittingly enough, as The Bronze Fonz.

I’m the one on the left

I’m also predisposed to loving Milwaukee, as I’ve been a fan of their baseball team for 40+ years, and a good friend from college lives there. In fact, my wife and son were pretty convinced I made sure Milwaukee was on the itinerary because the Brewers just happened to be playing at home.

The College
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a strong school, a lovely campus in a nice part of town. It ticked a lot of boxes for us but overall it was quickly apparent that UW-M wasn’t the right fit, so we ducked out after the info session and skipped the tour.

The Coffee (side visit)
Colectivo Coffee is a mainstay of Milwaukee’s coffee scene, and has expanded south into Illinois. We visited their small shop within the US Bank Center. For being in an office building it was a very pleasant atmosphere, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier, but my coffee wasn’t very good. Overroasted and almost bitter. I had a better coffee last year at their Lakefront cafe. Food menu looked really good, though.

Colectivo Coffee
US Bank Center
777 E. Wisconsin Avenue, Mezzanine Level, Milwaukee, WI

The Coffee (main visit)
On my last visit to Milwaukee, I was disappointed not to have the chance to try Kickapoo Coffee, as they have a great reputation. Then, just before our visit, I learned about this. Hmm. Interesting.

Kickapoo’s main cafe is at the edge of the Historic Third Ward, a neighborhood near downtown with lovely old buildings, some warehouse conversions, the Milwaukee Public Market food hall, and some great restaurants and bars. The three block stretch at the lower end of N. Broadway may be the most charming urban streetscape in the country.

The building itself, across from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design campus, is a modern block that looks from the outside like a repurposed shipping container. There’s plenty of outside seating out front and in the small plaza to the side of the building. Inside is all light and air, from the front wall of windows, high ceiling in the first half of the cafe, and white walls. The design manages to be industrial and arty and comfortable all at once. Lots of nice touches, like self service taps for both still and sparkling water. A long bar for the staff to work behind is in the middle of the room, dividing up the two main seating areas. I recommend at the bar or one of the hightops in the back of the room, as the bar stools are surprisingly comfortable.

The baristas really knew their stuff. The person who took my order was friendly and did a great job describing the differences between the two espresso beans on offer. The barista who made my macchiato was also very friendly, and later stopped by to ask how my drink was.

And it was great. Made on an older La Marzocco Linea PB using bottomless portafillers, which are a little more demanding on the barista, the coffee had lots of complex flavor. It might have been too overpowering on its own as an espresso, but was cut perfectly by the small amount of milk.

Come to your own conclusions about the coming name change, but Kickapoo is definitely worth a trip. And it’s less than a fifteen minute walk from the Bronze Fonz!

Kickapoo Coffee
232 E. Erie Street, Milwaukee, WI

So, thus endeth the college tour. While we might not know yet exactly where our son will go to school, we have some good ideas on that front, got to spend time in great cities, and enjoyed some really good coffee.

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