Today I’ve got the windows open in my office, I’ve got kale plants growing outside on the balcony, I’m sporting a slight tan, and Cinco de Mayo* is three days away. That can mean only one thing–time to blog about something that happened on March 23! This was a fun evening, visiting several local establishments for great food, drinks, and company.

Machine Shop Facelift
My friend Marcus joined me as we made the first stop at INdustri Cafe (524 S 2nd St) for an #MKEFoodies event. Even better? Beer was provided courtesy of Milwaukee Brewing Company (their building is across the street). Even better? My friends from NathanAle’s Brewery brought me some samples of their latest creations. I was already steeped in good beer and I hadn’t even seen the food menu yet.

We missed the appetizer samples, so we ordered a plate of pan-seared scallops rockefeller. The scallops were cooked to perfection and made even better by the addition of spinach and bacon, and a garlic aioli sauce on the side. Additionally we tried a plate of the sausage and cheese curd kabobs. The bites of meat and cheese come on an edible pretzel skewer with a side of mustard dipping sauce. Two great appetizers which went very well with the Louie’s Demise beer.

INdustri Cafe has done a nice job creating a cozy feel inside this 130-year old former machine shop building. I’d never seen the coffee shop which occupied the space prior to INdustri Cafe, but I have a feeling a dining destination will do better here than a neighborhood-type coffee spot. With an excellent menu and freaking awesome desserts, INdustri Cafe should be on everyone’s restaurant short list.

Octogenarian Owners/Occupants
On the recommendation of Twitter friends Mike and Kay, we walked down the street next to a Milwaukee institution: Tony’s Tavern (412 S 2nd St). You are correct if you just observed this place doesn’t have a website (click here for a nice review). If you’d visit, you’d also observe no credit card machines, a jukebox with vinyl records, and a bartender in her eighties.** This place is certified old school, complete with the pictures and the smell from our grandparents’ house to prove it.

I ordered an Edmund Fitzgerald from the tap and realized quickly this might have been a mistake. The beer was perfectly poured but tasted a little–to keep up with the theme–old. This is a casual, come-as-you-are sort of tavern, and I should have probably gone with the blue collar drink offerings instead. As I walked around, the details in this place were simply remarkable, down to the manual hand-pull cash register behind the bar.

The main room fits a good group comfortably, and overflow can mingle in the side room around the pool table. If you’d like something to eat, Ann will holler “Tony!” and he’ll fetch some popcorn in the aluminum popper pan–like the ones we use over the campfire. It’s a great experience, and I’m thankful I was able to be served by the owners, who incidentally live in the bar (I think the bedrooms are upstairs and their kitchen is straight through the back of the bar).

Old Faithful
Finally, since we needed some late-night grub, we made a stop at Bel Air Cantina (1935 N Water St). This replaced the so-so former tenant Good Life, which was a fatality of the [extremely] long Humboldt bridge project. The inside looked pretty similar, but the food menu is completely different. We ordered tacos for this fourth meal, and they were all tasty. I had the Gringo (hard shell corn with ground beef), Baja Tilapia (soft flour with fried tilapia and avocado), and Barbacoa (soft flour with BBQ beef slow cooked in beer and orange soda).

It’s a great late-night eating option, an option which can be tricky to find on Milwaukee’s Eastside. Tacos are also the perfect late-night standby, so I hope this place sticks around for a while (if there aren’t any more bridge projects or sinkholes which say otherwise).

Check all of these places out as soon as you can. Highly recommended.

* Cause for annual celebration in the United States? This is the day on which a Mexican army soundly defeated a much-larger French army.  Works for me!

** Educated guess.