So much about who we are and where we’re from can be traced to the earliest cities formed along major rivers that served as vital trade routes for the goods that supported them, and the Great Lakes are a curious example of cities within a continental interior hosting significant international ports. We at Riparian Life were raised at just one of those such ports, though recently we found ourselves at another: Milwaukee.

Milwaukee is a city we hold dear in our hearts for so many reasons. In a time when globalization and political division have shredded our sense of community, Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are a breath of fresh air that still exude the cultural essences formed from their first European immigrants. And in the upper Midwest, it’s hard to imagine talking about culture without a hearty discussion on food, and that’s what we’re bringing to you today.

Milwaukee Public Market

We stopped by the Milwaukee Public Market, an indoor square of coffee, food, wine, confectioneries, and more. If you’ve never been, we recommend going midday. Yes, it will be shoulder to shoulder, but that’s part of the charm, and one gains an appreciation for just what this market means to the city. If crowds aren’t your vibe, the last two hours of the day are much quieter.

For those familiar with Minneapolis/St Paul, it is not unlike the Midtown Market, though smaller and with less street food vibes. We began at Margarita Paradise Mexican Restaurant, a bar stool type arrangement along the market’s outer perimeter.  True to our brand, we ordered the Tilapia fish tacos. The fish was breaded and stacked with red cabbage and ripe tomatoes. A verde sauce brought it all home, only to be washed down with a Corona with lime.

Milling between the vendors, our sweet tooth got the best of us at Kehr’s Candies. In business almost 80 years, Kehr’s has perfected everything they touch, and their display cases are extensive and varied! We paced back and forth biting our bottom lip before finally settling on candied dark chocolate covered pears and ginger, as well as a few cashew turtles. Photos do not do their displays or treats justice. You must see in person!

Spice House

We passed by The Spice House and admired their stock for a moment. A long time favorite of ours, we could go on and on about their offerings, but we’ll clue you in on a few of our top favorites. Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle is named after one of the more hip lanes in Milwaukee, and it goes fantastic on toast, popcorn, and many other savory snacks. Our cabinet is never without. Chicago Deep Dish seasoning is another staple in our house that will save even the dullest frozen pizza. Pro tip: sprinkle some on before and after baking the pizza for a wider blend of flavor and aroma! We didn’t buy anything here on this trip as we had just visited their brick & mortar on 3rd St. the month prior and stocked up.

cheeses of WI

If you stop there, be sure to check out Usinger’s, a meat market with almost as much history as the city itself! Also nearby, is Wisconsin Cheese Mart, which supports the largest selection of Wisconsin cheeses of any store in Wisconsin. Reach out to us if you’re looking for recommendations.

st. paul fish company

Anyway, back to the market. Before we left, we knew we were going to need more fish. This brought us to the counter of St. Paul Fish Company. With an oyster bar, a lobster tank, and all the fresh fish you could dream laying out on ice and under your nose, what else could we ask for? And then we saw it.

There, in the case with all the chunks of smoked fish, salmon pastrami! “What is that!?” we wondered, and that is exactly what we asked the gentleman behind the counter. He smiled and shook his head as he swapped out his gloves for a new set and said “That’s the best thing in the case.” Before we could even begin to doubt his testimonial, he handed us a sample and explained it goes through a cold smoke process the same as a beef pastrami. Smoked for sure, but the intensity was mild. But the texture, my goodness, it nearly melted in our mouth, and we knew we were not walking away without a pound of this heavenly meat.

On the way home, we pondered what to do with the salmon pastrami. Sure, we could just claw at it over the sink in one devilish session, but we wanted to do something extra with it, not knowing when we would see it again. Being the baker we are, a caraway rye bread seemed appropriate, and while we’re not it, why not some cream cheese. And that’s when it all started to come together. We don’t care if you’re 25 or 55, the avocado toast we’re about to throw in your face will have your inner millennial sharing this post on every major social media platform in a New York minute. We dare you to try not to!

So, clearly we needed to bake the caraway rye the next day, which meant a little internal self-rationalization for not showing up at the office (the weather wasn’t great anyway). Our recipe follows The Bread Bible‘s “Levy’s” Real Jewish Rye Bread recipe. If you’re new to bread baking, Rose Levy Beranbaum breaks everything down into the simplest elements and explains the why’s and how’s in concise manner. It’s where we started, and it’s where we pull our weekly standards.

avocado toast prep

After baking and cooling the bread, we toasted a few slices. After a bed of cream cheese with grated lemon zest, we laid on the salmon pastrami and cut each piece in half to prepare a Jackal & Hyde effect of sweet and savory pairings. On the sweet side, mango slices were laid down and topped with mint. For the savory side, avocado slices came next, with toppings of green onion, basil, and cilantro. Lastly, all preparations were finished with a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, and freshly ground white pepper.

avocado toast

Somehow, with little forethought, we pulled together a set of ingredients begging for attention. Avocados were on sale and ripe everywhere and the mango was one of the best we’ve had in recent memory. The textures of these, the fish, and the cream cheese matched perfectly for a clean bite every time. And the fresh bread, of course, speaks for itself in this household.

avocado toast

Lastly, it only seemed fitting to pair the toast with one of our favorite Milwaukee beers, Lakefront’s Riverwest Stein.

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