Usinger’s sausage factory looms large on the Downtown Milwaukee Riverfront. It is the sausage-smith behind what are perhaps the best brats in Wisconsin. We folk from outside of the area make do with Johnsonville, a tasty product no doubt, but one that remains second tier compared to Milwaukee’s most famous sausage. When you’re in Wisconsin, you’ve got to try a freshly grilled Usinger Brat.
The Usinger factory doesn’t serve food, but there is a fine bar across the street that might as well be its galley. Here you get brats, as fresh as they could possibly come, grilled correctly with tasty fixin’s and soft split buns.
The Milwaukee Brat House (every burg in Wisconsin seems to have its civic brat house Downtown), isn’t a restaurant, but a sports bar. It’s dark, divey, and the staff is a bit gruff. Wisconsin sports are the most important thing here, but beer and brats come in a close second. Beers at the Milwaukee Brat House come in two little frosty mugs instead of in one pint glass: a charming old-fashioned touch.
The classic brat — an ideal late-night snack — comes dressed with sauerkraut and mustard with a side of hot-from-the-fryer French fries. It is grilled to order, until just before it bursts. Juice intact, it can be dangerous on first bite. Wait a minute or two for it to cool.
Piping-hot fried cheese curds — a Wisconsin passion — have a subtle coating that does not get in the way of the stretchy curds within. They come with a dusting of Parmesan that boosts the salt to a more flavorful level, enhancing the creamy, neutral curd.
Anise-laced Italian sausage is perfectly good, probably a Brooklyn 8/10, but it doesn’t measure up to the sausage that made them famous, the peerless bratwurst. We do enjoy the baked beans that come alongside. They are greasy and full of chunks of half-burnt bacon: a perfectly grubby dive bar side dish that matches so well with the salty atmosphere.
Brats are served until 2 a.m, making the Brat House a life-saver for those coming down from exploring one of America’s greatest drinking towns.