The Vanguard destined to become a Bay View landmark
February 3, 2015
By Jeffrey Zimmerman
For a town that prides itself on all things sausage (from making them, to eating them, to racing them), Milwaukee has surprisingly few restaurants that singularly celebrate the tasty, tubular link. Sure, you can put on your Sunday best and spend a small fortune on a knackwurst platter in the ersatz-Bavarian downtown dining halls, but the approachable neighborhood sausage house is about as rare as a winter street festival.
That is, until late last October when Bay View’s Vanguard successfully filled this gap in the market. Located at 2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in the space that was occupied by the Home Bar, Vanguard has already established itself as a great place to grab a brat and a beer. Bay Viewers will certainly appreciate that, especially during the long winter months when “street meats” are but a distant memory.
But Vanguard is also so much more. Artfully combining elements of the foodie culture and the cocktail culture, along with the corner bar culture so central to Milwaukee’s identity, Vanguard is really an artisanal sausage and craft cocktail emporium hidden behind an unassuming Bay View storefront. The brainchild of co-owners Chris Schulist (longtime musician and manager of Bay View’s Cactus Club) and Jim McCann (a partner in Chicago’s Longman and Eagle), and cook Shay Linkus (formerly of Bay View’s Odd Duck), Vanguard offers a wide variety of tasty, well-prepared sausages, ranging from the traditional like bratwurst and mild Italian, to more exotic flavors like longanisa (pork, palm sugar, soy sauce), toulouse (pork, black pepper, garlic, nutmeg, apple), and vegan Italian (seitan, fennel, roasted peppers). Classic sausages ($4-6) are all served on a hearty, freshly-baked roll with condiment choices that include onion, sauerkraut, giardiniera, relish, and sport pepper.
The creativity of Vanguard’s menu is especially on display with the “styled sausages” ($7-8), which include Jamaican lamb currywurst, piri piri pork , and a duck BLT, among others. Daily specials, displayed on a sheet of butcher paper, typically add an additional vegan option. Foodies will appreciate that all of Vanguard’s sausages, except the smoked, are artisanal and made in-house in a downstairs prep area. It doesn’t get more local than that!
Sides are equally imaginative, hearty, and complement the main menu well. Diners can choose from two types of poutine (veal and onion gravy or roasted garlic, $7), baked potato balls or popcorn pork belly ($6). Even classic sides like french fries ($2) come with dipping sauces that run from the whimsically hipster (Cheez Whiz) to the deliciously vegan (deviled avocado).
No visit to Vanguard would be complete without also checking out the libations. A full-service bar offers 12 beers on tap — a wide variety of American and Belgian canned beers, wine, and dozens of whiskeys, bourbons, and ryes, enough to satisfy even the most discriminating of tastes. But the real powerhouse here are the craft cocktails, “draft cocktails.” I sampled the Vanguard Old Fashioned, which was subtle, complex, and bolstered with fresh orange zest. Additional craft cocktails include the Ol’ Dirty Martini, the Vanguard Manhattan, and the Negroni Punch.
Co-owner Chris Schulist said that he wanted to create a casual, open, and welcoming venue where “a guy in a suit might be sitting next to someone in a Slayer T-shirt.” On this account, Schulist and his team have certainly succeeded. When we visited recently on a bustling Friday evening, every seat in the house was taken. An attentive hostess offered our party the three remaining seats at the bar, which we gladly took as this spot offers the best view of the open grill, where you can watch the cooks firsthand. The atmospherics at Vanguard kept us thoroughly entertained as we waited for our food. The main seating area includes multiple large, wooden community tables, where a diverse and jovial crowd seemed to making new friends. The music rotation also reflects Vanguard’s open and eclectic concept, running through a wide-range of genres from Latin Lounge to Old School Country to Thrash Metal. Meanwhile — and this is my personal favorite touch — retro 1980s wrestling played on one of two TVs above the bar, along with the Bucks game.
Completely satisfied and slightly buzzed, my party and I strolled up Kinnickinnic where I couldn’t help but conclude that Vanguard makes a wonderful contribution to Bay View’s festive culture of locally-owned bars and restaurants. Vanguard is sure to please, whether you’re stopping in before a movie at the Avalon or coming home from an evening at Burnhearts. The late serving hours (until midnight, and soon 1am Thursdays through Saturdays) and the back patio (open weather permitting) will only add to the Vanguard’s popularity and guarantee it a prominent spot in Bay View’s cultural life.
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