Some timeless weekend rituals come and go, while some become icons. Mandatory Milwaukee is all about the latter. This week: Sunday hot ham and rolls.
There are some food and drink standbys that, despite not being fully exclusive to our state, are considered to be “Wisconsin traditions.” Some examples we’ve covered include things like Friday Fish Fry, cheese curds, meat raffles, our heroic consumption of brandy and custard, Danish Kringle, and our collective holiday-adjacent affinity for treats like Tom And Jerry and raw beef sandwiches. Another one of these Milwaukee—and much of Wisconsin in general—mainstays is a simple-yet-steadfast weekend standard that has existed for generations and shows no signs of going away anytime soon. We are, of course, referring to hot ham and rolls.
While its origins aren’t entirely clear, the prolific pairing of pork and bread has been an integral part of the region’s Sunday morning tradition for decades upon decades. Perhaps it has something to do with metro Milwaukee’s massive contingent of residents with German and Polish roots. It could be related to church culinary traditions that have permeated into Cream City culture at large. Maybe it has something to do with ham and fresh bakery rolls being both awesome and affordable. Regardless of why Milwaukeeans make this delicious duo part of the weekend tradition, eating hot ham and rolls is a Sunday staple that’s here to stay.
There’s no shortage of places in Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs to procure hot ham and rolls. However, the recent news that Lakeside Bakery (a Bay View business that renowned for the Sunday specialty) had abruptly closed its doors to the public inspired us to get out and support another hot ham stalwart last week. Last Sunday morning, we made our way to Layton Fruit Market—which actually offers the combo most Saturdays and Sundays—to pick up a pound of meat and a sack of buns.
Though every bakery, butcher shop, grocery store, restaurant, and specialty retailer that sells this weekend indulgence operates on its own terms, you’ll often find ham purchases come with free rolls…as is the case at Layton Fruit Market, which offers rolls from Grebe’s Bakery and (as of last week, on account of the Lakeside Bakery news) Peter Sciortino Bakery. Not a bad haul for $7.99 before tax!
We bypassed potato, plain, and poppy seed roll variations in favor of a six-pack sack of Grebe’s onion rolls. Then we bundled up once more and headed home to thaw out and ease our way into Sunday with the aid of still-warm ham sourced from nearby Cudahy, soft and flavorful bread baked in West Allis, and a liberal squirt of brown mustard.
Almost as satisfying as the sustenance itself is the custom of getting it. Each and every Sunday, hundreds if not thousands of folks in and around Milwaukee make their way to area businesses in order to partake in the weekend practice because it’s comforting, it’s good, and it’s just what we do.
Whether trying to sop up Saturday night’s mistakes, surprising the family with something to enjoy when they roll out of bed, rewarding yourself after a morning spent shoveling or doing yard work, refueling between tasks on the weekend to-do list, grabbing a snack to hold you over during that afternoon’s games, or relying on it for any number of other reasons, eating hot ham and rolls on Sunday has been a “Wisconsin thing” for generations and is sure to stay that way for generations to come. At least we hope it does.