Thursday marks the beginning of the Wisconsin State Fair. While the 11-day experience features music, contests, and unique goodies from an array of local vendors, the true State Fair star attraction is the food. With hundreds of delicious and/or irresponsibly unhealthy consumables on hand, those in attendance can get an idea of what foods and drinks help put Wisconsin on the map…and what foods keep us the go-to destination for sitcom fat jokes. Though some of the edible atrocities are only State Fair specialties, other things like cheese curds, custard, and butter burgers are Wisconsin mainstays thatif you can believe itare not normal parts of the cuisine in other states.

In accordance with State Fair cooking up some of Wisconsin’s most famous (and infamous) foods from August 6-16, and Wednesday’s three-bar “Tribaratron” Malört crawl in Bay View, we reached out to a wide range of now-Milwaukee-based musicians, comedians, and media professionals who grew up out of state to see what foods, drinks, and tendencies deemed absolutely normal here seemed strange to them at first (and in some cases, still do today).

Bridget Shanahan — TMJ4 anchor (Vermont by way of Illinois)
“I was never a huge fan of Bloody Mary’s until I moved to Milwaukee about a year ago. The idea that you can get a piece of bacon, a slider, bratwurst, fried chicken, or any number of other delicious treats as a garnish was something that didn’t initially sound appealing. Then I ordered one. Now, the more garnishes on top of my bloody, the better. And I find myself resentful if I get one and it does not come with at least a piece of sausage and some cheese.”

Justin KernCrappy Dracula 2, Fudgy (New York)

“While Buffalo and western New York certainly share no shame in gluttony, there are food choices made in Wisconsin that I remain, 10 years on of living in Milwaukee, either confounded by or grossed out over. Lawry’s seasoned salt at the table: This has been a staple of kitchens of restaurants where I’ve worked, but not until I lived in Milwaukee did I see this potent seasoning on the dining room table next to the ketchup, pepper, and regular ol’ NaCL. Why not just put lard out for every meal? Maybe a shot of high-fructose corn syrup with dessert? Root-beer-flavored milk: It seemed like a State Fair novelty. Numerous flavored milks, hawked from Senator Kohl’s stand, for a quarter a cup. The line at the stand seemed to indicate that the root-beer-flavored cow juice must be best. But this combination of root beer flavoring and milk eliminates the value of both, while leaving behind the taste of some beverage akin to melted candy remnants in a car’s rear window.”

Erik Ljungvideo producer, photographer (California)

“The first two that come to mind are custard and cheese curds. Had no idea what either was prior to moving here, but they’ve been transformative staples in my diet now.”

Kevin MuellerMilwaukee Magazine music writer (Illinois)
“I had eaten butter burgers before moving to Wisconsin in 2005. Mostly at the local Culver’s, which was a decent drive from where I lived. But I realized I had never really eaten a real one until I went to Solly’s a few years ago. The burger itself looked pristine with a slight shimmer from the disgusting amounts of beautiful butter. The first couple bites tasted like pure culinary heaven, but things quickly turned for the worse. I could barely finish it, as the bun turned mushy from the butter coating the plate below and I felt terribly nauseous. When I got in the car I pledged to never go back. I went back, though, a couple months later and with essentially the same results. One time I saw Herb Kohl there. The beer back [Editor’s note: a.k.a. chaser] with a Bloody Mary was a weird concept for me at first. I don’t want to drink an ice-cold High Life shorty in the morning; I want some eggs, coffee, and some spiked tomato juice, and chop-chop! But I’ve grown to love the morning chaser, if only because, with the water, there will be four drinks in front of me during breakfast. I feel like the goddamn king of brunch. Also, cream puffs are fucking stupid and awfully insensitive.”

Phil Davidsoncomedian (Vermont by way of Illinois)
Pizza cones: What in the island of Dr. Moreau is going on here? ‘Hey, like pizza but not a fan of dignity? Then you’ll love eating pizza shaped like a cone.’ Bratchos: Listen, I’m a person who in the last week has purchased 7-Eleven chili cheese nachos more than once. I can eat garbage with the best of ’em, but even I will draw the line at Bratchos. Why can’t you just order a bratwurst and a side of nachos like a normal person?”

Tarik Moody88Nine Radio Milwaukee digital director/music host (Georgia)
Real Chili: When someone told me about Real Chili, when I moved here about eight years ago,  I was afraid. Very afraid. It didn’t look at all appetizing. It didn’t even look like chili that I was used to. Then they added spaghetti, which didn’t help either. It took me about three years to try a bowl. After that I was hooked.”

Matt Kemple — Milwaukee Comedy producer, Milwaukee Comedy Festival producer (Ohio)
“What comes to mind is fish boils in Door County. I had never heard of that before moving to Wisconsin. Also, not gross to me, but Friday fish fry is so popular, and very specific as to what people expect like rye bread and applesauce. Ohio restaurants would have fish specials on Fridays, but not so specific to every freaking restaurant competing for the title.”

Margaret Butler — GGOOLLDD (Louisiana) 

“I think the excessive use of mayo is a big thing that grossed me out when I moved here. I didn’t even like mayo before but apparently it’s something you absolutely cannot avoid here, so I got used to it. Cheese curds I still can’t get into. I’ve tried them multiple times. I turn into this crazy hypochondriac every time. ‘I’m having a heart attack!’ As far as drinking, the sheer volume didn’t bother me, I’m from one of the larger drinking cites in the U.S. The way Wisconsinites drink, however, is what really bothered me. Sitting down. So weird. Drinking was always associated with another event. Here everyone is all, ‘Let’s drink! We’ll figure out the rest of the details later. Maybe we can have like an arts and crafts thingamajig or something.’ Which is another thing I’ve become accustomed to. Wake up, drink, maybe eat some bacon, go out, drink, maybe eat some bacon. I’m not mad about it.”

About The Author

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Co-Founder and Editor

Before co-founding Milwaukee Record, Tyler Maas wrote for virtually every Milwaukee publication (except Wassup! Magazine). He lives in Bay View and enjoys both stuff and things.