Where to Enjoy Food and Drink Fests
Autumn in Milwaukee means it’s time to hit the road and venture beyond the city limits to explore and appreciate finds like a farm stand, colorful fall foliage, apple cider, local wines, pumpkins and craft beer. Within a two-hour drive are quite a few food and drink festivals that celebrate all things imbibing and noshing. From the capital city of Madison to the company town of Kohler, rev your engines. Here’s where to go. The good news is that there are plenty of fests in Milwaukee and its nearby suburbs, too, which might introduce you to a new restaurant or craft-beverage producer.
Taste of Madison
What: Taste of Madison
Where: Capitol Square, Madison
A staple in Madison each fall since the early 1980s, this year’s line-up includes 80 restaurants representing 200-some selections, as well as 26 beverage stands. Live music (35 bands across three stages) keeps the mood bright. Everything is usually priced between $1 and $4, and around six ounces, leaving lots of room to sample.
Indian Summer Festival
What: Indian Summer Festival
Where: Henry W. Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive, Milwaukee (downtown)
From fry bread to Indian tacos, and bison burgers, too, the spotlight is on what Native Americans eat today as well as historical foods deeply embedded in their traditions. Sprinkled throughout the grounds are food stands selling various foods at the heart of Native American communities, particularly in Wisconsin.
10 Days in Tosa
What: 10 Days in Tosa
Where: 14 restaurants in Wauwatosa
In recent years, Tosa’s dining scene has exploded with new options and what better time to try them out than during this annual event, which features 10 days of special offers at 14 participating eateries. The list includes Eddie Martini’s, Hue, Juniper 61, Blue’s Egg, Pizzeria Piccola, BelAir Cantina Tosa and Maxie’s.
Apple Harvest Festival
What: Apple Harvest Festival
Where: Retzer Nature Center, S14 W28167 Madison St., Waukesha
It wouldn’t be autumn in Wisconsin without biting into a crisp apple just plucked off a tree. At this apple-themed festival are fun family-friendly activities like an apple-pie baking contest, folk concerts, guided nature hikes and horse-drawn wagon rides. For sale are apple pies, apple crisps, and caramel apples.
Wine & Harvest Festival
What: Wine & Harvest Festival
Where: Cedar Creek Winery, N70 W6340 Bridge Rd, Cedarburg
While the fest is hosted at a winery (featuring a grape stomp to mark the harvest), the focus is on more than vino, with food vendors selling locally inspired eats at the Festival Food Court (fried cheese, gyros, apple-flavored brats, cranberry-turkey wraps and grilled corn on the cob). Stock up your pantry and fridge for fall and winter with honey, cheese, maple syrup, jellies, and sausage—all from Wisconsin. The Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off is Saturday and the Giant Pumpkin Charity Regatta (where paddlers try to navigate in a large carved-out pumpkin) is on Sunday.
Wisconsin Harvest Fair
What: Wisconsin Harvest Fair
Where: 640 S. 84th St., West Allis
Just about every fall activity you can think of is at this family-friendly three-day event, such as pumpkin carving, farmers market, a pumpkin patch, kiddie tractor maze, a make-your-own-scarecrow activity, mini pumpkin decorating, hayrides and even pumpkin bowling. Hungry? There’s an all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast. Free entertainment on local stages rounds out the weekend.
Great Lakes Brew Fest
What: Great Lakes Brew Fest
Where: Racine Zoo, 200 Goold St., Racine
As Southeast Wisconsin’s largest beer event, attracting nearly 5,000 people each year, this is for the aficionados who lust after craft brews. Around 400 beers, ciders and meads are poured and there is a home-brew tasting area featuring home brewers who live in the Midwest. Hosted at the zoo with Lake Michigan views, music is provided by The Kilties, a drum and bugle corps, and food (from fried cheese curds to grilled meats) is for purchase, making it a perfect autumn day.
Kohler Food & Wine Experience
Where: The American Club, 419 Highland Drive, Kohler
Considered Wisconsin's premier food and wine event, the four days are packed with visits and demonstrations from celebrity chefs (this year's lineup includes Aarón Sánchez, Amanda Freitag and members of America's Test Kitchen. A grand tasting of wines is complimented by wine seminars, tailored to both wine novices and wine geeks alike.
Cupcake Fest MKE
What: Cupcake Fest MKE
Where: Mitchell Park Domes, 524 S. Layton Blvd., Milwaukee (South Side)
Catering to sweet-tooths and home bakers each fall, Cupcake Fest MKE is sponsored by Classy Girl Cupcakes. Proceeds go back to the Domes, funding its restoration and Mitchell Park Horticultural Society. There are fun family-friendly activities like Cupcake Land (a life-size Candyland-type game), frosting cupcakes at the Cupcake Factory, cupcake scavenger hunt, cupcake-coloring station, cupcake-creation contest, DJ dance party and the opportunity to help decorate a 6-foot-tall cake. There's even join going to be live music from YouTube sensation Gina Naomi Baez, who has a song titled... "Cupcakes."