The Tandem is one of the most interesting restaurants in Milwaukee right now. You probably haven’t seen your friends brunching there on your Instagram feed. It’s not in the Third Ward, Wauwatosa, RiverWest, or any of the neighborhoods you expect to house an excellent restaurant. But it is far more important than any of those hyped up places or things. The Tandem is delicious food and incredible community. It represents a lot of what I love about Milwaukee, and I’m really glad it’s here.
Located on Fond du Lac Avenue in the historic Wally Schmidt tavern, the space feels really cool and unique from the minute you walk in. The next thing you are bound to notice is the ambiance. Each time I have walked into Tandem, there have been large families or groups of friends enjoying their meal in lively conversation and a group of staff circled around the 100-year-old bar talking amongst themselves and with what I can only assume are regular customers. The restaurant feels like a community. When it comes to the food, it’s some of the best home cookin’ in Milwaukee. What other restaurants try to do with Southern/comfort food in a trendy way, The Tandem does better by just doing it right. It is even approved by my resident Southern expert!
Served on metal trays, we both got a main meat option, each very well executed, and the chef’s choice of sides. If we are talking Southern fare, the mac and cheese and red beans and rice are unrivaled in the Milwaukee area. They are simple, traditional, and delicious. The Tandem also features a creative drink menu, including special punches and a wide variety of cocktails. Despite being quite full from all this food, we could not resist the dessert special, Sweet Potato Cobbler. And while I assumed it would be classic and delicious based on the rest of our meal, I KNEW we were in for a treat when I watched them grab the dessert from behind the bar and it came out of a huge tin foil pan. Is there anything more nostalgic?
We spend a lot of time here talking about the best parts of Milwaukee. To me, one of the very worst parts is the label we have earned as one of the most segregated cities in America. I could write a novel on my feelings on this topic. I often write nothing at all because my perspective, as a white woman born and raised in San Jose, California, is not educated by experience. I want to bring it up here because many of our readers may never have heard of The Tandem based on where it is located. Caitlin Cullen opened The Tandem in November 2016. She moved into a neighborhood not known for its restaurant scene and has employed many young people from that neighborhood. Do any research on Caitlin and The Tandem’s history and you will see that she has been very clear about her mission behind the restaurant as well as the difficulties she has faced, not the least of which was a recently shattered ankle leaving the restaurant without its fearless leader. What I so appreciate about what Caitlin has done is that she has not only created a reason for people who ordinarily wouldn’t to visit the Triangle North/Lindsay Heights neighborhood, but moreover that she has created opportunity for the community in that neighborhood rather than bringing staff in from different areas.
The Tandem feels like a family because, based on everything I’ve witnessed, they have created a family. I think what they are doing is important, and I’m just lucky that my taste buds and I get to join every once in a while. Promise me you will go check it out!