The art of the recommendation. It’s a skill born of the preternatural ability to read people and an intimate knowledge of available options. It’s why you go to your local bookstore or record store: the clerks who enthusiastically love what they stock and sell are guaranteed to connect you to what you want – even if you didn’t know what it was you wanted when you walked in the door.
The woman who walked over to the pastry case at the Cafe at the Pfister didn’t know what she wanted. Tailed, on the other side of the counter, by a smiling barista in a striped shirt and carrying a plate, she stared hungrily at all the options. He waited patiently, while the other baristas busied around him, plucking treats and making cappucinos. Finally, she spoke, to nobody in particular but in the general direction of her personal gentleman barista – “should I have the lemon tart or a chocolate cupcake?” Without missing a beat, another barista chimed in with cheery gusto, “Oh, the lemon tart! These are amazing – and they’re made by our own in-house pastry chefs.” The customer didn’t bat a lash or take a breath before replying, “Lemon tart, it is!”
It’s easy to see why the barista so eagerly suggested one of these exquisite desserts. They are prepared by finely trained chefs with not only an eye for how beautiful these pastries should be, but have the mathematical eating of them down to precise perfection. The Market Fresh Fruit tart has just the exact number of fruit slices necessary in order for each graham cracker-packed, creamy custard-filled bite to include one piece – no more, no less. The magic of its lustrous sheen is in the apricot glaze brushed over the top. Hostess Sandy confirmed that while the colorful treat was, indeed, heavenly, the lemon one was also her personal favorite – “Not too sweet, just the right amount of tartness.” (no pun intended)
At the next table over sits a gentleman with his laptop, plugged in, cell phone in hand. Whatever he’s trying to do isn’t working and he decides to call the workday quits. He asks for directions to the fitness club (downstairs, not by the pool on the 23rd floor as I initially thought, though I encouraged a visit to the pool if only for the view of the city and the lake) and then for a recommendation on where to eat dinner. This is a tough one. There’s a lot of good eating in Milwaukee – some incredible eateries have arisen or gained a stellar reputation in recent years. “What kind of food do you like?” I ask. He waves a hand dismissively, “whatever, doesn’t matter,” but in a way that gives me the impression he just wants to have a good time. I go with my first instinct and suggest the Safe House, explaining that it’s really about the experience, not the food. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s a spy-themed restaurant that can be tricky to find and get into, but well worth the effort.
Meanwhile, at the Lobby Lounge bar, the very outgoing Randy is making friends with all the guests, including one man (Peter) who sits with his pink tie tucked neatly into the lower portion of his shirt, one button undone in order to hide away the silky fabric so as not to spill anything on it (brilliant!). They are discussing beer. Particularly, the joys of being a selective beer drinker. They are lobbing around terms like “black IPA” and gushing over Belgian trippels. Randy offers up the recommendation of visiting Sugar Maple in Bay View as they have 60+ American craft beers on tap – on tap! – as well as Cafe Centraal where Dutch “biers” are carefully selected to include “rarities, oddities” and exclusive options.
Peter is visibly excited and intrigued, writes this down, then proceeds to share the details of a recent trip to Europe that included a visit to the last operational family brewery in Bruges, De Halve Maan, a stop in Strasbourg for Cantillon Lambic, and was capped with the Zythos Bier Festival in Belgium. It was practically a pilgrimage. Of course, he’s now looking forward to returning to Milwaukee, staying at the Pfister again, and checking out Randy’s recommendations.
Personally, I’m looking forward to a lemon tart, based on all the barista encouragement; tracking down a pint of Brugse Zot from De Halve Maan, based on Peter’s glowing reviews from his travels; and finding out what else the Pfister employees (and guests!) have to suggest, as they continue to prove this is an art they practice well.