Restaurant – Vanguard Bar, Milwaukee

Here is how Vanguard Bar explains their mission:

“Offering an elevated approach to Milwaukee’s Beer and Brat tradition, we specialize in House-made sausages, while the casual, pretension-free environment pays homage to Milwaukee’s classic corner bar atmosphere.”

And do they ever deliver! In an intimate space in Bayview, just south on downtown Milwaukee, they produce some of the most creative sausages found in the city and complement them with unique toppings, a great beer and cocktail selection, and a very fun, funky vibe. We’ve added them to our Restaurants page as they are perfect example of the creative fusion of different approaches with old-school traditions.

There aren’t many immigrant traditions in the Great Lakes region much older than sausage making and that history is particularly rich in Milwaukee. Usinger’s started in the city in 1880, joining Weisel Sausage Company which started two years prior. The two sausage makers were considered part of the “Big Three” ethnic sausage makers in the US. Weisel closed in the 1970s, but Klements has proudly taken up the mantle since they started in Milwaukee in 1961. But if you want to experience the old-fashioned neighborhood sausage-making, check out Bunzel’s Meat Market on the city’s west-side which carries on all the old-school traditions and adds a bit of innovation themselves!

But a recent week-end trip to the Vanguard Bar was an absolute joy, a celebration of creativity , a modern take on our old favorite – the sausage.

We enjoyed a Stavros (on the right in the picture above), which they describe as lamb and pork “loukaniko” sausage, topped with parsnip and leek hash, feta, and an ouzo agrodulce. Given the very fun, easy vibe at Vanguard, I choose to believe they named the sausage for the duo Stavros Flatly from Britain’s Got Talent. Incredibly delicious, unique, creative, and perfectly executed.

We also enjoyed the Schnitzelwurst which is a pork, ginger, caraway sausage, breaded with pretzel crumbs then deep fried, topped with apple and cabbage rot kohl, caraway sour cream and some pickled mustard seed. If I had to point to one recent creation that embodies the notion of Great Lakes Cuisine, this would be it. Unpretentious, delicious, old-school sausage-making with new flavor twists. The pretzel coating is just genius. I want them to make T-shirts that say “My sausage got schnitzeled at Vanguard”.

Then to take it all a step further, they had a killer poutine with a caramelized onion gravy and “baby” cheddar curds. We also had the house pickles which were crisp, bursting with flavor, and a great contrast to all the rich flavors.

Vanguard Bar makes six classic sausages along with vegan and vegetarian options, and gives you an option for five different “city” toppings including the Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Tijuana. They also have a rotating roster of specialty sausages in addition to the two we enjoyed, including options on this visit of a Duck BLT, a Berlin Currywurst, and nine more equally creative options. Go with a crowd and try everything.

Vanguard Bar is taking the old-world traditions and adding creative twists in flavor, preparation, and toppings. It is approachable, every-day food, pushed into wonderful realms of flavor. We’re happy to add them to our roster of restaurants that we feel embody the ever-growing movement we call Great Lakes Cuisine.


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