Making the mold, Northern Chocolate Company

Walking towards the door, I imagined a scene flashing back to a developing main street in an early 20th century trading post. In this scene, Northern Chocolate Co., with its brick facade and iron-barred windows, would securely hold the town’s people’s earnings converted into a currency called chocolate.

Historic Martin Luther King Drive, home to beautiful early American industrial architecture, stands as a corridor ripe for incarnation of commercial vibrancy. In spite of the direction developers attempt to take MLK Drive, establishments of Northern Chocolate‘s ilk project business possibilities seething with mom & pop character for which Milwaukee natives yearn. The netherworld sustained by shopping malls give hints about what happens when the experience gets left out.

Upon arrival you may see a skeptical eye peering at you between posters and a hand-written sign beseeching visitors to ring the buzzer and check any fur accouterments on the sidewalk before entering. When granted a pass, you enter a glorious palace of chocolate figurines, globs, spheres, and sticks carefully crafted to suit a spectrum of chocolate tastes. To be clear, no candy here, just chocolate; additions of select nuts and fruits only apply.

I’ve heard Northern Chocolate‘s proprietor compared to the Seinfeld character famous for serving the best soup, in that large over populated metropolis on the east coast. This guy definitely cares about his chocolate, he’s even conceivably fanatical. Chocolates line the walls from floor to ceiling, wrapped plainly in clear cellophane topped with an illustrated label proclaiming “otterly peaceful”. Part-kitchen part-museum, his work place houses worn porcelain and tinned artifacts, some appearing religious, others promotional of seminal consumer product brands. The dim light draws eyes to reclaimed iron work suspended from the ceiling recollecting the past. Although founded in 1991, everything about Northern Chocolate Co. draws you back to the old world.

Northern Chocolate‘s Easter themed selection of five-inch tall bunnies in various active poses, including a chocolate bunny playing an accordion, reinforces spring time joviality. Don’t let the grizzled but gently aged man behind the counter surprise you, he’ll take responsibility for hand-making Northern Chocolate’s delicacies that make the film Chocolat come to life without the band of gypsies.

I have no idea when Northern Chocolate Co. is open. I made the trip there on a Saturday afternoon.


Margaret Bergland did an excellent profile piece on Northern Chocolate‘s artisan-owner for Milwaukee Magazine (Inside Milwaukee) in April of 2008. It’s quite a story, with ingredients for legend, and gives a built-in history lesson of some of Milwaukee’s classic neighborhoods and business.
–Related Post–
Local Trolley 2011 Honors!, http://wp.me/p1hPwN-13I

MKE Molecules, WMSE Buy-Local Bazaar

A sidewalk sign boasted availability of “fine fineries” at the Buy-Local Bazaar in the Kern Center Sunday afternoon. In case you missed it, here are few of Local Trolley’s favorite booths:

Lovesick Robot Studios http://lovesickrobot.org
I mention this booth from the standpoint that I used to be a super duper Star Wars freak. The key phrase is “used to” and if you try bringing up some Star Wars trilogy fun facts around me, it won’t be very fun for long. Lovesick Robot Studios‘ t-shirt liquidation drew my attention with an iconic Storm Trooper helmet image. Browsing the rack, yet another T design of an AT-AT with the slogan “they see me rolling, they hating” written below it made this booth note worthy. Judging from the website, I think a pod of Bay View kids are responsible for this silliness.

The Brass Rooster http://toorockabilly4awebsite.rock
Featuring $5 patent leather shoes, short brimmed fedoras, and snap-brim smoking caps, The Brass Rooster will have you ready for your Big Bopper makeover in no-time. Why am I telling you this? The Brass Rooster will also spruce-up outfits with vintage cuff-link and tie-clip combinations for a reasonable price. Located at 2479 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue, The Brass Rooster opens on May 7th, 2011. If you tried to click on the web link I should take you by the ear and drag you from the computer.

Present Music http://presentmusic.org
Present Music showcases composers and reciters of avant-garde music. Present Music brought toy piano virtuoso and Juilliard’s first woman doctorate, Margaret Leng Tan, to Milwaukee this past Thanksgiving. Season finale Amy X Nueberg plays ‘avant-caberet’ and sings in four-octave range at Turner Hall June 18, 2011.

Ian Pritchard Photographs http://milwaukeephotos.com
Ian Pritchard, no stranger to local art events, stunned me with a excellent street shot, of which I inquired as to the setting to find it actually captured a corner of Brady Street. Nice work Ian, turning local, global.

Honorable mention:
Too Much Rock for One Hand for the two fisted abomination of a devil-worshiping logo, More 2 Gain video production for going out of their way to provide a business card, and Kasana Concierge Gourmet for having the nerve to do anything in St. Francis.

Sowing Seeds, Amaranth Bakery & Cafe

Recently, I mentally noted that Lisbon Avenue leads a perfect and direct route from Milwaukee’s Northside into downtown. For that matter, as an old “milk road”, Hwy 41 will take you all the way from Green Bay, WI to downtown. Overlooking the park lands of Washington Park, I welcomed the familiar left turn off of Sherman Boulevard now free of orange construction water barrels that for the past five years prominently guarded Lisbon Avenue. Not far out of the turn, in my periphery a series of parked cars line the street in front of a quaintly adorned building, with classic storefront display bay windows endemic to older Milwaukee neighborhoods. Turns out Amaranth Bakery & Cafe forms the honeycomb attracting these local bees on 33rd and Lisbon.

From Dust

Opening in 2005, Amaranth Bakery & Cafe brings flavorful baked delicacies and Anodyne coffee to an area of Milwaukee that not 10 years ago could have been mistaken for the setting of an episode of The Wire. Sandwiched between Washington Heights, Sherman Park, and Walnut Hill, the cross-road neighborhood of Washington Park gets passed by everyday with little notice.

At the turn of the millennium, while Washington Heights and to some extent Sherman Park maintained their class as stable Northside neighborhoods, Walnut Hill (which anchored the heart of the Black community in the 1950’s and ’60’s and encompasses Lindsay Heights) and Washington Park faced tribulation. Like many other neighborhoods, the spillover of years of divestment in Milwaukee’s central areas ripped these neighborhoods’ social fabric. In the mid-1990’s, partnerships in the Walnut Hill and Washington Park neighborhoods, initiated through grassroots organizations like Walnut Way and New Hope Project, sparked the revitalization seen today.

Budding Taste

The beauty of Amaranth Bakery & Cafe, which is still somewhat out-of-place even with Washington Park’s make-over, goes beyond its external appearance. The proprietors, life partners Dave and Stephanie, don’t commute from a remote part of town. They put roots down right in the Washington Park community and cast a civic presence there. Amaranth and their founders support neighborhood efforts to promote constructive activities that do justice to the residents that subsist contrary to prevailing media images. They also publish a print-only monthly newspaper called The Washington Park Beat, which for Milwaukee’s concentric easterly neighbors circulates at Whole Foods.

Amaranth’s innovation also has a taste. The fare at Amaranth keeps a “buy local” ethic, with many ingredients produced locally or regionally. Even the sweet treats supply reasonably healthy nourishment, including only sensible amounts of food group essentials. Take the pecan pie out of the bleached flour crust and corn syrup-based filling and you have a delicious flaky crust with a custard bed comforting glistening and slightly sweetened pecans (friendly to my gluten sensitive stomach, although likely not free of it). The serenity found in Amaranth’s atmosphere encourages thought; over-sized comfortable chairs would betray the humbleness and spirit of ingenuity exuded here. A stash of boards games give motivation to embrace this theme.

Amaranth Bakery & Cafe offers environmentally and socially conscious soups, salads and baked goods without the snot. Daily soup options have updates found on the newly launched business page. Amaranth Bakery & Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday 7am – 2pm, and definitely on my must support list.

Borders hoarders leave Aceyalone

Cold rain deepened my resolve to visit the Grand Avenue Borders blow-out sale, a trip that I plotted and canceled several times. Who am I to separate the uncanny combination of books and rain? The partially burned out ‘O’ in the marquee sign atop the building also helped. Until Borders announced its closing  I never noticed, but since that point my fascination with the failing sign would not relent and in part prompted my want to take photos of downtown (along with the scenery on Michigan Avenue one night, which my camera couldn’t make look as cool as my eyes could).

A bit jostled by wind and spattered by inclement droplets, I opened the glass door guarding the entrance. The critters attracted by corporate carrion had done their worst already picking through many of the still pricey items, especially in the cafe where all of the chairs, tables, serving dishes and equipment sold at lower cost, except for the red coffee mugs going for $10 a piece. I move past the music section knowing that it is hopelessly retail, circling back when I realize the Plankington Avenue side of the store is void of media merchandise, with price tags on everything but the store windows and the bubbler.

The R&B section is closest to the aisle, since a lot of ‘urban’ music listeners have a hard time finding music suitable to their taste when they are shopping in high-end bookstores.  I take a quick once-over glance and I notice that apparently Mike Epps has an album out. I got a little closer and saw ‘Accepted Eclectic’ scribed on the simple cover layout. Damn, my fault Aceyalone I can’t blame you for re-releasing a terribly slept on effort. I held maps of Park City, UT and Washington D.C. I willingly swapped, keeping the Grand Canyon and 5-Borough Maps, so that I could save this album from further cd wasteland disgrace and stay on budget. Shame on me, I had not bought it earlier.

Old Aces

I ‘acquired’ the only Aceyalone album I own back in 2001 from the UW-Madison student government office boom box scratched-up cd pile, figuring it in place there only because of the Hip-Hop Conference that the campus used to host. It was a quality promo sampler with 7 full-length tracks from then recently released Accepted Eclectic (2000), A Book of Human Language (1998) and previous albums from beyond. His sound, somewhat missed placed for Leimert Park, goes against the grain of the stereotypical South Central Los Angeles environment that birthed it.

Aceyalone not shy about mentioning his stomping grounds, has a line in the song Accepted Eclectic “…down in Leimert Park hanging with the hooligans…” that rung recall in my head while I numbed my mind with The MTV “reality” show The Buried Life one night. The Buried Life dudes lamely went to Leimert Park trying to learn how to ‘Krump’ (a dance) to fulfill a bucket-list wish. They eventually received love from the Krump scene, but 1:45 – 4:20 of the episode were basically rather comical. I thought “…oh okay, that’s Leimert Park…”

Cellar Voice

To Aceyalone’s credit, time can’t age a great song. It’s somewhat bad form, but worth it to share a couple standout tracks that demonstrate why Aceyalone is the Furious Styles of the LA underground rap scene.

He further solidifies his status as a pioneer of West lyrical delivery in Project Blowed , with a classic pot shot at the Hieroglyphics MCs (Even though Tajai does recognize Aceyalone on a track during the same time period as Accepted Eclectic‘s release)

Aceyalone performed at SXSW this past Saturday, with DJ Babu, Alchemist and Oh No. A quality line up for one night under one roof, that no doubt upstaged Wu-Tang’s Thursday night performance. Although a tad bit harder, add Aceyalone to your oldies but newbies list usually reserved for A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

I am a fan of the bricks and mortar bookstore but the Grand Avenue could use a better tenant anyway. Borders liquidation will likely continue until several UWM off campus housing units get a carpet transplant. I also saw a 3-gallon Kool-aid jug and a slow drip coffee maker still available.

Boom is Back, Codebreaker

I was listening to Radio Milwaukee Tuesday morning and heard native MKE band Codebreaker getting spin. Might not be the first splash they made on the radio waves, but it’s the first I heard leading in with band name announced before the song.

True to Milwaukee form, I first heard about Codebreaker in winter of 2008 while in Chicago, from Chicagoan Leah Pietrusiak a free-lance journalist with a knack for sniffing out new cool stuff. When asked, I couldn’t put a finger on the sound. It wasn’t getting air time locally. Radio Milwaukee was too busy still heavily rotating the Phoenix song 1901.

Codebreaker had a set that I missed later that summer in 2009 at Turner Hall, warming up for Tortured Soul (a mellow yet tenacious three-piece band who play so hard they are kinetically bound to their instruments). After hearing Follow Me from Codebreaker’s new album The Space Chase, I’m surprised a couple of Turner Hall bricks didn’t shake loose that night.

In the 20-0’s music atmosphere, Codebreaker inspires praise for their willingness to reintroduce the cryogenically frozen genre of dance/disco to all the spring chickens out there. Codebreaker is making rounds, currently breaking sound barriers in Austin, TX at SXSW playing last night on Patty’s Day.  Codebreaker tramps back to the Midwest April 10th scheduled to play at Smart Bar in Chicago.

Here’s an extra great Codebreaker music video via Boing Boing.

Fire (Jimmy Edgar Remix)-Codebreaker Feat. Kathy Diamond from Erik West on Vimeo.

You Late

2008 Press via ExpressMilwaukee, Press via Radio Milwaukee, Press via On Milwaukee