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.
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.
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.