The Al Navarro Show: Episode 1 – Welcome to Fencingtown, USA

Guest contributor Al Navarro is the father of a Y14 Women’s Epee fencer. When not standing around convention centers waiting for DEs to start, he lives and works in New Jersey. He is working on a blog for the parents of current and aspiring youth fencers. 

A fellow Y14 WE parent and I have this running joke…whenever we see each other at NACs/SYCs, we greet each other with some version of “Our tour of America’s second-tier cities’ convention centers continues…”.

All kidding aside, and with full acknowledgement that cost is a factor for USA Fencing when planning these events, I happen to love the fact that my daughter’s involvement in fencing has taken our family to places in this great land that we might not have visited otherwise.

Consider this the first in what I hope to be a series on some of the “usual suspects” on the USA Fencing circuit. A quick profile of what to do/see/eat when you’re not at the venue. It’s skewed towards the families of youth fencers, because you know, I have a youth fencer. Feel free to add comments or your own suggestions in the comments — hope you like it!


Fencingtown: Milwaukee

If I based my like or dislike of a city on how well my daughter fenced there, Milwaukee would rank fairly low. But since I don’t factor that in (well, maybe just a little…three cheers for Memphis!), Milwaukee is one of our favorite fencing destinations. Why? Besides just an overall safe and welcoming vibe, there’s a lot to do for non-fencers, the convention center is among the nicest we’ve been trapped in, and the food scene is pretty darn good.

If you try any of the places below, please be sure to mention that you heard about it from TFC.

Where to eat

Kegel’s Inn []

The Kegel Building
The Kegel Building
While not the most famous of Milwaukee’s German restaurants (I’d save that honor for Ratzch’s or Mader’s), Kegel’s impressed us enough that we returned on our second trip to Milwaukee. A little less formal than either of the two eateries mentioned above, with lower prices to match. At the recent April NAC, we went on a Friday night without a reservation and had to wait about 30 minutes, but the food came quickly and was as delicious as I had remembered. I’m a somewhat recently converted vegetarian, and they were kind enough to make a meatless reuben for me (disclosing that the sauerkraut was cooked with pork fat and bacon bits). My daughter had her “go to” dish, wiener schnitzel, and appreciated how light Kegel’s version is. For a piece of breaded and fried meat, that is.

Millioke []

While Millioke (an Algonquin word for “the good land” and allegedly the origin of the city’s name, according to the restaurant’s website) is housed in a downtown Marriott, it very much feels like a local “farm to table” restaurant. Or perhaps that should say “smokehouse to table”. In addition to their lunch and dinner menus, Millioke features a strong sausage and charcuterie selection from local producers like Usinger’s. There’s a separate cheese menu as well (Packers fans didn’t get the nickname for nothing). The vibe is fun and modern, and service and food were outstanding. Private rooms are available for groups of a certain size.

Photo from

Alem Ethiopian Village []

Our family’s Ethiopian food jones started with a place in Richmond (on yet another fencing-related trip), but we’ve now been to Alem Ethiopian Village twice.  Located just down the street from Millioke, the portions are generous, priced fairly, and the food is tasty. Great options for vegetarians. If you’ve never eaten Ethiopian food before, keep in mind that it’s customarily eaten without utensils…dishes are served with injera, a sort of tortilla/pita-like thing that you use to scoop the food up with your hands. Alem has a few traditional low tables and stools for a more authentic experience if you want it. Worth trying, especially if you’ve never had this African cuisine before.

Photo from Alem Ethiopian Village website

Tenuta’s []

The April 2015 NAC marked our first time at this neighborhood corner Italian. A little tough to find and will require a cab or car to get there from downtown…but very worth the trip.  Excellent appetizers and small plates, as well as your traditional “red sauce” dishes. They make their red sauce on the sweet side, but no one in our group was complaining. Save room for dessert.

Photo from


Milwaukee Brat House []

Milwaukee Brathouse
Milwaukee Brathouse
Claiming to have “the most authentically Milwaukee menu in the city”, the Brat House is located on a street packed with other restaurants, including Mader’s. Has more of a “bar that happens to serve food” feeling than the other restaurants I’ve listed here. Plenty of sausage on the menu, all (I think) of it from Usinger’s…which is conveniently located across the street. I recommend the Cheese Curds (a “when in Wisconsin” thing) and the Bavarian Pretzel appetizers.

Leon’s Frozen Custard []

Leon's Frozen Custard
Leon’s Frozen Custard
Regardless of where you eat in Milwaukee, you may want to pass on dessert and set your GPS to Leon’s. On our first visit to the city, people told us to visit Kopp’s and Leon’s…and for our money, Leon’s is the undisputed champ.  We’ve been there 4 times over 2 visits, that’s how good it is. Cash only. But considering that roughly 2 bucks gets you a double dip cone, you won’t need much. Note…there is no place to sit at Leon’s (that I could see) and parking can get hairy.

Got a free day/morning/afternoon?

Milwaukee Art Museum []

This lakefront cultural landmark is most famous for its Santiago Calatrava-designed addition, which sports a wing-like “brise soleil” (google that one kids!) which opens and closes at set times throughout the day. Definitely worth scheduling your visit around these times. The museum houses a nice art collection (which according to the website is currently not on display due to the renovation of the galleries) but it’s the architecture of the building itself that will keep the majority of kids engaged.

Harley Davidson Museum []

Despite my affinity for motorized wheeled vehicles of all kinds, I’ve never been here, mostly because I think my daughter would be bored out of her gourd. According to the website, the H-D Museum showcases over 450 motorcycles and artifacts — including “Serial Number One”, the oldest known Harley on the planet.  The museum has an on-site restaurant and offers guided behind the scenes tours for an additional fee.

Milwaukee Public Museum []

A natural history/anthropology museum that should capture the imagination of pretty much any kid (especially those who find art museum’s boring). We went on our first visit to the city, and had a good time. Some of the exhibits felt a tad out of date, but were still charming in their own way. Be sure to check the website before going to see what special exhibitions might be going on. When we visited last season, “The Scoop on Poop” was on display…and made for at least a weekend’s worth of bathroom jokes and giggle-inducing photos.

Milwaukee Public Market []

Similar to the North Market in Columbus, the Public Market in Milwaukee houses a range of mostly food/beverage vendors. It’s a short walk from the more popular convention center hotels. There are several restaurants listed on the market’s website that are not actually in the market, but on adjacent streets. We had brunch at Benelux Grand Café []and enjoyed the food and atmosphere (try the crepe-like “pannenkoeken”, available with sweet or savory toppings). Note…this place is good which mean it’s popular. By the time we left, there looked to be a significant line and wait time for an available table.

One thought on “The Al Navarro Show: Episode 1 – Welcome to Fencingtown, USA

  1. If you have time, I would suggest stopping by the Milwaukee County Zoo. Admission is fairly reasonable. You will likely need a car to get there, but it’s worth the trip.

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