Posts Tagged ‘tomato romp’

Previously, I’d only been to Landmark Lanes on Milwaukee’s East Side for the Tomato Romp; however, this past weekend, I found myself there for a Big Lebowski-themed holiday party.

The movie was playing on the screens, bowling ball petit fours decorated the tables and the White Russians were flowing… but first I had to get a Bloody Mary.

Spice: Spicy

Mix: Unknown

Chaser: No

Fixin’s: Lemon, Lemon, Two Olives

Price: $?

This was a pretty spicy drink, but it was very good.

This Saturday is the 7th annual Tomato Romp on Milwaukee’s east side.

Sample Bloody Marys and/or join in the Tomato Fight or, new this year, the Tomato Chomp, a chance to sample small plates at nearby restaurants.

Last year’s review can be found here.

You know where to find me- at the Bloody Mary competition! Look for an updated review to come!

2013 Tomato Romp This Saturday

On Saturday, I attended the third annual “Heat It Up! Milwaukee’s Bloody Mary & Chili Challenge” at Cathedral Square Park.

I will start by saying I had only one complaint about this event, albeit, it’s kind of a major one: How in the world is this third annual event, but my first time ever hearing about it?!

So incredibly bummed that I’ve missed the first two years of this awesome event where you get to sample a variety of local chilis and Bloody Marys and vote on your favorite of each.

If you’ll recall, two weeks ago, I attended the Tomato Romp, another Bloody Mary event in Milwaukee. Thus, with that fresh in my mind, it is practically impossible to write this review without comparing the two events. And, while I have thoroughly enjoyed the Tomato Romp the last few years, I will say that Heat It Up trumps it in every way.


The Tomato Romp takes place in the various participating establishments, with a central registration/voting area, as well as a Tomato Fight. It’s nice to get to go into the various places that you might not otherwise frequent, but you do have to walk from place to place, enter and fight your way up to the bar to claim your sample.

Heat It Up took place outside in Cathedral Square Park. Each establishment has a table under a tent and participants line up in front of each one to claim their samples. You don’t get to experience the actual atmosphere of the restaurant (and they don’t get the benefit of you potentially buying additional food/beverage), but it’s much easier on the participant. You maximize your tasting time and you’re surrounded solely by people who are partaking in your mission—not fighting for table space amongst the locals watching college football.


The Tomato Romp took place on a Saturday in September (9/23), from 11am to 3pm. For the past few years, it has been really great weather. The length of time seems adequate for the 13 bloodies, but as I mentioned above, you spend a majority of that time walking between establishments.

Heat It Up took place on a Saturday in October (10/6), from 10am to 1pm. It was a little cold on Saturday, but October can be really hit or miss. The time frame was shorter than the Tomato Romp’s but more than adequate.


The Tomato Romp has, as I pointed out in my post, increased in price over the last few years. It is now $20, which gets you small samples of Bloodies at 13 establishments, plus a mini beer chaser.

Heat It Up also charges $20, but for that price, you get samples of 12 different Bloodies and 11 chilis. Oh, and did I mention they are UNLIMITED? Yes, that’s right. If you really like the Pfister’s bloody, you could sit there the whole time and imbibe if you’d like. If you aren’t up for trying so many different things or want to focus on one tomato-based product over the other, you can purchase samples ala carte: $2 per sample of chili and $4 per sample of Bloody Mary. Which brings me to the most important part….

The Samples:

The Tomato Romp is solely focused on the Bloody Mary. As you know, I have no problems with that at all; however, they do have some stringent requirements that I’ve started to take offense with over the years. First, they require all of the establishments to make the Bloodies for the event with the same vodka for sponsorship reasons. They also have to serve the same beer as the chaser. They also try to even the playing field, so to speak, by preventing bars from adding fixin’s to their bloodies—lemon and lime only! In theory, rules are a good idea, but in the case of Bloodies, it kind of puts a damper on your experience. The vodka, chaser, fixin’s… those are all essential elements of the Bloody; each one alone, or taken collectively, can really set a Bloody apart from the rest. This leaves the bar to resort to other means to stand out in the crowd—like over-seasoning their Bloodies, or putting in a weird flavor, just to be remembered at the end of the day. The samples are also quite small.

Heat it Up offers the awesome combination of Bloody Marys AND chili—for the same price. I’m not a chili connoisseur by any means and I never really realized how great chili and Bloodies are together. As I mentioned, it was a little cold on Saturday, especially drinking the icy Bloodies, so it was nice to alternate between the hot—temperature and spice-wise—chili and the cold beverage. The fact that samples were unlimited was also great, but even if they hadn’t been unlimited, I feel like I still would have gotten great value for my $20. The samples were ample-sized and, even though only one place offered a beer chaser, excellent. In my opinion, they were a fair representation of that bar’s actual Bloody….BECAUSE THEY ALLOWED ACCOUTREMENTS! Yes, that right there, was the difference maker. Take out the chili. Take out the unlimited number of samples. Downsize the samples. I don’t care. The fixin’s make all of the difference in the world—and, on that note, so does the vodka. For example, the bar that won was able to differentiate itself by the type of vodka that it uses daily.

So, in sum, if I had to choose just one event to attend in the coming years (but hey, who am I kidding, I will still go to both!), I’d choose Heat It Up, hands down.

Here is my brief take on each establishment’s presence at the event.

[Note: I heard that the organizers of the event did not anticipate so many people showing up due to the cool weather, so some of the places weren’t fully prepared. They stopped selling tickets for the event at a certain time, but still, some places ran out of samples. Thus, we didn’t get to some of them for that reason and others, because we just got full (and cold!).]

Club Charlie’s (Bloody & Chili): We didn’t have the chance to sample Club Charlie’s Bloody, but we had their chili. It was very good.

Pfister (Bloody & Chili): The Pfister won first place for its Bloody Mary in 2011. I really enjoyed their Bloody this year; to be honest, I had never considered the Pfister as a place to enjoy one, but they are now on my list! Their sample was very smooth, very tomato-ey, very basic, but oh-so-good! It also included a shrimp and a beefstick. I voted for Pfister as #1. (I’m not going to get into it here, but the chili was very good also!)

Blue’s Egg (Bloody)/Maxie’s Southern Comfort (Chili): Didn’t get here for either, but Maxie’s won first place for best chili this year! (Also, I have never had the Bloodies at Blue’s Egg, but I have had ‘em at Maxie’s. They are amazing and deserve their own post. Stay tuned.)

Stack’d Burger Bar (Bloody & Chili): I associate spice with Stack’d. Both their chili and Bloody were spicy and very good.

Blackthorn Irish Pub (Bloody & Chili): Did not sample.

The Good Food Dude (Bloody & Chili): Did not sample.

Hotel Metro (Bloody & Chili): Hotel Metro won first place for their chili in 2011. Both of their samples were very good. Their Bloody had the unusual fixin’ of a deviled egg.

The Knick (Bloody & Chili): We had these, but they don’t stick out in memory. Nothing we had was bad, though; these just weren’t as memorable.

Café Centraal, Café Benelux (Bloodies): Café Benelux ran out of Bloody samples, but we did get to taste Café Centraal’s. It was excellent, just like the rest of the Lowlands Group establishments always are. They also set themselves apart by serving a chaser with their Bloody.

Buckley’s (Bloody): After taking second place for its Bloody in 2011, Buckley’s made quite the impression this year and took home first place. As I mentioned before, being able to use the actual ingredients that go into your drink on a daily basis is key. Buckley’s uses both jalapeno and bacon vodka in its drink. It was also topped by a great skewer of fixin’s. I will definitely be returning to Buckley’s to get a full Bloody in the near future.

Riverwest Public House (Bloody): These Bloodies tasted very organic and I think they were. Very good, though.

Red Rock Saloon (Chili): For what it’s worth, I voted for Red Rock as the #1 chili. It was excellent!

Upper 90 Sports Pub (Chili): Did not sample.

Well, the 2012 Tomato Romp came and went without much fanfare. In fact, I can’t believe I waited four whole days before even blogging about it. However, that does tell you something about my experience, I guess.

Don’t get me wrong—I think the event is very well-run and it’s a great concept—but I just didn’t have as much fun as I had the previous few years. I don’t know if it is because I have become somewhat of a Bloody Mary “snob” or what, but I kind of felt like my beloved drink was being bastardized.

There were large crowds of people, most of whom don’t share my extreme passion for the beverage; the price has risen significantly over the past few years; and bars  were trying so hard to be unique in the space of a couple of ounces that they ruined the taste altogether. I’m confident that if I returned to any of these bars and ordered their bloody, they would be drastically different. And I’m just going to put this out there: I haven’t come down to the East Side to get a full Bloody at any of these places based on my experience with the Romp. The small samples (where they may be trying too hard to stand out) really don’t sway my judgment overall.

I’m not saying all this will keep me away from the event in the future, only that I may need to change my expectations.

I will also tell you this, which might have had more to do with it: The morning of the Tomato Romp, I was at Miller Park by 6:30am to run in the Brewers Mini, a 13.1 mile race. I finished the race and had time to go home and shower before we left for the Romp. I was tired and sore, but I rallied. Missing this event was unfathomable for me.

It started at 11am, but we got there around Noon. We paid $20 each for a small sample of a bloody at 13 different bars. Most bars also gave you a small chaser of what we think was MKE Brewing’s Hop Happy. We only made it to 12 establishments (plus a couple of eateries), but here is my take on the ones that stood out.

The Hotch Spot



Vintage: Vintage stood out by offering a fixin’s bar for the mini-Marys. I’m pretty sure that was against the rules, but I’m not complaining. This got them extra points in my mind because a large part of what I judge a good Bloody on is its fixin’s. I especially appreciated the beef jerky option. Nice work, Vintage.

Ian’s Pizza: Ian’s gets a shoutout for their “Bloody Mary Pizza” that they had during the Romp. Not sure what was all on it, but I do know the pickles were a nice tough. Yum!


Hotel Foster: Last year, I know that these were made with Mezcal and had a hint of cilantro. They tasted similar this year, but that could not be confirmed. This was neither a good nor bad thing, it was merely different and enough to make them stand out a bit.


Replay Sports Bar

Von Trier: These bloodies were by far the worst, in my opinion. Tasted like they had added some sort of cinnamon or nutmeg… Also? The waitstaff? Yeah, not very nice. Next year, if I return to the romp, I will be bypassing this place altogether. Not cool, VonTrier, not cool.


Two Bucks

Vitucci’s: The best one I had all day. I watched as the bartenders made their mix from scratch. They clearly know how to make a good bloody. I’d love to return there and have a full one some day.

Melthouse Bistro: We capped the day off at this grilled cheese restaurant. Yes, that’s right. A place dedicated to the best sandwich ever invented. It was the perfect compliment to the tomato-y goodness of Bloody Marys…almost like a grilled cheese and tomato soup combo. I had the Athena sandwich and a cup of their tomato soup (couldn’t resist). Highly recommend it!

The tasting was capped off by a Tomato Fight. I wasn’t keen on this year’s location of the fight (kind of off the beaten path), but it was still fun to see.

Overall, we had a nice time, but I just felt like something was missing. Maybe it was a pickle, beefstick or chunk of cheese.

Note: Due to time constraints, we did not make it to Clutch. Hope to get there in the future!

One of my favorite holidays, I mean events, is the Tomato Romp on Milwaukee’s East Side. For just $20, you get to sample Bloody Marys from most of that area’s bars. A fun time is sure to be had by all!

The 2012 Tomato Romp is Coming Up!