Posts Tagged ‘Upper 90’

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.