Friday, January 18, 2019

The Tandem

Down-to-earth food you can feel good about

If you haven't heard about the incredible things happening at The Tandem in Milwaukee, it's time to grab your friends and get some fried chicken and feel-good vibes in your life. OnMilwaukee's Lori Fredich very thoroughly told the Tandem story last September, but to sum up: Owner Caitlin Cullen is a badass lady, using down-to-earth food and an encouraging, yet no-nonsense managing style to legitimately change lives and help revitalize an entire community. 

The Tandem is located on Fon Du Lac Avenue, just far enough northwest of downtown for some folks to raise an eyebrow and opt to stay in their bubble. It's time to pop those bubbles, people. This little gem is just a four-minute drive from the Fiserv Forum, to put location into perspective — and it's worth the drive.

The Tandem atmosphere is homey, warm, and inviting. It was bustling on a Friday night with a catfish fry on the chalk Specials board. The fish fry was yummy — golden brown crust, white and flaky inside, and served with a pile of crinkle-cut fries and purple cabbage slaw. We started with fried okra (would repeat!) and hushpuppies (strangely bland, though a satisfying texture). 

Their signature Milwaukee Hot fried chicken is indeed hot, so proceed with some caution. The fried breading was crisped to perfection — for me, a deciding factor in repeat visits. The Tandem's plates of chicken are served with a drumstick, a thigh, and three sides. The potato salad was a runaway favorite at our table, and I personally enjoyed the mac 'n' cheese — creamy and saucy, not baked and congealed. 

We did wait a while for our food, but that's not to say the service was poor. The cool thing about Tandem is how genuine everyone is and how upfront and honest they are about the goings-on in their establishment. We saw owner Caitlin Cullen in the trenches with her staff, running to and from the kitchen and making sure each guest felt seen and tended to. We felt both.

When we arrived, her team needed 15 minutes to set up a table for our party of six (we didn't know they accepted reservations). Standing awkwardly by the door, Cullen personally welcomed us and offered to snag us drinks while we waited. She also invited us to hang out at a reserved table in the mean time, with the understanding that we'd have to move if the scheduled party arrived. Cool with us. 

After taking our proper seats and ordering dinner, the fryer ended being super backed up. Instead of leaving us in limbo, they told us the news and we took it in stride. We were in no hurry, and even if we had been, their transparency would not have gone unappreciated. 

There really seems to be a beautiful synergy happening at The Tandem — between the members of the staff and the way they treat their clientele. Here, everyone is in it together; it takes a village, and that's okay. A place that's so open about its mission, the folks it hires and serves, and about its own growing pains — that's a place worth supporting. And let's not forget: damn good fried chicken. 

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