I recently had the pleasure of enjoying a dinner at Harbor House, located on the lakefront in Milwaukee. Apart from having one of the best views of this city, the environment is warm and inviting. The menu focuses on fresh seafood offerings, prepared in a variety of coastal and Mediterranean preparations. Though an excellent restaurant, the overall theme is not what would be considered Great Lakes cuisine, as the menu favors other traditions. The one notable exception, and the reason for this post, is the Pan Seared Great Lakes Walleye with Braised Savoy Cabbage, Spaetzle, and Dill Cream.
The large fillet of walleye was pan-seared a beautiful, golden brown and served skin side up. Though a fairly thick fillet (about 2.5 inches), it was cooked to a perfect tender, flaky texture. The bed of small German style dumplings known as spaetzle tasted as if they had been warmed in a pan with a bit of salted butter. Alongside the spaetzle was a lightly braised, thinly sliced serving of savoy cabbage. Individually, each of these elements of the dish were well-prepared and nicely seasoned, though relatively unremarkable. The light dill cream sauce that surrounded the savoy cabbage transformed the dish; flavor reminding me of a crème fraîche with fresh dill flavors. Taking a beautiful, ivory flake of the fish along with a few delectable dumplings and a bit of cabbage with the perfect tang of the dill sauce was heavenly.
This is an excellent example of Great Lakes Cuisine. Chef Zachary Espinosa, born and raised in Milwaukee, has used a uniquely Great Lakes gem by perfectly showcasing the walleye with a preparation of sides that utilize traditional German preparation, brought up to a very modern flavor with a well executed dill sauce. The bio online for Chef Espinosa explains that “he has a deep passion for local, fresh ingredients that celebrate Wisconsin and loves to showcase what is best about where we live through his food”. This dish captures that passion and the essence of Great Lakes cuisine.
As the menu changes periodically, I recommend tasting this dish while you can. Or even better, recreate it for yourself.