New Restaurant Added – Storyhill BKC, Milwaukee, WI

We have discussed before the difficulty in parsing what fits and what does not in Great Lakes Cuisine. Hopefully, we have been clear this site is not a review of “The Best of the Great Lakes”, it is specifically not intended as a restaurant review site. We are not claiming an exhaustive list of the best restaurants. We are highlighting a few of the very best examples of an emerging trend in local traditions, local flavors, and local chefs – what we call Great Lakes Cuisine.

So, when we added Graze in Madison, WI, it was a praise of style and in no way should be seen as a slight to Tory Miller’s flagship restaurant L’Etoile, one of our all-time favorite restaurants in the Great Lakes area. But L’Etoile is French. Not just in name or in theme, but in the very heart of everything the restaurant does. It feels French, it tastes French. As a genre of restaurant it is most clearly French. A similar occasion arises once again with the addition of Storyhill BKC, in Milwaukee, WI.

Storryhill 1

The restaurant is the most recent collaborative effort between Joe & Meg Muench and Dan Sidner. We couldn’t be more pleased to have one of their restaurants listed on our site, as their two previous offerings are fantastic, though outside our scope. Maxie’s serves excellent low-country Carolina, Creole, and Cajun cuisine as well as one of the best fresh oyster bars in the city. One might make the argument their other offering, Blue’s Egg, already belongs on our list as they feature a current take on traditional immigrant breakfast and lunch. The food is excellent and the menu creative, but has always seemed more fully “American” diner than specifically Great Lakes.

Storyhill BKC is undeniably Great Lakes Cuisine. Here the breakfast can be simple. Perhaps just a nice latte and a danish filled with cheese and house marmalade.

Storhill BKC 2

 

The lunch menu changes constantly, though the breakfast entrees are served through lunch as well. The dinner offerings provide some wonderful examples of creativity, flavors, and tradition. We could start with recent offerings of Great Lakes Bisque or Steamed Walleye. Perhaps we’ll have the Whipped Clock Shadow Quark, served with pureed carrot, cranberries and spiced nuts. Quark is a unique creamy cheese produced at Milwaukee’s only urban cheese factory, Clock Shadow Creamery (Good story on it here). We can move to entrees such as Lake Superior Whitefish which is ham crusted, or Pork Country Spare Ribs served with sour cabbage, or perhaps Lake Trout with tomato jam. Maybe we should have them carve us a slice of Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin with a Founder’s Apple Rye sauce. Don’t forget to pair your entree with a regional brew such as recent offerings of O’SO Brewing (WI) Don’t Turn My Brown Eyes Blue IPA or Central Waters (WI)Le Petite Morts Bourbon Barrel Weizenbock. The current line-up also features Bell’s (MI), Founder’s (MI), Summit (MN), Potosi (WI), Capital (WI), Ale Asylum (WI), Hinterland (WI), Three Floyds (IN) and more.

Storyhill BKC 3

The space is divided into bar, restaurant, and store. Heavy on the re-claimed wood and friendly service. The menu changes often, but the focus thus far has been on local ingredients, creative presentations, and traditional flavors. We’re pleased to add Storyhill BKC to our Restaurant list at Great Lakes Cuisine.

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Smoked Malt Beer and The Meaning of Craft

Earlier this summer we praised the rise of the nano-brewery – the tiny one or two tank brewery, open to the public, making great craft beers such as those from Buckle Down Brewery near Chicago, IL. We enjoy the standard micro-brews as much as the next beer-crazed locavore, from the long standing traditions around Milwaukee, WI (Sprecher, Lakefront, and the more recent Milwaukee Brewing Co.) to the rabid fan-base growing around Grand Rapids, MI with good cause. But we’re talking here about the start-ups, the tiny places, the ones where the founder is the brewer and maybe 50% of the workforce. This is one step away from home-brewing. These places have a very different feel. There is passion, there is ownership, there is just a bit of tension about how it will all work out. These places reflect the founders tastes directly and are inherently hyper-local.

Brenner StarbabyA recent addition to the nano-brewery scene in Milwaukee, WI is Brenner Brewing from Mike Brenner. A recent networking event held there allowed for a tour and tasting of their beers. As with so much of culinary scene we explore here at Great Lakes Cuisine, the offering from Mike are both throwbacks and completely modern.  The bar in the front of the brewery is simple, clean and opens to the outside street by garage door. mike was there to talk us through the tour, his background, and a selection of the beers on tap. Mike is probably most proud of his City Fox Pale Ale, and justifiably so. We also enjoyed the Star Baby IPA (shown above), which benefits from the addition of lightly roasted malts and open fermentation tanks.  The result has all the hop finish expected in an IPA, but starts closer to a fruity flavor, balanced with a bit of maltiness. This isn’t a single note IPA.

But the real conversation starter was the Brenner Brewing version of a Rauchbier called Bacon Bomb.

Brenner Rauchbier

The Rauchbier style is not often seen, but the key ingredient is smoked malt. Here is how Brenner Brewing explains it – “A blend of German beechwood and Wisconsin cherrywood smoked malts. Noble German hops, chocolate wheat, and fresh black pepper add a subtle bite. The yeast strain keeps the body light to balance the huge flavors and nose…” It tastes like liquid bacon in the fullest, meatiest expression.  It immediately brought to mind our bacon-infused bourbon experiment, though Mike assured us not a bit of actual bacon was used in the brewing of this flavor explosion. Here is how the German Beer Institute website explains the rauchbier style.

Once upon a time, all beers were Rauchbiers, so to speak. The term Rauchbier simply means “smoke beer” in German, and with the ancient kilning methods of drying green brewer’s malt over open fires, all grains picked up smoky flavors and passed them on to the beers made from them. Today, however, with “clean” malt being the dominant brewing grist, old-style “smoke beers” have set themselves apart as an atavistic rarity, a throwback to a time gone by.

The similarity to the Scotch whiskey distillation process is interesting, though in the brewing tradition in the US, the full flavored approach was dropped with the rise of factory brewing. Diversity of flavors, approaches, and ideas of what a great beer should be were subsumed by the homogenization of brewing companies. This, in it’s essence, is what nano-brewing is all about; bringing back “ancient” methods and making a thoroughly modern brew that is so unique it could only appeal to a few, passionate souls who partake of it. This is the meaning of craft. This is Great Lakes Cuisine.

In Praise of Dumplings

My Uncle Lee is not actually my uncle. He is a long-standing family friend, so much a part of our family in my early years, he simply became known as Uncle Lee. He has moved out to Colorado, but he was the latest of many generations in the Milwaukee area where he inherited a love for chicken dumpling soup. When I was about twelve years old, he showed me how he made egg drop dumplings by dripping spoonfuls of egg batter into a swirling pot of chicken soup made from scratch.

You can find great versions of chicken dumpling soup all over the Great Lakes. My personal favorite is from The Uncanny Soup Company, which just opened a retail location downtown Milwaukee, but has been in the frozen section of grocery stores in the area for years. For me, and for many, dumplings have a uniquely evocative capacity. Something about the texture, taste, warmth generates emotions, creates connections very quickly and deeply. It is comfort food to the core.

Dumplings

Recently, a social media connection lead me to the work of Dr. Jennifer Jordan, an Associate Professor of Sociology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In the Spring 2008 edition of Ethnology, she published a piece on the cultural symbolism of dumplings. She was specifically detailing the effort in Upper Austria of make the dumpling a cultural icon of the region. Rather than paraphrase the work, let me share with you a number of quotes that capture not only the unique place a dumpling fits in culinary culture, but also how food becomes part of the cultural identity of a region.  The latter issue is the very heart of our effort here at Great Lakes Cuisine.

“[A] dumpling, like many other foods, is ripe for both powerful symbolism and changing meanings. The meanings invested in dumplings, as with other foods, may vary from the very private level of a kind of Proustian remembrance from childhood, to dumplings as symbols of regions or nations, as objects of fading nostalgia, or active entrepreneurial campaigns to boost economies and external identities of particular regions.” (p.109)

Dr. Jordan goes on to relate the process of cooking a specialty dumpling in the home of her Austrian host, from getting the right meat mixture from the local butcher to the proper technique of forming the dumpling. It is worth the read and can be accessed here. She ponders the process of taking a “down-to-earth” culinary tradition and elevating it to the position of cultural icon. No different really than our positioning of apple pie in America.  Or the efforts we make on this site to connect humble dishes to a regional culinary identity.

We find ourselves in agreement when she draws the academic piece to a close this way: “…attention to dumplings promises further insight into the connections between cultural and culinary, and the many ways that the simplest foods can also be powerfully complex.” (p.121) Amen. Let’s eat.

Pickled Pike

The many smaller lakes in the Great Lakes region provide a variety of species of fresh water fish. Some folks shy away from preparing the Northern Pike due to the additional row of bones (“Y” bones), which can make it a bit trickier to prepare.  There is a fairly simple technique to handle the bones, detailed nicely here. But my current favorite preparation is to pickle the pike in a similar manner to herring. The pickling brine dissolves the additional row of bones and allows for cleaning the fish in a standard fillet. The result is a very firm, delicious pickled fish flavor, unlike the far more oily herring, which stays soft even upon pickling.

Northern Pike

Pike strike hard and are aggressive fighters. They have a nasty habit of swinging their toothy jaws violently back and forth as they are brought into the boat.  They’re a lot easier to handle on the pontoon boat than in the row boat, but the firm, white flesh is worth the bit of adventure. We prepared them according to the following recipe and then enjoyed them as a local version of traditional smørrebrød.

Pike

Dark rye, herb butter, pickled pike, sour cream, pickled red cabbage.

Pickled Pike

2 pike fillets (standard fillet, no need to avoid “Y” bones), cut into 1 inch chunks

Dissolve 1/2 cup salt in 2 cups of cold water and place in non-reactive container to fully submerge the fish. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Drain, rinse, and cover with white wine vinegar. Refrigerator for 24 hours then remove and drain.

Heat 1 cup wine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar, 4 cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp. mustard seed, 1/2 tsp. whole allspice, and 1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns in a medium saucepan over medium heat until boiling, then allow to fully cool. Thinly slice 1 sweet onion. After pickling brine is fully cooled, place fish and onions in jars and cover with brine. Refrigerate for at least one week.