New Bar Added – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar, Milwaukee, WI

“We’re kind of like your favorite local dive bar — but with a killer craft beers and a robust menu packed with locally-sourced offerings.” – Stubby’s Gastrogrub and Beer Bar website

Yeah, that about covers it. Stubby’s has a great selection of draft beers with healthy selection of local Wisconsin brews, an equally healthy selection of some of the best Great Lakes brews, all supplemented with a number of world beers which are high-end representatives of their style. It took me ten minutes to select my first beer because I knew I was limited to only having a few. I’m glad I started with Karben4 Fantasy Factory.

Stubby's4

Karben4, out of Madison, WI, has created a beautifully balanced IPA which leans towards the citrus end of the hop spectrum, but the English malted barley adds plenty of body. Stubby’s is located on the Milwaukee River, on the edge of a newly revitalized neighborhood. It was a sunny, breezy, happy hour kind of night. We ordered a selection of appetizers for the group – fried mac-n-cheese, fried cheese curds, and nachos topped with pulled pork.

Stubby's

Apart from the obvious artery destroying power of this display, it was ton of fun. The fried mac-n-cheese were lusciously creamy and complemented with a spicy marinara-style sauce. The nachos were topped with pulled pork and a ridiculous amount on cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. This is not subtle folks, this is a full-on bar food binge. And yes, those barrels are painted with the Central Waters logo. So what do you pair with deep fried cheddar cheese cords with a Parmesan bacon dipping sauce?

Stubby's2

Well, the Black Husky Pale Ale was exceptionally nice as the bright hop flavor cut through the richness of the deep-fried cheese and bacon sauce. Then you slip slowly and blissfully off into a food coma. Oh, it’s so worth it. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it. We’re happy to add Stubby’s Gastrogrub & Beer Bar to our Restaurant page as another representative of Great Lakes Cuisine.

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A Moment From 100 Years Ago

A smiling, white-haired gentleman greets me and I give him the name of our party. “Oh, you’re having lunch with my good friends today. Welcome.” The dining room has plenty of dark wood, lit by stained glass and low lights. Nearly every bit of wall space has either a German artifact or a framed photo of a celebrity, some long forgotten, who enjoyed the authentic German cuisine at Karl Ratzsch’s some time over the last 111 years.

Karl ratzsch2

My friends arrive with excited greetings and hugs. They sit down and share their history with me. Their first date was at that table there, 45 years ago. The smiling gentleman who greeted me? He’s been a waiter here for 35 years. The owners, who took over from the Ratzsch family in 2003, have been working behind the bar and in the kitchen just as long. The conversation turns to dogs and gardens and confrontations with a raccoon in the yard. We decide to order.

The soup of the day is cream of mushroom. The every day soup is consommé with liver dumplings. It’s amazing; earthy, rich, unique. The spinach salad following has a hot bacon dressing that actually tastes “fresh”. That doesn’t sound right, but there isn’t the fatty mouth feel you can get with a hot bacon dressing yet all of the flavor. This is classic food, prepared in a way to remind you why it became classic. Then there is the sauerbraten. Oh dear heavens.

Karl Ratzsch

I’m a fan of sauerbraten. We’ve shared our recipe here. This version is fall-apart tender with an authentic gingersnap gravy, the meaty richness balanced by the tang of vinegar, cooked down together for hours. The accompanying red cabbage has the perfect texture and flavor. We’ve also shared our red cabbage recipe. Here is my advice, go eat at Karl Ratzsch’s if you can. Only try to make your own if you can’t get there. This is wonderful, wonderful food. I’m enjoying it with a Köstritzer Schwarzbier.

We continue to talk and enjoy the meal. A few other parties come in, a few parties leave. I feel like I’m eating in my great grandma’s living room, in the very best way. I feel like family. As we leave I take a moment to adjust to the afternoon sun. I look up to the clock on City Hall. It seems we were there for over two hours. It was a moment, a moment completely out of time, a moment from 100 years ago. This is history. This is inspiration.

New Restaurant Added – Heartland, Minneapolis, MN

The recently published list of 38 “essential” restaurants selected by Bill Addison at Eater featured Heartland, located near the Farmers’ Market in St. Paul, MN. Chef Lenny Russo has been recognized with a nomination for Best Chef in the Midwest by the James Beard Foundation in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014. Addison captures the experience this way:

“Around 90 percent of the food at Heartland and its adjacent market comes from within a 300-mile radius. The substantial bar menu includes four burgers (beef, pork, veal, and bison) and fun, smart riffs on snacks like smoked kielbasa corn dogs or cheese curds with apricot ketchup. In the main room, entrees dole out bear hugs of direct, honest flavors: The “Midwestern Cassoulet” defrosts with its mix of lusty meats and silken white beans delivered from nearby Encore Farms. Russo’s devotion to culinary Minnesota is evident in every forkful.”

Other items of note on recent menus include:

  • Pork bratwurst with Summit Ale mustard, house fermented sauerkraut, with cucumber pickles
  • Midwestern artisan cheese sampler served with chutney and wildflower honey
  • House crafted charcuterie sampler served with pickled vegetables and apple mustard

We are happy to add Chef Lenny Russo and Heartland to our Restaurant page.

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.

The Blending of Lines

One of the hallmarks of a definable cuisine is the ability to identify when it is being used as a highlight, a complement, to another approach.  When a chef uses a slow roasted pork, glazed in hoisin, and served with an Asian Pear salsa as a taco appetizer, we can identify the elements of Latino cuisine and the Asian cuisine.  In a similar way, this dish:

Chicken Brat

A chicken sausage prepared in the same style and with the same spices as a traditional bratwurst.  The coleslaw is cabbage, carrots, and pea shoots with a traditional mayonnaise based dressing but the addition of a Saison craft brew vinegar echoes the tang of serving bratwurst with sauerkraut.  A light, summery take on a very traditional brat and kraut.  We can see, feel, and taste the influence of Great Lakes Cuisine.

When defining cuisine, particularly as it applies to the work of talented chefs across the region, innovation often makes clear delineation difficult.  We discussed the problems of “defining a cuisine” in a previous post and we won’t repeat that discussion here. The particular idea we address here is Italian-American Cuisine. Anyone traveling throughout the Great Lakes Region realizes a significant immigrant population settled in the region and in many cases have held strong to their ethnic, culinary traditions. The deep-dish pizza in Chicago is a unique testimony to this process.  The cuisine is at once clearly Italian and clearly American, which is why we have previously maintained that Italian-American is not part of Great Lakes Cuisine, because it is clearly and definable part of another tradition.

It should be no surprise, however, that such a clear line exists only on paper and not in the kitchen.  We have detailed in the past the contribution Chef Jason Gorman has had to the ideas we present here. It is appropriate then that his interpretation of Italian food at Mangia in Kenosha, WI would present a hybrid of these two cuisines. The offerings are firmly rooted in Italian cuisine, but also bring a lovely blending of Great Lakes Cuisine. Here are some samples from a recent dinner:

Mangia - Tuscan Chicken with Cherries

 

We began with a several appetizers and among them was this offering – Tuscan Chicken Liver Spread with Door County Cherries. Lush, earthy flavors of the liver spread created the perfect contrast to the tart fruitiness Door County Cherries.

Mangia - Goat Cheese Curds

Another offering featured goat cheese curds, heated until just softened with N’duja and Pachino tomatoes. Goat cheese curds, such as those you can purchase from LaClare Farms, have an appealing “chew” to their texture and a bit more pronounced flavor than traditional cheddar curds. N’duja is a spicy, spreadable sausage from Calabria (or you can get a great version from Underground Meats in Madison, WI).

Mangia - Walleye

In addition to a table full of excellent Italian-inspired dinner offerings, we enjoyed a Walleye Pike with chickpeas, garlic spinach, Pachino tomatoes, grilled leek gremolata. The flavors and preparation throughout the meal were unmistakably Italian, but the ingredients were local and often featured in unique ways.

Mangia is unmistakably Italian cuisine, but in the hands of such an innovative, and accomplished chef, elements of Great Lakes Cuisine still shine through.  Though we will not add Mangia to our Restaurant section, as it does not fit the stricter definition of Great lakes Cuisine we are utilizing here, it is truly great cuisine.