Spring Sunlight Seeping In

A cold spring; the slightest hint of warming. Squirrels chase across budded trees swaying, still leafless. Settling down behind the barn, hiding from the wind, sunlight creeps in slowly. But chives peek through the soil.

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Milwaukee chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs have secret room, a sacred place, tucked inside their restaurant, DanDan. The memory of their great-grandmothers, their recipes, and their sense of family becomes a gathering space, a place to bring memory and imagination together in food, a place they call EsterEv. The tasting menu, eclectic and unconstrained, ranges freely across cuisines, culinary approaches, and flavors; all seasonally inspired.

Though globally inspired, occasionally the Great Lakes roots of these chefs peek through on the monthly-rotating menu selections. Chicken liver financier, “deviled egg”, and latke with smoked salmon started off a recent visit, the “deviled egg” an egg white meringue filled with a savory puree. A previous menu included a pastrami-style short rib, red cabbage puree, crisped pumpernickel, potato cake, pickled mustard seed and red mustard leaves. These are the tastes of Great Lakes cuisine peeking through in newly inspired ways. Our inspiration for the dish below was a potato soup they served with a dollop of mashed potatoes in the center; could be the perfect canvas for our spring garlic chives. We used Yukon Gold potatoes, originally developed by Gary Johnston to thrive in the soils of southern Ontario, where the Great Lakes moderate the temperatures and former lake beds create fertile soil. This recipe involves several steps, but much of it can be done while waiting for potatoes to boil. Alternatively, you can just enjoy the rich, creamy indulgence of the soup on its own. But don’t forget the fresh chives.

Potato Leek Soup with Shallot Mashed Potatoes

Soup
8 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large leek, chopped (white, pale green sections)
1 Tbs. butter
1/2 cup white wine
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried marjoram
6 cups vegetable broth

Add butter and leaks to large stock pot on stove-top over medium heat, sprinkle lightly with salt. As leeks begin to soften and just start to caramelize, add half of the wine. As wine cooks off, add remaining wine. When wine has cooked off a second time, add broth, bay leaves, marjoram, and potatoes. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to fall apart, about 25 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree until smooth. Additional broth retained from next step can be used to thin to desired consistency before service.

Mash
4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
3 Tbs. softened butter
1 large shallot, peeled and diced fine
1 Tbs. fresh thyme or 1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large pot over high heat, bring potatoes, broth, and bay leaves to a boil, then reduce to simmer until potatoes begin to soften (but not fall apart). While potatoes cook, add 1 Tbs. butter to a sauce pan over medium heat with shallot and thyme. When shallot begins to become translucent and just start to caramelize, add wine. Simmer until wine is completely cooked off, then remove from heat and add remaining butter and stir together. When potatoes have finished, drain and save broth. Add the potatoes back to the pan and mash along with all of the butter mixture and the heavy cream until very smooth.

Garnish
1 large Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into wide matchsticks
1 Tbs. pork lard and vegetable oil or 2 Tbs. butter (see note)
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives

Note: We used smoked pork lard derived from our method of preparing Nueske’s bacon, butter can be used as a substitute here. In a sauce pan over medium-high heat add the lard and oil (or butter) and the potatoes. Allow to cook until deeply browned, but not burnt, the color of dark caramel, but not chocolate. The potatoes should be drained on a paper towel when finish to drain the oil. Lightly salt to taste.

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We served grilled cheese sandwiches alongside, featuring a blend of three different aged white cheddars. A dollop of the shallot mash potatoes is surrounded by the potato leek soup, bacon-flavored matchstick potatoes as crisp “croutons” on top and dotted with freshly chopped chives.

 

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Restaurant – Honeypie, Milwaukee, WI

Bay View is in many ways a quintessentially Milwaukee neighborhood. Within a year of the opening of The Milwaukee Iron Company in 1868, the village of grew as a company town around the steel mill. According to the Bay View Historical Society, “Cottages erected for mill workers became the center of the village. Many of these cottages are still occupied today and are a part of the diverse architecture of the Bay View neighborhood.”

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The neighborhood borders Lake Michigan and the factories shown billowing smoke in the picture above have long ago been replaced with far more modern industry. Portions of the neighborhood fell into disrepair beginning in the 1970s as the entire Midwest began to adjust to the changes in heavy industry, but a recent resurgence of the neighborhood has been lead by chef-led restaurants, craft beer bars and craft brewers. Thankfully, much of the architectural identity of the area has not only been retained, but highlighted.

One of the early chef-led restaurants in the area was Honeypie. Long a personal favorite for lunch, we recently returned for dinner and were reminded of the reasons we love this place. The description offered on their own site captures many of the key ideas we treasure in Great Lakes Cuisine:

Honeypie was opened in 2009 and from the very beginning our goal has been to make great, Midwestern-inspired food from scratch. From our pickles to our pie crust we believe that good food is rooted in the way our grandparents used to cook. Real food made by hand with real ingredients. We use as many local meats, produce and other ingredients as we can. In fact, the majority of our ingredients at Honeypie are sourced from Wisconsin.

Local, scratch-made, inspired by generations of culinary traditions – these are many of the elements in our definition of Great Lakes Cuisine. What their self-description does not capture is the inspired innovations they also bring to their menu. Our dinner consisted of the following:

 

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Pork Fries – thin cut french fried potatoes topped with succulent shredded pork, a decadently rich and creamy cheese sauce, and green onions.

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Mac & Cheese – Just because we can never get enough of that decadently creamy cheese sauce, we went with bacon topped macaroni.

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Hot Brown – Thick sliced toast is topped with sliced turkey and then loaded with a mushroom cream sauce and topped with dressed arugula. More an open faced turkey sandwich than the classic Louisville Hot Brown, but still comfort food in the very best sense.

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Burger – A return of the fries, but this time as the side show to the main attraction, a burger of Wisconsin grass fed brisket, fresh ground, topped with cheese, bacon, and a dripping sunny side up egg. Impossible to eat with any delicacy, it’s so good you will end up just mopping up bits of goodness with the house made, brioche bun.

More recent menu offerings have included the Cornish Pasty, house-made pretzels with aged-cheddar beer cheese sauce, and chicken pot pie. All items we have featured here as well. They also serve a wide array of award-winning pies, so keep that in mind as you order.

The menu at Honeypie definitely brings a fair amount of global fusion, and it seems that same sense of culinary adventure infuses even their local offerings, which fits them into our vision of Great Lakes Cuisine. Much like the Bayview neighborhood, the cuisine of Honeypie has adapted to new flavors and new approaches with out loosing the character of long-standing traditions from the area.

New Restaurant Added – Morel, Milwaukee, WI

Morel is a gem of a space. On a recent dark and stormy night, we ducked inside. The lights were low, the conversation was vibrant. The small restaurant space was full, but we were able to grab the last two spots at the bar, which looks into the cooking space. Here is how they describe what they are trying to do:

“Morel Restaurant is a modern American farm-to-table restaurant that finds inspiration from Chef Jonathan Manyo’s roots: Wisconsin. Morel explores natural flavors, colors and textures from local farms, purveyors, foragers and artisans.

The wild morel mushroom marks the start of a new growing season and is the delicious reward of those who forage in the woods of Wisconsin. Like the hunt for morels, Jonathan enjoys the adventure of finding and preparing locally grown, raised and produced food for Morel’s diners.”

The menu the night we stopped in was inspired by local foods, many of the dishes were modern American. We ordered the pheasant terrine, the duck confit, and a beautiful dish of sauteed mushrooms over polenta. Each dish was thoughtfully composed and full flavored. The mushroom dish inspired an attempt at reproducing it the next weekend at home, as a vehicle for serving pulled pork.

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We started with whole kernel corn, half of which we shallow fried in corn oil until beginning to turn caramel brown. We then blended fried and non-fried corn together, with just enough chicken broth to allow it to blend. Back into the pan and added grated Sarvecchio Parmesan. The mushrooms are cremini and shitake, sauteed in butter with onions, savory, and oregano. The pork had been roasted for over four hours, studded with pieces of garlic, and covered with fresh oregano and sea salt. It was excellent, but Morel was better.

A few dishes of note from a recent menu:

Duck Confit, Sage, Ricotta, Pumpkin, Apple, Maitake Mushroom, Duck Jus

Pork Shoulder, Bratwurst, Horto Beans, Bacon, Kimchi, Herbs

Beef Short Rib, Celery Root, Brussels Sprouts, Garlic, Watercress, Bacon, Beef Jus

A worthy addition to our collection of Restaurants which exemplify Great Lakes Cuisine.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.