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Foodie finds
The culinary minds behind the ‘Wisconsin Foodie’ TV show share their top local restaurant picks

By JORDAN DECHAMBRE-CHILDERS

 

La Merenda
125 E. National Ave.
(414)389-0125

Brian Moran is the resident chef for "Wisconsin Foodie." A Milwaukee chef for 20 years, he has worked in private clubs and The Pfister Hotel, and is now a chef at St. Paul Fish Co. in the Milwaukee Public Market and a culinary arts educational assistant at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

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La Merenda is really unique. International Tapas — what a simple but great concept. Chef Peter is so good at what he does, he lets the food speak for itself. I love a humble chef, and Peter is not flashy, just confident and very good with his customers. All of his foods and wines deliver.

vibe

Laid back, comfy setting that isn’t formal. The servers all seem very friendly and really like what they do — and that’s hard to find theses days. The interior is hip and well lit, with warm colors and nice artwork. It’s not so dark that I can’t read the menu.

who loves it

Anyone who is open to great food, small plates and will try to educate their palate to new exciting flavors. As chefs, we need to constantly challenge not only ourselves but our customers in ways that are enjoyable. Good food that makes sense, that’s La Merenda.

who doesn’t

If you want a salad, entrée and dessert in a traditional setting, the typical restaurant experience, stay away from La Merenda.

 

 

 

 


Alem Ethiopian Village
307 E. Wisconsin Ave. 
(414)224-5324

Jessica Bell, owner of The Midwest Wine School, brings her "spirit and cheer" to the "Wisconsin Foodie" table by sharing her insight on wine, beer, spirits — and most anything that can be paired with them. "In spite of my extensive studies and experiences around the world, I value most my innate and insatiable curiosity to learn about the world through food and drink," she says.

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The food is slow-cooked by its Ethiopian owners with spices, textures and temperatures not commonly found on other Milwaukee menus. All meals are served alongside rolls of a spongy, gluten-free mild sourdough bread called injera, which will also serve as your utensils for the night. The owners deliver service with so much passion that I was once kindly reprimanded for suggesting that I might re-heat my takeout with a microwave rather than a skillet. For your first visit, try one of the combo platters, meat or vegetarian, and pair it with an Ethiopian beer or herbal tea while grooving to the Ethiopian jazz in the background.

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This diamond in the rough excites the palate in an unpretentious, if somewhat awkward ambience, only adding infinitely to its charm and authenticity. The communal and manual (no utensils) style of eating reminds us that food is not only for sustenance, but also for bonding with friends and family while physically connecting with our most basic needs.

who loves it

Those who enjoy sharing their food and are not afraid of getting their hands a little dirty (wet naps are provided at the end). A fan of Alem will also have culinary curiosity and be willing to give every dish at least a couple bites before passing final judgment.

who doesn’t

This is not the place for people who want to see and be seen, admire impressive interior design or appreciate the presentation of the food over its taste. Alem is hip and cool in an understated, uniquely Alem way.

 

 

 


Hinterland
222 E. Erie St. Suite 100
(414)727-9300


Kyle Cherek is the host of "Wisconsin Foodie." His first true foodie experience was during the summer of 2000 when a friendship with a highly lauded local chef exposed him to exceptional ingredients, the alchemy that food and friends can have on life, and cooking for the sheer pleasure of it.

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Chef Dan Van Rite is the only chef I know of in the state with a bent that incorporates the game, western and ranch influences of American cuisine, as well as blend-ing in spot on fish and regional dishes. That adds up to guts (sometimes literally) with ingredients but great restraint and balance, too. It seems unlikely that the same restaurant could pull off fish tacos, elk tenderloin, smoked balut (the street food version of the hot dog in Southeast Asia) and big eye tuna all on the same menu. The best part is that Hinterland does it without haughtiness. It has somehow managed to blend a fine dining approach with a hipster environment.

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Think Northwood’s rustic meets French Country meets minimalist. Like the menu, the décor hits just the right balance of each. The back lounge is a great respite from the crowded scene, and feels like a secret speakeasy with its end-of-hall location away from the dinning room. I’ve seen corporate tables, rehearsal dinners and hipsters kicking back all in the same room.

who loves it

Foodies who appreciate a well-curated environment with warm service and a menu that pushes flavors against each other in an adventurous but unassuming way.

who doesn’t

The big portion crowd. There is no paucity of serving sizes, but if you are looking for lack of white space on the plate to trump taste and timing of ingredients, you might be disappointed.


Beans & Barley
1901 E. North Ave.
(414)278-7878

As a producer for "Wisconsin Foodie," Theresa Kopac researches and brainstorms potential stories, develops relationships with featured subjects, organizes shoot schedules and develops the show’s production schedule.

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This place is no secret and satisfies the palates of vegetarians and nonvegetarians alike. Wake up with a traditional lox plate or a seasonal specialty like golden pumpkin pancakes. Catch up with a friend or have a work lunch over one of Beans’ burrito options or a walnut burger. Or have a glass of wine and pasta primavera with red bell pepper cream for a comforting end to the day. You can trust that your vegetables have arrived from a local farm and the people behind the scenes take care with what they put in front of you. And the deli rotates fresh options for carry-out.

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From the produce and ingredients that make the dishes to the light that fills the space, Beans & Barley is a lover of things natural. The great room design of the dining area, complete with a high, arching ceiling and a wall of glass, can easily move from casual to romantic depending on the time of day and your dining partner. Chances are you will see someone you know.

who loves it

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind neighborhood destination that supports relationships with local food growers and local businesses, like Rishi Tea. Those who love to establish a favorite staple (works burrito) and suddenly take a chance on a new dish and get your socks knocked off (shrimp gazpacho).

who doesn’t

If to you quality means an exceptionally fancy meal with a ticket price to match.

 

 

 

 


Roots
1818 N. Hubbard St.
(414)374-8480


Mark Escribano is the co-director and co-cameraman for "Wisconsin Foodie." Brought on by producer/director Arthur Ircink from the beginning, he is the creative collaborator and one half of the production crew.

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It must have been around 2001 that I first met chef John Raymond. He was the new executive chef at a restaurant called Vinifera and I was at the midpoint of my five years of employment there. Up until that point I wasn’t that familiar with fusion cuisine or what can be called "Contemporary American." It wasn’t a new concept, but it was definitely a twist on the traditionally regional and ethnic approaches typically found in most local restaurants. John not only seemed to have quite the knack for this creative approach but, more importantly, he had the love for it. A few years later, he opened Roots, where he had free reign to hone his technique and repertoire substantially. It’s here that John, with an impressive fervor, continues to produce some of the most mouth-watering and unique ­— yet somehow familiar ­— dishes I have ever discovered in Milwaukee.

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Roots is hip, upper-end casual that can feel both inviting and classy.

who loves it

Everyone who cares about creative dining and quality ingredients. Especially those into contemporary fusion dishes.

who doesn’t

Diners who crave more traditional ethnic fare or white table cloth-type dining.

 

 

 

 

 


Bombay Sweets
19555 W. Bluemound Rd. (262) 780-2998
3401 S. 13th St. (414)383-3553

Arthur Ircink is the creator of "Wisconsin Foodie," as well as cinematographer, co-director and editor. He brings his passion of story telling to an area that has many stories to tell. His goal is to get more people talking about food issues as well as to showcase all the amazing things that are going on in our backyards that we had no clue were there.

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I have a dark secret that I will fill you in on — I’m a vegetarian. I have been since I was 14 and it is one of the biggest reasons why "Wisconsin Foodie" was created. Living in Milwaukee and being a vegetarian is a difficult task. What is not difficult is eating at Bombay Sweets. Bombay Sweets is a small out of the way, all vegetarian, cheap eats Indian eatery. This place is completely authentic and comes with a giant wall menu that colorfully lists all of the dishes. Being a vegetarian and having more than 50 items to chose from (all under $6) is a dream come true. Honestly, you could eat there every day for a year and have a different meal each day. As I share this with you, I have a feeling my secret spot may be discovered.

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Small, colorful, mirrored and delicious. The décor isn’t pretentiously trying to be something it’s not — it’s pretty simple, but when the food is so good who cares. I always gauge an ethnic restaurant by the amount of that ethnicity that actually eats there. At Bombay Sweets you more than likely will see a very diverse crowd, but mostly Indians.

who loves it

The people that know about it and the people that don’t want to spend a ton but feel like they did. "Delhi Belly" is a term I affectionately use to describe my stomach after dining at Bombay Sweets.

who doesn’t

The unadventurous and boring. One drawback of this place is they serve food on Styrofoam and paper plates that are disposed of after every meal. Environmentalists close your eyes, please. m