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Casual eats and a North Woods retreat

Photos by Dan Bishop

April 2013

A new collection of casual-eats restaurants opened in late winter and early spring, ensuring there wasn’t an awkward pause in the flurry of new restaurant openings.

Grilling season debuted in Oconomowoc earlier this year with Grill Junkies (1288 Summit Ave.), a polished burger joint within a strip mall. A delightful departure from simply ground beef, the burger menu includes black bean, salmon and turkey burgers, along with a choice of gluten-free buns. There’s even, "The Stripper," a burger sans bun. A lineup of Asian dishes, ranging from Pad Thai to Kung Pao is also available, as are the prerequisite sides to burgers like fries (they come with each burger order) and milkshakes (chocolate and vanilla). Glasses of wine hike this burger spot into the upscale category despite the fact that, even while inside, you’re seated under a beach umbrella.

Offering East Siders a new breakfast spot, the owners of Lake Geneva’s heralded Simple Café (2124 N. Farwell Ave.) moved their second location into a former car-repair shop, painting the walls hues reminiscent of fruits (think blueberry, lime, Clementine, grape and lemon). Lighting fixtures are crafted from white cast-iron pots, pans, percolators and lids. Open until 3 p.m. daily, the menu focuses on breakfast and lunch, folding in fresh, in-season ingredients like butternut squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkin this past winter. Expect offbeat dishes (like the Korean BBQ breakfast bowl), pancakes and omelets (including the "designer" where you pick three ingredients from a lengthy list) among the 20-item breakfast menu and gourmet sandwiches for lunch (such as carnitas tomatillo).

Mr. Webo’s Mexican Grill (2301 S. Howell Ave.) took over the former Guanajuanto space in Bay View, putting an upscale twist on Mexican fare. For instance, three salsas come with the complimentary chips and there are dishes that go beyond tacos and tostadas (seasonal ceviche and fish tacos crusted in blue cornmeal). Black tablecloths and a wall of artsy murals, along with fresh flowers on each table, create a pleasant dining experience for lunch and dinner.

Opening in West Allis, Double B’s BBQ & Burgers (7420 W. Greenfield Ave.) touts a comfort-foods vibe for both lunch and dinner. Cherry wood in a house smoker gives the meat a sweet, rustic touch to ribs, chicken, brisket and wings, especially when combined with hand-rubbed spices. There is also a kid-friendly menu. For those who don’t care for the ’cue, plenty of options remain, including burgers, entrée-size salads, appetizers (such as black pepper bacon wrapped around water chestnuts) and bowls of chili or corn chowder.

Bar ‘Seen’

In addition to restaurants, there is a duo of new bars to check out this spring, from Waukesha to the East Side. Fink’s (1875 N. Humboldt Ave.) is inconspicuously housed in the former Redroom, sharing the same owners as Fuel Café, Hi Hat Lounge, Balzac, BelAir Cantina and Palomino. There’s a wall depicting a North Woods scene (along with Road America posters) and craft beers on tap as well as a focus on classic cocktails. Hosting live-music acts and entertainers (recently, Joe Hite and, come May, Pat McCurdy), and DJs, The Lucky Rabbit (200 Madison St., Waukesha) also serves cocktails and innovative pizzas (Santiago Taco or Bayou Cajun).

New Venue for Shully’s

Although no stranger to hosting wedding receptions and other catered events, Beth Shully (owner of Shully’s Cuisine & Events in Thiensville) knew it was time to ditch the tent and construct a permanent structure, called The Watermark. It’s opening May 1 next to the 6,250-square-foot catering facility and Mill Pond. "I tried to make it look a bit Victorian. It has peaked dormers and windows with the rounds on top," explains Shully, along with a gray/silver interior and two options for chandeliers (gray wood or wrought-iron). With event planner Steven Jones at the helm — he spent four years crafting nosh and drinks for the green room at Harpo Studios and rubbed elbows with Oprah Winfrey — it’s sure to be a sweet venue.



This story ran in the April 2013 issue of: