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Milwaukee influenced
Successful Boston Restaurateur to open bar venue

By NAN BIALEK
Photos by Beth Gesuero Image Conscious Studios

December 2013

We don’t take ourselves too seriously," says Rachel Munzer, one of the owners of the acclaimed Boston restaurant, Hungry Mother. 

Although Shorewood native Rachel Miller Munzer came of age working in restaurants, starting with a job at Hubbard Park Lodge when she was just 14, she says she never dreamed one day she would own one. "I always knew I wanted to own a small business, but never thought it would be a restaurant," she says.

Today, she and three partners own one of the hottest fine dining spots in the Boston area. Hungry Mother, a 21-table restaurant named after a state park in Virginia, has been earning luscious praise from both professional and amateur reviewers.

"We consider ourselves fine dining but in a less formal atmosphere," Munzer says. "We have very high quality food and a lot of integrity about the ingredients we use and where we’re sourcing it — and everything’s made in-house. But there are no tablecloths on the tables."

Munzer and her husband, Alon, owned a small coffee shop in Boston before teaming up with partners John Kessen and chef Barry Maiden to create Hungry Mother five years ago. Maiden is from southwestern Virginia and trained in French cooking.

"He’s using all that technique and blending it with his Southern roots," Munzer says.

The menu is seasonal and changes almost daily, but there are some popular dishes that Hungry Mother is known for — Antebellum Cornbread with Sorghum Butter, French Gnocci, Wild Virginia Catfish, Wagyu Beef Tongue and North Carolina Trout. Ingredients are sustainable, sourced from local as well as artisanal suppliers, such as SarVecchio cheese from Wisconsin, but that’s not something Hungry Mother even mentions on its menu.

"When we wrote our business plan, we said we wouldn’t say, ‘organic, free range’ — it would just say ‘fried chicken,’ but we know that’s what we use," she explains.

The Shorewood native found this stuffed mink at the Walker’s Point Antique Market during a recent trip to Milwaukee.

"It’s something we’ve always just done from the beginning, not because it was trendy, but we felt it was important," she says. "For us, it was born out of an appreciation for good food." She also wanted a place where diners could feel comfortable — not just a destination restaurant, but a neighborhood restaurant.

The challenge, she says, is "keeping everything fresh and dynamic." It’s working. Reservations are sought-after and lines often extend out the door.

Inside Hungry Mother antique picture frames are displayed on one wall, and an industrial-influenced crystal chandelier dresses up the cozy bar. "We don’t take ourselves too seriously," she says. That’s evident in the washrooms. Pages from a vintage book, "The Virginia Housewife," paper the ladies’ room walls, and in the men’s room, the walls are livened up with illustrations from Julia Child’s "Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 2."

"It’s a little bit quirky," she says.

The next project for Munzer and company is opening a Boston bar, which they’re calling State Park. "Food will still be a focus, but it’ll be a more consistent menu. It will definitely be more casual food, but still interesting, still sticking with the Southern slant and still keeping our integrity in the ingredients we use," she says.

Munzer, her husband and two daughters visited her family in Milwaukee in September and scouted for ideas. She says they were inspired by My Office downtown, with a window that opens onto Milwaukee Street and pickled eggs on the menu.

While in town, the Munzers enjoyed dinner at Bay View’s Odd Duck: "Everything was very tasty and the service was excellent. I was very impressed with how much they put out of their kitchen space." Then it was on to Burnhearts, a classic bar on Logan Street in Bay View, for $2 cans of Blatz and a round or two of shuffleboard. (For the record, Burnhearts also serves a wide variety of craft beers and cocktails.)

"I’m going to inject a little more of my Milwaukee upbringing in the new bar," she notes. Nobody in Boston, she says, serves Bloody Marys with a beer chaser.

That’s about to change.





 

This story ran in the December issue of: