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BBQ, Bier, BelAir and The Bay

Photos by Dan Bishop

June 2013

Flowers have blushed into full bloom, wet and snowy days have long since melted into memories, and Milwaukeeans, emerged from hibernation, seek all things sun. Patio season is finally here, and this year’s arrival comes with exciting new outdoor dining and drinking options.

For authentic Memphis-style ribs and sunshine or succulent pulled pork and daylight, head to the Pigpen, the darling little deck and tiki bar of Atlas BBQ (1304 12th Ave., Grafton). When owner Mike Tsuchihashi and chef Michael Strand were designing the restaurant and menu, they traveled to sample good barbecue joints across the Midwest. "We wanted to make it as authentic as possible," Tsuchihashi says.

Strand and his able kitchen staff, along with the help of smokers Jake and Elwood (yes, the applewood-burning smokers are named after the Blues Brothers), make everything in-house from the smoky, creamy tomato soup to the decadent bourbon chocolate pecan pie. Even the pickles and corn bread are made in-house. But as delicious as the veggie and seafood options are — the chopped salad is divine — the real attraction of Atlas is the meat.

From perfectly smoked chicken, accompanied by the only Alabama white sauce I’ve seen locally, to an addictive Reuben sandwich made with beef brisket subbing for corned beef, Strand knows his meats. He also knows his sauces. There’s a vinegary Carolina sauce, a sweet Memphis sauce, a heat and sweet Texas sauce, a peachy and very spicy X sauce and a Korean barbecue sauce with ginger and soy. Only two of the sauces contain gluten so those with allergies can indulge safely. Unfortunately for now, these incredible, made-each-day-from-scratch sauces aren’t yet available for sale by the bottle. "I’m working with a company to do that," Tsuchihashi says. In the meantime, just enjoy them with a freshly shaken bourbon drink or a perfectly paired ale.

The new patio at The Bay restaurant (342 E. Silver Spring Drive, Whitefish Bay) is expected to be open by June. And with the careful attention of restaurateurs Paul Berlin and James McMahon, it should be every bit as welcoming and sleek as the new restaurant, which opened in early May. The patio will be the place to share pitchers of hand-crafted old-fashioneds with friends. The restaurant itself boasts an eclectic and upscale yet comforting and expansive menu. And while you’ll be familiar with the names of dishes on the menu, you won’t find them as well done as they are at The Bay.

Take roasted vegetables, an innocuous-sounding appetizer. The delicately sea-salted and olive oil rubbed vegetables practically glowed — they were that sweet and succulent, and they were accompanied by a zesty red pepper sauce. My 3-year-old and my husband practically fought over the carrots and asparagus. Another common sounding dish — the humble burger. But at The Bay, the beef is ground fresh, several times a day at nearby Sendik’s, and it comes topped with bacon, a fried egg and more of that zesty sauce. The cod also surprises, as it comes topped with just a dusting of andouille sausage. The chips — either as a side or appetizer — are homemade, too, and they come warm, as they’re made to order and worth the wait.

Nothing quite says summer like a biergarten in Wisconsin, and perhaps the most authentic one you can find, this far outside of Munich, is at the Von Rothenburger Bier Stube (N116 W15841 Main St., Germantown). Chazz Hastings, who also owns Milwaukee Harley-Davidson, got the authenticity of both the biergarten and the beer hall, right down to the wooden slats in the furnishings. Everything, from the wall hangings to the stained glass to even the picnic tables, hails from Barvaria. The draft beer, or rather, bier, is imported from Germany, as well as the giant pretzels and sweet mustard. "The focus is on the authenticity," says Josh Neureuther, general manager.

Expect live music from German bands, as well as pig roasts, this summer, and then, come October, the adjacent Jerry’s Old Town will reopen. "We’re doing a complete remodel," Hastings says. (Find more Milwaukee beer gardens in Filter on page 90.)

La Merenda (125 E. National Ave.) just opened a new patio. The patio isn’t just a simple grouping of outdoor seats. It has nice tables and even a plush, lounge area where you can sip sangria and nibble on tapas. The new patio also features herbs and plantings from some of La Merenda’s farmers who supply the restaurant. "I’m really excited about it," says owner and chef Peter Sandroni.

A new BelAir Cantina will launch mid-June (6817 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa), with a wide patio perfect for seasonal dining. The 1940s era building was once a car dealership. It will retain its industrial look, combined with a California/Baja attitude. The original BelAir is located at 1935 N. Water St. The menus will be basically the same, according to Scott Johnson, partner with menu mavens Leslie Montemurro and Kristyn St. Denis. Chef Noe Zamora will monitor both kitchens. Watch for new margarita flavors this summer at both places, such as a pineapple ginger margarita, a grapefruit jalape-o margarita and fresh-juiced strawberry margarita. Montemurro says the Tequila Bottle Club that started on the East Side will also be available in Tosa, with two barrels of BelAir’s Private Label Herradura Double Reposado en route from Guadalajara. Both BelAirs will have about 100 tequilas, each offered as a shot, margarita or neat.

Both locations will be hosting more brunch items this summer, with huevos rancheros, chorizo and egg burritos and chilaquiles on the ticket. Vegan options are also available. P.S. No reservations will be taken at either place.


This story ran in the June 2013 issue of: