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Chef Spotlight
Robert Klemm - Villa at Heaven City

Photos by Matt Haas

March 2016

Chef Robert Klemm cooked with local ingredients before the locavore movement was in vogue. He opened Cafť Industri in Walkerís Point before Second Street became "restaurant row," and he was the opening chef for the Ale Asylum Riverhouse in downtown Milwaukee. Now this versatile chef has jumped back into restaurant ownership with the new Villa at Heaven City in Mukwonago. Klemm sat down with M Magazine to talk about owning a historic restaurant, living above it, and what fun it is to experiment in the kitchen.

M: Tell us about what itís like to own such a historic place.

RK: "This legendary spot was built in 1917, and itís been a restaurant, bar and even a brothel. Then you have the whole gangster era with Al Capone. I talked with a man whose father used to run Heaven City back in the í30s and í40s, and his family lived above the restaurant. After he got tucked in, heíd sneak down to the bar to give bottles of beer to the guys playing poker in the lounge. He said he liked doing that because Al Capone tipped really well. He also said he didnít like the way Al Capone and the other gangsters used to boss his father around, so he used to kick shingles off the roof onto their limos as they were coming into the parking lot. He didnít know the man was Al Capone at the time, but he later recognized one of the card players from Chicago as Al Capone."

M: Weíve heard tales that Heaven City is haunted.

RK: "I live upstairs, and I can definitely say there are some crazy, unexplained things."

M: How did you get started as a chef?

RK: "I actually worked at Taco Bell and Hardeeís, but I started at 16, working for Smith Brothers in Port Washington. Over the years, Iíve worked for many places around town, including Bartolotta restaurants, Sebastianís in Caledonia and other great places. I have been blessed to have been able to work for so many talented and kind people over the years."

M: What are some of the specials and new things youíre doing here?

RK: "We kept the Friday night fish fry, but we are doing a lot of new things. We have Tapas Tuesdays, and every week, the menu of globally inspired small plates changes. We also have a flamenco guitarist playing on Tuesdays. On Wednesdays, we offer half-price glasses of wine for women, and Johnny Padilla and his three-piece jazz band play. On Thursdays, we have a three-course menu for $22 ó a soup or salad, choice of two entrees and then a spread of desserts that is always changing. Saturdays we do our legendary prime rib, and we do a lot of private events and special parties in all of the different spaces and dining rooms here."

M: I notice you still grow greens right here in the restaurant, as you have some microgreens growing in the atrium room. Are you still such a big supporter of local producers?

RK: "Downtown, itís about supporting local business, but here itís really about supporting local farms. I have local farmers who call me and tell me on a weekly basis what they have ó things like, ĎI have a bunch of leeks,í so this week we have a pork carnitas and leek soup special."

M: What are some of your favorite items on the menu?

RK: "I would definitely say the Strauss lamb lollipops, and the butternut squash ravioli is just phenomenal. Thatís an homage to Ristorante Bartolotta. I get very good scallops from St. Paul Fish Company, and they just fly off the menu. I also love our new 22-ounce bone-in cowboy ribeye steak."

M: Are you doing anything new or different in this upcoming year?

RM: "We will relaunch our brunch in early 2016, and we have this great patio, where we are going to be planting fresh herbs and vegetables. We have 42 acres here with a gazebo so we can do weddings and events, and weíll also be doing more catering."

M: Whatís your favorite pantry item?

RK: "I live upstairs. My kitchen here is my pantry."

M: What do you do when youíre not working?

RK: "I play with the pups, who are named Nonna and Marley, and I love going out to eat. I love Sebastianís (in Caledonia) ó they do not get enough credit. I like c. 1880, Sanford, Odd Duck, Goodkind, and I like Movida (where Industri used to be located). I like Boone & Crockett and Bryantís, too. In Mukwonago, I like Fork in the Road."



This story ran in the March 2016 issue of: