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.
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
M: How did you
get started as a chef?
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
M: What are some
of the specials and new things youíre doing here?
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?
"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?
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?
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."