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Creative Catering
Local pros weigh in on the top industry trends for 2017, plus where to go for ultra-specialized options


February 2017

Photo courtesy of Marcus Hotels & Resorts

The Perfect  Pair

One of the biggest trends in catering, says Sydney Waisanen, market director of catering sales at Marcus Hotels & Resorts, is “the perfect pair,” which combines a food item and complementary beverage. During cocktail hour, she recommends replacing the traditional beef crostini passed appetizer with a cheese and beer pairing, mini tequila bottles paired with tuna tartare tacos, or grilled cheese sandwiches and bloody mary shooters.

“The main meal is a little more on the traditional side, (but couples) can bring in the flair in the cocktail hour and late night snack,” Waisanen says. “Your guests will have a great meal, but there are fun components throughout the night that aren’t expected and pop up in different ways.”

Photo courtesy of Shully's Cuisine & Events

Local Love

“People still want to offer choices, whether it’s a buffet or a sit-down menu,” says Nina Darling, an event coordinator with Shully’s Cuisine & Events in Thiensville. “They’re still keeping (the menu) traditional in that respect. What we are seeing a lot more of is that the food is creative (and) has a local or organic influence, if possible.”

“It’s about bringing your community into your menu,” echoes Waisanen. “With us being in Wisconsin, cheese is very popular, (and) beer is very popular.”

“It’s (also) a special treat for out-of-town guests,” notes Darling. “A welcome to Milwaukee — the land of cheese and beer.” She says Wisconsin-themed hors d’oeuvres like mini fish fries, fried cheese curds and mini brats on pretzel buns are popular choices.

Caterers aren’t limiting their local love to cheese and beer, though. Shully’s chefs frequent the nearby Thiensville Farmers Market during the summer months to stock up on produce, Darling says, and preferred local farmers include Charlie Thao, who supplies Shully’s with beets and potatoes, and Witte’s Vegetable Farm in Cedarburg.

Embracing Casualness

The advent of rustic, barn-style weddings has affected how food is presented and served, and Shully’s general manager, Jacob Shully, says more informal, laid-back dining options like pig roasts and barbecue are on the rise. He even visited Austin last year to study Texas-style barbecue, and this summer Shully’s will debut its latest kitchen addition: a meat smoker on wheels. “I’ve booked two weddings next summer using the smoker,” adds Darling. “The star of the show is certainly our brisket. ... (Some couples) don’t want a stuffy, sit-down dinner, and there’s an emphasis on casualness.” Shully says he envisions the brisket being served alongside traditional barbecue sides like mac ’n’ cheese, grits and smoked sausage.

Personalization Is Key

A favorite food or an overall theme can be incorporated throughout each stage of the meal too, says Waisanen. “Take bacon, for instance — (having) bacon-wrapped shrimp for an appetizer, pancetta in the entree, and (then) bacon-topped doughnuts for late night snacks,” she says. “(It’s about) taking a theme and making it elegant and beautiful based on what the couple wants.”

Shully and his wife lived in New York City for five years before relocating back to Milwaukee, so they chose to weave their time in the Big Apple into their special day. “Our menu was based around our favorite dishes and moments in New York, (and) told a story about us as a couple,” he says. A favorite NYC dish, he adds, was the lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster, so mini lobster rolls were passed during the cocktail hour.

“If it means something to someone, we will make it happen so they’re happy,” says Darling.

While many venues have in-house catering or a list of preferred vendors, some offer complete flexibility for their clients and a chance to choose a more offbeat, specialized caterer. Here are five unique options.

BelAir Cantina
The beloved taco and tequila joint, now with four Milwaukee area locations, caters weddings, parties and the like, with two build-your-own bar options — either nacho or taco.

Ono Kine Grindz 
The Hawaiian-themed, Wauwatosa-based eatery offers catering options for groups of up to 200 people. Think savory, meat-heavy dishes like baby-back pork ribs and shaved prime rib paired with Asian-influenced sides, including kimchee cabbage and purple sticky rice.

Ball ’n Biscuit 
A healthy — and tasty — alternative to the usual steak and salmon fare, Ball ’n Biscuit’s vegan menu option boasts inventive dishes like tempeh bacon-wrapped water chestnuts and vegan brat and Italian sausages.

Tall Guy and a Grill
Hosting an outdoor wedding or event? Play up the laid-back, casual vibe and select items from Tall Guy and a Grill’s Picnic or Tailgate catering menus.

As one of Milwaukee’s longest-standing Indian restaurants, Maharaja is authentic and affordable. Treat your guests to traditional delicacies like lamb kebabs and potato-stuffed samosas.


This story ran in the February 2017 issue of: