Archive for the category ““American” dining”

Superior Service & Delicious Dining at Urban Farmer, Cleveland, OH

Over Labor Day weekend, I visited my family in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. As is our routine, my brother chose a few restaurants for me to pick from. Our family always enjoys a meal out when I visit. Lately, we’ve been trying to head into the city to try some new places (new to our family, anyhow).

This time, one of the restaurants on Adam’s list was Urban Farmer Steakhouse in downtown Cleveland. It only took me seeing that this is a farm-to-table concept restaurant to decide it was the one I was voting to check out. (You probably know of my love for farm-to-table, and specifically Braise here in Milwaukee.)

Urban Farmer

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We entered the rustic, yet elegant restaurant, adjacent to the Westin Hotel, and sat down in a cozy rounded booth. We were greeted by our server, Ashley. Now, I’m just going to say this right now: Ashley is quite possibly the most knowledgeable and impressive servers I have ever encountered. Absolutely top-notch. More on that later.

Ashley walked us through the concept described above – two kitchens (one for cooking, and one with a butchery and bakery), a below-level garden which supplies most of the herbs and vegetables for the restaurant, the relationships with local farms, etc. Then, she walked us through the different cuts of meat, the differences in how the cattle were raised and the impact of their diets on the flavors of the steaks, and the differences in how they are aged to affect tenderness and flavor. Ashley didn’t require any cheat sheets, and she made everyone feel comfortable (and impressed!). On top of her knowledge, she wasn’t the least bit stuffy or dry; she let her sense of humor come through as she inserted jokes and color commentary during her descriptions (“don’t mess with my meat” – she doesn’t believe in sauces or toppings).

When I gave her my card and advised her that she would be choosing my meal, she asked “seriously?”. Yes. “Okay, I know what I’m serving you!” – without hesitation. These are the types of meals I get really excited about because I know the server is going to choose really well.

We opted to get a few side dishes, which Ashley recommended sharing between two or three people. Ashley chose mine as well.

As it turns, out my entire dinner was shared. By far the best entree at our table; the vote was unanimous. That being said, everyone was very pleased with his/her meals.

So, what did Ashley choose, you ask? Wait no longer…

We started off with fresh baked bread (rolls and ah-mazing cast-iron cooked cornbread) and salted butter (which makes all the difference, in my opinion!). Ashley chose the special salad for me: yellow watermelon over Burrata and topped with olives, tomatoes, balsamic and served with two slices of prosciutto. It was light and flavorful – a nice change up to one of my other favorite watermelon salads (watermelon with goat cheese, balsamic and greens and herbs). We were off to a great start!

Next came the entree and side dish.

Wanting to share her favorite with me, Ashley chose the 14 ounce (FOURTEEN OUNCE!!) twenty-one day dry aged bone-in strip steak. It was perfection! Luckily, everyone at the table wanted to try this cut, so I didn’t feel completely overwhelmed or as though I’d have to try to finish it on my own. The plate was clean by the end of the meal though! The steak was really tender and had terrific flavor. It’s a spoiler for any other cut moving forward.

Ashley chose to bring foraged mushrooms as the side. A very nice compliment to the steak, and enough to feed at least four people! At the table we also ordered: potato puree (though my brother wouldn’t share!), asparagus (with cured farm egg yolk and chili), and twice-baked fingerling potato tart with bacon and aged cheddar. Everything was delicious!

Pro tip: you won’t go home hungry from Urban Farmer Steakhouse. Bring an appetite! 

Ashley asked if she should choose a dessert for me. Where to put it?!? Ultimately, since there was a gluten-free option for my brother and my uncle, my parents and I decided to share whatever Ashley decided to bring so we would all enjoy a bit of decadence.

My brother and uncle tried the lemon olive oil cake with kale ice cream (it’s much better than it sounds!), and pepper crisps.

If I were choosing my own, I’d have either gone for the lemon cake or the strawberry rhubarb cobbler with pistachio, buttermilk frozen yogurt and basil, because I generally like citrus or fruit desserts more than chocolate (but, not always!).

However, I was in the most capable hands, and I knew it! Ashley chose the butterscotch sundae with a warm brown butter blondie and toffee chip ice cream. AKA: heaven in a jar!

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Butterscotch sundae with warm brown butter blondie and toffee ice cream

My parents and I kept passing this jar around, taking one delicious bite at a time. The brownie and ice cream were melting into each other, combining incredible flavors together.

While we all walked out of Urban Farmer Steakhouse absolutely full, we walked out feeling like we had just had one of the best meals in a long time. And, we all agreed that Ashley set the bar for outstanding service! In fact, my uncle made it a point to seek her out so he could inform her that she was so impressive that she truly did elevate our experience that evening.

I definitely recommend a visit to Urban Farmer Steakhouse if you’re in Cleveland. I’d love to go back and take a tour of the kitchens and garden  (if the management allows it). Of course, I’d have to stay for dinner again! 🙂

What is your most memorable dining experience? Where were you? I’d love to hear from you!

Cheers!

Ker

Braise! A fabulous in-home dining experience to support Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA)

Though this post strays a bit from my normal theme, I wanted to share this special experience with everyone that reads this blog!

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I am generally tied into community events and that I was raised to be charitable with my time and money.

Several months ago, in an effort to help support and promote restaurant supported agriculture (RSA), I purchased an in-home dining experience for eight people. This dinner would be prepared by the owner and chef of Braise, Dave Swanson, and would include four courses plus wine pairings.

I was beyond excited to invite some friends over to enjoy some great food – that I wasn’t going to have to cook!

Fast forward a few weeks and know that Becky (general events manager at Braise) was absolutely wonderful to work with during the planning process. And, when the date finally came to have everyone over, Dave and a bonus chef, Jarid were extraordinary!

I was able to scramble and get my table ready for company – except that this girl who LOVES fresh flowers and purchases them almost weekly, forgot to buy flowers for the table! EEK!

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Enter Dave and Jarid:

  1. They were prompt, polite, and fully prepared with coolers, tubs, and lots of gear!
  2. They were as gracious as can be and seemed to feel right at home in my (small) kitchen.
  3. They left me feeling totally confident that the evening would be spectacular – even if I don’t have restaurant quality dishes and glassware. (But, I really like my dishes!)
  4. Even I didn’t know what my guests and I would be dining on, but Chef informed me that he decided to throw in an extra dish and we would enjoy five courses plus wine pairings. Chef Jarid was kind enough to offer to email the menu in full detail since I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it justice (keep reading; you’ll see why!).
  5. They served us, explaining each dish in detail. Sometimes, it took a bit of patience as our dinner party was very conversational – yet, never a sign of frustration from Dave or Jarid.
  6. The kicker: THEY CLEANED EVERYTHING UP!!!! I told my friends that I wanted to keep them for my own – men who cook AND clean!?! (Guys, I’m kidding…I know y’all do exist)

Now, about that food.

We started off being passed crustini appetizers (which I failed to photograph as I was greeting the final two guests to arrive).

One of the things I love about my friends is that they prefer NOT to sit next to their spouses so they can get to know others in the group, so that’s what naturally happened.

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Once seated we were served homemade wheat bread, Parmigiano sticks, and Parmigiano-cayenne sticks, with Wisconsin butter.

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Then came the Roasted Sweet Corn & Summer Squash soup with olive oil cured pepper garnish and sambal oil. (Yeah, I had to Google a few things) This lovely soup was served with Prosecco to start the evening off.

We were then served a “beets” dish. I have recently found myself loving beets – and it feels like the rest of the world was either ahead of me on this trend, or is on board the way I feel now. Our dish was a mix of yellow and red oven roasted beets served with white wine poached fennel, toasted walnuts, lemon chèvre, herb fennel vierge, and currant salt. Say that five times fast!

The beets were paired with a Cuvee white wine. It was an amazing salad dish!

Next, came the grilled Chanterelle mushrooms, Parmigiano custard (AKA: “I would put this on everything” – Christy), picked ramps, ramp jam, and ramp salt.These delights were paired with a Chardonnay.

I have to say that with each subsequent dish, my dinner guests kept updating their favorites parts of the meal!

Our fourth course was the “main dish”, I suppose. However, in my mind, each of these could stand alone as a dish I would fully enjoy!

We were served roasted airline chicken breast, seared summer squash, candied pepitas, herb creme fraiche, and preserved lemon chutney served with an Italian red wine.

I must call Christy out again, because it was so fun to see her excitement at “finally having creme fraiche; they always talk about it on Top Chef!”. I believe she then claimed to feel “very fancy”. 🙂

Up until this point, we all were fully satisfied and had enjoyed each course immensely.

When we were served dessert, we were surprised with a crazy, refreshing, and delicious dessert of Muskmelon mousse with compressed melon and served in a cucumber fennel broth with milk crumble (and, although I’ve never done drugs, I have to think this is the culinary equivalent of crack!). When paired with a sweet dessert wine, it was essentially perfection in a bowl!

I’d better NEVER learn how to make milk crumble, or I’m in serious trouble!

Because I had asked for permission, and Chef Jarid did joke about needing a photo waiver, but didn’t actually present one, I’m including a few pictures of these fabulous chefs in action.

An endeavor like this is not an inexpensive one, but if you’re anything like me, it’s totally worth every penny (plus tip). Two of my guests texted me that this was a once in a lifetime experience that they thoroughly enjoyed. I have to agree!

If I had an endless amount of discretionary income, I would do this once a month (or more frequently!).

I’m happy to report that five of the guests who had not been to Braise previously do plan to have dinner there soon! Also, by word of mouth (because I can be a big mouth), another several people in my network plan to swing by for a meal.

Finally, during our dinner, our group of eight talked about taking cooking classes at Braise’s Culinary School as another fun outing. I have since learned that both Chefs Dave and Jarid are focused on this aspect of the business more so than the restaurant (which allowed other talented chefs to run the restaurant while they were graciously hosting my friends and me to a fantastic dinner!). Definitely something to explore further!

Have you ever had an in-home experience with professional chefs preparing meals? If so, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Cheers!

Ker

Joe’s Texas BBQ – A Little Slice of Hog Heaven!

Last week, a colleague and I drove up to Green Bay, WI for a business trip. I think that trip takes the cake for the furthest I’ve gone in Wisconsin since I moved to Milwaukee almost three years ago! Admittedly, I’m woefully bad at getting in the car and just driving to see all this state has to offer. It’s just so easy to stay downtown (walking distance) when you live in the heart of such a great city! However, I’m really glad we made the trip – not just for business, but also for the delicious lunch we had!

Now, it certainly would have been more fun if the trip were to see the Green Bay Packers play, but I did get to see Lambeau Field (that’s where the expo was being held).

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Once we finished the expo, rather than eat less-than-exciting catered food after the event, we decided to use Yelp! to find a local joint for lunch before making the two hour drive home. After a bit of back & forth, we settled on Joe’s Texas BBQ.

Please let it be known that having been educated in the south, I can be a bit particular about my barbecue. Okay, I can be a snob!

The minute we drove up to the small shack and walked in the door, we knew we were likely in for a real treat! The smell was heavenly! Like, stop in your tracks and just take in the aroma of barbecued meet and sauce!

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This is a no-frills place. A whiteboard menu hangs on a wall across from the door and items are erased when out of stock for the day .

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A pleasant woman stands behind the counter waiting to take your order and then checks with the chef to ensure your items are still available. Tables with mismatched chairs adorn the dining room, and a table full of silverware, napkins and various sauces sits in the corner.

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After perusing the menu and considering brisket versus pork, I decided I couldn’t pass up the pulled pork plate and the jalapeno cornbread!

Instantly, the lovely woman walked to the whiteboard and erased “pulled pork” – I had ordered the last of it! Thank goodness nobody had snuck in line in front of me!

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My road trip partner, Tyler, ordered the brisket and our other colleague, Mark (who met us in GB) tried the rib tips. Both thoroughly enjoyed their meals, although according to my colleague Mark, the tips were a bit of work to avoid the bone! He said that the flavor was worth it though!

From my perspective, the meat was so tender and tasty! I tried both the mild and spicy sauces, and neither disappointed. Although the jalapeno cornbread was dense, it was also full of flavor and delicious! I cleaned that huge plate of food! No problem.

It’s no wonder Joe’s Texas BBQ makes this claim:

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And they have several awards to back up that claim!

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If I ever find myself back in Green Bay, Joe’s Texas BBQ is a stop I’d gladly make. I know for certain I will leave with a full belly!

Lunch & Brunch, Milwaukee Style…

I have been SO BAD about finding time to write, so I’m grateful for a day off, college football on the tube (thankfully, my Clemson Tigers pulled off a huge win yesterday so the rest of the bowl games are just gravy), and a comfy spot to sit with my laptop.

I have some photos from a meal in Vegas, but I think my disdain for that city has prevented me from posting about the excellent Beef Wellington I had at Mon Ami Gabi. I have more upcoming travel (San Antonio, I’m looking at you!), so I look forward to hitting my “She Ordered What?” stride again in 2016.

In the meantime, I have recently tried a few restaurants right here in Milwaukee. They’ve been on my list of places to try, but it took me 2 1/2+ years to check them off the list!

First up was Engine Company 3 in Walker’s Point. My brother was in town for Doors Open Milwaukee and I convinced him to venture out to a new, and very cool joint. The Polenta Con Gamberi e Uovo is not on the current menu, but dear gosh…it was GOOD! Excellent, really! It gave me a sense of good southern shrimp and grits from back in the college days in South Carolina. 😉

I’ve recommended this spot to others, always with satisfied feedback!

Next up is Story Hill BKC in Milwaukee.  Our server – if I recall correctly, Beth – was energetic, funny, and on top of her game. She was lovely, and was totally amped when I handed her my card. She showed no hesitation, though my friend did. It was her rookie outing with me during a “She Ordered What?” meal! I have been known to make dining dates uncomfortable by surrendering the decision to our server. It’s not on purpose, I promise!

I was served a flavorful dish which is a standard on the menu – the Shakshouka. The dish consists of two Local Eggs Baked in Cumin-Spiced Tomato Sauce, Smoked Lentils, Cilantro, Goat Cheese, Sumac Mayonnaise, with Flatbread on the side and our server added avocado because that’s how she likes the dish to be enjoyed.

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I admit that I don’t think I ever would have ordered this dish on my own accord, but that’s the beauty of trusting servers to introduce me to new dishes. The Shakshouka was deliciously full of flavor. It was also a healthy portion, but not overwhelming large. When my friend took a bite, she agreed that Beth had chosen a winner for me!

And, let me say that I love having servers who get so excited about reading the card and choosing a meal for me. Beth wasn’t the only one… Next up: Blue’s Egg (a sister restaurant of Story Hill BKC).

Upon arrival, my friend and I decided to take the opportunity to snag two open stools at the counter rather than wait for a table. We both agree that counter service is usually quite good, and there’s just something fun about being close to the action.  Cory was our server that morning.

When I handed him my card, he admitted that he had been wondering what I had sitting on my menu and then gave it a read, gave me a wink, and said he was “on it”.  Frankly, there were so many interesting dishes on the menu, so I knew there was no way I could choose. I also had heard nothing but praise for Blue’s Egg, so I was confident I would be in for a treat. And, I was! I was served the Blue’s Classic Benedict with a helping of stuffed hash browns.

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A huge serving of poached eggs, pulled ham, english muffin, hollandaise and goat cheese stuffed hash-browns. Hello decadence!

I’m not normally a huge fan of ham, but this shredded ham was off the charts good! Admittedly, I had to have half of the meal boxed up – only because it was such a large portion, not because I didn’t enjoy every bite. In fact, at one point, our server overheard me mention that “holy hell this is GOOD”. That definitely put a smile on his face!

This time, my friend was familiar with my routine and knew to wait to eat until I got a picture of his crab cake and poached eggs as well as his Bloody Mary.

 

In addition to the places I’ve detailed here, I’ve also enjoyed breakfast pizza at Wolf Peach (for three meals!), had many great breakfast dishes at Hotel Metro, and yet I feel like there are a million treasures I still need to visit in Milwaukee. We’re so fortunate to have a great culinary scene here!

What is your favorite brunch spot? Brunch dish?

Cheers!

Ker

Sneak Peek: Merriment Social – The Newest Addition to Milwaukee’s Fifth Ward

Brief disclaimer: I do know the difference between “peak” and “peek”.  I’ve been a bit foggy-brained this past week since laying my baby boy Riley (my 14+ year-old Golden) to rest last week.  Massive editorial error in the initial draft – sorry for that, folks!

I was invited by friends at Next Act Theatre to attend a pre-opening dinner at the new Merriment Social restaurant in the Fifth Ward (between the Historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point).  Most recently, the space used to be Prodigal Gastropub.

The space has been renovated to provide a cool and energetic vibe.  Where there used to be a wall separating the main restaurant from “The Bourbon Room”, the entire restaurant has opened up, creating a light and inviting space.  The open floor plan provides great views, but also generates quite a buzz (it’s not a quiet spot)!  Here are a few shots of the interior.

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The opened up space.

The opened up space.

Bright, colorful art hangs all around the restaurant.

Bright, colorful art hangs all around the restaurant.

The restaurant was introduced to me as an “American Dim Sum” experience.  What???  Well, sure enough, servers were circling the tables offering dim sum plates (which we devoured before I took pictures!).  Spicy cheese curds, scallops, roasted corn… I didn’t try the scallops, because, well, you know…but everything else was quite tasty and my friends enjoyed the scallops as well.

Marko was our server, and he was friendly, explained everything quickly and easily, and informed us that both the bone marrow (one of my favorite things!) and the short ribs (another fave) were no longer available (sold out).  It was a bummer, but that’s part of the reason for a soft-opening, right?  Working out the kinks before the massive crowds come piling in.

Here is the dinner menu (I noticed I accidentally cut of the braised beef short rib with herb spaetzle, horseradish gastrique and caraway pickles and the red rainbow trout with dill potato “salad”, pickled mustard seed and charred shallot vinaigrette under the “large plates”):

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I did hand Marko my blog card, and he was totally game.  In the meantime, my friend is wired like I am…the more cheese, the better.  So, she ordered the cheese curds – which were served in a cheese sauce!  Wow!  That was a bit rich, even for me.  But, also one very good bite!

Cheese on top of cheese!

Cheese on top of cheese!

When our main dishes were served, the first one up was fried chicken and pork belly pancakes.  When my table mates couldn’t claim the dish, we figured out that Marko had chosen the dish for me.  He read the card and served traditional butter instead of maple butter – THANK YOU, MARKO!!!

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He also mentioned that he had almost gone with the trout, but wasn’t sure if I just didn’t like scallops, or didn’t like seafood in general (it’s the former – an allergy).  This fried chicken had a great crust over a really moist piece of chicken.  Good flavor as well.  And, the pork belly pancakes with the hot sauce over them made for a great pairing.  I loved this dish!  I’m happy to say that I have half of the serving at home to enjoy tomorrow.  🙂

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Becky and I decided we would try dessert as well.  There was a genoise cake with orange blossom pastry cream and seasonal berries on the menu. Y’all know I don’t turn down citrus desserts!

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And, Becky the farmer’s cheese tart with roasted fruit and whipped cream.

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The desserts were the two lackluster items of the evening.  They were good, but I felt that the cake was a bit dry in my dessert, and Becky felt that the cheese made her tart a bit too salty.

In all, we all agreed that we will be back to Merriment Social, especially since it’s so close to Next Act Theatre as well!  I can see myself stopping in after board meetings and performances on a regular basis.  It’s also nice to invite another restaurant to the neighborhood that supports local farmers, artisans and producers.

One last note, the prices are reasonably priced and in line with many of the restaurants with which I would categorize Merriment Social.  Last night, however, the meal was “on the house” and we only paid for our drinks – and a proper tip to Marko for his excellent and attentive service throughout the night.

Merriment Social officially opens Friday August 7, 2015. You  can call 414.645.0240 for reservations.  I hope y’all will give it a try and leave a comment with your thoughts!

Cheers!

Ker

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