Suppose We Don’t Crawl
Taking note of the endless winter, the March Dishcrawl was inside at one location (with three vendors), but still delicious.
After last month’s subzero, frostbite-inducing February tour of Third Ward restaurants, Milwaukee Dishcrawl Ambassador Justin Lockridge decided the March event would have no “crawling” — no walking outside. Instead, the March 20th edition of the Dishcrawl took us to one location, The Kasana Collective, at 241 N Broadway (again in the Third Ward), where we served six unique (and tasty!) courses served up by the Milwaukee Pretzel Company, the Urban Caveman food truck, and Kasana Café & Bistro.
The Kasana Collective is the only culinary incubator in the state of Wisconsin, offering shared commercial kitchen space for budding food entrepreneurs looking to experiment with their menus. The Milwaukee Pretzel Company and Urban Caveman are two current incubator tenants. The leaders of the three featured establishments were on hand to provide their own story and the background on their culinary creations. After a warm and friendly welcome in the Kasana Café dining room, we were taken to its kitchen for our first two vendors.
First up was an appetizer courtesy of the Milwaukee Pretzel Company. Founded by Matt and Katie Wessel, the two decided to bring Bavarian-style soft pretzels to Milwaukee after spending a year in Munich. Unlike your pedestrian concession stand pretzel, Bavarian pretzels are served at room temperature and with mustard instead of cheese, although Matt had an Obatzter (Bavarian cheese dip) in addition to a sweet and spicy mustard on hand to comfort those with more American food sensibilities. Comparing this pretzel to an American soft pretzel is like comparing a loaf of freshly baked bread to Wonder Bread: Not as sweet, entirely more wholesome, and infinitely more satisfying. Having lived in Germany for a period of time, I can safely say I’ve never had a more authentic German pretzel. Also on hand was a pretzel roll with an imported-from-Germany Nuremberg sausage. This wurst, similar to a breakfast sausage in taste, paired perfectly with the pretzel and made me nostalgic for beer gardens, polka and lederhosen.
Next came the Urban Caveman Food Truck, the only truck in Milwaukee that serves an entirely paleo diet-friendly menu. For the uninitiated, the paleo diet is a throwback to our ancient ancestors of about 15,000 years ago. It excludes many staples of the modern diet such as grains, dairy products and refined sugars and salts for a diet based solely on what ancient humans consumed: Meat, vegetables, fruits and other ingredients found in nature. Urban Caveman offers their high-quality dishes out of their 1977 GMC truck purchased from the Delafield Fire Department and lovingly called “Truck-a-Saurus.”
Founder and chef Alan Harris brought three dishes: a Texas-style pulled pork sweet potato, a cucumber and chicken salad, and a dark chocolate coconut bark. True to paleo style, the dishes were simple in their composition but complex in their tastes. The pulled pork was delicious, my pick for favorite non-dessert of the night, with tender meat and great texture. When asked what made it Texas-style, Alan joked that “I’m from Texas, I made it, and therefore it’s Texas style!” The chicken salad, a slice of cucumber topped with chicken, pecan, and a bit of grape, was good but did not stand out like the other dishes of the night. Perhaps it’s a testament to the other food served, or maye there wasn’t enough there to pass judgment on. Out of the non-dessert items, it by far was the smallest portion. The coconut bark was, alas, not my type of dessert. The presentation was flawless, but I’ve never been a fan of coconut, and this one didn’t change my mind. Nevertheless, all of Urban Caveman’s dishes oozed quality, a testament to the local sourcing of most of their ingredients.
To close out the night, our gracious host for the evening, Ana Docta, the Argentinian-born proprietor of Kasana, returned us to the dining room where the friendly staff brought us a mini-portioned three course meal. Docta studied dance in Brazil (which she briefly demonstrated, much to the crowd’s pleasure) and worked in hospitality throughout South America and Europe before coming to Milwaukee to start Kasana Collective, which includes the aforementioned incubator as well as the Kasana catering service and café. All major ingredients used in Kasana dishes are organic.
We began with handmade empanadas, one meat and one spinach and mushroom. The beef turnover was an excellent blend of flaky crust and a juicy, well-balanced filling while the spinach empanada was a bit overpowered by its main ingredient. Next up was a chicken and rice fricassee, topped with mushrooms and a delectable sauce. The tender meat and its complimentary base was correctly portioned to cap off the night of sampling and leave Dishcrawlers with full stomachs. As an encore, and my favorite single dish of the night, the Brazilian Mouse de Marocujo made its entrance. This passion fruit-based dessert was everything you could ask for, creamy, fruity, with just the right amount of sweetness, and topped with a blueberry.
March’s Milwaukee Dishcrawl was a great way to try new restaurants and foods. At $45 a ticket, the price may seem steep, but there’s no way that you’d be able to sample all of the dishes presented more cheaply. Buying a ticket can be a leap of faith, though, as the restaurants are announced two days prior to the crawl. That is my one reservation: I would like to know the venues further in advance to be assured I will not be sampling food or restaurants with which I’m already quite familiar. But it’s a great way to try new food, learn its story, and meet new people.