Vanguard Offers Gourmet Sausages
The new Bay View restaurant creates delicious sausages made with lamb, duck and camel. Yes, camel.
Just when you think Milwaukee has scored every possible variation on niche restaurants, along comes Vanguard. This former bar on Kinnickinnic is all about sausage. Chef Shay Linkus, a master wurstmaker, transforms ordinary sausage into something only found at Vanguard.
On my first visit in mid-November, they are just starting to put up the signage. Maybe that’s why we can’t spot the restaurant from the car but not to worry, now the name is front and center, displayed in large letters above the restaurant on the west side of KK.
As for the name Vanguard, my first reaction is “Huh?” The Vanguard I know is a mutual funds company. Why saddle a restaurant with a name that sounds like it belongs on Wall Street? As Co-owner Chris Schulist explains, “In the beginning we wanted to name it after my grandmother Varcally, but no one could pronounce it.”
“Or remember it,” I add.
“Jim and I, (that’s co-owner Jim McCann,) have always liked the John Coltrane song, ‘Live at the Vanguard’ and we like the look of a V, so we named it Vanguard and use that V as our logo.”
Schulist says they did a total makeover and pretty much gutted everything in the run-down bar to get what they wanted, a clean open space with lots of bar seating. When Milwaukee warms up, the restaurant will be ready to go with an enclosed patio out back, big enough for several dozen patrons to sit at picnic tables and bistro-style tables along one side.
I come for lunch on a week day and run into a friend who has just finished her Bellomo, pork sausage made with fennel and sarvecchio (a parmesan-like cheese) served with sautéed peppers and caramelized onions. She says, “Most of the time we don’t want to know how sausage is made. You know, with those tough casings. Not to worry here.” She raves about her Bellomo, says it’s flavorful and tender.
For my lunch I choose the daily special, the Camel Clutch, camel meat plus beet served with crisp chick peas, fried shallots, feta, beet aioli, and vinegar slaw. Someone at an adjacent table recommended the camel. She used to work at the zoo and in her opinion, “Those camels deserve to be eaten. They’re nasty animals.”
I ask Schulist where they get the camel meat. “We call a distributor in Australia and someone delivers twenty pounds of camel. No problem.”
I expect my camel sausage to taste a bit gamey, but it’s not. The combination of beet aioli and vinegar slaw adds additional flavor without overwhelming the surprisingly delicate camel meat.
My friend orders from the “Classic” side of the menu and tries the Toulouse, pork sausage seasoned with black pepper, garlic, nutmeg, and apple. She adds sport peppers from the complimentary accessories just in case the sausage is boring. She didn’t need the extras. The meat tastes of pepper, but not too much and the mellow casings require only a fork.
A second visit brings a sampling of the Jamaican Lamb Currywurst, lamb and pork sausage served on a bed of fries with caramelized onion and scotch bonnet jam. It’s the only sausage on the “Styled” side of the menu not served in a bun. We taste curry in the meat and the jam has a slight bite from the scotch bonnet, a hot pepper often compared to habanera.
I try the special again, this time the P. F. Dang. Chef Linkus had told me it’s their take on the classic Wisconsin Corn Dog. He wraps chicken sausage in an egg roll wrapper like a spring roll, deep fries it and serves it on a stick. It comes with bits of pork belly, risotto, a poached egg, and burnt ginger sauce. It rings all the bells, sweet, hot, salty, crunchy, the umami of the sausage world.
We didn’t sample the poutine with onion gravy and maple syrup braised duck, nor the roasted garlic poutine with mornay sauce. There’ll be another time for that along with the potato balls, deep fried with bacon, sour cream and house-made cheez whiz.
Schulist tells me he and McCann originally wanted to open a glorified hot dog stand. I think, “Sure. How much can you do with fat meat stuffed in a casing?”
Now I know. He says, “We wanted to do something and do it right. We wanted to be known for fast, easy, relatable food.” They nailed it. I’ll be back for another P.F. Dang with one addition. Instead of scratching the last drip of burnt ginger sauce from the cardboard serving box, I’ll drop another fifty cents and double the sauce.
2659 S. Kinnickinnic
open every day 11:00 am to 2:00 am