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Pilot Project Named Best Beer Bar in U.S.

Plus: Harley-Davidson has new executive chef, Xankia reopens and The Noble closes.

By - Aug 13th, 2023 12:52 pm
Pilot Project Brewing beer flight, 1128 N. 9th St. Photo courtesy of Pilot Project Brewing.

Pilot Project Brewing beer flight, 1128 N. 9th St. Photo courtesy of Pilot Project Brewing.

Pilot Project, a brewery incubator with locations in Milwaukee and Chicago, was recently awarded Best Beer Bar in a nationwide vote.

The brewery, which operates a local taproom at 1128 N. 9th St., topped a list of 10 establishments selected by USA Today readers.

Since its November 2022 arrival to Milwaukee, Pilot Project has set itself apart amid a sea of craft breweries with a diverse lineup of brews created by small startups.

It also serves a polished — yet approachable — food menu with offerings such as polenta-battered cheese curds, seasonal risotto and loaded flatbreads.

A current tap list features more than two dozen picks from breweries including ROVM, Brewer’s Kitchen, Azadi Brewing Company, Flora Brewing and Funkytown Brewery.

Harley-Davidson Announces New Executive Chef

Doug Stringer will join Harley-Davidson Museum as the executive chef for Motor Bar and Restaurant and 1903 Events, the company announced in a Wednesday news release.

A seasoned industry veteran, Stringer brings more than two decades of experience to the role, having previously worked as a restaurant owner, culinary instructor and chef for several fine dining establishments including Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro.

Most recently, he managed culinary operations for three outlets at Kenosha’s The Club at Strawberry Creek.

“We’re so thrilled to have Doug join us as the leader of culinary operations here at Motor and 1903 Events,” said Nick Dillon, director of food and beverage operations at the museum. “His dedication and creativity will certainly bring a fresh perspective and we’re looking forward to having him on board.”

In his new position, Stringer will oversee menu development and operations for both the restaurant and private event space at the museum, 400 W. Canal St. The motorcycle company operates the venues and restaurant in a partnership with Levy Restaurants.

Stringer shared his excitement for the role, and noted that he hopes to elevate Motor and 1903 Events “to the forefront” of the Milwaukee dining scene.

“I’m excited to work in this incredible space and beautiful campus and to be part of such an amazing and iconic brand,” he said.

Motor is open Sunday through Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Knights Gourmet Popcorn Adding Cafe Space

Since taking ownership of Knights Gourmet Popcorn last winter, Brittany and Ben Essig have been hard at work integrating their micro-roastery with the existing business.

Just shy of nine months into the new venture, the married couple feel they’ve hit their stride, and are gearing up for yet another expansion, with plans to open a cafe in the space.

The project would convert 1,000 square feet of retail space at the front of the building, 4435 W. Forest Home Ave., into a coffee bar and seating area for up to 20 guests.

The business would sell sandwiches, smoothies, kombucha and small bags of popcorn, as well as coffee and espresso drinks made with beans from the couple’s own brand, Rescued Roasters.

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Firefighters, Teens Growing Greens In Shuttered Fire Station

Although they’re usually found riding around in bright red trucks, members of the Milwaukee Fire Department (MFD) will soon be recognized for their green thumbs.

MFD, in partnership with Community Agricultural Growing Experiences (CAGE) and Fork Farms, hosted a press conference Friday morning to introduce Gardens for First Responders. The pilot program uses compact, hydroponic gardens, dubbed Flex Farms, to grow fresh greens for community distribution.

“When you make fresh food accessible, you put yourself in a position to address issues of food and nutrition insecurity and help people eat better,” said Michael Hostad, executive vice president of social innovation at Fork Farms.

The Green Bay-based company manufactures Flex Farms, which are roughly the size of a refrigerator and provide upwards of 25 pounds of fresh greens per month.

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The Noble Quietly Closes

After a 12-year run in the Walker’s Point neighborhood, The Noble has closed its doors. The quirky restaurant, 704 S. 2nd St., had its final service on Aug. 7 — according to sources familiar with the business — but the circumstances surrounding the decision remain unclear.

That’s on-brand for The Noble; the eatery has never shied away from a good guessing game. Each day, customers try their luck against the no-reservation policy, arriving with empty stomachs and plenty of patience — if necessary —  to wait out a coveted spot in the dining room.

And it’s well worth it for the food, an eclectic, ever-changing lineup of dishes announced daily via social media. On any given day, patrons could expect to devour a plate of truffle cream branzino, bacon chevre pork chops or a walnut mole stuffed pepper.

Brunch was also a staple at The Noble, which served both sweet and savory offerings such as maple blueberry french toast, cherry berry pancakes and omelets stuffed with seasonal vegetables, herbs, meat and cheese.

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Downtown Coffee Shop Adding Late-Night Cocktail Bar

What do you call a cocktail bar that caters to both alcohol consumers and strictly sober folks, as well as those who fall somewhere in between? Ryan Castelaz tried on a number of different titles before stumbling into a clear winner — Equal Parts.

The name arose serendipitously during a business meeting, said Castelaz, when his partner, Sean Liu, described the hybrid concept as “equal parts cocktail bar and non-alcoholic cocktail bar.”

“As soon as he said that, it was like a lightbulb in my head,” Castelaz said. “That’s really what it is.”

The partners, who also operate Discourse, are in the midst of launching the new concept — first as a pop-up, and eventually as a moonlight addition to the downtown cafe.

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Taco Bandito Bringing Mexican Eats to Walker’s Point

After a brief hiatus, a lifelong Milwaukee chef and entrepreneur is returning to the food scene. This time, as the owner of a food truck.

Roman Torrez will open Taco Bandito next week in Walker’s Point, marking the return of a taco concept that previously operated out of a nearby gas station.

But before hitting the streets, Torrez has been around the block. The lifelong entrepreneur took his first dip into the hospitality industry as a pre-teen, serving jugs of kool-aid to residents of the Bay View neighborhood. In his adult years, he operated three Milwaukee nightclubs and, later on, a full-service restaurant called Mr. WEBO’s. Most recently, he opened Taco Bandito as a brick-and-mortar business at Walker’s Point Plaza, in a space now occupied by Chubby’s Cheesesteaks.

Throughout his restaurant ventures, Torrez hooked a number of loyal followers with his standout fish tacos.

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Burnham Park Food Truck Zone Unveiled

Cheers erupted from a group gathered near Burnham Park Wednesday morning, as Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa tore away a temporary no parking sign to reveal a new curbside message: no stopping except permitted food peddler vehicles.

The gesture marked the official unveiling of a new, Type 2 food truck zone adjacent to the southside park. The density-limited zone allows only those operators who have applied for and received approval from the city to occupy a parking spot on the street.

Starting this week, that includes Tacos el Charrito, JC King’s Tortas, Mexicano Express, Taqueria la Brazita, Tacos El Pastorcito Mixe and Isa’s Ice Cream. Two additional vendors, Taqueria Isabel and Birrieria La Tia Juana, will be stationed just a few blocks west, near the intersection of 39th and Burnham Streets.

“I am proud to announce that every food truck operator who applied for a spot did in fact receive a parking spot on Burnham Street,” said Zamarripa, who called the new zone historic, and touted the collaboration between operators, neighbors and city officials in finding an alternative solution to a full ban, which she said “has been done time and time again in the past.”

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Vier North Will Have Longest Bar in Milwaukee

From the outside, the corner tavern at 1832 E. North Ave. has remained relatively unchanged throughout the course of several years. Sure, the longtime home of Vitucci’s is sporting a fresh — yet subtle — siding job, but its jaunty, sloped awning and heavy wood door embossed with an oversized martini glass are still intact.

Inside, it’s a different story.

The 5,557-square-foot interior is in the thick of a build-out as new owners Bryan O’BoyleAdam Jansen, Gus Unholz and Faisal Ahmed-Yahia prepare to open a new tavern, Vier North, later this year. And though it’s still far from finished, the owners’ vision for the space is coming together.

On the east side of the building, retractable garage doors open onto a spacious patio overlooking the intersection of N. Cramer Street and E. North Avenue. On the west side, a kitchen area is coming along, with a brand new hood already installed and additional equipment on the way. In between, a bar — the centerpiece of the establishment — is being built.

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The Bridgewater Now Serving Daily Brunch

What if brunch was more than just a weekend treat? The Bridgewater Modern Grill is the latest to pose the question, inviting guests to indulge in crab cake benedict, Belgian waffles and maybe even a mimosa — because why not — every day of the week.

On Monday, Aug. 7, the riverfront restaurant, located at 2011 S. 1st St., began serving weekday brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Weekend brunch service will also be expanded, and will run Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“For brunch, our atmosphere accommodates everything from a business lunch to a girls brunch,” said Rik Acken, general manager of The Bridgewater, in a statement. “We know there’s only a handful of other restaurants in the area where customers can get their brunch fix every day of the week. We’re excited for even more brunch lovers to experience our menu and space.”

The Bridgewater first launched its brunch service in February, starting off with a strong showing of classic and comfort dishes such as fried chicken and waffles, avocado toast, sandwiches and salads.

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Hungry Sumo Won’t Leave You Hungry

The Hungry Sumo Sushi Bar & Asian Bistro has a big name and a big menu. The generous portions guarantee a full belly, while your eyes and your palate will be delighted by the artistic presentations, the aromas and the flavors you will discover in each bite.

But deciding what to order is not easy. You will find an impressive menu that runs the gamut of dishes found in sushi bars plus several Thai dishes, a few tempura choices, and four teriyaki bowls.

What to order? You can begin with a Starter such as Creamy Crab Wontons, six crisp wontons filled with imitation crab, cream cheese, and celery. Do not be put off by “imitation” crab because every bite exploded with flavor. We all thought we were eating real crab until someone went back to look at the menu. A sweet and sour dipping sauce was nice, but not necessary.

The list of Starters is extensive, and includes Tempura, Calamari, and Hottie Hottie, spicy tuna served on crisp rice with soy sauce and spicy mayo. On the menu it is marked with a fire symbol, a warning for the heat-averse. During the week you can order a Lunch Special and given the many choices we found on the rest of the menu, we decided this would be a fine way to begin exploring the cuisine at Hungry Sumo. Thai Lunch Specials include Pad Thai, Pad See Eiw, Spicy Basil, Mixed Vegetable Delight, and Red or Green Curry.

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New Bars and Restaurants That Opened in July


Wisconsin’s first Sweetgreen officially opened its doors on July 18 to much fanfare from nearby office workers and Historic Third Ward residents alike. The so-called farm-to-table fast food restaurant, 310 E. Buffalo St., offers salads, grain bowls and other healthful meals with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients.

Read our earlier coverage

On Rye

A new, deli-style restaurant quietly opened downtown at the end of July. On Rye is the latest in a series of additions to the Associated Bank River Center, 111 E. Kilbourn Ave. The counter-service restaurant offers a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, salads and soups.

Read our earlier coverage

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Xankia Unveils New Look, Menu

After closing for most of the spring and early summer for renovations, Xankia has officially returned to service, supplying downtown Milwaukee with spring rolls, pho and its crowd-favorite banh mi sandwiches.

Vang Thao and Mai Nhia Chang, owners of the Vietnamese-American restaurant, marked the occasion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony over the weekend. The pair were joined by family members, restaurant staff and city leaders including Mayor Cavalier Johnson and City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump.

“Can attest — the food is delicious and the owners are wonderful people, indicative of the diversity and talent we have in the City of Milwaukee,” Crump wrote in an online post after the ceremony.

The restaurant, which first opened in 2015 under the ownership of Xa Xiong, temporarily closed at the end of March for renovations and began its soft reopening in early June, followed by a grand opening on Aug. 4.

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Tony’s BBQ Owner Plans New Restaurant

His latest venture, called Tony’s on North, is expected to open at 2625 W. North Ave., inside the former Gold Rush Chicken. The restaurant will serve “the best chicken and fish around,” according to Christo Mesoloras, who brokered the sale of the building.

The family-owned Gold Rush Chicken, which operates a second, long-standing location at 3500 S. Howell Ave., has been closed since 2018, said a representative of the business. For the past several years, however, the restaurant’s eye-catching, brown-and-yellow siding and oversized signage has continued to dominate the intersection of 26th Street and North Avenue.

That is, until earlier this week, when a group of workers could be seen hauling tables and chairs out of the restaurant and dismantling its exterior signs.

Originally constructed in 1909, the two-story structure contains 4,240 square feet of space. At this time, city records do not indicate any plans for construction work on the building.

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Lost Whale Cocktail Specials Raise Money for MPS

Lost Whale is hosting a month-long fundraiser to collect money and school supplies for Humboldt Park Public School.

The K-8 school is located at 3230 S. Adams Ave. — about a mile south of the Bay View cocktail bar.

Throughout the month of August, Lost Whale, 2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. will offer two cocktail specials to raise money for the Humboldt Park Schoolyard Redevelopment Program.

The project, still in its conceptual planning phase, would transform the current concrete lot into an enriching environment for learning and play, with the planned additions of green spaces, sports courts, outdoor classrooms and a mindfulness garden.

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Ice Cream Shop Proposed For Lincoln Village

A new shop selling ice cream, popsicles, soda and juice is proposed to open later this summer in the Lincoln Village neighborhood, offering an array of cooling treats to guard against the soaring heat index.

Josephine Vargas, a Bay View resident, plans to open Chu-Chi’s Ice Cream Shop at 2691 S. 6th St., the site of the former La Pasadita Bar.

In a license application for the business, Vargas noted that she plans to run a “family-oriented” establishment.

The building’s dance floor and two bars — remnants of the previous business — will soon be replaced with ice cream freezers, a topping station and display cases for an array of snacks, drinks and frozen desserts.

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Gathering Place Announces Distribution Deal

Gathering Place Brewing Company‘s beers may soon be present at significantly more gatherings.

The brewery on Tuesday announced a new partnership with wholesaler General Beverage. Together, the companies aim to ramp up distribution of Gathering Place beers to a broader market throughout the state.

It’s a first for the Riverwest-based brewery, which for the past six years has self-distributed its brews to more than 130 bars and restaurants and over 100 liquor and grocery stores across southeast Wisconsin.

“We are excited to take this next step in the growth of the company and to work with an excellent partner to help us expand our footprint and to reach more customers for our beers,” said Joe Yeado, founder of Gathering Place, in a statement.

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