Cari Taylor-Carlson

Hot Dish Pantry Is All About Comfort Food

Howell Avenue restaurant is retro and reliable, with tasty, scratch-made fare.

By - Feb 18th, 2024 09:14 am
Hot Dish Pantry. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Hot Dish Pantry. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Hot Dish Pantry had a modest beginning in a stall at the 3rd Street Market Hall. When the building formerly occupied by Iron Grate BBQ became available, owners Laura Maigatter and Nathan Heck took a leap and opened their restaurant on S. Howell Ave. It is all about comfort food at Hot Dish where you order at the counter and wait for a text.

The owners redecorated the small dining area and turned it into a space where eight Formica tables and retro wooden chairs speak to comfort food even before you look at the menu. One of my lunch companions grew up with identical chairs, also around a Formica table, in his childhood home. To add to the retro vibe, there are cookbooks from the 50s and old-fashioned games to play.

It is also a restaurant where you will see a bologna sandwich. If you belong to a pre-digital generation where lunch meat came on white bread, then you might be amused at “bologna” and “text” in the same sentence when you order. At Hot Dish they upscaled the classic and named it a Chicago Style Fried Bologna Sandwich. It was all there, packed into a brioche bun: the fried bologna, plus all the adds on for a Chicago-style hot dog: tomato, onion, sweet relish, pickles, mustard, celery salt and poppy seeds. You will not miss the hot dog in this creative and tasty riff on an old favorite.

One of the specialties at Hot Dish is Pierogi. They offer several styles: Loaded Baked Potato, Aloo Chat, Pepperoni Pizza, and the one I ordered, Crab Rangoon. You are served three pierogi per order, but you need to settle on one filling as mix and match is not an option. Three Crab Rangoons topped with sweet and sour sauce and corn seasoned with togarashi (aka Japanese seven spice) were delicious. The thin crust that held the crab mixture did not overpower the filling. A side of House Tots, aka Tater Tots, and Sriracha Ranch Dip completed this filling meal.

The House Smashburger was thin with crisp edges, just as it should be. When it was paired with Fried Cheese Curds and Blue Cheese Dipping Sauce, it was an indulgent feast of oozy beer-battered cheese and juicy meat that overflowed the bun.

You will note a crisp cracker-crusted Pork Tenderloin Sandwich is available three ways on the menu: topped with lettuce, tomato, and red onion; Nashville-Style tossed in hot sauce and topped with mayo and pickles; and topped with marinara, mozzarella, parmesan, red onion, and arugula salad. It was hard to choose.

The Nashville Hot Fried Tenderloin was seriously hot, and like all three tenderloin sandwiches, the meat was the size of a dinner plate and dwarfed its brioche bun. The dill pickles partially tamed the fire as this is a sandwich for people who like to fill their mouths with an abundance of spicy heat. The chef had pounded the pork tenderloin to less than half inch thick and as a result it was fork-tender. I would absolutely order this craveable sandwich again. An order of Side Tots with Ranch Dipping Sauce completed this feast.

I asked owner Maigatter if she and Heck were from Minnesota as the “Hot Dish” is a well-known Minnesota tradition unlike Wisconsin where we call it a “casserole.” The two are not from Minnesota, but because they wanted to make comfort food in their restaurant, they decided Hot Dish sounded like a good name for what they serve, and of course, you will find a Hot Dish on the menu.

The day friends and I were there, it was a casserole made with ground beef, corn, carrots, and peas, mixed in a house-made mushroom sauce instead of the once dominant, Cream of Mushroom Soup. It was topped with crispy Tater Tots and melted cheese. It was a quintessential dish of comfort food just like your grandmother might have taken to a neighborhood potluck or the church social.

Maigatter and Heck promise scratch-made food and that is what you will find on the menu, tasty retro dishes, reminiscent of a time when families ate together around the dinner table, and Tater Tots were everyone’s favorite carb.

On The Menu

Photo Gallery

The Rundown

  • Location: 4125 S. Howell Ave.
  • Phone: 414-231-3305
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wed-Sun
  • Neighborhood:
  • Website:
  • UM Rating: stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)

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Categories: Dining, Food & Drink, Review

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