Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Soul Food Restaurant Coming to Humboldt Park

Karol's Kitchen and Catering will replace Triciclo Peru at beer garden.

By - Apr 23rd, 2024 07:19 pm
The Vine at Humboldt Park during the annual pumpkin pavilion event. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Vine at Humboldt Park during the annual pumpkin pavilion event. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Soul Food is coming to Humboldt Park.

Karol’s Kitchen and Catering, a food truck and catering business, is taking over food service at the beer garden in Humboldt Park known as The Vine.

Known for its fried catfish, Karol’s Kitchen specializes in soul food and comfort food favorites. The owner, Carolyn Dollison-Smith told Urban Milwaukee that the menu at Humboldt Park will include items like hamburgers, chicken wings, Philly Cheese Steaks, fried okra, fried mushrooms, fried green tomatoes and, of course, fried catfish on Friday nights.

“Everybody loves the catfish,” she said. “Like, that’s one of our biggest sellers.”

Milwaukee County Parks began looking this spring for a new food service provider to replace Triciclo Peru after the Near West Side restaurant abruptly closed in September last year.

Parks opened the beer garden in 2014, and until 2019 it was operated by the now-closed St. Francis Brewery. The beer garden was rebranded as The Vine in 2019 during a pivot to both beer and wine sales. But Parks had to eighty-six the vino from the menu after officials realized the department was violating state liquor laws.

Like other county beer gardens, The Vine has become a successful source of revenue for the parks department. In 2023, it sold approximately 30,000 beers, and between 2016 and 2023, it made between $50,000 and $110,000 in food sales annually, the department has estimated. The beer garden sits on the west side of the pavilion in the middle of the park, and the food service is operated out of the pavilion.

Karol’s Kitchen and Catering has been in business for six years. In 2017, she left her job as a nursing home food service director to start Karol’s Kitchen. She began the business with a modest table and a tent, setting up at community events like Bay View Bash and Garfield Days, she said. These days the business often operates out of a food truck, or sets up in a local bar or gas station, she said.

Dollison-Smith’s passion for cooking comes from her family. Everybody in her family cooks, she said, and family events typically revolve around cooking.

“It’s like a real family affair,” she said. “Everybody’s cooking and just having a good time.”

Fish fries will be a little different at Humboldt Park thanks to Karol’s Kitchen. The fried catfish will set The Vine apart from other beer gardens and beer halls around the city, which typically serve fried cod. Beyond the fish itself, Dollison-Smith said, a different batter is also used, lending a unique texture to the crispy Friday night favorite.

“Typically, with the cod, you have like a tempura batter,” she said. “But with the catfish, you generally use either a cornmeal or a cornmeal-flour mix.”

The beer garden season at Humboldt Park runs from spring through Labor Day weekend. And Dollison-Smith plans to develop some regular customers during that time.

“We are very, very adamant about customer service. So we’re always going to give customer service with a smile. We’re gonna make sure that they enjoy the food,” she said. “And we just want them to keep coming back.”

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