Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: The Great Maltini

"Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live."


This week we have something a little different in store for Thirsty Thursdays... you get to meet the bartender and learn about a new cocktail. So lets do it.

Name: Eric Stein

Bar: The Knick

How did you get your start bartending?

A friend of mine got me a job in a club opening up in Milwaukee about 18 years ago. I lied about my experience and learned really quickly how to crank out drinks behind the bar.

Where else have you worked?

Hotel Metro in the early days, Tess and the old Holiday House.

What is your favorite thing about bartending?

I like the flexibility and my circle of regulars

What is the worst thing about bartending?

Where I work it would be making the ice cream drinks when we are busy.

What is your craziest bartending story?

I got to watch a crazed drunken naked women run down the street making an attempt to get inside for one more drink after bar close.

What is your favorite drink to make?

When I have the time I like The Great Maltini.

The Great Maltini
1/3 Dutch Chocolate Vodka
1/3 Kahlua
1/3 Bailey's Irish Cream
2 oz malt powder
Blended with ice
Finish with a generous drizzle of chocolate syrup

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I never knew, I'll let you know when I figure it out.

Have you ever been hit on while working?

Yeah, all the time.

Ever go out with a customer?

No, I've always focused on the staff

Have you ever had to cut someone off?


How did that go?

Fairly well, I'm pretty tall and I have the ability to intimidate drunk people.

Where is your favorite place to grab a drink on your day off?

Is it lame to say my couch? I mean it's safer, there is little to no chance of getting a DUI, and I'm a bartender so I know what I'm doing. Besides my day off is Monday.

So what's going on at The Knick?

We have a rockin busy patio! Check us out on Thursdays for half off wine night or our Saturday breakfast (9am-2pm) / Sunday brunch (9am-3pm).

Thirsty Thursdays is brought to you by Eat MKE, and by The Larry Miller Drinking Society, and by YOUR BAR HERE.

Knick on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fun Behind Bars with Dy Mixes

Bacon Vodka: Your Questions Answered
Guest Blogger: Dy Mixes
More from her at: Fun Behind Bars

You know I've been infusing for a good long time now, and the infusion program at my bar is strong and healthy. One of our ongoing infusion projects is the Veggie Vodka that makes our Bloody Marys extra-savory and delightfully complex, but not spicier. The large jar is beautifully backlit and sparks conversations with our guests about infusions generally: how it's done, what can be done, how long it takes... then at some point my sixth sense starts tingling and I know what's next. "What if you could make bacon vodka?" I tell them bacon vodka has been made for years, that there's a bar a few towns over that's been making it, I've never tried it (am a vegetarian, or I would), but I bet it's not that hard. Today is my PSA for all the bacon-lovers who want to incorporate the smoky umami of bacon with their favorite spirit.

To make bacon-infused spirit, you'll use a technique called "fat-washing," which NY Bartender Eben Freeman popularized and perhaps perfected. I do love science, so for my geeks I will say that you are about to perform a solvent exraction of fat, wherein the volatile flavor compounds are pulled out of the fat by the spirit.

Back to the practical world. If you actually want to fat wash bacon into spirit, here's what you'll do: Start with a fatty, insanely smoky bacon. In a review of the available literature, most folks swear by Benton's Bacon -- but everyone agrees that whatever you use, it must be smoky to the extreme. Especially fatty bacon will also be helpful, as you're after the fat, not the meat. The ratio of fat-to-spirit is about 6 pieces of bacon for every cup of liquor. You will cook at least 5-6 pieces of bacon, then drain the fat. You will put the melted fat into a heat-proof glass jar (like a canning jar) with the spirit and mix it well. Put its lid on and let it infuse for 4-6 hours, shaking occasionally. Put it in the freezer overnight to seperate the fat, which you will then lift off. Strain the liquid, first through cheesecloth and then through coffee filters until it runs through easily, and is clear and lovely.

This makes me think about a few things, for example, nobody comes right out and says to use salt pork, but insofar as it is salty and fatty, it seems like a good fit for this project. If for some reason it were not smoky enough, you might add a little Liquid Smoke. Also, I think different bacons will lend themselves to different projects. For example, maple-smoked bacon seems particularly well-matched to bourbon, and I bet it would make a fine Old-Fashioned. This is PDT's Don Lee's blissfully-simple recipe:

2 ounces bacon-infused bourbon
1/4 ounce Grade B maple syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Twist of orange

Just to keep you thinking, fat-washing works for any type of fat, so think about fat-washing brown butter into amber or dark rum. A co-worker gave me a bottle of peanut-butter flavored vodka a few years back. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination. Think duck-fat Grand Marnier for a Duck a L'Orange cocktail. ( pic left)

Finally, for a little extra credit: if you were not making cocktails, but wanted the pure flavor of the bacon, after the freeze, you could evaporate off the alcohol and be left the meaty equivalent of an essential oil.

Look forward to learning more about Dy in an upcoming interview and stay tuned for more of Fun Behind Bars!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: The B52

"Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough."

Mark Twain

The B52

1 shot Kahlua
1 shot Amaretto
1 shot Bailey's Irish Cream.

Use real Bailey's because some of that cheaper stuff looks gross when you mix it. You don't want it to start separating out and looking chunky. We drank this one at Nice Ash. Yes you can still smoke there. (Cigars not white cigs sorry.)

Nice Ash
327 West Main Street
Waukesha, WI 53186
(262) 547-9009

Thirsty Thursdays is brought to you by Eat MKE, and by The Larry Miller Drinking Society, and by YOUR BAR HERE.

Just an update, as of next week this blog will be featuring bartender interviews along with the cocktails they make. So look forward to that. Do you know a bartender you'd like to see on here? Tell them to get in touch with us. Send us an email or leave a comment.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Engine Room: An Evening at Sanford

Written by Guest Blogger: Chef Justin Johnson
Check out his Blog "Blog de Cuisine"

Since the legendary John Ernst Cafe opened in 1878 on east Ogden Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, cream city cuisine has been definitive. Flavors, recipes and preferences have been passed down from generation to generation. To wit, the hardworking and fun-loving Milwaukee-born have scoffed at “big city” food bent on fussiness and ostentation. The civic motto might as well have been “give me gravy, or give me death.”

Brew City restaurants were rarely preoccupied with health. Fatty meats and sausages dominated menus. Potatoes. Cream sauces. Butter-soaked cabbage. In a word – or two – comfort food. For so long was this type of food the norm that the icons of the city they helped build became landmarks impervious to the faddish winds blowing between the two coasts. The aforementioned John Ernst Cafe and the still-alive-and-kicking Maders were the preeminent “date night” destinations. In time, and after an unprecedented run, these restaurants and others like them began to feel tired. Being served a plate of dense meatloaf with gravy and a side of peas and carrots by a beefy gal in a dirndl no longer felt novel; it just felt weird.

Naturally, this gave way to a new crop of chefs and food. There is no better example of a Milwaukee-born chef putting the ‘little big town’ on the map for top-notch cuisine than Sanford D’Amato. He has inspired countless chefs – his own chef de cuisine, two-time James Beard nominee Justin Aprahamian, among them – and showed all of us youngsters that fine food is possible in this city known for brats and cheese.

Milwaukee is home to several James Beard nominees and even a of couple winners. This year, the “Oscars” of food noticed Jan Kelly of Meritage, Dan Van Rite of Hinterland, and once again, Aprahamian. While the dining experiences and dazzling menus put forth by these formidable restaurants are well-documented by our resident restaurant reviewers, there is little known among the general public about how that food becomes reality.

Welcome to my series, “The Engine Room,” which will take you into the kitchens of some of Milwaukee’s coolest restaurants, led by some of its most relevant chefs. These chefs are working to break the mold and introduce – not force – interesting ingredients, off-beat dishes, and edgy techniques onto the sometimes reticent but nonetheless intrigued palettes of Milwaukee restaurant-goers.

For this pilot installment, I could think of no place better than Sanford. Truth be told, I still rue my decision to seek a head chef’s position as my first job out of Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago instead of pursuing an entry-level post at Sanford. At the time, I bore the responsibility of a young family and was zealously angling for money. To a student and a mid-twenties up-and-comer, Sanford emanated a mystique of grandeur.

I’m not embarrassed to say that I would occasionally drive by the humble building it inhabits on the corner of Jackson and Pleasant just to look at it. To be near it. In my three visits as a paying customer, I have always forgone the printed bill of fare in favor of the chef’s seven-course tasting menu.

So, as you might imagine, being given an all-access backstage pass during a typical Wednesday night service at Sanford was kind of like a NASCAR fan getting to ride shotgun with Jeff Gordon.

Why would they let me do this? Well, partially because I’m a chef that understands what a kitchen is and what is involved. But more so, as Chef Justin put it when I thanked him at the end of the night for letting me hang, “we’ve got nothing to hide.”

It’s 4 p.m. on a Wednesday night – Leap Day. The first reservations of the evening are set for 6 p.m. A couple of deuces followed by several more two-tops throughout the night equal a respectable 19 covers (not including walk-ins) for a dreary and misty evening.

I meet Chef Justin at the backdoor delivery entrance, which leads past the walk-in cooler and into the catacombs. If you live in an old Milwaukee house on the East Side, your basement is probably not much different. Minus the dry storage, chest freezers, a modest prep kitchen, and plaques commemorating magazine and newspaper accolades from years gone by, the citadel of Sanford is unspectacular and in this way comforting; perhaps a poetic salute to its humble beginnings.

Only if you’ve never read anything about Sanford would you not know that the now renowned restaurant began as Sandy’s father’s grocery store so many years ago. Many of the relics of this era remain, including an old-school meat slicer bearing an almost art deco design that is used to this day for slicing house-cured meats.

The main kitchen line is anchored by a veritable icon of French cooking – a cast iron cook top that throws off heat like an incinerator. Chef Justin is particularly fond of this piece of equipment and tells me he couldn’t imagine life without it. He talks of its even heat distribution and the benefits of not having an open flame bend up around a sauce pot to char its inside edges.

The entire working kitchen is, to my layman’s eye, roughly 15 by 20 feet with an additional galley way for pot washing.

After I get the grand tour, it’s time for family meal. Family meal is a small spread of food made from leftovers or extras and put out for the staff – cooks, servers, hosts, porters – anyone who’s hungry and on the payroll. Aside from feeding the famished help before hunkering down for service, it plays an important role in building team morale. Everyone heaps up their plates with, in this instance, a mélange of Penne Bolognese, ham sandwiches, a tasty little potato and queen olive salad, and a delicious cake made by Sandy himself for a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo shoot.

Groups of four or five take their turn sitting at a front corner window table to eat and, on most nights, discuss anything not work-related. But on this night, they are joined by an outsider. Me.

We discuss sourcing, farmer’s market visits and typical nightly covers as Chef Justin intermittently receives briefings on upcoming event appearances and newspaper interviews, and appraises the occasional tasting spoon of passion fruit pastry cream or mushroom reduction used as a base for a transcendent truffle vinaigrette. “It’s good,” he may say, or “it needs to reduce a little more.”

As the brigade continues to prepare for service, we’re able to talk about menu philosophy. Chef Justin breaks out a three-inch-thick binder containing every single menu he ran in the past year. As I peruse some of them, I realize something. Despite the perception that Sanford is a top-dollar, elegant, exacting and refined restaurant (all of which is true), this is comfort food. Whether it’s a D’Amato signature like Grilled Wild Sturgeon on Crab Hash and Pancetta Red Onion Vinaigrette or an Aprahamian original like Grilled Scallops and Shrimp, Paprika Almond Crisp, Almond Cream and Sherry Gastrique, this is simple, earthy, honest food.

I pose a question about molecular gastronomy: “What do you think? Do you use it?”

While Chef Justin admits to dabbling in it and finding it interesting, he reveals that it is not preferable if it doesn’t improve the flavor or the experience of eating. We shared this sentiment, as I’ve often felt that the molecular movement is all style and no substance. There are, of course, exceptions. But Justin encapsulated the restaurant’s view of this modern movement acutely by recounting a story about a time he prepared sous vide pearl onions for the man he describes as a Jedi.

He tells me that Sandy, after trying the vacuum-packed and control-cooked onions, surmised that they’d have been better had you just blanched them properly and roasted them.
Sandy and Justin have no intention of doing anything just to do it. If it doesn’t serve the food or enhance the experience, why bother?

Then we discuss ‘entrance’ into the fabled Sanford kitchen. “What does it take to get the job here?” I ask. Resoundingly, the response is “attitude.” Chef Justin continues, “no one here, except Sandy, went to the CIA [the Culinary Institute of America]. We can teach people how to cook. I can’t teach them to want to be here.”

As service approaches, I’m impressed by the decorous and accommodating nature with which my presence in the kitchen is received. As I described earlier, this is not a huge kitchen. There are plenty of folks scurrying about with last minute “i’s” to dot and “t’s” to cross before the first customers hit the table. But here I am, trying (most likely in vain) to fit in by wearing my chef’s coat but nonetheless getting in the way as I scribble notes and crack off unwarned photos.

The culinary team not only remains focused, but abides my nuisance with polite calls of “behind” and “excuse me.” I’m in their world. Observing. Reporting. They are unfazed. I’m even invited to taste their creations and many of them indulge me in a quick interview. “How long have you been here?” I ask. “Mmm… five years,” Joe tells me. “Where did you go to school?” I ask. “Le Cordon Bleu in Minnesota.”

This is a team of serious cooks. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have ability and understand the menu, the restaurant’s provenance, and Chef Justin’s standards. These guys have the temperament of generals. They’re polished, proficient and mature.

When Anthony Bourdain wrote “Kitchen Confidential,” which I first read recently, he wasn’t talking about these guys. Most cooks, and even chefs for that matter, blame their tools: “my food sucks because I need a new oven.” One gets the impression that such a cop-out would be wholly rejected here. The Sanford kitchen is replete with old reliables that have been cared for and maintained with the love and altruism of a parent.

It’s the last day of the month and sous chef Casey runs his eyes over shelves tallying the February inventory now, just moments before service. He comes down the line where Chef Justin is plating, for me, a sample of the tasting menu’s intermezzo – a spin on peanut butter and jelly, it’s a peanut butter cookie with a Concord grape sorbet made from local Concords – and asks about caviar. I miss their whole conversation because the grape sorbet is changing my life.

After jotting some things down and taking a few more pictures, I notice Chef Justin fingering together an arrowroot slurry. “Are we thickening a sauce?” I ask.

Now, young chefs and cooks should really pay attention to this. If you take only one thing from this article, take this: arrowroot is a white powder that when mixed with a bit of water acts as a thickening agent, much like cornstarch, and if you’ve done your training in fine dining under persnickety technical purists, you’ve probably been taught never to use it. It’s a technique that is abused to embarrassing degrees in most Chinese take-out restaurants and can absolutely engulf flavor if done haphazardly.

But here’s the lesson. The slurry is applied at a point where, Chef Justin says, the flavors are at their apex. A place where continued reduction will take the sauce to the other end of where it needs to be. It will become over-reduced. Perhaps bitter. Sickly sweet. Maybe too salty. Our classic training tells us to reduce to the desired consistency. This is an area where training and the blind adherence to a method can hamper you as a chef. To ride out the technique and watch it destroy the food you’re cooking only because you were taught to “reduce until nappe” instead of trusting your eye, your instincts, and your taste buds is one of the great travesties of young chefhood.

Pretty cool stuff.

The first tables of the night are ushered in and handwritten tickets are brought to the kitchen. This team could turn out nineteen covers of multiple courses standing on their heads, and the early going indicates that this will be a relaxed service.
But then, in an instant after the first courses are called, Chef Justin is put through his paces by a special request. A diner has the temerity to go “off menu.”

Their wish is a salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, in February at a restaurant known for seasonality, and PASTA WITH MARINARA!

I am stunned. The kitchen staff is not. Chef Justin barely bats an eye as he looks over at me with a grin of resignation and sets off to the cellar to procure the ingredients for a summer salad and vegetable marinara. He doesn’t stomp. He doesn’t recede with exasperation. In fact, as he walks away, he calls back to the line, “does anyone need anything from downstairs?” Total aplomb.

When he returns, I ask him, “don’t you ever want to say, ‘do you know who I am?’” He laughs. The answer is “no.”

Orders continue coming in steadily as the chef puts as much mettle into this surprise marinara as any of his signature dishes. There’s some angel hair pasta in house, and the saute station is cleaning and separately sautéing fresh broccoli, cauliflower and kale. As Chef Justin finishes the marinara and calls for the food processor, he tastes the vegetables. “They need a little more time,” he says. Where most chefs tasked with a special order might say “good enough” or “throw it on the plate and send it out,” he has no intention of lowering the restaurant’s standards on this unannounced special request.

This divergence causes little disruption in the cumulative attitude of the line. Cooks light-heartedly joke about books they’re reading, have read, or were supposed to read at the behest of their leader. “I’ve read the first chapter of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ three times,” Joe says. “That’s a good chapter,” affirms Chef Justin with a laugh.

Then, moments later, having seemingly jacked the curveball of the night out of the park, the chef’s fiancé Sarah, the restaurant’s manager, comes in to deliver a screw ball.

Sanford, as much as anything else, is known for the chef’s tasting menu. The idea is, “trust the chef.” You don’t know what’s coming and that’s the point. It’s fun.

But, another diner eyeing up the seven-course tour has limitations: Little or no seafood. No cilantro. Add foie gras.

I’ve worked in many kitchens where this might easily send a frying pan or other available blunt object soaring clear across the kitchen. In this way, Sanford is the antithesis of what many cooks and foodies believe to be true about restaurant kitchens, and Chef Justin is the antithesis of the alpha-male chef. With feet firmly on the ground and not displaying so much as a perceptible eye-roll, he processes the request, looks over at me, and says:

“They’ll still get a great menu.”

Sanford on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 5, 2012

State of Eat MKE Address

Hey, so you might have noticed Eat MKE is back. Well I hope you did. I just wanted to give a real quick, late State of Eat MKE Address.

If you work at or own a restaurant please read the following. If you are interested in any of this please get in touch me, or tell me who I should get in touch with, or better yet go tell them about me and then introduce us.

If you are a customer, or a foodie, or fellow blogger, let me know where you'd like to see us go. If you have any ideas for future blog posts, new series you'd like to see on Eat MKE, or have any other comments, please get in touch as well.

Eating Out: Your Restaurant

Want us to stop by and check out your restaurant? Let us know and we'll add you to our upcoming list. Be warned this will be an honest assessment of the visit. Let us know.

Thirsty Thursday: Your signature cocktail

Have an amazing drink that you'd like to share with us? Do you have a bartender that wouldn't mind doing an interview?

Chef/Owner Interviews: Chef You

Are you just about to launch a new menu? Do you have an amazing new feature dish coming out? Do you just have an interesting story to tell about your restaurant?

YELP! Redemption:

A new series we really want to get up and running. We want you to send in the best of the best of the worst of Yelp. Are you a waiter that had a very unfair Yelp post? Are you a restaurant owner that felt this Yelp comment needs to be addressed in the public square? Are you a customer that saw something funny on Yelp and want to talk about it? Friends, please SEND US YOUR YELPS! (put Yelp in the subject line)

Partner up:

Want to partner up with Eat MKE and have us help tell your restaurants story? Want to sit down and bounce ideas off each other? Want to talk about an idea for a monthly guest blog? Interested in helping create a great food culture here in Milwaukee? Let's talk.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Interview With Chef Mark Weber, Mason Street Grill

We got to sit down and talk with Mason Street Grill's Chef Mark Weber a few weeks ago. He had just got back from a trip to Florida to do some research for a new special.  

How long have you been working in the food industry?

I have been working in the food business since 1983. Started at the CIA in Hyde Park, NY in 1985, and came to Milwaukee in 1989.

Where did you start?

I started at the Midway Motor Lodge in Glendale as part of the opening staff as a summer job during college summer break. I started in front of the house but quickly decided that back of the house was more fun!

What did you learn working at Lake Park Bistro?

Being the Chef at LPB was an incredibly important part of my career. Joe and Paul Bartolotta are extremely passionate about the restaurant business and the vast amounts I learned from them over 8 years very much shaped my career. I also worked with John Wise during those years who is one of the most hard working and organized people I have ever known. John is a big part of the Bartolotta success story. They have and they teach what it takes to  make it in the restaurant business.

What do you feel is the most important thing you try and inspire in your team at Mason Street Grill?

We derive inspiration from the products we use. We are constantly searching for the best products to offer to our customers. We use the highest quality available and we stop at nothing to locate the best suppliers no matter where we might have to go looking for it!

You recently were in Florida on a crab boat learning about the farming of stone crab. How was that?

The Stone Crab trip is an example of our commitment to quality. We went to Florida to find an exclusive supplier of Stone Crab claws for the season. We wanted to have a fisherman that would understand the level of quality that we wanted. By visiting we can better understand the whole process from the harvesting of the claws from the ocean, cooking, grading, and shipping. Special relationships with vendors is really important.

What did you learn on that trip and how will you use that knowledge in the kitchen?

We understand products better when we understand where they come from and how. This gives us a much higher benchmark standard for quality than competitors, especially one that have not seen products at their source.

If you want to find out more about Mark or the Mason Street Grill you'll be happy to know that they have started their own Blog.  Go check it out.

Mason Street Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Thirsty Thursday: Smithwick's

"He was a wise man who invented beer."


What? Just a beer this week? Nay! Not just a beer! It's March and that means we have a certain holiday coming up, Saint Patrick’s Day, and being Americans of course we use any other nations holiday as an excuse to get plotzed.

If you're like me you're probably going to try and drink all day. The problem with this is if you just order whatever cheap green beer they have on tap you will probably be drinking gallons of miller lite with food dye in it. That can get messy. The other route is you could drink Guinness all day. You can try this but as you know Guinness is thick. Your belly will fill up and you won't feel so sexy after round 4 or 5.

This year try a Smithwick's. But when you order it say it... "Gimmie a Smid-dic's" That's how you order it. I don't know why... If you wanted to really learn about the history you'd be on and not this blog.
Go Drink.

Thirsty Thursdays is brought to you by Eat MKE, and by The Larry Miller Drinking Society, and by YOUR BAR HERE.

If you would like to be a sponsor of EatMKE's Thirsty Thursdays blog post or if you know a cocktail we have to try send an email to