NAMING A NEW DOWNTOWN restaurant Millioke, the Algonquin tribal name for Milwaukee, and using the tag line "Meat, Cheese, Beer" created quite a challenge.
But Brent Brashier, director of food and beverage at the new Milwaukee Downtown Marriott, and Millioke executive chief Patrick Taylor have blended those Milwaukee staples in a way that should please all palates.
To meet the challenge, Taylor formed partnerships with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board to provide artisan cheeses, with the city's leading sausage maker, with a Madison supplier of hand-crafted cured meats, and with many of the best craft brewers in the state.
"We decided to take a rustic, unsophisticated approach, without going too far," says Taylor, who came with Brashier from Austin, Tex., and served his first customers at Millioke on June 26, the same day as the new 205-room hotel opened.
Customers enter the restaurant directly from 323 E. Wisconsin Ave. This gives Millioke the "stand-alone" identity that will promote visits by residents and visitors as well as hotel guests. The décor blends sleek modern lighting and burnished hardwood tables and booths. Dividing walls with arches are composed of Milwaukee's famous Cream City brick, recovered from historic businesses once located on Millioke's site.
While the restaurant is adjacent to a new Starbucks, the beverage of choice at Millioke is beer. Twenty beers are on tap, including 15 craft favorites from Milwaukee and other parts of the state, three from Ireland and two from Chicago.
Millioke's creative menu begins with charcuterie and cheese selections that can be mixed according to customer desires. Diners can pick five of 12 cheeses, including traditional, sheep, goat and mixed selections from around the state. They can choose six of nine hot and cold meats or they can blend cheese and meat and "build their own" combination plate, notes Taylor.
In addition, the restaurant offers starters it calls "to share or not" like bacon roasted shrimp, chargrilled chicken wings, Wisconsin beer cheese fondue and a slider trio that will satisfy vegetarians as well as meat lovers - grilled Portobello mushroom, classic burger and BBQ pork.
Veering somewhat away from "meat, cheese & beer" theme, the restaurant offers five distinctive salad options, but even there local cheeses are featured, along with fresh produce from area farms.
For main dishes, which the restaurant labels "something special," the taste of Wisconsin is found in entrees like pan-seared walleye pike and Nueske's bacon and cheese pappardelle, in addition to distinctive steak, chicken, seafood and vegetarian specialties.
"We're taking a classic, old-school approach to cocktails," says Brashier. All are handmade and, keeping with the locally sourced theme, often contain Wisconsin ingredients. The Blue Martini, for example, uses Bacon Infused Rehorst Vodka and olives stuffed with Carr Valley Billy Boy's Blue Cheese. Roaring Dan's Maple Rum, another Rehorst product from Milwaukee's Great Lakes Distillery, is combined with ginger beer in a Lake Michigan Dark & Stormy.
Taylor, whose background includes four-star restaurants in Texas and the historic Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, also plans limited-seating events in the near future. Expect farm-to-table events, wine dinners and special holiday dining specials.
Millioke is open daily from 6:30-10:30 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunch and 4-11 p.m. for dinner.