Farm-to-table piety comes to Walker’s Point’s bustling restaurant scene in the form of Braise. Headed by chef and owner Dave Swanson—a kitchen-graduate of both Sanford and New Orleans’ storied Commander’s Palace—Braise also serves as a culinary school, home delivery service (“the farmers’ market to your front door”), and headquarters for Swanson’s own Restaurant Supported Agriculture. Despite all of that, a recent weekend meal proved the restaurant isn’t too Portlandia-esque to digest.
The space: Rustic, warm, woodsy. Located in a one-time bowling alley and the former spot of Chez Jacques, Braise—with its old-school tin ceiling, open kitchen, wood accents, and quirky hanging lights—appears just a dimmer-switch short of perfecting the Third Ward/Fifth Ward industry-meets-trendy vibe. Plans for the future include a rooftop dining area and a late-night menu with murmurs of pizza possibilities from Braise’s “it goes up to 1,100 degrees” brick oven.
The service: Warm, friendly, and highly passionate. The hostess was more than willing to work with our reservation-less appetites despite the bustling Friday evening crowd. We lucked out by snagging a corner bar seat directly in front of the certified oven master, who quickly informed us about the current temperature of his gas-fueled fire hole (430 degrees). He would later school us on the restaurant’s preference for the little-used “sous-vide process” (a fancy-schmancy French method of precooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags). From this to the informational placard served with our post-meal cup of “pour over”-method Anodyne coffee ($3), every nuance was indicative of a serious, knowledgeable, and well-oiled team.
The A.V. Club’s food: Nothing takes the edge off the workweek like gin. Here, the Damson Martinez ($10) proved that if gin is good, two kinds of gin in a single drink are better. Averell Damson and North Shore No. 6 teamed with some Bittercube orange bitters lent a perfect segue into the weekend and an eye-opener for tackling the seasonal, daily changing menu.
Milwaukee Brewing Company’s Booyah Farmhouse Ale ($5)—picked from a Wisconsin-centric beer list—helped cleanse the pallet for the oncoming gamut of appetizers. House-smoked trout parfait with pickled peppers and crostini ($7) offered smoky, fishy creaminess with lovingly charred toast that seemed to openly mock every bagel and lox order we’ve ever enjoyed. The cheese plate with peach-ginger chutney ($9) was solid, and was dominated by a heaping hunk of immaculately smoked bleu. The gem of the night proved to be the Crispy Pig with creamy polenta, mascarpone cheese, and sorghum syrup ($8)—moist, crisped pork-belly goodness, busting with grilled-piggy flavor, in turns velvety and salty, and the most inspired dish we’ve tried in some time.
Things couldn’t have been going better until a glimpse of our neighbors’ salsa verde-highlighted green eggs and ham on cornmeal shortcake ($8). Order envy was not easily quelled. Roasted chicken with gnocchi, mushroom ragout, and salsa verde ($22) showed off the “sous-vide” benefits of maintaining juiciness and tenderness and, with the vinegar pickup of the sauce, the plate may have just led us out of the “never order chicken” camp. A decent but unspectacular attempt at spiced pear bread pudding with coconut ice cream ($8) left us wishing we had ordered more pork for dessert, while a failure to satiate our compulsion to group digestible animal proteins with at least some kind of hot sauce provided the night’s only letdown.
The verdict: Restaurant Supported Agriculture: It doesn’t only mean this is where Willie Nelson would want you to eat in Milwaukee. Braise also gives close neighbor Crazy Water a serious run for having some of the most interesting, innovative food in town.