By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published May 14, 2024 at 11:02 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

Every dish has a story. In this series, we sit down and chat with chefs around the city (and beyond) about the experiences they hope to create for their guests. As part of our discussion, they also recommend three delicious dishes that embody the heart and soul of the restaurant.

Carbon Steak
725 N. Milwaukee St., (414) 763-7770

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In this installment of "3 Dishes", we chat with both Executive Chef Eric Zangara and Executive Pastry Chef Nick Hoover about the dishes they create at the newly minted Carbon Steak.

Dining room at Carbon SteakX

Eric Zangara

Carbon Steak Executive Chef Eric Zangara began his career in Chicago where he worked in a variety of notable restaurants including Beacon Tavern. He was also part of the opening team at Eataly. But in 2016, he received a fateful call from a colleague offering him a job at Rare Steakhouse. Zangara accepted.

From there, he honed his craft at various dining establishments from Hotel Madrid and Don’s Diner to Milwaukee Chophouse, where he gained insights into the operations of a more corporate hotel kitchen. In February of 2024, he accepted a position at Carbon Steak.

“What intrigued me about the position was that part of my job was to assist in creating a restaurant that added to the food scene here in Milwaukee and to contribute to a steakhouse concept that was meant to be more than steak and potatoes,” Zangara says, noting that they’ve given him the free rein to express himself on the plate and contribute to the development of the modern steakhouse concept.

“We created the current menu to be approachable and accessible for people who want to come here every week or every few weeks, not just for special occasions,” Zangara notes. “We want people to be able to come and have a fine dining experience that’s still affordable. It’s part of the reason we’ve added a ‘For The Table’ section featuring a roasted seafood tower and a whole Wagyu loin that’s sliced and served with onion soubise and a drizzle of French Bordelaise. Ultimately, we want our customers’ experiences at the dinner table to be among the happiest times that they can have.”

Zangara notes that a part of that experience is being able to give diners a truly memorable dessert experience to finish their meal. 

“It’s such a pleasure working with someone like Nick [Hoover],” he says. “He’s so talented and full of ideas. I want his creativity to shine, so I don’t tell him what to make. Instead, he brings his ideas to me, we discuss them and then he takes the reins.” 

1. Smoked Duck

Beet purée, fresno apple bourbon glaze, cauliflower chips ($24)

Smoked DuckX

“Our opening menu had a smoked duck dish in the appetizers, and we chose to keep the concept. But we really wanted to complement and counter its richness and smoke. So we added a very pure beet puree; it’s just sweet earthy beets seasoned with salt. The bourbon apple glaze adds a bit more sweetness, but we added a hint of Fresno pepper to give it a bit of spice at the back of the throat. From there, we added the cauliflower chips for texture and the pickled fresnos, which have a nice sweetness to counter their sometimes unpredictable heat.”

2. Lamb Shank

Domestic lamb, sweet potato puree, veal jus, polenta cake ($46)

Lamb ShankX

“Lamb is a beloved dish and it’s been gaining in popularity in recent years. To give diners something different, I really wanted to take this dish international. So I combined a variety of elements from different cultures and preparations. 

“The dish begins with a base of sweet potato puree. Sweet potatoes are something I’ve always loved, and they hearken back to my South American heritage. Braised lamb shank is straightforward and has roots in the U.K., while adding the veal demi-glace touches on French techniques. 

“For texture and flavor, I added crispy chickpeas seasoned with garam masala. They give the dish both an Indian and Middle Eastern inflection. Lastly, the polenta cake is a nod to the more traditional presentations of lamb, which is often served with polenta.”

Zangara notes that the spring menu also has a new offering for those who’d like to explore the world of Wagyu beef and try some types that aren’t served anywhere else in the city.

“We’re rolling out a Wagyu experience for those who would like to learn more about the diversity of options and their unique qualities,” he says. “Our goal is to give people various experiences with Wagyu at a competitive price. We’re currently serving BMS 10-11 Stone Axe, a 100% full-blood Japanese Wagyu raised in Australia. The selection is likely to change monthly and we’ll work our way through various types of Wagyu including domestic, Japanese and Australian.”

Nick Hoover

Executive Pastry Chef Nick Hoover comes to Carbon following work at Ardent, Lupi & Iris, the Michelin-starred Claudia in Chicago. But his career started more humbly in Columbus, Ohio.

“I grew up in a very poor family in Ohio. There wasn’t a lot of talking at the dinner table, and it wasn’t really an enjoyable place for me to be. Meanwhile, I’d hear very different stories from friends whose dinner tables were filled with joy and conversation. Ultimately, I dropped out of college to pursue work that would create amazing experiences for others at the dinner table.

“Along the way, I intentionally sought out opportunities in different areas of the dessert industry to round out my self-taught professional education. I worked in bakeries, chocolate shops and various restaurants. But I didn’t make my official foray into fine dining until I moved to Milwaukee.”

“Desserts are trickier than savory items when you’re trying to conceptualize them,” Hoover says. “There are so many considerations that go into whether someone eats dessert, so it’s important to latch onto flavors that folks are familiar with and then take them on a journey from there. I’m inspired by aromas, perfumes, botanicals and various plants and I love taking flavors that seem relatively ordinary and combining them with really unexpected things."

Hoover says that the Carbon Chocolate Mousse Cake is a great example. It begins with flourless chocolate cake, a popular dessert among diners. But it takes the simple staple a step further, bumping up its complexity with earthy Columbian single-origin cacao and intriguing smokiness from pine-smoked lapsang souchong tea.

“Ultimately, I want to bring out the full flavor of the chocolate," he says. "Lapsong souchong mousse and black cardamom crémeux add a hint of complex smokiness. Meanwhile, I bring out the fruitiness with a cherry and Madeira fluid center, rounding things out with a topping of toasted vanilla meringue and a base of cherry Madeira sauce.” 

But that's not the only beautifully constructed dessert he has up his sleeve.

3. Sweet Corn Tres Leches

A celebration of a Midwestern staple and Latin American favorite. Sweet and savory, buttery and slightly fruity ($12)

Sweet Corn Tres Leches CakeX

“The descriptions on our dessert menu don’t list every component,” says Hoover. “Our servers are fully educated about each dish so they can explain the components if diners ask them questions. But we don’t want the menu to be complicated or confusing.

“For this dessert, I wanted to present something familiar. I grew up in Ohio where there was corn everywhere. And I love its sweet, buttery, savory and umami flavors. It makes me think of home and it makes me happy. So I started with corn. I also think that most people really love a good tres leches cake. So I combined the two.

“It starts with a burnt honey sweet corn puree. There’s tres leches cake, a topping of whipped cream cheese, candied lime puree, lime segments coated with chili powder and sweet corn ash and then a drizzle of cilantro oil.

“It’s a sweet and savory dessert that plays with the flavors of elote. There’s corn. It’s milky. There’s a bit of chili pepper and lime. There’s cream cheese for tanginess and sweet corn ash which adds a smoky component. The cilantro oil adds green floral notes to round things out.”

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.