What's in a restaurant? In this series, we ask chefs around the city to describe their restaurants in their own words and recommend three dishes that embody the best of what they offer. In this edition, we talk with I.D.’s executive chef, Joe Heppe, about the sorts of food he’s putting on the table.
415 Genesee St., Delafield
When it comes to cooking, Chef Joe Heppe of I.d. in Delafield draws from a variety of experiences. Inspired by international fare, thanks to work at Chicago restaurants like Vermillion, Mercat a la Planxa and Oak + Char, his palate is attuned not only toward bold, unique flavors but also dishes that utilize fresh, locally grown and raised products.
"When people come to I.d., they’re blown away by the style and the design of the restaurant. It’s unexpected," says Heppe, "Similarly, our goal is to surpass expectations by giving people food that’s just as pleasing to the eye, and just as delicious as the dining room is beautiful."
"That’s as much about who we have in the kitchen and the culture we create there as anything. For me, it’s really about creating a team environment where people really have the opportunity to develop. It’s about inspiring them and giving them an opportunity to really be a part of things. And the best dishes on the menu aren’t just about me hammering out concepts and putting them on the plate. It’s a conversation; they’re part of the creative process.
"In terms of style, my food is fairly assertive. I like bold flavors and I love integrating a variety of ethnic influences into dishes. I really enjoy not being bored when I eat … and that means eating interesting, creative dishes that are grown by people that I enjoy having a conversation with. The question is: how do I start with familiar, accessible ideas – like chicken or halibut – and then really play with the ingredients to make something creative that really expresses who I am as a chef?
"Our menu is constantly evolving. We’re always thinking about how to accommodate diners without making them uncomfortable. We start with familiar, accessible ingredients – like chicken or halibut – and the we really play with the ingredients to offer people a true experience. The plates here are also very flexible; they can easily be split or they can be eaten as an entree. To round things out, we offer a few full entrees to accommodate folks who don’t love to share. And we run a variety of specials so things are never stagnant."
1. Grass-fed Niman Ranch prime hangar steak
Grilled asparagus, crispy shallots, bagna cauda "Caesar salad" ($20)
"For me, it’s sometimes about sandbagging ideas and letting them roll around a bit ... When we created this, we really wanted to do a spring steak dish. I love the combination of beef and anchovies. But the question was, how do we incorporate both ingredients? And how do push that boundary but really get people to embrace it? So we played with the two flavors. There’s a restaurant in Boston where they’re doing a chicory Caesar salad … we borrowed from that idea and created a bagna cauda and maple vinaigrette.
In the end, you’ve got this really great wood grilled steak, wood grilled asparagus and then – in place of hollandaise – you have a whipped bagna cauda, which really takes the place of a more traditional hollandaise.
2. Pan roasted wild halibut
Piperade peppers, paella flavored bomba rice, preserved lemon aioli ($20)
"Originally, this dish started out with striped bass. We wanted to incorporate these Spanish paella style flavors. So we began with saffron rice. We added peppers that are lightly stewed underneath. And there’s the preserved lemon aioli … which we added because we had about 40 pounds of preserved lemons in the cooler. The dish was delicious, but it wasn’t really selling. So we took a hard look at it, and we decided it needed to be a bit more accessible. So, we went back to the fish and decided to make it halibut instead of bass. But it needed one more thing, so we added the Bar Harbor mussels. I like combining different proteins in a dish; it gives the dish another layer as you’re eating through it."
3. Organic hot smoked chicken
White peony tea pickled grapes, dandelion greens, coconut wild rice, hazelnuts ($28)
"This goes back to the idea that a really well cooked chicken dish is always a good thing. We start by brining and air drying it and then we smoke the chicken as we’re roasting it in our combi oven. And then we thought, how can we make this a little different? So we added the chicken butter jus and the wild rice. Chicken and rice is such a classic combination, but we added the wild rice, which is cooked with coconut milk. That gives it a bit of an ethnic flair – kind of like a congee – without taking it to the level of being inaccessible. From there, we added pickled grapes for acid and then hazelnuts for texture and some nice bitter dandelion greens to balance it all out."
I.D. is open Monday through Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m.
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.