By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Oct 24, 2016 at 11:01 AM

For the 10th straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, dining guides, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as voting for your "Best of Dining 2016."

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 Chef Matt Kerley of Hinterland.

Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub
222 E. Erie St.
(414) 727-9300

"When I moved to Milwaukee five years ago, I wasn’t in a hurry to find a job, but I wanted to find the right job," says Hinterland Executive Chef Matt Kerley. "I’d put out my resume to a number of places and was in talks with Bartolotta’s about taking a chef position with them. But, in the meantime, I met Katie Rose and she introduced me to Dan Van Rite. And he invited me to stage at Hinterland.

"Milwaukee was brand new to me, and it was so different from San Francisco; so I was pretty homesick. But, when I stepped into the kitchen at Hinterland, I just really loved the vibe, and it felt like home. Fast forward to last year and I had the opportunity to take over the kitchen. It was like things came full circle, and I’m definitely where I belong.

"In terms of what we’re trying to do here at Hinterland, it’s about accepting nothing less than excellence. At the same time, it’s not about putting on airs or being pompous; it’s about giving people a dining experience. So, we really try to articulate what that experience is through really approachable, delicious food.

"If you’re someone who wants to come in and have a burger and beer and watch the game, we’re all about that. Or if you’re having a business meeting and you want to drop by for charcuterie and oysters or a great steak, we do that too. And, if you want to come in and do eight or ten courses for a birthday or celebration, we’d love to do that for you.

"For me, personally, with the food I want it to achieve a level of sophistication that makes us proud of what we’re doing. But, I don’t want it to be fussy. Everything has its purpose. One of the cool things is that we have the flexibility to really support all these small local farms, and during the spring, summer and fall we’re probably pulling in 85-90 percent of our produce and meats from local growers. And we have an amazing clientele who really support that."

1. Pork belly

Mustard glazed pork belly, braised daikon, bacon lardons, pickled apple, pea shoots, togarashi ($14).

"What’s cool about the pork belly is that the dish is really a very diner friendly pub-style dish. The mustard glaze makes it extremely beer friendly. And it showcases how we can use very different flavor profiles and really get them to work together.

"I knew I wanted to do a dry rubbed pork belly with mustard. And I knew I wanted to do something with daikon. I also knew I wanted it to be rich and brothy. But, from there, the other ingredients were really inspired by what’s great about the fall. The apples are fresh and crisp, and the pea shoots are sweet and really nice and green tasting. And interestingly, it’s really the togarashi that pulls everything together. It was an element we added at the last minute that really made it pop."

2. Duck breast

Duck breast, parsnip puree, broccoli rabe, acorn squash, fermented blackberries, duck cracklings ($34).

"It starts with great duck breast from Neesvig’s. And then I ran down the list from Centgraf Farms and there’s acorn squash, rapini and parsnips. And all of that really works well together; it’s fresh and fall. I thought the blackberries would be great, and we fermented them, not only to prolong their life, but also to really make their flavor sparkle. The juices also form a main component for the gastrique, which really nicely cuts the richness of the duck. So, it’s a really easy, simple dish. In many ways, it’s a quintessential dish for us. It’s beautiful and elegant, but really very simple."

3. Parsnip cake

Parsnip cake, browned butter cream cheese, apple, walnut ($9).

"This is just a fun play on a carrot cake. You have all those fall spices and richness from the browned butter cream cheese. As the dish came together, I thought a lot about working some fall apples into the mix; but, I didn’t want them to be forced. So, we made apple butter and apple gel, and then pickled apples in mirin.

"In the end, I thought the dish needed texture, so we dehydrated some parsnip shreds. It speaks to the whimsical nature that our food so often takes on. It’s very component driven; but, that’s not something that people are going to really fixate on because it comes out and it’s just this delicious piece of cake. It's fun, and it’s a really great hearty fall dessert."

Daily specials include:

Monday: $5 bowls of pho
Tuesday: Three tacos for $10; $5 beer-itas
Wednesday: Steamed mussels and a pint of pilsner for $10
Thursday: Brisket sandwich for $9; $6 B.B. "Beer-Fashioned"
Friday: Fish fry for $15; $5 brandy slush

Hinterland is open Monday through Friday from 4 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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.