By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Mar 26, 2024 at 11:01 AM

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Head to dinner at the cheel, 105 S. Main St. in Thiensville, and you’ll find a unique menu of Nepalese, Burmese and Himalayan dishes including “tidbits” like eggplant bharta and  momo (filled with vegetables or lamb) and entrees including tender, aromatic Bheda Lamb Shank served with saffron rice and seasonal vegetables; and shan noodles featuring bean threads with vegetables and guest's choice of protein.

But you’ll also find a bar menu filled with signature cocktails, many created by Bar Lead, Dustin Ford, a longtime chef whose interest in pre-prohibition-era cocktails led him to make the switch to the front of house. There, he found he could play with a variety of flavors from the kitchen to create unique cocktails that paired well with the food offerings.

Dustin Ford
The cheel's Dustin Ford

At the cheel, he’s become masterful at incorporating Nepalese, Burmese and Himalayan flavors into their list of signature cocktails. 

“I’m constantly working with Barkha and picking her brain to break down recipes,” he says. “That helps me to mentally visualize a cocktail that incorporates elements from her kitchen.”  

Under ideal circumstances, he says “I’m taking my heart and applying it to her heart [her food].”

These are five of Ford’s newest creations, along with food pairings guaranteed to create a dynamic eating and drinking experience.

1. Piro Piro (Spicy Spicy)

Turmeric-infused coconut-washed gin; toasted basmati and ginger syrup; creme de coco, passionfruit liquor, lime, Nepalese dried chili and a garnish of Nepalese chili and Thai basil oil.

Piro PiroX

Tasting notes: “The cocktail isn’t overwhelmingly spicy, but you do get hints of heat from the Nepalese chili, imparted as the pepper is shaken with the other ingredients,” says Ford. “Every sip offers something different: a bit of sweet, a bit of basil and little flecks of chili.”

Pairing: Lamb Momo (ginger, red onion, parsley; served with classic aachar); served steamed, fried or jhol (in broth seasoned with aachar).

2. Umami Bomb

Shiitake-infused blanco tequila; jimbu (onion grass) and Szechuan-infused Shochu; basmati ginger syrup, garnished with cucumber-Szechuan peppercorn foam.

Umami BombX

Tasting notes: “I wanted a tequila drink that was the most complex thing on the menu,” notes Ford. “There are layers – it begins with sweet fresh cucumber and moves into a funkier, complex, slightly savory wash of flavors.”

Pairing: Chiaou Choyla (mushrooms, scallions, garlic, ginger, chips, mustard, cilantro).

3. Chia Manhattan

Nepalese black tea-infused rye whiskey; amaro infused with green cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, clove; sfumato; garnished with a cherry.

*Note: Chia is the Nepalese name for what we would call chai. In turn, “chai” is the word for “tea” in Nepal. 

Chia ManhattanX

Tasting notes: This version of the classic Manhattan is extraordinarily smooth with bold bitter accents and a slightly spicy backbone.

Pairing: Creme brulee (green cardamom custard, lemon, chai syrup (cloves, green cardamom, darjeeling tea), blueberries.

4. If You Like Piña Coladas

Aged rum, overproof dark rum, white rum, toasted coconut Aquavit, coconut liqueur. Garnished with grilled pineapple, seasoned with Himalayan spices and dehydrated. Rimmed with honey and ground, dried coconut.

If You Like Pina ColadasX

Tasting notes: If you like piña coladas, you’re sure to enjoy this summery quaff, which incorporates the classic flavors of toasted coconut and pineapple in a uniquely nuanced drink. 

Pairing: Endive boats filled with besan gyaw (housemade Burmese tofu); or simply a summer meal on the patio.

5. Peanut Butter Jelly Time

Toasted peanut-infused 12-year Buchanan’s Scotch, browned ghee-washed Whistle Pig bourbon, tamarind liqueur, creme de cassis, yuzu sweet vermouth, lemon. Garnished with an almond and toasted peanut tuile.

Peanut Butter Jelly TimeX

Tasting notes: “This is a dessert cocktail all day,” notes Ford, who created the drink while looking for a more natural way to incorporate the flavor of peanut butter into a cocktail. Unsurprisingly, it incorporates all the flavors of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in cocktail form.

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.