Robert Klemm knows his way around restaurants.
He has worked in kitchens and the front of houses at Smith Brothers, Sake Tumi, Ristorante Bartolotta and Shully's Catering. He operated his own restaurant consulting business.
"In our hearts, we are fine dining guys," he says about his new business partner, Chris Miller, and himself. "But I don't care if you serve the food from the left or the right. I just want the food to be phenomenal."
That is the concept and goal behind their recently opened INdustri Cafe, 524 S. 2nd St., in Walker's Point. There is nothing fancy or pretentious in the 75-seat restaurant, and that would include you.
Wear jeans and a hoodie, if you want, while dining on the cognac wild mushroom gratin appetizer ($9), braised angus short ribs with Door County cherry risotto ($16) and a side of sweet corn fritters ($6). You can probably even wear your jammies to Sunday brunch while you munch a turkey and bacon frittata ($8).
INdustri Cafe takes its name from its industrial neighborhood and its 130-year-old building, which for about 125 years of its life was a machine shop. Klemm says he and Miller would also like it to be a restaurant industry hangout for the cooks and servers who want to grab a bite and a beer after their business has closed. The full menu is available until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Miller has been a cook at Ristorante Bartolotta and Moceans, and he was formerly executive chef and general manager at Sake Tumi. He is responsible for INdustri's kitchen, while Klemm handles the front of house. Klemm's father, also Robert, is a third partner and does the restaurant's accounting.
Open for lunch or brunch and dinner seven days a week, INdustri has a sandwich menu that includes a PB&J built with house-made cashew peanut butter, house-made forest berry jam and is stuffed with sea salt kettle chips ($8). A half-pound burger on a sourdough roll features a roasted poblano barbecue sauce, smoked gouda, applewood bacon, red onions and sauteed tart apples ($13). Sandwiches are accompanied by a chocolate chip cookie and fusilli pasta salad or sweet and smoky kettle chips with roasted garlic aioli.
A selection of salads includes a Waldorf with Greek yogurt, dried Door County cherries, tart apples, walnuts, barley, mint and frisee ($8). The chopped seven layer salad features frisee, hard boiled egg, applewood bacon, pickled red onions, early peas, Wisconsin cheddar cheese and sweet balsamic aioli ($8).
Entrees include meat loaf stuffed with Polish sausage ($14), stout beer braised corned beef hash and eggs ($14) and a vegetarian artichoke and wild mushroom pot pie ($13). A 10-ounce sliced hanger steak is $21 and grilled jumbo prawn skewers with a rich cognac lobster sauce are $26.
For dessert, you can try a white parsnip cake with spiced pecans, cardamom and mandarin orange cream cheese frosting ($7) or a caramel apple bread pudding with cashews and a salted caramel cream sauce ($6).
"We're a cafe on steroids," Klemm says. "We sell a very high quality product at a reasonable price. It's classic American comfort food."
The preparation of that food is technique driven, according to the co-owner. That involves layering flavors. "We don't just add water and boil the heck out of something," he explains.
The restaurant is making local farm to table providers, including the Braise co-op, its go-to suppliers. "We really try to source from here, with 85 to 90% of our kitchen food using Wisconsin product," Klemm continues.
"Why should I go to Texas for product? We support the local small guys."
INdustri serves organic produce, lettuces grown in hydroponic systems and humane-certified Wisconsin meats. Committed to being green, it uses organic plate ware, energy efficient appliances and sugar cane take-out containers.
The local theme also applies to the INdustri bar. All 26 beers served from the tap and bottle are brewed in Wisconsin, and Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Vodka is the base for all of the infused vodka INdustri sells.
The restaurant's layout includes 24 seats on a mezzanine over the bar. A comfortable lounge on a platform near the front door features an oriental rug, five pieces of leather furniture and a rugged coffee table. The area can be used for dining or by customers waiting for a conventional table.
Cream city brick walls, a hardwood floor, wooden pillars and beams, and the metal door of a large freight elevator all contribute to the industrial ambiance. The gritty feel is furthered by INdustri's logo -- the universal triple triangle within a circle symbol for the presence of nuclear activity.
As a new restaurant owner, Klemm does not fear these dicey economic times. He explains, "If you do things right, and you take care of the details, there is no reason you shouldn't survive."
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.