By Kristine Hansen   Published Sep 29, 2003 at 5:42 AM Photography: Neil Kiekhofer of Front Room Photography

{image1}Julia LaLoggia and Deanne Wecker knew they were biting into a new culinary trend when they unveiled Barossa in June. Tucked into the trendy Walker's Point neighborhood -- in the building at 235 S. 2nd St. that housed Dish until its New Year's Eve swan song -- the restaurant serves practically all-organic cuisine.

Shades of pumpkin -- complemented by a carefully chosen mix of light and dark woods -- and micah (on lampshades and the far wall) decorates Barossa. "We wanted to have a warm feel but in a progressive environment," says LaLoggia, who also owns Redroom.

But, deeper still, the women also gave a nod to their belief in organic, healthy and local produce and meats. LaLoggia earned a degree in conservation biology. Wecker is a vegetarian. Chef Lisa Elbe maintains an organic garden on her parents' land in Grafton.

What's harvested from that garden typically ends up on Barossa's menu. Borrowing from the seasons, the trio of women create entrees and appetizers from produce that's at its prime. For example, this fall pumpkin and squash will decorate the menu. Elbe, formerly of Hi-Hat Lounge, tends the garden daily. To meet greater needs, food is shipped in from organic farmers in the Midwest.

"We're using a lot of local, small farmers," says LaLoggia. "We're trying to have a lighter impact on the Earth." A good example of this is cooking with free-range chickens and cage-free eggs. JenEhr Family Farm near Madison supplies chicken fitting this criteria.

About 40 percent of the menu is vegetarian. In many cases, a diner's culinary selection can be turned into a non-vegetarian one by adding beef or chicken. Vegetarians and vegans can dress up their entrees with tofu. At least two vegan options are on each daily menu.

"We try to be sensitive in meeting all tastes, and leave it open to the customer to decide," says LaLoggia. "Hippies that are making $50 a week can come in and afford something. And business people can come in and spend $100."

For lunch, diners can delve into a (hormone-free) bison burger and add toppings like bacon and gorgonzola. "Bison's the healthiest meat for you -- something like 92-percent fat free," says LaLoggia. Two other lunch options are the Thai beef salad ($7), which is grilled tenderloin over greens with a rice-powder vinaigrette, tomato and cucumber and edamane and asparagus risotto ($6) with mushrooms, parmesan cheese and cream.

Dinner choices on the menu range from plantain gratino ($9) stuffed with red bell peppers and poblano, and served with a scallion potato and chihuahua cheese, to chicken eos ($14). Chicken eos is a free-range chicken stuffed with spinach, gorgonzola and dried apricots. Truffled mushroom mashed potatoes and a Port chutney sauce is on the side.

A late-night menu features ahi sushi roll ($6) -- ahi, basil and mint wrapped in a roll, with side sauces of ponzu and yuzumirn, and wasabi yogurt -- and mushroom crostini ($5), which is three types of sauteed mushrooms with balsamic glaze served on toast. Choose from about 25 ingredients for build-your-own pizzas -- the most unique are vegan sausage and cheese, avocado and black beans.

Since both LaLoggia and Wecker are close followers of wine culture there was no question of whether or not a wine bar would be installed. According to LaLoggia, Barossa's wine list is one of the best in town. Later this fall the second floor will be refinished and opened as a cocktail lounge hosting live music and DJs.

Barossa -- (414) 272-8466 -- is open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Dinner is served from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday (until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). A late-night menu is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily, and brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.