By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Aug 31, 2006 at 5:36 AM
William and Robert Jenkins don't want to sound cliché by saying, "We're doing something that Milwaukee has never seen before" when they talk about their new restaurant.

But in all actuality, it's kind of true. The 30-year-old twin brothers are opening a Cajun fusion restaurant and lounge called Bayou along the banks of the Milwaukee River and as it takes shape, it is definitely proving to be something different for the city.

"We're creating the 'sexy bayou,'" says William, who has also owned North Avenue's Cush cocktail lounge for seven years. He's referring to the mixed environmental dynamic of his newest venture at 2060 N. Humboldt Blvd. -- primarily Southern cooking with a sleek, urban building design and modern decor.

"When most people think of the bayou, they think swampy and dirty, but this isn't going to be like some of the Cajun places I've been to in this state and around the country. We're not going to be overly thematic. There's not going to be a huge wall of hot sauce."

But that's not to suggest that there won't be hot sauce involved. There will be plenty, and not just your standard reds. The Jenkins hired chef Bayard Michael, who has since created a plethora of unique sauces ranging from mango-peach to wild blueberry to strawberry molasses. And although they won't be displayed throughout the dining room, they will be for sale by the jar off the menu.

Bayou's cuisine is grounded in Cajun, though William says that while this style has been stereotyped as extremely hot and spicy, it certainly doesn't have to be prepared that way. His menu, he says, is attractive to a modest palate and borrows flavors from many different origins.

"When people think Cajun, everyone thinks blackened, deep fried, and spicy," he says. "For us, Cajun is our base but we're also incorporating a lot of other styles of cooking, like French, Spanish and Italian. We have a huge range of options, from butter poached lobster-tail tacos to fried plantains and guacemole.

Lunch, which is served daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., consists of several sandwiches -- po-boys and burgers smothers in anything from peach BBQ sauce to mango salsa -- salads and entrees like southern fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Lunch items range from $6 to $14.

The Bayou begins dinner at 5 p.m. and serves until 10 p.m., after which they offer a late-night limited menu until 2 a.m. Here you'll find some Cajun standards -- gumbos, jambalaya and catfish -- as well as several seafood surprises and even vegetarian items. Dinner's price points range from $15 to $25.

And it doesn't stop there. Ever had a Cajun brunch? At Bayou, eggs benedict is made with crab, tenderloin or blackened red fish, omelets are prepared with smoked duck or salmon and, of course, there's always a full order of grits and biscuits. Brunch items range from $7 to $14.

Adjacent to the dining room is the Bayou lounge, which is separated by sculpted partition walls, but is still a part of the whole.

"The lounge is going to be a huge part of this place," Robert says, emphasizing the full-service bar that seats 40. Although the brothers are hesitant to reveal too many of their secrets before opening on Sept. 10, there's no denying that Bayou's lounge will be stocked with plenty of ingredients to make a Sazerac -- the quintessential New Orleans drink, and, supposedly, one of the oldest known and most potent cocktails.

To achieve the sexy, modern look of an urban bayou, the Jenkins worked with Engberg-Anderson Architects -- the design group behind Yanni's -- in the 5,000-sq. ft. space. A major point of pride and excitement is the outdoor patio, which is 23  ft. wide and stretches along two sides of the building, high above the Milwaukee Riverwalk.

"You're not going to see a patio like this anywhere," says Robert. The patio seats an extra 56 people in the warm months and offers a panoramic view of Downtown and the water.

"We're counting on the décor and the atmosphere almost as much as we're counting on the great food and presentation to make this place a success," he continues. "Also, this is a new style of cooking (for the area) and possibly a new style of eating."
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”