By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Sep 21, 2023 at 6:14 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

This week a Milwaukee restaurant got a serious nod from the New York Times.

Birch, which opened its doors in June of 2021 at 459 Pleasant St., had the honor of being the only Wisconsin eatery mentioned among 50 U.S. restaurants in the third annual New York Times Restaurant List.  

“Where else can you get roasted wild walleye, served in its own smoke-scented broth with pickled fennel salsa verde, or exceptional housemade pastas enlivened by premium Wisconsin ingredients, from feta to corn to shishito peppers?,” wrote Brett Anderson in the article. “This is worldly Midwestern cuisine free of clichés.”

National recognition isn’t new to Birch chef and owner Kyle Knall who was honored as a James Beard Foundation Outstanding Chef semifinalist in 2022 after taking full ownership of Birch with his wife and partner Meghan. [Listen to Knall talk about his work on the FoodCrush Podcast]

Summer steelhead trout crudo from Birch
Summer steelhead trout crudo from Birch

Just two years after opening, Birch has made a name for itself. It was among the local restaurants visited by "Top Chef"’s Gail Simmons during the inaugural weeks of filming in Milwaukee. And it’s no accident that the restaurant has been included on my 52 Restaurants list for the past two years. The food is excellent. It exhibits intention and technique. And maybe most importantly, it’s magic woven from locally sourced fruits, vegetables and proteins that support local farms in Wisconsin.

But recognition for a restaurant in a city like Milwaukee, which is slowly gaining traction as a national food destination, is always affirming. And it speaks volumes about the talent of a chef who chose to put down roots in Milwaukee after building his career in markets like New Orleans and New York and working at venues like Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern and Maysville.

Yet Knall doesn’t take the accolades for granted.

The chef says was in New York for the “The Welcome Conference” when the story broke. He was staying with Meghan’s cousin, who woke him up to show him the article.

"Whenever I visit New York or Chicago,” Knall says, “I always leave and wonder whether people see what we’re doing here. But this is a great reminder that I don't need to be a chef in one of those cities to do what I love.”

Knall is swift to acknowledge that the accolades belong to his staff. “I came home and celebrated with them,” he says. “I wanted them to know how special it was, and how they all had a part in it.”

“Things like this have a great deal of weight,” Knall adds. “It’s a reflection of our staff, the customers who eat here and the farmers that we work with. It’s super special.”

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.