By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Mar 30, 2005 at 5:37 AM

{image1} Dave Swanson aims to bring simplicity, locally-grown food and comfort back to dining out in Milwaukee. A former Sanford chef, one of the city's finest dining experiences, Swanson is opening his own restaurant, Braise, this summer in an unique space on the Milwaukee River in the Historic Third Ward.

Perched behind Blush Beauty at 249 N. Water St., a raw, two-story space is quickly being reworked into what may become one of the most talked-about restaurants downtown.

Swanson, who started working in the restaurant business at age 15, has perfected his craft at Commander's Palace, in the heart of New Orleans' Garden District. He's also worked at Carlos' in Highland Park, Ill. and spent six years at the very prestigious Le Francais in Wheeling, Ill. In 1998, he was recruited by Sandy D'Amato for Sanford, where he honed his skills and continued to dream of someday opening his own restaurant.

Along with forager Annie Wegner, Swanson is building out his "vision" using the knowledge, passion and tools he learned in the early stages of his cooking career.

"It's been interesting looking at all the spaces and figuring out my dream," says Swanson. "I always wanted to be in the Third Ward. I wanted something accessible and exciting, and the windows, light, Riverwalk and just the footprint of the space works," adds Swanson.

In addition to the space created by Flux Design, Swanson says "there will be a personality throughout the restaurant, through every aspect." He says the design plan is about 90 percent complete, and they hope to have the full plan approved soon.

Aside from the natural beauty of raw space, Swanson wants to "return to the core and soul of what food is" with Braise. He is passionate about food and longs for a "warm, comfortable atmosphere" that will focus on the quality ingredients, handpicked from local farmers on a daily basis.


According to Wegner, who brings a nutrition and agriculture background to Braise -- she also worked at Sanford -- the food will be made with "seasonal ingredients and unique varietals from local farmers." She has the personal connections with farmers through her work with Growing Power, a farmer's co-op.

"We will harness the energy of the local farmers, and the menu will change daily with a seasonal wine list," she says. "Our tag is just that: 'seasonally inspired cuisine, sourced locally.' It's about connections. People want to know what they are putting in their mouths these days," says Wegner.

"We'll highlight a farmer each month. The average food travels 1,500 miles to your plate; we definitely want to shorten that trip," she adds. Delivery costs for ingredients will remain lower, and the plate prices will reflect that, notes Swanson.

Swanson and Wegner also are seeking to bring meaning to our eating, if that's possible in today's fast food world. Swanson says it is and proves it in his cooking. "(The Italian-born movement) Slow Food preserves the tradition of tastes and returns us back to what food is about."

Milwaukee diners, sometimes skeptical of what's new, always wonder what a new place will be like. Swanson cites Jeff Orr from Harvest in Madison as a mentor and says "there's a restaurant in Los Angeles called AOC; it's one of my influences."

AOC is a bustling, celeb-packed wine bar and tapas place, where grazing is an art form. Swanson hopes to take elements from AOC like its long bar, food bar and charcuterie stations, so diners can watch the chefs prepare and cut cheeses and meats right before their eyes. Blackbird in Chicago is another example of what Braise may look and feel like. Blackbird supports the city's green market, a tie-in that Swanson and Wegner also are anticipating once the Milwaukee Public Market opens just one block north of Braise.

Anyone who cooks will understand the eatery's name, but for the rest of us: American Heritage Dictionary defines braise: "To cook (meat or vegetables) by browning in fat, then simmering in a small quantity of liquid in a covered container." Slow cooking breaks down the food the liquid absorbs from the foods being braised and makes terrific sauces. Braising also is the first cooking technique usually taught in culinary schools.

Swanson left Sanford in February 2004, so it's been about one-and-a-half years of slow cooking for Braise. Swanson smiles, "It's actually happening. I want to enjoy the process."

Watch for Braise to open later this summer. The restaurant and bar will hold 80-100 for dining, 20 in a downstairs bar and food bar area and, of course, there will be patio seating on the Riverwalk with great views of downtown.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.