It's taken a few years, but Braise restaurant has finally found a home.
Owner Dave Swanson is currently in the process of remodeling two Walker's Point buildings, located on the corner of 2nd and Washington Streets, to house the restaurant and Braise Culinary School.
The news is a long time coming for people waiting for the restaurant's opening, which was postponed in 2005 after negotiations broke down for the Third Ward space that now houses Water Buffalo. But for Swanson and the Braise concept, the interim has been far from a dry spell.
"I worked out a business plan in the early '90s, and it was a restaurant, the culinary school, a system to get great food from Point A to Point B with the farmers to make it more efficient, and then a few other things along the way, like the home delivery," said Swanson. "After the deal fell through in the Third Ward, we started hearing about the "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" campaign, so at that point in time we thought, okay, let's do that and the put the restaurant on the back burner."
From that, Swanson established Wisconsin's first Restaurant Supported Agriculture (RSA) system, an interconnected organization of local farmers and restaurant owners. The RSA became part of Braise's local food network, which -- along with the Braise on the Go traveling culinary school and the home delivery system -- has become a major resource for bringing local food awareness and education to restaurants and the dining community.
"Our motto is, 'Reconnect people with the food,' and that's really the whole idea behind it all," said Swanson. "Everything has kind of stayed relatively within the framework; we just changed the order up. Rather than doing the restaurant first, we did the restaurant now."
The new eatery will add the final component of Braise's mission to provide access to every aspect of the locally sourced food process.
"If you look at it, it's really a complete circle," said Swanson. "We try to educate people on the food, show them how it can be done in a restaurant setting, then bring them out to farms to see how they are doing it and then show them how to make things that they normally might not be exposed to."
Swanson hopes that the dining experience at Braise restaurant will help garner even more interest in the opportunities his other programs provide to learn more about this cycle.
"You've got to get people involved in their communities," he said. "Somebody coming into the restaurant could see something on the menu, ask about the farm and get to meet the farmer and see where it all comes from. We try to do different events just to get that connection with them or spark an interest in them."
Because the restaurant's menu will rely so heavily on locally sourced food, diners can expect an ever-changing array of fare – and even dishes – depending on what's in season.
"People ask, 'What will the menu be?' Well, it depends on when we open. If we open in May, it will be very different than if we open in July," said Swanson. "As you go through seasons, you see that there are so many things available here, and it's so good that every week it's something new and something so good it just has to go on the menu. It's a sort of never-ending supply."
Some restaurateurs may be intimidated by a constantly rotating list of dishes and ingredients, but with a longtime background as a chef in French restaurants here and across the country – plus 10 years of research on the infrastructure of the locally sourced food movement – Swanson has both the passion and preparation to make Braise a success.
"It was always naturally instilled in me," he said of his past experience in the kitchen. "Every day we would talk with the butcher, we would work with the farmers. It was one of those things of knowing what's available at that market, what we have today that we can put on the menu. People call me Mr. Slow Food, because I've been in it so long."
Construction is still in progress on the two buildings, but if all goes well, Swanson says he expects Braise to open its by late summer.
Contrary to her natural state of being, Renee Lorenz is a total optimist when it comes to Milwaukee. Since beginning her career with OnMilwaukee.com, her occasional forays into the awesomeness that is the Brew City have turned into an overwhelming desire to discover anything and everything that's new, fun or just ... "different."
Expect her random musings to cover both the new and "new-to-her" aspects of Miltown goings-on, in addition to periodically straying completely off-topic, which usually manifests itself in the form of an obscure movie reference.