Buttermint Finer Dining & Cocktails will officially open its doors to the public on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 4195 N. Oakland in Shorewood.
Behind the splashy new restaurant are the folks at Black Shoe Hospitality, who also operate Blue’s Egg, Maxie’s and Story Hill BKC. And they’ve spent the past year designing a new concept which brings together the elements of exceptional service, well-prepared food and expertly prepared cocktails in an environment that hearkens back to an era when dining out was always a special occasion.
The restaurant, which is the product of a yearlong renovation, brings together eclectic retro decor with modern creature comforts to create an upbeat environment that’s also likely to conjure a bit of nostalgia.
In fact, the charms of the early 1960s era are woven into every aspect of the otherwise modern restaurant, from the cocktails at the bar to the housemade buttermints which will be offered to each guest alongside their check.
Walk into Buttermint and you’ll find a comfortable space showcasing 1960s-inspired atomic starburst artwork, vintage-look slatted wood room dividers and a color palette that ranges from from misty blues to golden yellows, with pops of turquoise and warm reds.
The dining area features a combination of upholstered banquettes and four-tops accompanied by mid-century modern dining chairs.
The bar features colorful modular back bar storage and tall dusty mint mid-century modern bar stools that were made for relaxing with friends. And yes, it's the exactly the sort of place where you can simply stop in for cocktails and a bite.
Meanwhile, a lounge area offers a combination of soft seating appropriate for happy hours or cocktails and nibbles with friends, along with two four-top tables with velveteen upholstered chairs to accommodate walk-in diners.
Do be sure to peek into the restrooms, which pay homage to the influencers of the 1960s and 70s, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Captain Kangaroo to Julia Child, Paul Prudhomme and Alice Waters.
And don't forget to take advantage of the wine and spirits shop just inside the entrance, offering favorite tipples at reasonable prices.
Continental fare revisited
The menu for Buttermint, designed by co-owner and chef Joe Muench and executed by Chef de Cuisine Brian Dubowski and staff, draws inspiration from the early 1960s, an era which birthed the modern restaurants we know today.
“We spent time looking at a lot of older menus to come up with the design,” says Muench, noting that the opening menu is just a peek at what’s to come on an menu expected to change frequently and evolve based on both theavailability of ingredients and the continued creative exploration of Buttermint’s DNA.
He notes that the modern takes on classic dishes are meant to both incite familiarity and inspire curiosity, sparking conversation between guests and servers.
“This is about giving people a true dining experience, one that offers value and hospitality,” says Muench. “We have a great team of people, including front of house staff who know the menu and who can really take their time and interact with guests.”
That includes treating guests to an intermezzo course just before their main dishes arrive. Muench says they are currently serving a refreshing, palate cleansing glass of green apple green tea spiked with ginger beer which is meant to enliven the palate and prepare guests for what’s to come.
Seafood, terrines & snacks
A focal point of the dining room will be Buttermint’s raw bar, which will feature an assortment of chilled prepared seafood including freshly shucked East and West Coast oysters. Current seafood offerings include house-smoked sturgeon with horseradish, caraway and rye ($18); house-tinned clams marinated with lemon and olive oil served atop potato cream ($13); and Hiramasa crudo flavored with satsuma, apple, ginger and mint ($14).
Muench says that, moving forward, the raw bar is also likely to feature items like caviar and blinis.
But – maybe less expected – it also includes items like charcuterie and vegetables. For instance, guests can order a terrine of root vegetables flavored with cashews, maple and vinegar ($12); duck pate is served with blackberry port gelee, onion and marmalade ($13) and in a throwback to the era of “cold cuts," there is also a cold salad of thinly sliced dry-brined lamb sirloin served with a salad of white beans, tomato jam, feta and rosemary salt ($14).
The appetizer menu is more than appropriate for bartime nibbles, a feast of small plates or as a precursor to dining. Options include casually snackable chickpea fries served with harissa ($9); veal sweetbreads sauteed with mushrooms ($16); and romanesco served with rich orange-scented maltaise sauce ($12).
“We wanted there to be some familiarity and accessibility about the menu,” says Muench, “This isn’t about being bougie.”
He points to items like the crispy chicken appetizer featuring tenderized chicken coated with a light airy breading and served with umami-rich housemade XO sauce.
But the menu is also fun and adventurous, featuring items like a Japanese style okonomiyaki pancake filled with smoked steelhead trout ($14). It’s topped traditionally with bonito flakes, a topping of smoked fermented tuna which is shaved so thinly that, when added to the dish, it dances across the top of the pancake, offering a liberal dose of dinner theater, which Muench lightheartedly describes as the “cirque de soleil of the North Shore.” And yes, you’ll absolutely want to try it.
Meat, fish and vegetables
Main courses at Buttermint offer something for everyone from housemade pasta with braised greens, mushrooms, rosemary oil and parmesan ($22); a brisket burger with classic fixings ($16); and a grilled Iowa pork rib chop served with celery root hash, candied bacon, potato croquette and calvados reduction ($29).
Looking for steak? There’s grilled Niman strip loin, which is wet aged in house for six weeks before making it to the plate alongside potato pave, grilled broccolini, red onions and peppercorn sauce ($44). But there’s also pan roasted elk loin served with tea-steeped grains, candied sweet potato, escarole and black currant bordelaise ($38).
On the seafood side, North Atlantic Flounder is treated with a light ttouch and served with potato puree, beans with cipollini onions and verjus buttter ($29).
Meanwhile, grilled swordfish is enhanced by Asian-inspired sticky rice, along with stir-fried butternut squash, apples and red cabbage, black vinegar and green curry ($31). Meanwhile, arctic char takes on a Bavarian twist thanks to smoked pork lentils, swiss chard and a chanterelle cream sauce ($25).
Old school dishes like sauteed veal liver are leveled up with sides like black garlic mashed potatoes, baby spinach and port wine sauce ($26), while Amish chicken breast is roasted and served with housemade pelmeni (Russian dumplings) filled with chicken sausage, squash and spinach ($26).
After dinner sweets
Buttermint’s rotating selection of desserts will also take their queue from the classics, says Muench, particularly European style tortes from Switzerland and Austria which the pastry team has deconstructed and presented with a modern twist.
Examples include The Messy Romanoff, a collision between the Eton Mess, a traditional English dessert made with strawberries, meringue and whipped cream and Strawberries Romanoff; as well as the Oeufs a la Banana, a take on the classic French dessert eeufs a la neige (eggs in the snow) featuring delicate poached meringues and brûléed bananas.
Another twist? Sherbet will also be an option for those seeking a simple, nostalgic after-dinner treat. Dessert wines and cocktails including a White Russian and Brandy Alexander (the cocktail, not the ice cream drink) will also be available.
Grab a North Shore Pour
At the bar, guests will find a wine list curated by co-owner, operations and beverage director Jason Kerstein featuring over 150 selections priced between $32 and $98 per bottle and $10-$15 per glass pour. Tap beers will showcase both local and regional craft beers from breweries including New Glarus, Third Space and Eagle Park (priced $6-$8).
But, the real treat might be in the cocktail list, which features a slate of classics including The Last Word, Vesper, Sloe Gin Fizz, Sidecar and a Rye Manhattan.
Highlights include The Original Mai Tai made with aged rum, Cointreau, lime, orgeat and a dark rum float ($10); and the Shorewood Shirley, an adult riff on the kiddie cocktail featuring Central Standard Door County Cherry Vodka, grenadine and Sprite ($9). And yes, there’s a Buttermint Old Fashioned made with Central Standard North Wisconsin Brandy ($9), along with a premium Long Island Iced Tea made with Wheatly vodka, Tanqueray gin, Exotico tequila, Bacardi rum, Cointreau, sour and Coca-Cola ($10).
Mocktails include the French 57 (Seedlip Garden Spirit, lemon, simple syrup and na sparkling, $8) and the Oakland Streetcar (elderflower cordial, grapefruit and lime, $7) along with a selection of non-alcoholic beers and sparkling riesling. Coffee, teas and soft drinks are also available.
Even happy hour at Buttermint is a memorable occasion, featuring beer and cocktail specials from 4 to 6 p.m. every day of the week. Guests can also take advantage of the “North Shore Pour,” a particularly generous pour of wine (or a bonus chaser to enjoy alongside a beer or cocktail).
Make your reservation
“Buttermint has been a long time coming,” says co-owner Amy Kerstein, who operates the restaurant alongside Jason Kerstein, Dan Sidner and Joe Muench. “Our team has helped us build this through incredible challenges. We are thrilled to share what we’ve created with the community. We hope Buttermint will be a gathering place for generations to come.”
Buttermint will offer its full dinner menu Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended and can be made online at OpenTable or by calling (414) 488-2587.
Walk-in diners will be accommodated as space allows; seating at the bar and in the lounge will also be available for impromptu dining.
Buttermint will be closed Dec. 24 and Dec. 25, but will offer dinner service Monday, Dec. 27 through Friday, Dec. 31 (closed on Jan. 1).
Beginning in spring of 2022 (or as staffing and operations allow), Buttermint will also launch an upscale brunch service on both Saturdays and Sundays.
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.