By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jun 12, 2018 at 2:31 PM

After a few days of soft lunch openings, Celesta, the new plant-based restaurant at 1978 N. Farwell Ave., officially opened its doors to the public today. And there’s good reason to put it on your list of new spots to try.

After all, Celesta's chef and owner Melanie Manuel is also the face behind Beatrix Foods, a vegan pop-up concept that has gained a reputation for fresh, inventive cuisine that has caused a stir among vegetarians and carnivores alike.

Diners will find a bright and cheerful dining room, which seats about 25 at both low tables and the bar.

Modern touches include clear acrylic seats and modern lighting paired with textural elements, creams and deep blue accents.

They will also find an internationally inspired plant-based menu featuring a variety of dishes from small, shareable plates to entrees. It's also worthwhile to note that, in addition to being vegan, a good portion of the offerings at Celesta are also (or can be made) gluten-free.

The inaugural menu showcases numerous salads, including a kale Caesar with golden raisins, tomato, cucumber, roasted beets, onion, carrot and croutons ($10) and Nicoise with romaine, haricot verts, tomato, potatoes, kalamata olives, chickpea sea salad and mustard shallot dressing ($12).

Among vegetable small plates there’s Asian mushroom tartare ($9), market crudite with goddess dip ($10), roasted za’atar cauliflower with lemon tahini glaze, golden raisins, mint, parsley and almonds ($9), and a breathtakingly beautiful beet carpaccio with vegan ricotta, capers, red onion and dill ($8).

Shareable plates include arancini with crispy lemon risotto and Neapolitan tomato sauce ($9), Lima fries featuring golden potato wedges, cilantro, scallions, peanuts, oil-cured olives and remoulade ($7), and a sweet potato shawarma dip with sweet potato hummus, parsley salad, roasted chickpeas and crostini or gluten-free crackers ($8).

Main dishes include lasagna with basil bechamel, tomato sauce, rosemary sage sausage and a side of arugula salad ($14), ramen featuring sunflower seed broth, noodles, house-made five spice tofu, greens, pickled shiitakes, tomato bomb and togarashi ($15), a buffalo tofu sandwich featuring a toasted bun, coleslaw and a side of kale Caesar or soup ($11) and the Southern Plate, featuring chef’s choice of southern-style seitan, mac and cheese, baked beans and coleslaw ($15).

Specials include a rotating community bowl (today’s features quinoa, roasted tofu, pickled banh mi vegetables and peanut sauce, $8), soup of the day (chickpea veggie dumpling, $4/6) and a daily taco plate for $12. Today’s features barbecue seitan, corn pico de gallo and cashew crema with a side of house chips.

Desserts include vegan brownies and cookies from Batches bakery along with housemade salted chocolate torte, olive oil cake and key lime pie.

Celesta also has a full bar featuring a curated selection of red, white and sparkling wines, locally brewed beer and house cocktails including options like the Screwy Rabbit, a mezcal cocktail with smoked paprika, fresh carrot and orange juices and agave nectar ($12); The Throwback, featuring Abu’s secret rosewater lemonade spiked with gin ($9); and the Eastside Old Fashioned, featuring Rishi Omija Berry Blush tea infused brandy, orange, cherries and club soda ($12).

There’s also unsweetened Rishi hot or iced tea ($3), Abu’s rosewater lemonade ($4) and iced chai tea ($5), sparkling mineral water ($3) or custom blended house drip coffee ($3).

Within the next week or so, the restaurant will also offer grab-and-go items, including salads and soups, which will be available in a cooler near the check-out counter. Moving forward, there will also be a butcher counter where guests can procure house-made seitan and other faux meats for purchase to use at home.

Celesta is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Due to limited seating, reservations are recommended. Make yours by calling (414) 231-3030.

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.