By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jan 18, 2002 at 5:52 AM

Look out Mo, Eddie and Butch. Milwaukee is scoping out another potential mate in its Midwestern love affair with meat and potatoes.

And this one is dressed for success.

After two years of planning, the Milwaukee Chop House is prepped to celebrate its public grand opening tonight. Located on the ground level of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center at Fifth and Wisconsin Avenues, the new restaurant features "bone-in" steak and chops served with a fresh, contemporary style.

"We're really looking to make a mark here in Milwaukee," said Keith Halfmann, director of operations for the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Before heading up the development of the Milwaukee Chop House, Halfmann orchestrated the success of Blu and Celia, both located in the Pfister Hotel. The director said his new venture incorporates the same stylish elegance of his previous restaurants.

"We're trying to get away from serving the big ol' slab of meat on a plate," Halfmann said of the Chop House menu. "We're focusing on taste, style and presentation."

Style is certainly a key element to Halfmann's new restaurant, which seats as many as 140 guests. The classic, cherry oak finish of the lounge and main dining room helps create a warm environment for an elegant dining experience. The Milwaukee Chop House features the culinary expertise of executive chef Robert Eaton, who helped design the eclectic, American menus at notable restaurants, including Eve, Hi-Hat, Grenadiers and North Shore Bistro. This time, he aimed to create a menu that blends the fireside flare of a traditional steakhouse with a touch of contemporary dining elegance.

Featured steaks include everything from 18 oz. New York strip steaks and rib eyes to 32 oz. porterhouse chops, all served with a grilled medley of mushrooms. For those feeling less carnivorous, Milwaukee Chop House offers "From the Pier" selections, which include ginger, soy and honey-glazed tuna steaks and potato-crusted Chilean Sea Bass. There is also a 14 oz. cold water, lobster tail entree and "land and sea" special, featuring lobster and an 8 oz. center cut steak.

Aside from traditional meat cuts, Halfmann said the Chop House's jumbo lump crab cakes may just become the restaurant's selection du jour. "I think our crab cakes will really separate us from everyone else," he said. "Seasoned with a roasted red pepper ... they're just incredible."

The Chop House menu also features a full selection of salads and side dishes, as well as a bananas foster dessert special. Halfmann said couples can expect to spend about $100 for dinner, which includes drinks or a bottle of wine.

The operations team agreed it was equally important to bring the rugged elegance of the menu into the atmosphere of the dining room. "There's the menu, and when you walk in the dining room, boom, you get another taste," Halfmann said on creating the restaurant's ambience. {INSERT_RELATED}

Guests enter through the lounge and bar area, which is decorated in muted tones of maroon, purple and wine. Plush, beige couches and soft lighting fixtures compliment the deep colors, creating an inviting atmosphere, especially during the winter months. The borders of the walls are etched with line drawings of carafes and martini glasses adding a decidedly modern look to the oak finished room.

The dining room features several wine cabinets, which house a portion of the restaurant's 225 bottled wine list. The main room also features black and white photography shots of famous Milwaukee architecture triumphs, including the likes of City Hall and Miller Park.

"We really want to bring the character of Milwaukee into the restaurant," Halfmann said. He and restaurant general manager Frank Bauer both said they are looking forward to a successful opening night of their unique steak house.

"The phone has been ringing off the hook," Halfmann said. "We're in such a good location ... with Library Hill and downtown offices so close by, this would be a great a place to come and drink martinis."

The Milwaukee Chop House is located at 633 N. 5th St., at the ground level of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Reservations are available by calling (414) 226-CHOP.