By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 07, 2008 at 11:28 AM Photography: Whitney Teska

Dan McEvoy doesn't just work for Harley-Davidson; he is the spirit of Harley-Davidson. As a hardcore rider with road stories to spare and a life-long bike enthusiast, landing the executive chef position at the Harley-Davidson Museum's restaurant Motor was a dream come true.

You might also say it works to restaurant's advantage to have authenticity -- both in the culinary and riding worlds -- at the helm.

McEvoy designed Motor's menu around bold, hearty, Americana cuisine inspired by the open road, and many items have real-life stories behind them.

There's the preacher down in Little Rock, Ark., who ran a rib smokery out of his church. It is his personal recipe -- which regulars describe as a religious experience -- that inspired McEvoy's slow-smoked BBQ baby back ribs.

There's also the Georgia peach cobbler crafted after a ride through rural Georgia during peach season.

"We do comfort foods, but we've made them bolder while maintaining the comfort," says McEvoy. "We don't want to make them the same way you make them at home; you could stay home and get that. We've added a few twists."

The meatloaf, for example, is listed on the menu as "Ma's," but McEvoy has added red pepper flakes and fennel seed. The reason? "A Harley mom might want a little extra kick."

And he should know. He's well-versed in Harley culture and its overwhelming sense of comradery, and helped specifically shape Motor in this same vein.

The dining room boasts long, steel communal tables, a room partition welded out of bike parts and spare metal, barstools with built in helmet hooks and walls of windows looking out over the canal. Everything feels open, emitting a strong sense of connection, with others in the room and with the world outside. sat down with McEvoy -- affectionately known around the restaurant as Chef Dan -- to talk about his hearty Harley-themed menu, his passion for using local products and what makes Motor an all-American classic. What kind of training and experience did you acquire before coming to Motor?

Dan McEvoy: I've been trained under three master chefs, French, German and one from the U.K. I think it's been a good cross mix. I've works with amazing trendsetters in the U.S., like Steve Stallard and Marc Ehrler, who founded the Miami Food and Wine Festival.

I've worked coast to coast. I moved here from Tucson, Ariz., where I worked for Loews Resorts, and before that it was Marriott International for 11 years. One of my fortes is openings and (Motor's) has got to be the coolest of the seven resort openings and five hotel redos that I've done. It's the most exciting and coolest project I've ever had my arms around.

OMC: What is your signature dish?

DM: I try to put a lot of my own influences into each menu I create. I'm a creator. My favorite things are diversity and levels, levels, levels. We take a bold kick to comfort classics.

OMC: What's the best part about this job?

DM: Showing up everyday. It has such a crosscut of Americana diversity here. I can run into someone from my hometown where I grew up, or someone from the last place I lived. Every day is unpredictable. I can sit down at a table and talk with riders about their stories.

OMC: Since you're a relative newcomer to the city, where to do you like to dine out in Milwaukee when you get the chance?

DM: I thought Lakefront Brewery was a really fun place. I like Elsa's, too. From my high-end culinary side, I thought it was uniquely refreshing. I wasn't expecting that type of bistro flair. Some simple places for a good burger -- Steny's, Leff's Lucky Town. I had some snacks there, a sandwich and a beer; it was fantastic.

OMC: As a chef, what's been the biggest trend or development in food within the last decade?

DM: About 12 to 15 years ago there was a big craze of fusion cooking, where like disciplines were mixed. (With) Asian and French, the attention to detail, the quality, the integrity of ingredients and the discipline involved in the preparation and presentation is very steep, but not everybody can pull that off.

It seemed like after a while, the catch phrase turned into "confusion cooking." At that point in time, I fell back and went more regional, local and have really been a hard driver of that ever since. Food shouldn't be confusing; it should be fun, delicious and sustainable for the clientele and the community. Even the produces we use to cook with, the utensils, the equipment, the methods, the disposal -- it should all be as sustainable as possible. And that's what we try to do here.

OMC: Speaking of utensils, what's the one kitchen tool you couldn't do without.

DM: My 12-inch chef knife. That's my Excalibur. It's irreplaceable. It's old enough that it could vote right now and it's in perfect condition. If you keep your tools in good condition they should be around forever.

OMC: Getting back to trends, what are your predictions for the next big movement?

DM: Some of the trends that are really starting to roll are smaller portions with more variety. Twists on tapas bars, and that style of menu planning. Multiple-course menus are starting to come back, versus just your salad and entrée. You see people craving the different flavors over quantity.

Chefs are more designers now; they design their food to be sustainable, to have a certain look that flatters the front of the house, represents the service and the materials they're working with every day.

OMC: What's your guilty pleasure food?

DM: It used to be chocolate, but I've kicked that habit. I'd say a Kobe filet with a foie gras butter. That's enough, right there, to get you through the whole week.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”