After weeks of preparation and a private soft opening this past weekend, Odd Duck is slated to reopen in their new home at 939 S. 2nd St. on Thursday, March 31.
And diners have a great deal to look forward to. Not only has the Walker’s Point restaurant been utterly transformed, but the longstanding eatery, which received honors as a James Beard semifinalist this year in the category of Outstanding Restaurant, is poised to introduce guests to a menu that might be its most compelling to date.
A bittersweet, but fortuitous move
The move to Walker’s Point is an irrefutable milestone for Odd Duck, which operated for a decade in their rented Bay View digs, where they swiftly built a reputation for artful, globally inspired shareable plates.
“We loved our space, and we loved the Bay View neighborhood immensely,” says Melissa Buchholz, who owns and operates the restaurant with partner and chef Ross Bachhuber.
“But, over the years, we grew up. As a restaurant, as a team, we’ve evolved. When we first opened, we didn’t really know what Odd Duck would become. So, in the beginning, we started off with simple dishes, and we listened to our customers. As the years passed, we began serving more refined, complex dishes from all over the world.”
That evolution made it increasingly difficult to operate within the confines of their Bay View location, with its small kitchen, limited storage and prep space and increasingly small, inflexible dining room.
So, when it came time to sign another five year lease on the Bay View restaurant, Bucholz says they took a hard look at their surroundings and decided that, if they were to remain in the space – and continue to push forward creatively as a concept – they’d need to make some serious repairs and upgrades to the space to make the space work for another five years.
She says they’d always admired the former union hall in Walker’s Point, a space which had been entirely renovated to house Meraki in 2014. So, when the building was put up for sale in 2021, they took it as a fortuitous sign.
“We’d always said we’d seriously consider this building if it ever went up for sale,” she says. “So, when it did, we went back to our families and asked if they could help out so that we could buy the building.”
Ultimately, Buchholz says, the decision was a sound one, which will allow the Odd Duck team and concept to continue to grow, to evolve and ultimately, to be the best it can be.
Quirky, comfy & totally Odd Duck
The new Walker’s Point restaurant might be shiny and new; but it also delivers on the cozy comforts and quirkiness which have come to define Odd Duck.
A plant-filled vestibule greets customers, welcoming them into the building, where a host station stands between the front bar area and the dining room. Behind the station, mid-century modern terra cotta colored tile – chosen for its resemblance to “duck feet” – is set off against bronze planters.
“We really leaned into the mid-century modern feel of the building,” says Buchholz, noting that the result offers a eclectic vibe that captures both the mid-century look, along with elements of the Southwest and Middle East.
For instance, Moroccan blue tile is woven into the bar area, where the original bar and back bar were reimagined by the folks at Three Sixty.
Hints of the tile follow into the spacious-but-still-cozy dining space, where terra cotta and blue walls pop against the tall leather banquettes (an element retained from the former Meraki), showcasing eye-catching art commissioned by close friend and Brooklyn-based artist Janel Schultz.
Moss wall hangings by Interiorscapes lighten up the dimly lit space, flanked by mid-century sconces, which glimmer atop a paddling of ducks, nearly all of which have been gifted to the restaurant over the past decade.
On the menu
The move provided additional space overall for Odd Duck. But most dramatically, it provided them with a kitchen, storage and prep spaces, all of which are far better suited to accommodate the needs of their diverse menu.
Another luxury facilitated by the move is new equipment, including a soft serve machine for producing creative desserts and a Wood Stone oven, which expands the playing field to include wood-fired flatbreads, smoky meats and vegetables coaxed to tenderness by the heat of lapping flames.
They've also aquired a molinito to grind Oaxacan corn into masa for dishes like king trumpet mushroom huaraches with black beans, queso fresco, cascabel guajillo puree and cilantro ($12).
Buchholz says that, both the additional space and equipment additions are literally game-changing.
“To have a team that’s worked so hard under such restrictions, and to give them the opportunity to work in a space that’s finally comfortable…” she says. “We finally have the kitchen that the Odd Duck team deserves.”
“Sam [Ek] and Harrison [Cobb] and I have really been able to dive into research and process and we’ve had the time to refine things to the point that I’m just really excited about everything on this menu,” he says.
That includes an expanded collection of housemade charcuterie – including house mortadella, smoked duck ham and beef tongue pastrami – a luxury afforded by the space required to cut, cure and store a variety of meats.
“We’ve also added a raw menu, including oysters and crudo,” says Bachhuber. “Which is something we could never do in our small space for fear of cross contamination.”
Currently, guests can feast on West coast oysters of the day, along with albacore tuna crudo with nam jim jaew (Thai chili sauce) for $9.
Bachhuber says there’s also room for kitchen staff to take on the tasks involved with basic cheesemaking. That means house-made queso Oaxaca to accompany rich suckling pig quesabirria featuring fresh tortillas (made with house-ground masa), braised suckling pig, jicama slaw and consomme ($16).
It also means fresh paneer for the matar paneer, a vegetarian dish featuring coconut, cashews, peas, green chili chutney, cilantro and idlis steamed rice cakes ($12).
The woodfired oven allows for dishes like wood-fired broccoli with aglio olio, pecorino romano, calabrese chili and pine nuts ($12), as well as wood roasted five spice duck breast served alongside duck leg confit, a foie gras croquette, charred radicchio, citrus and chestnuts ($16).
Guests can also feast on large-scale shareable platters, including Korean steak ssam featuring bavette steak marinated, grilled and finished in the wood-fired oven served alongside sticky rice, banchan (bean sprouts, radish kimchi, garlic sesame spinach, gamja potatoes) and butter lettuce cups for wrapping ($34).
There’s also a salatim platter showcasing wood-fired laffa bread with za’atar, hummus, Arabic pickles, fennel citrus olives, salt roasted beets and eggplant pomegranate salad made with wood-fire charred eggplant ($22).
Other dishes include Bachhuber’s take on chicken calvados, the first dish he learned to cook in a professional kitchen. Back then, he was a dishwasher at the Audubon Inn in Mayville, Wisconsin and the dish was as simple as chicken breast braised with apples and Calvados.
Bachhuber’s version features a galantine of chicken served alongside fondant potato with pearl onions, beech mushrooms, apples and tarragon ($16).
And that’s not even the half of it. Just take a peek at the full menu and you’ll see what I mean.
“Radical creativity has always been what’s driven us,” says Buccholz. “And we’ve always really believed in collaboration. Bouncing ideas off of people is something we value, and it’s something that makes us better.”
“If you liked the old Odd Duck, you’ll like the new Odd Duck,” says Bachhuber. “And you might even like it more.”
Beginning March 31, Odd Duck will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. (the bar will open at 3 p.m., with drinks and bar snacks available until dinner service at 5 p.m.). Limited space in the bar will be available for walk-ins, but reservations are highly recommended.
You can make yours online through Resy. Guests can also sign up for notifications through Resy which will alert them if a preferred reservation time becomes available.
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.