Changes are afoot at The White House, 2900 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., which recently announced that it would be switching gears to focus on weddings and events.
In keeping with the change, the former first floor restaurant, which focused on French fare, has been reimagined as a new concept called Sage, which will open softly on Tuesday, Feb. 6.
Owner Allison Meinhardt says that she undertook the restaurant rebrand to make the eatery more accessible.
“The French concept was too limiting,” she says. “It felt exclusive… stuffy, and I really wanted to create a space that was more fun and welcoming for everyone. I wanted to do so many things, including late-night bar offerings and live music. But none of that fit the former concept.”
The concept began with the name, Sage, which is meant to embrace a connection to nature, bring forth good spiritual energy and symbolize the release of any negativity bound up in the historical property.
Meinhardt, who earned her BFA from UW-Milwaukee with an emphasis in painting, mined her art background for inspiration, transforming the formerly white, austere space with swaths of comforting sage green.
Meanwhile, she added nods to the historical nature of the space with details like the 1940s vintage chandeliers from England which hang from the ceiling and the antique host stand (once a Freemasons’ pulpit).
Elements like the bartop from the original 1890s vintage bar have also been painstakingly refinished by hand in preparation for guests who wish to stop in for a casual cocktail, dinner or snacks.
Meanwhile, antique red couches from the former restaurant have been repurposed to provide a quaint waiting area for guests at the front of the restaurant.
In addition to the main dining area, guests can also enjoy The Parlor, an adjacent lounge filled with antique furniture and local art which can accommodate up to 15 guests for cocktails and snacks. The space will be available for both walk-ins or by reservation.
“It’s hip. It’s posh. But it’s also casual and comfortable,” says Meinhardt. “I want people to think of this as a gathering space where they can feel comfortable coming at any time of day… for lunch, for dinner or brunch on Sundays.”
New chef, new menu
As for the menu, it has been transformed with help from longtime friend and culinarian, Elaina Laurent of Honey Bear Baked Goods, who has been handling the wedding cakes at The White House for several months and who will also head up the catering menu for weddings and events.
“She has everything I want in a chef,” says Meinhardt, noting that Laurent’s style fits her vision for Sage. “Visually, I want everything on the plate to be fresh. I want it to be bright, alive. I want every dish to present like a painting. And I want all of the colors that nature produces each season to be reflected on the menu.”
Laurent, who most recently worked with Dan Zwart at The Daily Bird in Riverwest, says she’s coming into the role with a very different take, including both a deep knowledge and appreciation for vegetables and vegan fare.
“I love digging deep for those nostalgic, comforting things and then playing with them and recreating them as something brand new,” she says, noting that the menu will showcase meat and seafood. But it will also give equal billing to vegetarian and vegan fare.
“The result is a bright, fresh menu with dishes that are balanced in their flavor profiles and beautiful on the plate,” she adds.
The menu, which is divided into relatively traditional sections (bites, small plates, large plates and handhelds), allows guests to choose from a traditional coursed meal, a sandwich and salad or a selection of plates shared between multiple diners. Pricing for bites hovers in the $6-$10 range with entrees capping out at $30.
Guests can enjoy bites like root vegetable chips served with white miso dip; a vegan Caesar salad made with warm brussel sprouts and crisped quinoa; or porchetta featuring pork belly, fennel, lemon and basil.
Sage will also feature its own namesake smash burger, which will be seasoned with sage and served topped with herbed mushrooms and Swiss. And classic schnitzel will get a redux made with tofu and served as a sandwich with braised red cabbage. View the full menu online.
The bar will feature a curated selection of beer and wine, a broad selection of zero-proof drinks and craft cocktails named after colors. Options include Auburn #1 (a take on the Trinidad Sour with bitters, rye, lemon and orgeat) and Jade #21 (a riff on The Last Word featuring gin, Chartreuse, maraschino and lime). View more online.
Meanwhile, housemade desserts will emphasize fresh flavors, fruits and the strategic integration of fresh, vegetal herbs.
Following the opening of the restaurant, Meinhardt says she will focus on redecorating both the private event space and The Green Room, a second floor shop which will feature plants, vintage items and an assortment of jewelry, ceramics and organic beauty products from local artisans.
Meinhardt says she also plans to lean in on the art component of the space by continuing to host makers markets on the patio during the summer months.
Beginning Feb. 6, Sage’s operating hours will be Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Lunch will be served beginning at 11 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday and brunch will be offered on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. Reservations are optional, but can be made online. Parking is available in the lot adjacent to The White House on the south.
Guests who would like to secure The White House for weddings or events can visit whitehousebayview.com/events.
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.