Operating a restaurant has never been an easy task. But, to keep a restaurant operational and relevant over the course of generations requires a specific brand of dedication.
Red Circle Inn, N44 W33013 Watertown Plank Rd. in Neshotah, has seen its share of change over the past 175 years. Founded as The Nashotah Inn in 1848, the venue has survived eight owners. It has persisted through the American Civil War and two World Wars, survived at least one fire and hosted countless special occasions, from birthdays and anniversaries to weddings.
And now, under the purview of Geronimo Hospitality Group, the restaurant has seen yet another round of updates, all of which are meant to assist in maintaining the appeal of the restaurant for yet another generation.
“Honoring history is one of our ultimate objectives,” noted Geronimo COO Jeff Whiteman when the restaurant reopened in late March, “And I think this new chapter of Red Circle Inn embodies that, while also providing guests with Geronimo’s spin on hospitality.”
Refreshed dining spaces
Guests who’ve paid a visit over the past two weeks or so have seen some of the changes firsthand, including cosmetic enhancements in the dining room, which showcases tin ceiling tiles and exposed beams where there was once a dropped ceiling.
The brick facade of the fireplace has also been restored to more closely resemble what can be seen in historical photographs of the space, like this shot from 1965, which hangs alongside a variety of historic photos throughout the venue.
The restaurant’s bar, which has been refreshed with a new wooden bartop, red leather armrests and vintage barstools. Meanwhile, new 1900s vintage hexagon tile flooring replaces the carpeting which covered the floor in the rear bar area.
Behind the bar, you’ll find signature cocktails with a focus on Wisconsin-made spirits including selections like Wollersheim brandy, Death’s Door gin and Great Lakes’ Goodland liqueurs, along with bottles of Wisconsin-brewed beer and a wine list that features selections from sparkling whites to roses and steak-worthy reds.
While the current wine list heavily favors California wines, general manager Rocky Kitzman says that, as the restaurant moves forward, he hopes to revamp the wine list, incorporating a significant selection of international wines.
“Our goal is to create a list that not only complements the food that we’re serving, but which really offers a selection of wines that are interesting and nuanced,” he says.
Kitzman has also created a list of after-dinner cocktails including “frozen cocktails,” a selection of ice cream based drinks that are lighter on the ice cream, giving them a lighter, more sippable profile. Offerings include a take on the grasshopper, pink squirrel and the Babooze featuring banana and chocolate liqueurs ($13 each).
Like other after-dinner sippers, they provide a nice sweet boost; but they aren’t as heavy as their supper clubbing cousins.
A new menu
With guidance from Executive Chef Joe Heppe, the menu at Red Circle Inn has also been renewed. The goal, he says, was to offer a nod to the eatery’s history with classic Wisconsin dishes, while integrating a more contemporary vibe.
Rare old-school touches like complementary tableside bread service, featuring housemade focaccia, grissini and gougeres make the dinner experience feel grand, while setting the stage for what’s to come.
That includes a menu of starters featuring updated classics like escargot served with herbed butter in puff pastry ($15); grilled shrimp cocktail with Pabst cocktail sauce ($15-28); as well as clever takes on Wisconsin favorites like cannibal sandwiches (served with dark rye toast, anchovy aioli and pickled ramp relish, $21) and cocktail meatballs (with concord grape glaze $18) and the oh-so perfect bar snack of landjäger, cheese curds and a beer chaser ($5).
There's also a relish platter for two featuring cheddar cheese beer dip and dark rye canapes, smoked white fish mousse on seeded cracker, fried olives, tear drop peppers, cornichons, grilled summer sausage and a fried deviled egg ($19).
Highlights on the dinner menu include modernized classics like schnitzel made with tender skate wing (rather than pork) and served with fennel-citrus slaw, gribiche and beautifully crisp beef fat fried hash brown potatoes ($25).
There’s also an eye-catching beef stroganoff which boasts a bed of tender, house made egg noodles with caramelized onion braised short rib, smoked beef jus, maitake and porcini mushrooms and herbed creme fraiche ($28).
Meanwhile, guests can also order a bone in 12-ounce pork chop or any number of certified black angus steaks, prepared with the assistance of an infrared broiler, which ensures even cooking and imparts a delicious, crusty sear.
That includes six or eight-ounce tenderloin ($43-52); 14 ounce New York Strip ($45) and 16 ounce ribeye ($54). All are served with a choice of sauce (brandy peppercorn, bearnaise, port demi or RCI steak sauce) and potato: buttered mashed potatoes, beef fat fried hash browns or fried “Jo Jo’s” (crispy potato wedges).
Upgrades include bearnaise crab butter, foie gras butter, sherry onions or blue cheese (+$2 to $11) and vegetable options like chili garlic broccolini, roasted mushrooms and sunchoke creamed spinach ($12-$16). But you could also add items from the starters menu, including potato croquettes with crème fraîche, bacon, aged cheddar and chives ($14)
There are also jumbo onion rings served with RCI steak and horseradish sauces ($12), which would be sheer perfection enjoyed alongside a steak and vegetables.
For those celebrating special occasions, Red Circle Inn also has two private dining rooms. On the ground floor, the War Room seats 14 guests, while The Cellar accommodates up to 20, along with access to a wine cellar.
The wine cellar, which was created from a former storage space, boasts limestone walls which naturally keep the temperature in the room slightly cooler.
Upstairs, guests will find the newly refreshed Pabst Parlor, which accommodates 200 seated guests.
The room showcases the original Pabst Bar, which dates back to 1898 when Fredrick Pabst purchased The Nashota Inn and renamed it Red Circle Inn with homage to the Pabst logo. The bar has been beautifully refinished and will be augmented with a stained glass back, which was found elsewhere on the property.
Guests can also make use of the sun-drenched Provimi Salon, named for Aat Groenevelt, owner and founder of Provimi Veal, who purchased the restaurant in 1976. The room, which showcases a beautiful fireplace on one end and a large bar on the other, has been enhanced with striking wooden beams which enhance the impressive vaulted ceiling and accompanying skylights.
This summer, enhancements will also be made to the outdoor patio and gazebo areas, often used for wedding ceremonies. Events inquiries can be made online or by calling the restaurant at (262) 367-4883.
Red Circle Inn is open Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 4:30 to 10 p.m. The bar is open from 4 p.m. to close. Reservations are recommended.
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.