When Walker's Point favorite Barossa closed its doors, Julia LaLoggia's building at 235 S. 2nd St. sat lonely and quiet while regulars mourned the restaurant's passing.
Nearly 18 months later, LaLoggia has reinvented the space with a new partner and a new moniker, Ginger on 2nd.
A bright and classy space, Ginger is not dissimilar to Barossa in décor, but miles away in terms of food and wine selections. The emphasis on organic, locally grown food (which still can be found at Meritage, former Barossa head chef Jan Kelly's restaurant), has morphed into economical wine and beer selections and tapas dining.
Recent visits to Ginger left me wanting more. I have always loved the space and the neighborhood in general, so I was pleased to see Ginger open. But, the kitchen here has encountered enough challenges that I will likely frequent Ginger for cocktails and the occasional pre-show appetizer, but I'm not going to hurry back for dinner unless they work some things out in the kitchen.
Ginger's strengths, beyond ambience, include a friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff and the fun and diverse clientele that LaLoggia's ventures have historically drawn.
The tapas menu is laced with creativity and a nice mix of items -- at first glance -- but after our server began walking through the menu, we found some challenges both in listed items and actual food preparation. There were multiple substitutions and items that were no longer available as written.
Ginger doesn't serve marinated tuna sashimi ($7) on Sunday evening, because the server said they couldn't get fresh enough product that day. I found this a strange explanation because there are purveyors who provide local sushi houses and other restaurants with tuna fresh enough to serve on Sunday, but an easy workaround would be to simply add a tag to the menu indicating the item is not available on Sundays. The petite tenderloin filet ($15) is now served without the tenderloin, and the kitchen was out of fresh basil, so they were substituting chives, which I found to be an odd, unparalleled substitution.
Hanger steak skewers ($8.50) were the most successful of the tapas we sampled. Drizzled with horseradish cream sauce and served with pickled onions, this dish was one that would be quite fabulous with a great glass of red. Chickpeas with spicy sausage ($6) showed potential as well, with pieces of spicy Hungarian sausage interspersed amid chickpeas and sun-dried tomatoes. And fried goat cheese ($6.50) could be spectacular if the serving temperatures even out.
The goat cheese fritters themselves were a delight, but the caramelized onions they were served with had been over-chilled, making the temperatures so unnatural in our mouths that they detracted from the sweet honey drizzle and warm, crumbly fritters.
A warm spinach salad ($5.50) was so thick with bacon grease that we found it unpleasant to eat, and a lemon artichoke risotto ($7.50) wasn't a risotto at all, but more of a mushy rice dish with very little flavor. A Picasso pizza ($7), served on a crunchy flatbread with gruyere cheese, caramelized onions, Roma tomatoes and chives (substituted for basil), was virtually flavorless. Perhaps the fresh basil and slices of Romas instead of a stingy smattering of diced tomato pieces would make this dish more inviting.
Ginger also offers a rotating ravioli special for $8.50, which on one of the visits was butternut squash ravioli. The ravioli was well-cooked, and extraordinarily sweet; almost dessert-like. It was different enough that should I venture back, I may consider sampling the ravioli again.
While I'm glad the space is again open (it is lovely), I really want Ginger to work out the challenges in the kitchen so that it can serve better food -- and nothing we encountered was insurmountable. These days, it's not enough to just be a pretty, friendly face; you have to have some substance, too.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.