It's difficult not to want to compare the new Ginger to its former existence as Barossa. Although, as completely separate entities that just happen to share a common space and owner, seasoned Milwaukee restaurateur Julia LaLoggia -- it's not entirely fair.
Whereas Barossa boasted an all-organic menu and a wide-reaching wine selection, Ginger is going for a more casual, relaxed environment, something that more accurately reflects the eclectic vibe of its 2nd Street home in Walker's Point.
After a successful three-year run, LaLoggia says she and former business partner Deanne Wecker closed Barossa in fall 2007 as the economy began its downward slope.
"We were doing locally grown organic food, which meant we had to charge a lot," she says. "It was getting to be too expensive, at that time in the economy, to do all organic food. You couldn't really come here and spend, with drinks, less than $75."
At Ginger, 235 S. 2nd St., on the other hand, much less than $75 can be stretched significantly further across its small-plate menu, which LaLoggia calls "a mix of foodie food and comfort food."
You'll find classically trained tapas like fried goat cheese crostini ($5.50), blue cheese ravioli ($5) and flank steak skewers ($8.50), co-mingling with fun bar food favorites like tater tots with roasted red pepper aioli ($4), South 2nd Street sliders ($7) and straight up hot wings ($6.50).
Instead of $15 glasses of wine, like at Barossa, you'll find offerings for $6 and $7 (or for $3 during the daily happy hour, 5-7 p.m.)
LaLoggia and new partner Rose Billingsley say they are hoping Ginger feels like Redroom, a Brady Street area cocktail lounge that LaLoggia also owns, with food -- a fun and casual environment where everyone, whether dressed in jeans or a suit, can come enjoy themselves.
"We envision this place as an anchor for the neighborhood, like Lulu is for KK. We look at it as a social gathering spot."
Hence the tapas menu, which encourages prolonged, communal eating experiences.
"It's about sharing, socializing and slowing down a little bit," adds Billingsley.
The house music here is subtle and sanguine, rotating between tracks by the likes of Coldplay, Peter Bjorn and John and early '90s Radiohead, and acts as a soothing soundtrack to the conversation-friendly atmosphere.
At first glance, Ginger's interior doesn't feel like a dramatic departure from that of Barossa's, but upon closer inspection you recognize the creative details in the new design, which takes measures in sustainability. Billingsley's vintage window frame paintings are colorful eye grabbers along the restaurant's mostly earth-toned palette. A large art piece hanging in the back is made up of stray, multi-hued planks, each of which was once a part of the building during some phase in its evolution. The back bar and light dressings are glowing green canvases made from bamboo and resin.
The tables formerly in the front of the restaurant facing 2nd Street are replaced by low, Asian-style seating covered by black cushions and singe tea light candles. The high-top booths adjacent to the open kitchen are replaced by a gorgeous brown pool table.
LaLoggia also mentions the back patio, which will once again be a foliage-filled refuge surrounded by sprawling warehouses come summer, as well as the bar upstairs, soon to reopen as the cozy, clubby b-Side.
Although Barossa will always be missed, Ginger feels like a great fit for a neighborhood on the rise.
OnMilwaukee.com 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 OnMilwaukee.com 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.”