I've dined in multiple cities and only rarely seen pig's feet on a menu. It's also rare that the service in a restaurant is so impressive that I leave a meal feeling satisfied and full from a food perspective, as well as completely relaxed and pampered.
Milwaukee's new Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, 222 E. Erie St., accomplished this rare double play. Hinterland has rolled out a menu filled with culinary creativity and brought in a top-of-the-line staff that will quickly make you feel at home in the dark, inviting space that trademarks Hinterland's third location.
Distinctive menu items reign at Hinterland, with presentations and flavor pairings that will tickle even the most mature of palates. While some dishes are decidedly more successful than others, nothing at the new gastropub lacks of interest. Diners can expect to see an influx of cooking styles, both ethnic and American, done with flair and with exceptional creativity in the kitchen.
As a brew pub, Hinterland takes great strides in redefining the types of foods that complement their beers. This is not your run-of-the-mill burgers and pizzas type of brewery; prices here run steep, the flavors complex.
Raw kumamoto oysters ($10) appear without the shell and seated on an Asian style soup spoon with a Granny Smith apple horseradish, cucumber and lemon relish, and a zesty orange and Serrano ham compilation that gives oysters a completely new place at the table. A Navarino bison tenderloin carpaccio ($12) -- sliced paper thin -- seems sweet at first taste, but when eaten in tandem with the accompanying salad of baby mache (a sweet, buttery lettuce with small, spoon-shaped leaves), trumpet mushrooms and a sherry vinegar topped with shaved manchego cheese, the salad cuts through the sweetness of the bison tenderloin, making the dish sing with beautiful balance and textures.
The aforementioned Pig's Feet Trotter ($10) was, as our server mentioned, arguably the most unique and interesting appetizer on a Milwaukee menu right now. The pig's feet are deboned and slow-cooked, then reassembled, breaded and fried, served with a light triangle of cornbread. The texture is gelatinous, and the flavors certainly interesting, but in my case, I didn't personally care for the dish, more so when I bit down on a lingering chip of bone.
But, I have to give Hinterland kudos for even attempting such a dish, and my appreciation grew as I spent more time tasting various items on the menu and seeing its highly intricate presentations. While I must attribute some noticeable temperature variances in the foods due to complex plating, I find the cuisine here completely admirable and definitely worth multiple return visits.
Hinterland touts its affinity for fresh fish, which is illustrated in the seafood-heavy menu. Togarashi spiced "popcorn" tiger shrimp ($12) top three tempura style shrimp with the Japanese seven-spice mixture and a smattering of popcorn, pineapple and Jerusalem artichoke for a unique combination of flavors.
A fennel dusted Japanese mero seabass ($38) combines tender lobster meat with the anise flavor of fennel and the sweetly sour flavors of grapefruit for a lovely foil to the firm, delicate mero seabass, which is a delight with tarragon oil and a parsnip puree.
A wood fire grilled, coriander dusted pork tenderloin ($27) was also good with a pancetta, sweet potato and brussels sprout hash, layered over a bourbon reduction sauce. The tenderloin was tender and well-seasoned, and the hash a lovely complement.
In addition to the delicacies from the kitchen, service at Hinterland is knowledgeable, friendly and technically flawless. Staffing here is well planned and one server, dressed business casually, waits on individual tables with the help of a communal busser, water and bakery server. Diners can feel comfortable here asking for recommendations and food and wine pairings, and they'll never have to ask for an extra fork or a refill of water.
I look forward to experiencing Hinterland many times over as the menu evolves seasonally and they it finds a place in the Milwaukee marketplace. The gastropub is a welcome, refreshing and much-needed addition to our dining scene.
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.