By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Sep 29, 2021 at 11:03 AM

Hot Dish Pantry, the heat-and-eat comfort food concept which debuted via pop-up last January,  is slated to join the fray at the 3rd Street Market Hall this fall.

The concept, which will feature ready-to-eat house-made pierogi, hot dishes and snacks, is slated debut as one of the four hawker stall tenants which will share a commissary kitchen with Dairyland Old Fashioned Hamburgers & Frozen Custard and Mid-Way Bakery

Hot Dish Pantry will complement an ever-growing slate of tenants that includes Middle East Side, Strega (fresh pasta and desserts), Amano Pan, Brew City Apparel, Anytime Arepas, MaKE Waves, The Greenhouse and Supernova Coffee & Doughnuts. The food hall is currently expected to open in October.

3rd Street Market Hall signX

Convenient comfort food 

Joining the food hall marks a significant shift for Hot Dish Pantry owners Nathan Heck and Laura Maigatter, two industry veterans whose collective resume showcases a combination of front and back of house positions at restaurants including Braise, the late Coquette Cafe, Le Reve, Mor Bakery & Cafe and Eagle Park Brewing.

The two launched their concept during the pandemic with the intention of offering a slate of heat-and eat items that customers could purchase, store in their  freezer, refrigerator or pantry and heat up for a nourishing meal.

“It’s nice having things on hand that are just a no brainer, things that you can just grab out of the freezer or fridge and prepare easily,” noted Maigatter. “So, why not offer people those options made with better ingredients in flavors you won’t find anywhere else?”

For months, the couple did just that, working out of a commercial kitchen in Oak Creek to offer a weekly menu of items – including creatively-filled pierogi, calzones, hot dishes (casseroles), housemade broths and a variety of other comfort food favorites – for weekly pre-order, pick-up and delivery.

This July, in preparation to grow their business to include wholesale offerings, they secured a new commercial kitchen space at 770 N. Jefferson St. Since the move required the acquisition of new food licenses and inspections from the City of Milwaukee, the couple took advantage of the transition to take a much-needed vacation.

Around the same time, they received a follow-up call from Chef Kurt Fogle, who’d been encouraging them to think about joining the slate of vendors at the forthcoming 3rd Street Market Hall.

This time, Heck and Maigatter gave the idea some serious thought. And, after discussing the project in more detail and touring the partially finished food hall, they began to see the advantages of being a part of the new food hall.

“Seeing how the food hall was coming together really put things into perspective for us,” says Heck, “The whole prospect of running more of a restaurant style stall was exciting, and overall we felt really good about it. Dairyland has a great crew, and we’re looking forward to working with them. We’re all doing this new, different thing together, and it makes it easier for all of us.”

Maigatter nods. “There was also something really attractive about signing on for a limited term, using that time to gain more exposure and really seeing how the business would work in that format.”

Hot Dish Pierogi
Photo: Erika Ehley

Creative dishes & artisan sodas

As for what guests at the food hall can expect from Hot Dish Pantry, Heck says they’ll start off with a menu of customer favorites.

That means a slate of house-made pierogi with fillings like loaded baked potato, crab rangoon, aloo chaat and mushroom kraut, plus seasonal dessert-style pierogi (this fall you can likely expect pierogi filled with cinnamon apples and cream cheese). 

They will also offer a rotating selection of single-serve hot dishes, including a take on macaroni and cheese, plus popular ‘mom snacks’ including a variety of seasoned oyster crackers (inspired by Maigatter’s mom) and creative takes on puppy chow (inspired by Heck’s mom).

Heck says flavors on the menu will change as time moves forward, shifting based on both their inspiration and the seasons.

The couple will also bring something brand new to the proverbial table with housemade sodas, which will be served on tap at the Hot Dish stall. 

Heck says they’re likely to open the food hall with a flavor they’ve all-but-perfected: a non-alcoholic soda that incorporates all the flavors of a brandy old fashioned, without the brandy. 

It’s a recipe they developed this summer using their Soda Stream at home and which was vigorously taste-tested by a variety of discerning friends and family members.

Maigatter says they’re also working on other flavors, including a mint cream (grasshopper) soda in which she hopes to capture a true fresh mint flavor.

“We’re excited to test more recipes,” says Heck, who has already created a Makrut lime leaf cola and says he has a laundry list of ideas he’s excited to test out. “Really, there are so many options… endless possibilities.” 

In preparation for the opening of the 3rd Street Market Hall, Heck says he officially left the two part-time restaurant positions he’d been working to make ends meet, dedicating himself to Hot Dish Pantry full-time. Meanwhile, Maigatter says she’s scaling back her full-time job with the hope of joining Hot Dish full time moving forward. 

She says the current plan is to focus on the launch of the Hot Dish Pantry concept at the 3rd Street Market Hall for the time being. Once that’s established, the couple will resume their work on launching pick-up and wholesale options out of their new Jefferson Street kitchen.

Heck says he’s working hard on finalizing the details for their new food stall. 

“I’m really exited to bring pierogi, hot dishes and some delicious ‘mom snacks’ to a new group of people at the food hall,” he says.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.