There are new tenants on the docket for 4125 S. Howell Ave., the building which formerly housed Iron Grate BBQ Co.
Hot Dish Pantry, the concept which has made a name for itself serving up creatively filled pierogi, hot dish and snacks at the 3rd Street Market Hall, has signed on to take over the lease at the former BBQ restaurant, which closed in November.
In fact, if all goes according to plan, Hot Dish Pantry could open its doors to the public at the new location as soon as February of 2023.
Behind the concept are industry veterans Nathan Heck and Laura Maigatter, a couple who met while working at Braise Restaurant, but whose collective resume showcases a combination of front and back of house positions at restaurants including the late Coquette Cafe, Le Reve and Eagle Park Brewing.
Before founding Hot Dish Pantry in January of 2021, the two ran a catering operation together and Heck worked part time for Iron Grate BBQ Co.
Hot Dish Pantry began as a pop-up concept, which offered both fresh and frozen Midwestern comfort food items including creatively filled pierogi and calzones, tater tot-topped hot dishes, snacks and pantry staples like stocks and condiments. In October of 2021, they expanded their reach by opening up a stall at the Downtown food hall.
"We are so thankful for this opportunity," notes Heck, "We loved Iron Grate and we're so grateful for the support from Aaron [Patin] and the relationships we built with him and the entire Iron Grate family over the years. We are truly humbled to follow in their footsteps."
Maigatter and Heck will remain open at the 3rd Street Market Hall through December. Their final day of service will be Saturday, Dec. 31 with hours from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. (or until they are sold out).
[Listen to Heck and Maigatter talk more about the Hot Dish concept on the FoodCrush Podcast.]
Big plans for the South Side
When Hot Dish Pantry opens on Howell Avenue next year, guests can look forward to an expanded menu of Midwestern staples, which will be served up in a counter service format.
Plans for the former BBQ restaurant – which was once a Boy Blue ice cream stand – include both interior and exterior changes.
Maigatter says that, due to the timing of the move, most of the exterior changes, including repainting the exterior of the building, will be completed in the spring. However, in the meantime they plan to focus on transforming the interior of the space.
Plans include a reimagining of the interior dining area to reflect the throw-back feel of the Hot Dish brand. Guests can expect a palette of foundational blue tones augmented by pops of color. There are tentative plans to replace the flooring in the restaurant, as well as filling the walls with pieces created by local artists.“I love interior design and I love the DIY aesthetic,” says Maigatter, who describes her style as ‘Grandma Maximalism,’ “In fact, the space is very likely to end up looking very much like our home.”
Expanding the menu
Once open, Hot Dish Pantry will offer counter style service with both dine-in and carry-out options. Beverages including beer, wine, slushies and other cocktails will also be available as soon as the restaurant gleans approval for their liquor license.
An expanded food menu will include a wide variety of pierogi, ready-to-eat hot dishes, and numerous additions including cheese curds, soups and sandwiches including housemade meatloaf sandwiches, fried bologna and grilled peanut butter and jelly (or maybe even full-on “Pudgie Pies”).
There will be a menu of potato pancakes including rosti cooked in duck fat and topped with duck confit and cherries; latkes served with sour cream and applesauce and hashbrown style potatoes topped with cheese and fried egg.
Fridays will bring a fish fry featuring standards like perch and cod, plus additional seafood options including things like shrimp, smelt or bluegill.
Meanwhile, on weekends, the Hot Dish Pantry menu will feature special "family meals" serving two to four people, that can be pre-ordered for pick-up. Meals, which will change weekly, will include a protein, vegetables and a starch along with optional add-ons like desserts.
But hot, ready-to-eat food won't be the only offering at Hot Dish. The restaurant will also feature fully stocked grab and go cases and freezers from which guests can purchase both Hot Dish offerings (think frozen pierogi, calzones and prepared meals) and products from other local food makers.
“It will be a place where folks can come in and get hot food, but also maybe grab a few things for their pantries at home,” says Heck. “If all goes well, we’d love to offer a little mini market there, offering things like fresh produce from local farmers during the summer months.”
Paying it forward
More than anything, Maigatter and Heck aspire to creating a neighborhood restaurant where all are welcome.
“I still remember going to the old Boy Blue on Howell as a kid,” says Heck. “And I’m sure there will be kids who – years down the road – have memories of going to Iron Grate for barbeque. We want to be the next place like that. We want to be a true neighborhood restaurant… a place that sells Christmas trees in the parking lot during the holidays and a place where all the Girl Scouts can come and sell their cookies…”
Maigatter and Heck also want their restaurant to be a place that nurtures other small food businesses.
“We’re reserving Wednesday nights as pop-up nights at the restaurant,” says Heck. “Every week we’ll have dinners from different folks that people can come and enjoy. And if we don’t have a pop-up scheduled, we’ll do something fun and different with our menu.”
“We also want to pay it forward by renting out our kitchen space when we can," says Magaitter. "So many people, including Braise and Aaron [Patin] from Iron Grate have helped us on our journey and we want to be able to do the same thing for others.”
Once open, Hot Dish Pantry will serve lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday with featured pop-ups on Wednesday evenings.
Want to stay in the know? Guests who sign up for updates on the Hot Dish Pantry website will get updates on the new location as well as first dibs on pre-orders for family meals when they launch.
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.