By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Feb 13, 2012 at 9:02 AM

Thousands of cars pass through the nearby intersection of Mayfair and Watertown Plank Roads every day, but the full service restaurant only a few hundred yards away remains unknown to most. That's because Innovation is inside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, itself something of a stealth sleepery in the Milwaukee County Research Park.

"People tell us, they don't even know this is a hotel," Crowne Plaza director of sales and marketing Patrick Palmer said during a recent interview. The Crowne Plaza opened four years ago.

Innovation exists first to serve the overnight guests with breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it also seeks to reach out to the residents of Wauwatosa, Elm Grove, Brookfield and West Allis as an affordable option for casual fine dining. It offers a full pound slab of prime rib with starch and its extended salad bar for $17.95 on Saturday nights.

Sunday brunch with sliced prime rib, smoked salmon, shrimp, made-to-order omelets and breakfast breads is offered at the same price. An all-you-can-eat cod Friday fish fry ($11.95) comes with the traditional fixings as well as soup and the extended salad bar.

A new Innovation menu emphasizes diverse tastes because the research park, along with Froedtert Memorial Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, attracts international visitors, and some stay at the hotel for longer than a few nights. "Our challenge is to have something for everyone," food and beverage director Eric Hill says.

Appetizers range from steamed edamame topped with kosher salt sprinkle ($6) and a selection of Mediterranean tapas on grilled flatbread ($7) to blue crab cakes ($11) and good ol' Wisconsin beer and cheese soup ($4).

Nine salad offerings include a warm portobello with red onions, tomatoes, feta cheese, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar ($7), a steak with spinach, arugula, red onions, tomatoes, corn, blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing on the side ($13), and an Asian chicken salad that features almonds, mandarin oranges and a sesame ginger dressing. ($11).

Half-pound Angus burgers get a lot of attention at Innovation, with 10 varieties on the menu. The Brie ($9) features bacon and fig relish along with brie cheese. The Islander ($9) consists of grilled pineapple with bacon and a choice of cheese.

The Sicilian ($10) comes with pepperoni slices, melted mozzarella and marinara sauce. The Brunch Burger ($10) adds a fried egg to the Angus patty, bacon and choice of cheese.

Sandwiches run the gamut from a veggie served on focaccia ($9) and a grilled chicken caprese on toasted ciabatta ($9) to a grilled ahi tuna with cucumber jalapeno slaw, wasabi and Sriracha soy sauce ($10) and a molasses slow-roasted shredded beef topped with coleslaw on a toasted bun ($9). Diners have a choice of a side with all burgers and sandwiches – potato chips, sweet potato chips, fries or coleslaw.

The restaurant also offers a weekday lunch buffet for $11 that rotates among different cuisines, including Asian, Italian and Mexican.

Dinner brings four pasta dishes, priced from $10 to $18, and two platters – tempura battered fried shrimp ($13) and a half or full rack of barbecued pork ribs ($16 and $24). Other entrees include grilled mahi mahi with mango cilantro beurre blanc ($15), seared walleye fillet ($19) and coffee-rubbed Angus ribeye ($26).

Innovation's bar features 15 beers from Wisconsin micro-breweries as well as a selection of American and imported beer standards. Although the wine list offers a bottle of Dom Perignon for $225, it is heavily tilted toward wine by the glass priced at $8 and $10.

Minnesota native Luke Miller is the executive chef in a kitchen that services the 70-seat dining room. An additional 28 persons can be accommodated in the bar, and an outdoor patio substantially increases capacity in the summer.

Innovation also does a sizable wedding and corporate meeting business in the Crowne Plaza's ballroom, which seats 350.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.