By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Nov 26, 2018 at 11:01 AM

Merge, Milwaukee’s first Korean fried chicken wing bar, will officially open to the public on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 1932 E. Kenilworth Pl. And trust me when I suggest that you should put the date on your calendar.

Merge is beautiful. It’s fun. And the food is both unique and delicious. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Merge is just the sort of spot that Milwaukee’s East Side (and the city at large) has been waiting for for a very long time.

The space – which utilizes the same floor plan as its predecessor Yokohama – is hip and modern. It’s also loud and vibrant, showcasing a playlist with tunes straight out of the 1980s. It’s also a visual feast thanks to murals from local artists at every turn.

The first piece of art you’ll see is in the lower bar, set against a modern lounge area. It’s an eye-catchingly beautiful piece by Emma "Daisy" Gertel, an artist whose work can also be found in the adjacent Black Cat Alley.

The next – a piece with a defined street art vibe – is along the wall of the dining room. Created by Eve Berndt and Ignacio "Nacho" Garcia, the piece takes inspiration from both iconic Milwaukee images and pop culture.

Belly up to the bar and you’ll find a small wine list, a nice selection of craft beer (some on tap, others in bottles and cans) and a list of creative house cocktails including the White Knuckles featuring sweet tea vodka, black tea, vanilla milk and almond ($8), the 60 Minute Old Fashioned with ginger brandy, muddled orange and cherry and lemon bitters ($7) and Not Veuve, a sweet spritz featuring sparkling wine and berry, lemon or peach vodka ($7).

Hop over to the kitchen window at the back of the restaurant and you can order any number of delicious items, from tacos, burgers and inspired snacks to the belle of the ball: Korean fried chicken wings.

The wings come in groupings from 8 to 36 wings and a choice of three sauces: soy garlic, honey mustard, sweet and spicy and volcano. The wings themselves are exactly as they should be – tender and juicy inside with a cracklingly crisp exterior that’s coated in flavorful, sticky goodness.

Equally as good is the Korean fried cauliflower, a vegetarian option prepared in the same fashion as the wings ($7). If you like spicy fare, get the volcano sauce; it’s great with the sweet cauliflower.

On the side you can get loaded fries topped with items like kimchi, cheese, Sriracha and scallions or beef or pork bulgogi ($6). You can also get an order of crisp matchstick fries with house seasonings for just $3.

Can’t miss "snacks" include the infinitely crisp cheesy jalapeno corn dog coated in panko, jalapenos, mozzarella, house hot sauce and Takis crumbs ($4) and the strangely addictive rice cake skewers featuring two skewers loaded with vaguely crisp chewy rice cakes, sticky sweet dukbokki sauce and crushed peanuts ($5).

The kimchi mac 'n' cheese is no slough, either. It’s creamy and flavorful and topped with just enough kimchi to give it a pleasantly spicy (not too hot) pickly kick ($5).

There are also sandwiches, including the Merge Burger featuring a ⅓-pound patty, lettuce, tomato, red onions, American cheese, house pickles, Gochujang Merge sauce on a Pretzilla bun ($9); the KFC burger featuring Korean fried chicken, lettuce, tomato, red onions, house pickles and garlic aioli ($9) and the Bulgogi cheese steak featuring grilled beef bulgogi, sauteed onions, mushrooms and jalapenos, 5 year cheddar "whiz" and scallions on a Sciortino’s roll ($12).

Tacos come in pairs for $6-7 and include fillings like kimchi and vegetables; beef bulgogi and jalapeno onion relish; and pork bulgogi with cabbage slaw. You can pair them up with a side of elote topped with chile-lime mayo, cotija cheese, scallions and Takis crumbs (two skewers for $5).

The Merge kitchen is open Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The bar is open until midnight on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends.

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.