Jan Kelly, former head chef of the late Barossa, opened the doors of Meritage, 5921 W. Vliet St., last fall with a straightforward menu featuring seasonal ingredients.
In what seems to be an up and coming Milwaukee trend, Meritage's price points all fall at or below $20 an entrée, allowing those of us with tighter budgets to still be able to sample high-quality cuisine in a fresh, fun atmosphere.
Former Barossa fans will find Meritage's menu much simpler, with emphasis on red meats and fish, wine reductions, seasonal vegetables and the kitchen's trademark Meritage potatoes: thinly sliced and baked potatoes layered in a béchemel type sauce for a homey and pleasant side dish.
Service at Meritage is friendly and meticulous, with single-server table service that ranks with some of the best in the city. The ambience here is light and fresh, a direct contrast to the dark, heavy colors and fabrics of the space's former tenant, Indigo.
If Meritage has one weakness, it is the noise level. The starkness of the space makes conversation difficult during busy hours, and on one visit, our hostess had to walk outside to be able to hear when she answered the telephone.
Dinners at Meritage are simple, featuring fresh ingredients, and I look forward to seeing the kitchen grow and change with the seasons. For the price, the food at Meritage is very good, and as more seasonal herbs become available, I expect the flavors here to become more complex and exciting.
Appetizers range from a leek and ricotta tart ($7), to lamb sliders ($6) for a nice variation on starter selections. We sampled the shrimp in a blanket ($6), shrimp wrapped in pepper bacon atop a delightfully rich and complex composition of romesco sauce (a Spanish sauce based with roasted tomatoes and red peppers) and white beans.
An entrée of rib eye ($20) arrived to temperature with delightfully fresh green beans and in a homemade steak sauce that made the cut of meat. Trout ($16) was butterflied and stuffed with shrimp and cornbread stuffing in a sherry caper vinaigrette that added just a touch of flavor to the fish.
The beef short ribs ($18) were braised in beer for a tender result and coupled with broccolini and an interesting combination of butternut squash and apples in a gratin side dish. A grilled flat iron steak ($17) was also good with a very light red wine sauce and broccolini, coupled with the Meritage potatoes.
Desserts at Meritage include a pot de crème of chocolate and heavy cream combined with orange liqueur and a flaky apple pie with Door County cherries ($6).
Meritage is a welcome addition to the Washington Heights neighborhood for residents who appreciate reasonable food with character, and business thus far seems to be consistently busy. With good service and an evolving menu, Meritage offers the perfect blend of affordability and good quality.
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.