It’s a sad day for Washington Heights, as it prepares to bid adieu to a chef and restaurant that’s been in the neighborhood for nearly a decade.
Chef Jan Kelly, owner of Meritage, 5921 W. Vliet St., has announced that the last day of service at her restaurant will be Aug. 11, after which she plans to move back to her home state of California to be closer to family.
Kelly, who moved to Milwaukee in 1995, worked at the Delafield House, North Shore Bistro and the Knick before settling in at Barossa, a Walker’s Point restaurant that was one of the first to specialize in organic, local food.
"When I moved here two decades ago, I never imagined all the wonderful things that would
happen to me," Kelly said in a statement. "This city and the people in it welcomed me, encouraged me and made me the chef I am today.
Kelly’s legacy in Milwaukee includes her status as one of the few female chef-owners, one who has gleaned consistent accolades for her work, including making it to the semifinals for the James Beard Best Chef-Midwest award. Kelly was also a trailblazer in the city whose commitment to locally grown foods early on helped to make farm-to-table fare the norm among Milwaukee’s best dining establishments.
"I’m sad to say goodbye to Meritage and Milwaukee, but I really want the last month we’re open to be a time to truly celebrate what we’ve created here," Kelly said. "I want my gift to our customers and my adopted city to be the food I cook. The best celebration I can imagine is to share some of our past favorite menu items."
And that’s exactly what Kelly plans to do. Stop in to Meritage from now through August 11 for the following specials, along with a Meritage Wine Cellar "Dust-Off," which will feature specials on all the remaining wines at the restaurant.
July 20, July 27 and Aug. 3: Wednesday fried chicken
For three Wednesdays, Meritage customers can enjoy one of their favorite dishes: Kelly’s buttermilk and Tabasco-brined fried chicken, gravy and chipotle honey, and sour cream biscuits made from her mom’s recipe.
In lieu of Tapas Tuesdays and Mussel Thursdays, other special dishes will be rolled out on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between July 14 and Aug. 11, as Kelly pulls out favorites from the more than 100 menu items she’s created since opening the restaurant. They will include the stacked enchilada, bison meatloaf and grilled romaine Caesar salad with scallops. Watch the Meritage website and Facebook page for specifics on each week’s encores.
Aug. 10: Chefs Dinner
Kelly loves to cook, and she really loves to cook with friends – so she’s invited several of her most innovative chef friends to cook a five-course farm-to-table dinner at Meritage Wednesday, August 10 which she calls "a testament to a community of food lovers." Participating chefs will include Justin Aprahamia of Sanford, Nell Benton of The National, Thi Cao of Buckley’s, Mike Engel of Pastiche and Joe Muench of Black Shoe Hospitality. The menu will feature local ingredients from area farms (of course!). Additional details, as well as registration information, can be found online at Meritage.us.
Kelly, who credits her sous chef Clayton Cass and craft cocktail bartender Dave Ahlf with acting as the perfect complements to her own culinary creativity, says her work has been her joy.
"My memories and my happiness revolve around making food for people and seeing them enjoy it," she said. "That is the greatest compliment. The joy cooking brings to me is something I can’t describe."
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.