These are the words Chef Andrew Miller uses to describe the mood, food and overall atmosphere at Merriment Social, the Walker’s Point restaurant that opens to the public on Friday, Aug. 7 at 240 E. Pittsburgh Ave.
"In the end, this is a neighborhood joint, not a place where you have to make reservations weeks out," says Miller, "And virtually everything about it is fun."
Drinks & dim sum
Fun includes snack-sized dishes delivered to tables on rolling carts.
The idea borrows from the idea of dim sum, a Cantonese style of dining which features delivery carts filled with bite-sized or individual portions of food. The concept, Miller says, is meant to bring a fun, carefree aspect to the Merriment experience.
"It’s cart to table dining," he says. "A series of little snacks meant to whet your appetite before you really get involved in the menu."
Dim sum dishes will change daily, but may include concepts like crispy bbq chicharron with lime crema ($4), spicy candied marcona almonds ($3), burrata dip with smoked ramps and Sarvecchio parmesan gougeres ($4), chilled broccoli soup with house-made sour cream and cured trout roe ($5) duck breast pastrami served with pumpernickel crisps and pickled asparagus ($6) and marinated dill cheese curds with pickled peppers ($4).
Accompanying drinks will include brews from the tap-forward bar, which will feature 16 taps, most craft brews from Wisconsin and a broad wine list featuring 25 wines by the glass, along with 20 more reds and whites available by the bottle only.
Cocktails will include six or seven riffs on classic cocktails plus four old-fashioned punches, including a traditional rum punch and a milk punch based on a variation of Benjamin Franklin’s recipe.
Once customers have ordered drinks and had their fill of dim sum, they can order from a more traditional menu featuring small plates like the pb&j foie gras pierogi ($9), an adult take on peanut butter and jelly that brings together foie gras and hazelnut butter with seasonal jam, tucked inside a pierogi and served with brown butter vinaigrette and pickled onions. Other potential items include chicken wings with massaman curry and pickled radish ($7) and roasted bone marrow with bacon jam, red onions and foccaccia ($12).
Vegetable options include fried brussels sprouts with pie crust, pecans, fermented honey and thyme-crème fraiche ($6) baked ranch cheese curds with fontina and toasted focaccia ($8) and chopped romaine salad with blue cheese, bacon, ditalini pasta, scallions, avocado, and red wine vinaigrette ($9).
Large plates include both sandwiches and entrees, including a pork belly reuben ($12), burger ($13) and braised short ribs with herb spaetzle, horseradish gastrique and caraway pickles ($22) and seared rainbow trout will dill potato "salad," pickled mustard seed and charred shallot vinaigrette ($20).
But, Miller says his favorite picks include the Merriment burger, which features grassfed beef with house-made American-style cheese, bacon, pickles and a special social sauce, served on a Japanese milk bun ($13).
"It’s meant to be a very elegant version of a greasy, cheap burger you’d eat at 4 a.m.," he remarks.
He’s also excited to introduce his version of chicken and waffles, which features pan fried brined organic chicken coated in a special blend of spices and served atop pork belly pancakes with house-cultured maple butter and hot sauce ($18).
Desserts will include lager churros with sesame caramel and Mexican chocolate sauce ($6) and a farmers cheese tart with roasted fruit, chantilly cream and orchids ($7).
Merriment Social will feature seating for 130 (in a space with capacity for 200), including high-top tables, four-tops and bar seating. Garage doors will provide access to fresh air for the main level dining room.
As the restaurant moves forward, a chef’s counter in the rear of the restaurant will give six diners at a time access to a kitchen view, along with an eight- to 10-course tasting menu on Friday and Saturday evenings. The tasting menu will be priced around $100, including wine pairings, according to Miller, who says chef’s counter participants can expect fun, whimsical fare that doesn’t appear anywhere else on the menu.
The mezzanine level of the restaurant will eventually become an event space, Miller says.
Miller, who originally came to Milwaukee with two longtime friends to open a fast casual Mediterranean restaurant, says Merriment Social is the result of years of collaboration and brainstorming -- which ultimately came to fruition when he and two silent partners found the old Prodigal Gastropub space.
"The space really dictated what we did," Miller notes. "It’s open, you get the air inside, and it’s just a very social, fun environment."
Get social at Merriment Social starting Friday, Aug. 7 at 4 p.m.
The restaurant will be dim sum-only from 4 to 5 p.m. daily, with dim sum service continuing through the dinner hour and extending beyond regular kitchen hours to accommodate the late-night crowd.
Hours will be Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight (kitchen will close at 10 p.m.), Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. to bar time (kitchen closes at 11 p.m.) and Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Happy hour will take place from 4 to 6 p.m Tuesday through Friday. Reservations will only be accepted for the Friday and Saturday night tasting menu (chef’s counter only) and large groups of eight or more.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.