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When Motor restaurant opened at the Harley-Davidson Museum in the Menomonee Valley a couple years ago, it had quality, but wasn't quite custom-built for speed.
That changed when the restaurant souped things up with high-octane chef Travis Taylor, who was hired away from his job as a chef for NASCAR at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. Prior to that, Taylor -- a native of Fort Wayne, Ind. -- was executive sous chef at the Denver Athletic Club.
Taylor set to work boosting the consistency and streamlining the menu at Motor and this July unveiled the black and orange eatery's new menu, which mixes some old Motor favorites with some new options.
A combo plate of barbecue -- with ribs, pulled pork and more -- and sinfully rich desserts, among other items, are now available in large portions perfect for family-style dining. A steak salad is built on some of the most tender and flavorful skirt steak you'll find in the city.
Taylor was smart to focus on the more popular than ever passion for restaurant comfort food.
"We designed this menu with comfort in mind," Taylor says over lunch at the restaurant. "So, there's a lot of comfort food."
There's a super rich mac 'n' cheese, pot roast and that gigantic barbecue combo platter.
A lot of the changes to the menu are subtle, says Taylor. Other alterations less so.
"We kept some things that are good staples for us," he says. "We had just a cheeseburger on the menu, (so we thought) why don't we, like Harley-Davidson, allow the guests to customize the burger instead of just giving them a cheddar burger? So (we) gave them a build-your-own customized burger where you can get fifteen different toppings.
"We added a great barbecue package. We had ribs on the menu, and we had the pulled pork sandwich, and with my travels with NASCAR, I was in South Carolina, I was in Tennessee, I was in Texas, so I learned how they do great brisket down there. We took the short ribs off and gave it more of a comfort pot roast. Do people recognize short ribs? No, they recognize pot roast, and that really is a comfort food."
Some more drastic changes are seen in the dessert menu. S'mores are served in part of a Harley engine and a take on cherries jubilee is created using a sinfully good Miller Bakery doughnut. A peach cobbler is created from a recipe Taylor picked up from a small restaurant down south.
The relationship with Miller is an example of Taylor's commitment to local ingredients, which will likely help attract some new folks to Motor, too.
"I think it's really important," says the chef. "It really lessens the global footprint of what we're doing. You're shipping less trucks. I don't live in California -- I hope they're doing well -- but I want to make sure we're doing well in Wisconsin. I love showcasing these (donuts) because it really helps Brian (Miller) out. The cheese curds are local cheese curds that I flour, batter and fry myself, so it's not a bought-out product."
Taylor also has relationships with Sprecher and Lakefront breweries and sources a lot of local produce, too.
Taylor says that rethinking the menu made him take a careful look at who eats at Motor and who he hopes will eat at Motor, too.
"Well, who are we?" he says he and his staff asked themselves. "Camaraderie, community. We were sitting at these communal tables thinking, 'What can we do that really taps into who we are?' The nice thing is that we don't have to figure out what's trendy right now. We're not in that -- we don't have to be in that box."
What they found was a mix of Harley devotees and tourists, Downtown workers seeking new lunch options and families. The latter led him to rethink the pricing of Motor's menu.
"We really want to give people a value when they come in here. A lot of times you've got a husband, you've got a wife, you've got a couple of kids, and we want them to be able to experience the whole day here, and really walk out of here with an experience. We really want them to walk out of here happy.
"We want to appeal to everybody," Taylor says. "You may not have a Harley-Davidson, but you may want to experience the museum, so we really have that target area of yes, we really want to target Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, but we also want to bring in families. It really is a challenge to make that work together, so redesigning the menu that way and lowering the price point, there really is something on here for everybody."
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.