By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Aug 20, 2012 at 8:58 AM Photography: David Bernacchi

It's difficult to believe that The Rumpus Room – A Bartolotta Gastropub, 1030 N. Water St., will be a year old in October. After all, in a relatively short period of time the restaurant has become a Water Street fixture – a stand-by, not only for theater- and concert-goers, but also for business lunches, happy hour socials and special occasion brunches.

But, it's exciting to watch as the restaurant evolves and adapts to a constant sea of changes. First on the docket is a change in leadership. As Chef Andrew Ruiz moves on to the new role of executive chef at the Joey Gerard's in Mequon, Chef Matt Kerley has taken the reins as the new executive chef at The Rumpus Room.

Under his leadership, the restaurant has taken the opportunity to refresh the menu, re-focusing their sights on charcuterie, cheese, a large selection of frequently changing small plates, large plates, sandwiches, salads and desserts.

"The menu tosses previous convention out the window, making dining a shared, affordable and casual affair," says Kerley. "Placing emphasis on great flavor and a little experimentation in the kitchen, The Rumpus Room menu offers plates inspired by a love for quality, regionally sourced and exciting ingredients."

Kerley, who began cultivating his love for food from an early age, was raised in the Western Carolinas, where rustic, countryside cuisine rules. By the by, he developed an appreciation for buying direct from farmers and began to understand the quality and importance of local sourcing.

An apprenticeship with Flat Rock Village Bakery in North Carolina allowed Kerley an opportunity to learn the art of brick oven sourdough baking in the day while he worked evenings at the Select Registry Inn. It was during this time that his formation began with tutorship from Scott Unfried and Sebastian Carossi. A move west to San Francisco as executive chef of Magnolia Gastropub gave Kerley exposure to many different philosophies and food styles as well as balance in technique, cost, passion and development of his own style.

Kerley brings his ethics behind local sourcing and approachable cuisine to his new role as executive chef of The Rumpus Room. Working in conjunction with one of the city's strongest beverage programs, Kerley looks forward to incorporating quality products, great flavor and a little experimentation in the kitchen to create an incredible line-up of seasonal dishes.

Some of the changes patrons will see upon their next visit to The Rumpus Room will include the inclusion of a house corned beef tongue – both as a small plate option for dinner, served with rye and gruyere toast, sauerkraut and dressing ($9), and on a reuben sandwich for lunch ($10).

The former scallop and fish and chips entrees have been swapped out for miso glazed halibut ($18) and Scottish salmon ($22), while standards like the pub steak have been spruced up to include new sides like crispy beech mushrooms, creamed spinach and bourbon demi-glace ($20). A half chicken with spinach, trumpet mushrooms and bacon jus ($16) stands in for the fried chicken, and stuffed quail with pilsner gastrique ($15) rounds out the large plate menu.

Vegetarians will be pleased to see the addition of a stuffed daikon radish featuring maitake mushrooms, spinach and roasted vegetable broth ($14), which is also available as a small plate during the lunch hour for $9, as well as autumn-inspired salads like the Little Gem, featuring pickled carrots and beets, asparagus, pistachios and a sherry vinaigrette ($8).

Along with a fine selection of $3 whiskeys, $4 beer and $8 cocktails, the bar crowd will be pleased to note that snacks like pickled vegetables, warm pretzels, deviled eggs and rumaki remain on the men, along with chicken wings (9 or 15 for $8/$14). Charcuterie and cheese selections remain impressive, with options like Bolzano "Old School" Salami ($4), duck rillette ($6) and bacon jam ($6) complementing Wisconsin favorites like bandaged cheddar ($4), Pleasant Ridge Reserve ($4) and LaClare Aged Evalon ($3).

Those with a sweet tooth can continue to be sated by the Rumpus Bar, a delicious combination of graham cracker crumbs, potato chips, pretzels, chocolate chips, peanuts and coconut. But, there will also be options for Creamsicle panna cotta, a s'mores bar, pink grapefruit cake with cream cheese frosting and grapefruit sorbet and a cream puff, accompanied by roasted stone fruits, almond praline, pastry and whipped cream topped with butterscotch sauce.

With its proximity to the Riverside Theater, Pabst Theater, Marcus Center and the Milwaukee Rep, The Rumpus Room will also continue to serve the theater crowd with a special pre-theater menu 4:30-6:30 p.m., including two courses for $17 and three courses for $23, all of which promise a Bartolotta-quality experience with the assurance that patrons won't be late for curtain call.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.