Chef Kyle Toner, former executive chef at Glass + Griddle and Wolf Peach, has been dreaming of opening his own restaurant for at least a decade. And, even amid the uncertainty of the global pandemic, he’s finally seeing that dream come to fruition.
Sorella is the name of the new restaurant, which is slated to open at 2535 S Kinnickinnic Ave. in the beautifully appointed restaurant space which formerly housed Kindred on KK. And it promises simple, elegant Italian dishes at an accessible price point in a casual, comfortable environment.
From Jersey to Milwaukee
Sorella is a partnership between Toner – whose background includes work at East Coast spots like The Spotted Pig, Tocqueville and Rose Water – and his colleague and industry veteran Paul Damora, whose front of house expertise was honed at venues including Glass + Griddle, Levy Restaurants, The Capital Grille and Morton’s Steakhouse.
The two met while Toner was cooking at Wolf Peach and quickly bonded; both grew up in New Jersey in families that bore a common Italian heritage. And both men entered the service industry with dreams of one day opening their own restaurants.
And, thanks to a serendipitous meeting with Chef Mitch Ciohon of Snack Boys, who suggested that Toner reach out to a contact at the Kinn Guesthouse to inquire about the available restaurant space, those dreams were quickly put into motion.
"I called Paul and we went to look at the space," says Toner. "And it reminded me so much of Wolf Peach. It’s off the street and up the hill and it’s beautiful."
The rest, as they say, is history.
The vision for Sorella
"We’re trying to create a place in this neighborhood that’s simultaneously nice, but also accessible," says Toner, noting that the vision is not to create a special occasion restaurant, but a neighborhood spot where folks can enjoy great food in a cozy atmosphere.
"We’re trying to tow the line between elegant and rustic," he says. "While paying homage to the history of the building."
Overall, Toner says, they won’t be changing the footprint of the restaurant. But they will be customizing the look and feel to bring it in line with their vision.
The decor will make use of repurposed items from the 100-year-old building, including re-purposed ceiling joists, which will be made into a large dining table that is expected to seat 8-10.
"It’s amazing old growth wood that simply doesn’t exist anymore," says Toner. "So it makes sense to repurpose it in a meaningful way. And while I don’t love the rustic barn wood look, we’ll be cleaning it up to fit the restaurant’s look and feel."
The kitchen will remain partially open. They’ve added a wood-fired pizza oven (the same as he used at Wolf Peach), which will be visible from the dining room along with a pizza prep station that will face outward into the dining space.
On the menu
Despite his expertise in wood-fired pizza, a skill he honed during his years at Wolf Peach, Toner says menu won’t focus exclusively on pizza or pasta, though both will be on offer.
"I want it to be more about vegetables and Italian style mid-courses that can be rounded out with pizza and pasta dishes," he says. "I want you to be able to come here and eat healthfully. So there will be seasonal vegetables and lighter fare. And all of the food will be inherently simple… clean and elegant."
Folks can look forward to dishes like eggplant parmesan and cauliflower puttanesca and bright simple fare like cannelini with escarole and lemon. There will be simple antipasto like meatballs, Jersey chopped salad and mussels, along with items like ricotta gnocchi, lasagna and meat and fish options like veal marsala, Italian roasted chicken and trout saltimbocca.
The menu will change with the seasons, says Toner, and make liberal use of produce and products from area farms.
"The idea for this place has been in my head for over a decade," says Toner. "And it’s so serendipitous that this spot found me."
As for the name, he says it was chosen for both its simplicity and meaning.
"I wanted it to be distinctly Italian, but easy to pronounce," he says. "And I didn’t want it to be something that pigeon-holed the concept. About two years ago, it came to me. Sorella means sister in Italian. And I have two girls, so it’s named for them."
The timeline for Sorello’s opening is – as are so many other things – very much up in the air.
"We want to be ready in July," Toner says of the timeline for Sorella. "But at this point, that means nothing. What’s great about opening now is that it’s really not a stressful situation. I’m suspecting that by the time we open, people will be itching to get out. And I’m hopeful that we’ll really be able to hire a great staff."
Overall he says, he’s optimistically looking forward to the restaurant’s debut.
"I’m in a position to make the food I love, offer the service that I have always envisioned and do it in a place that belongs to me," he says.
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.