Julia LaLoggia has known exactly what she's wanted to do with Stonefly Brewing Co., 735 E. Center St., since purchasing it from her friend Paul Onopa in 2004.
LaLoggia, who also owns Redroom Cocktail Lounge and Lee's Luxury Lounge -- she also co-owned Barossa before closing it in 2007 -- loved the Riverwest brew pub, music venue and small bistro for what it was, but had always seen more potential behind its rough exterior.
When she temporarily closed the bar for remodeling in early 2006 -- officially marking the switch from Onopa to Stonefly -- a kitchen revival was part of the plan, though it ended up taking a back seat to building a new stage and implementing a better sound system, more lighting and efficient ventilation.
LaLoggia didn't get around to making the carefully crafted menu a reality until late 2007, but the lengthy timeline actually makes a lot of sense. The massive interior makeover was a necessary first step in making Stonefly the kind of place where people want to sit down and enjoy a meal. That's not to say the brew pub was previously unappealing -- it's always been a great place to grab a drink and watch a show. It's just that now, with fresh lime green walls, bright red booths and candle lit high-top tables, a creative kitchen serving modern pub fare with a healthy twist feels like a perfect fit.
Whereas Onopa's food service, known during its brief stint as The Bistro, fared well with fancy thin crust pizzas and a popular fish fry, there seemed something of a disconnect between the direction of the kitchen in the back and the bare-bones bar setting people walked into.
The new menu feels significantly more organic, both in practice -- when the season allows -- and in the nature of its complement to the bar. Side sauces such as the Stonefly Stout mustard and Stonefly Stout BBQ sauce incorporate the pub's own brews and accompany several of the sandwiches, burgers and appetizers.
"Just about everything has our beer in it in some way," says LaLoggia, dubbing her menu "progressive pub food."
The menu, served daily from 5 to 10 p.m., is pretty extensive and eclectic enough for the carnivore, herbivore and omnivore to happily coexist. Appetizers range from edamame ($3.50) to cheesy fries ($4.50) to an entire platter of drunken wings ($6.50), which comes in either BBQ, hot, half and half, as well as in a tofu version.
Burgers ($6.50-$8.50) are offered as 1/2-lb. grilled Angus beef, veggie or vegan style in a variety of special ways, including bodhi (chipotle salsa, avocado, lettuce), redhot blue (hot sauce, gorgonzola, mushrooms) and the Stonefly (caramelized onions, lettuce and tomato on ciabatta bread). Each is served with choice of fries, celery root mashed potatoes or warm homemade applesauce.
Under the menu's "pub fare" heading are more traditional offerings such as the bangers and mash, a dish that again highlights the synergetic marriage of the actual pub and its fare. Two sausages come braised in Stonefly's own pale ale and the applesauce that accompanies has a hint of beer in its recipe as well.
Comfort foods here are done especially well. The brat & tot -- also available as the tofu & tot -- is a hearty meal smothered and baked in cheese. Pot pies come in chicken or tofu and the much loved Friday night fish fry ($9.75) features deep fried cod, dill-flecked tartar sauce, beans, apple sauce and mashed potatoes or fries.
Still something of a work in progress, the menu makes mention of additions to come, such as the Sunday brunch -- which LaLoggia says will start in February and feature all cage-free egg dishes -- big mama's meatball Wednesdays and soul food Sundays.
For Stonefly, change has only been a good and needed thing, as LaLoggia has beautifully transformed it into a place that not only satisfies, but also inherently invites relaxation and conversation.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”