By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jun 15, 2022 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

When “the Kitchen” opened on March 7 at N64 W23316 Main St. in Sussex, it marked a new era for a family restaurant which had served the community for over 40 years.

Behind the family-owned eatery are longtime Sussex residents Gabe and Nancy Kolesari, along with his son Gabe, daughter-in-law Angie and granddaughter Mackenzie. The Kolesaris purchased the former M&M Restaurant from second generation owner Didier Bibits with the goal of giving the longtime eatery the updates it needed to carry it into the next generation.

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A new-school family restaurant

Guests who remember the restaurant’s 1960s vintage diner style interior will find familiarity in the long counter which sweeps along the west wall of the restaurant before curving around into a conversational swoop near the restaurant’s entry.

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But much of the remaining interior, from the new flooring and LED lighting on the ceiling to the welcoming blue walls (donned with photos of farms and local landmarks like the historic covered bridge in Cedarburg) and repurposed tin siding and barn board accents, are brand new. 

In fact – thanks to a cadre of family and friends in the community, all of whom worked together to bring "the" Kitchen to fruition – the restaurant has been refurbished from front to back, including the addition of almost entirely new equipment in the kitchen.

And that kitchen is putting out a thoughtfully crafted menu of scratch-made dishes which run the gamut from all-day breakfast to burgers, BBQ and comfort-food staples.

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Embracing change

Despite best laid plans, launching a restaurant in a legacy space hasn’t been without its challenges. 

“We’ve hired quite a few people who were new to the industry, so it’s only been more recently that we’ve really stabilized in terms of staff,” says Gabe Kolesari, who handles day-to-day operations for the restaurant alongside his father.

Like every other restaurant, “the” Kitchen has also faced the challenges of supply chain issues and rising costs. In fact, wild fluctuations in pricing for staple items like eggs, meats and bread have made it necessary to adjust pricing on most offerings. 

“Right now a family of four can still eat here cheaper than they could at McDonald’s,” he notes. “And it’s our goal to keep it that way. But it’s still a tough position to be in when folks remember that just a year or two ago, you could still get a burger here for $2.15.”

Today, a cheeseburger at “the” Kitchen will set you back by $6.25. Now, that’s a steal by most modern measures (with most restaurant and bar burgers priced between $12-16); but it’s an even better deal when you consider that the burger is made with fresh (not frozen), custom-blended beef from Pritzlaff Meats.

Burger offerings include standards like a hamburger, cheeseburger, pizza burger and mushroom Swiss, along with a classic patty melt featuring double beef patties topped with Swiss cheese and sauteed onions on marbled rye bread with housemade potato chips (yes, they’re crispy) for $7.25.

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Guests can sub out the chips for fries, onion rings or tater tots for +$2-$2.25, as well as gluten free bread or buns for +$2.

All day breakfast

Breakfast, which is served all day, is a staple and includes a variety of old school classics including grilled ham steak, smoked pork chops, steak (strip steak) and country fried steak served with eggs. 

But the menu also includes items like biscuits and gravy, plain or raisin bread French toast, housemade Belgian waffles (with house bourbon glaze or syrup) and a large selection of omelets.

Among the restaurant’s best sellers are their skillets which range from a farmers’ skillet which is chock full of vegetables to the meat lovers’ skillet (two eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, house cheese blend and hash browns or American fries). Guests looking for something different can even order up the Bayou skillet with two eggs, custom-made house Cajun sausage, fried okra, house cheese blend, cajun cream sauce and hash browns or American fries (pictured below). All breakfast items are priced $10 or less. 

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Head to the restaurant on Sundays and you'll find additional specials including eggs benedict (poached eggs, ham and house cheese sauce on an English muffin) and cheese grits with eggs and sausage links.

Lunch and dinner

After 11 a.m., guests can still enjoy breakfast. But the menu opens up even further to include soups and salads along with a menu of burgers, sandwiches and “Smokehouse favorites” featuring slow-smoked meats prepared in-house using a combination of cherry and oak woods and seasoned using locally made dry rubs from Koleseri’s company, Polar Bear Kitchen. Again, all items will generally set you back by $12 or less).

That includes options like the BBQ brisket sammy with house-smoked brisket served on a toasted bun with coleslaw and a choice of standard or cranberry-studded cornbread.

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Guests can also indulge in a variety of sandwiches, from grilled cheese and grilled bologna to liver sausage or tuna salad.  

Additional items include chicken sandwiches (standard or cajun seasoned), chicken tenders and housemade chicken and waffles served with house bourbon glaze or sausage gravy.  There are also dinner specials served nightly, which could include oven roasted turkey, country fried steak, housemade meatloaf, smoked pork chops or shrimp and grits.

“Dinner has been the slowest to catch on, largely because there hasn’t been dinner served here for a very long time,” notes Kolesari, who says they are developing a following for their Friday night fish fry. 

Classic Friday fish fry

“When I was a kid the local VFW used to do a family style fish fry,” says Kolesari. “And they served fish with a really thin, crispy beer batter. It was delicious. And my goal was to recreate it.”

Kolesari appears to have succeeded. “The” Kitchen’s beer battered fish features an ultra light, crispy batter that’s likely to make you feel nostalgic for the days when every bar and restaurant made their offerings from scratch.

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A standard fish fry platter includes three pieces of beer battered haddock with house coleslaw, rye bread and a choice of housemade potato pancakes or fries. But Kolesari says they’re also introducing combo plates. One includes both beer battered haddock and bluegill, while the other features sauteed shrimp and baked haddock seasoned with their house dry rub.

And yes, there’s dessert. Kolesari’s wife, Angie, can be found in the kitchen baking up favorites including Dutch apple, cherry and peanut butter pies.

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Expansion in the works

But bringing new life to the longtime restaurant isn’t the last phase in the plans for the Kolesari family, which is gearing up to expand “the Kitchen” into the former retail space next door, which will allow them to add a new bar and lounge area geared towards serving customers during the evening hours.

“There are plenty of sports bars in the area where folks can catch games,” says Kolesari, “But fewer low key spots where adults can gather with friends and enjoy wine, beer, cocktails or conversation.”

The space, he says, is expected to have a lounge-like atmosphere, and the focus will be primarily on beverages; but Kolesari says there is also likely to be a small food menu featuring items like cheese and charcuterie, maybe items like flatbreads. The addition of the lounge will also mean that guests at "the Kitchen" can enjoy additional items, including brunch drinks like housemade bloody marys.

Most importantly, Kolesari says, the bar will focus on locally sourced items. 

“We want to focus heavily on a Wisconsin vibe, with a focus on Wisconsin distilleries, breweries and wineries,” he says. “And ultimately we’d really like to host things like wine, beer or spirits tastings in the space.”

The new lounge, which will be connected to the main dining area, is expected to be completed sometime before fall hits.

“The” Kitchen is open daily with hours Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.   You can keep up with restaurant specials and more on Facebook or Instagram.

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.