Tupelo Honey Kitchen & Bar will officially open its doors to the public at 511 N. Broadway on Aug. 4. But, starting on Tuesday, July 27, the new Southern restaurant is taking limited reservations for a first taste during their soft opening (if you take them up on the offer, be kind and courteous; after all, they’re just starting out).
In the meantime, here’s a peek at what you’ll find whenever you decide to go.
As rare as tupelo honey
The restaurant is named in honor of Tupelo honey, a very special southern variety of honey that’s produced only in two tiny regions of the Southeastern U.S.: the Okeefenokee Wildlife Refuge on the Georgia-Florida line and the Apalachicola River basin. These areas provide the uniquely swampy ecosystem needed to support large stands of white tupelo trees from which tupelo honey is harvested. Pure tupelo honey is unlike anything else, possessing a uniquely buttery flavor and a slightly greenish hue; and because it’s rare, the pure honey (unmixed with other varieties) has a price tag to match.
Similarly, the iconic Tupelo Honey Cafe sprung from the desire to give guests a taste of something rare and unique: cuisine based in the food traditions of the Carolina Mountains. It’s an an area once defined by its lack of resources, but which – in conjunction with farm to table dining and the development of the phenomenal dining scene in Asheville, North Carolina – has grown to showcase a cuisine of wholesome, locally sourced food that’s been lovingly coaxed to life with the help of time-honored technique and patience.
It’s also a place inspired by the hospitality of the South, which embraces a slower pace, time spent with family and friends and the value of sitting down for a meal of “stupid good” food and lingering for conversation and drinks. You can learn more about the concept by listening to our recent FoodCrush podcast with Tupelo Honey executive chef Eric Gabrynowicz.
Transported to the south
Anyone who's traversed Clybourn Avenue in the past week or so has seen Tupelo Honey's eyecatching sidewalk patio, which offers seating amidst planter boxes filled with lush looking (faux) greenery.
But if you walk inside, you’ll find a beautiful space that simultaneously reflects both the architecture of Milwaukee (light cream city-like brick walls) and a Southern aesthetic that mixes classic and modern details, textures and materials to create a space that mirror the gracious, welcoming charm and hospitality for which the restaurants are known.
The long bar showcases a crisp white top and soft bright blue wooden paneled base that’s set off by an elegant arched back bar accented with warm brick-look tile, wooden shelving and lush greenery.
Beverages include Southern staples like classic sweet tea (try the amazing dry-hopped version), lavender infused lemonade, and a bright, healthful fresh ginger and turmeric tonic.
Of course there is also a selection of wine, craft brews (including selections from both Milwaukee and Asheville, North
Brunch drinks include four takes on the mimosa, plus six bloody marys, each made with house mix and garnished with olive, pickled okra, lemon and bacon.
The main dining room features rich blue bird-patterned wall-paper, wicker-look globe lighting fixtures and a combination of four-tops and cozy booth seating.
The Eastern dining area reflects a similar look and feel while mimicking a lush outdoor patio with dropped box beams draped with artificial purple wisteria vines.
Meanwhile, blue and gold tufted banquettes and cross-back chairs line the southern stretch of the dining room, which is set off against large picture windows shaded at the top by lazy green vines.
Among the Southern treats on the Tupelo Honey menu are their signature cathead biscuits, oversized buttermilk biscuits (about the size of a cat’s head) served up with blueberry jam and whipped butter ($4 for two).
The biscuits are buttery and light, and you can feel good about indulging since proceeds from the biscuits go are set aside to fund the Tupelo Honey Relief & Development Funds, both of which were created during the COVID-19 pandemic to help Tupelo Honey employees in need.
From there you’ll find a scratch menu that changes with the seasons, reflecting not only the traditions of the South, but healthful modern options that service diners of many stripes.
Options include healthful bowls and salads, including Southern cobb salad ($11.95) and the rainbow avocado bowl with roasted carrots, cauliflower, sliced avocado, roasted beet hummus, garbanzo beans, spiced pecans, cilantro, drizzled with harissa-honey yogurt sauce and sriracha honey served over cauliflower rice ($12.75).
Handheld items include classic options like fried chicken sandwiches (sweet and spicy, avocado or Southern BLT, $14.95); plus new items like fried cauliflower tacos (fried cauliflower and jalapeños, green onions, sriracha honey and green tomato aioli, $10.95).
Meanwhile, specialty entrees include shrimp and grits made with sustainably harvested wild gulf shrimp, chorizo and peperonata served atop heirloom grits with goat cheese, creole butter sauce and scallions ($19.95); bourbon peppercorn glazed meatloaf with two sides ($17.50) and smothered (boneless) fried chicken with milk gravy, basil and two sides ($17.95).
Sides include heirloom grits with goat cheese; salt and pepper crispy brussels; baked mac & cheese; mixed greens salad; collards with bacon; parmesan and rosemary potato cracklins; butter and basil green beans; peach coleslaw; and extra crispy French fries ($4 each).
Broasted Fried chicken
Of course, there’s also down-home, bone-in fried chicken. And while there’s a lot of mileage between Wisconsin and the Carolinas, Milwaukee shares some serious common ground with the folks at Tupelo Honey when it comes to fried chicken.
Although “broasted” chicken – a Wisconsin favorite that’s been served in supper clubs for over six decades – is a trademarked item (restaurants can only claim it if they use a “Broaster” brand pressure fryer – developed in Beloit, WI – along with the company’s coatings and marinade), the technique used at Tupelo Honey is exceedingly similar.
Their chicken is treated with an 18+ hour brine to give the meat a boost of flavor and ensure that the meat retains as much moisture as possible. It’s then lightly breaded and cooked in a pressure fryer, resulting in an almost delicately crisp skin.
The chicken is available in two varieties: honey dusted (sprinkled with flavorful sweet and savory “bee dust” comprised largely of ground granulated honey) or sweet and spicy (tossed with Sriracha honey sauce and cilantro). Guests can also choose between dark meat ($12.95); white meat ($13.95) or a half bird ($18.25) with sides available for $3 each.
Prefer your chicken with a waffle? You’ve got it. Tupelo has three takes, including a macaroni and cheese stuffed waffle topped with sweet and spicy “Asheville” fried chicken ($15.50).
And yes, there’s dessert, available in both full or mini portions for $4 or $7.75. Choose from rich sweet brown butter pecan pie is served with a swath of dark chocolate sauce or Heavenly banana pudding, a recipe that’s been a Tupelo classic for 20 years. It’s buttery and sweet and likely among the best versions I’ve ever tasted.
About that fish fry
Among the items that are unique to the Milwaukee restaurant is the Tupelo Friday night fish fry, The Wisconsin tradition, as recreated by Chef Gabrynowiz and his team, features the classic components of sustainably sourced beer battered fish (perch or cod) served up with extra crispy French fries, house-made tartar sauce, Louisiana remoulade and a uniquely Southern addition: a house-made marble rye biscuit.
Guests can also enjoy happy hour Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., which includes a selection of bites for $4 (think crispy brussels sprouts, fried pickles, fried green tomatoes or cauliflower tacos) along with special pricing on drinks.
Check out the full menu (including brunch and lunch specials) online.
The operating hours for Tupelo Honey Kitchen & Bar are Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
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.