By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Aug 12, 2022 at 11:03 AM

It’s officially time to grab a bite at Turning Tables Tavern & Eatery, the innovative new restaurant inside Turner Hall, 1034 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave.

The concept, which launched with a grand opening fund-raiser this past weekend, is headed up by Emerald Mills, founder of Diverse Dining, who has partnered with a diverse team of professionals who will collaborate to operate both the restaurant and its one-of-a-kind teaching kitchen, which was developed to provide mentorship and hands-on training for local food-based entrepreneurs. 

Their aim? To both literally and figuratively turn the tables on inequality in food entrepreneurship in Milwaukee.

Exterior of Turning TablesX

Check it out

The interior at Turning Tables will look familiar to those who’ve visited the local restaurant in recent years. 

BarX

The congenial bar is stocked and ready for guests to sit and enjoy a beer or cocktail, and the kitchen is serving up a casual menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and smoked meats that will appease a variety of diners.

Guests can take a seat at the bar or in the restaurant’s spacious dining room, which displays the historical murals for which Turner Hall has become known.

Dining roomX

Those murals will be augmented by upgrades including fresh paint in the months ahead. Additional art will also be added, including a new mural depicting Vel R. Philips and a chefs' wall behind the bar which commemorates the chefs and food entrepreneurs who shape the ever-evolving menu at the restaurant.

In addition to the dining room, Turning Tables also has a spacious event space, which will be used to host events including Diverse Dining gatherings. It can also be rented out for private parties and gatherings.

Event spaceX

On the menu

While the teaching kitchen won’t officially launch its program until this fall, the restaurant and bar is fully up and running, showcasing a full bar with beer, wine and cocktails along with a  menu created by Chef Jervel Williams of Mister Bar-B-Que, a popular food truck which has operated in Milwaukee since 2013. Moving forward, Williams will also play a key role in the education and programming for the Turning Tables teaching kitchen.

The inaugural menu includes offerings like jerk egg rolls filled with smoked chicken, cabbage, carrots and green onions served with sweet and sour sauce ($10.99).

Jerk egg rollsX

Ultra crispy chips for the base for bbq nachos topped with guests' choice of smoked chicken, pork or black beans along with cheese sauce, pico de gallo, green onions, bbq sauce and sour cream ($12.99).

BBQ nachosX

Meanwhile, fish tacos feature parmesan-crusted cod, housemade slaw and pico de gallo served on flour tortillas (three for $13.99).

Fish tacosX

Guests can also order the smoked veggie boat featuring smoked iceberg lettuce topped with shredded carrots, diced cucumbers, red onions, cherry tomatoes and a choice of dressings ($8.99); classic caesar salad ($10.99) or Southwest salad with bell peppers, red onions, corn, black beans and cilantro  served with creamy avocado ranch ($10.99).

Southwest SaladX

Additional items include the the Midwest BBQ rice bowl with pulled pork or chicken, cheese sauce, pico and green onions over cilantro rice ($12.99); housemade mac & cheese ($6.99) or a mac & cheese bowl featuring housemade macaroni and cheese topped with pulled pork or chicken ($11.99).

Sandwiches include the Turner Burger featuring a broiled Angus burger seared in brisket tallow and topped with brisket, lettuce, tomatoes and smoked or fresh onions and a side of fries ($14.99; add bacon for +$2); the BBQ melt featuring a 1/3 pound burger topped with brisket, a choice of cheese and BBQ sauce on Texas Toast (served with fries for $15.99); a classic BBQ sandwich with pulled chicken or pork and slaw on a brioche bun (with fries for $13.99).

There’s also the Mister BBQ platter, which features a choice of three meats (ribs, sausage, pulled pork, tips or chicken; brisket is also available for +$4) along with coleslaw, pickles and baked beans ($35.99; feeds two to three). 

Beginning Wednesday, Aug. 17, the restaurant will also debut its first of many Wednesday Wing Nights featuring a rotating cast of chefs who will be part of the venue’s entrepreneurship program. First up, guests can order the stellar wings from Chef Fatéma Dunomés of The Shack MKE, who has made a name for herself with her tender, lightly breaded wings and housemade sauces, including her signature sweet and spicy sauce.

The Shack wings
The Shack wings (photo: The Shack)
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In fact, Wing Night is a preview of sorts for what’s to come as programming for food-based entrepreneurs kicks off this fall. 

The Teaching Kitchen

The Teaching Kitchen’s program will provide mentorship and hands-on training for anywhere between 12 and 24 food-based entrepreneurs, while showcasing their signature dishes as part of the Turning Tables menu.

The current group of entrepreneurs, who debuted at Turning Tables' “Who Wants to be a Restaurateur” event in July, include Fatéma Dunomés of The Shack MKE, Deleric Johnson of Dee’s Upscale Dining, Lyncoya Llon of Cooking with Coya, Andre Epps of Blue Walters, Tequnda Rogers, Fanisha Richmond, Fredrick Coleman of Table 69 Catering and Seidah Reed of The Cupcake Queen.

A second round of entrepreneurs will be invited to apply for the program in the coming weeks, with another round of “Who Wants to be a Restaurateur” kicking off the program in November.

The vision for the entry at Turning Tables
The vision for the entry at Turning Tables
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Watch for it

The restaurant will also be launching a fundraising campaign later this month, with $10,000 in funding matched by the Jrue & Lauren Impact Fund. Supporters can donate at a variety of levels, from $25 to $100,000. Each level will offer sponsorship perks, along with the gratification of backing a program that will enhance the community, culture and food scene in Milwaukee. 

The funding will assist the restaurant in making a variety of upgrades to the restaurant space, as well as supporting the mission and programming that Turning Tables offers. Watch OnMilwaukee for more details on the initiative as they are released.

In the meantime, the best way to support the restaurant is by making it a point to support their work by grabbing lunch or dinner. 

You can also follow Turning Tables on Facebook and Instagram for updates on the restaurant and teaching kitchen, upcoming events and ways to support their work to change the face of dining in Milwaukee.

Turning Tables opening hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. However, the restaurant’s hours of operation will be extended to accommodate demand.

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.