For the eighth straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by Locavore, the newest restaurant at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2014."
Another long-awaited restaurant will open as early as next week. And it sounds like loads of delicious fun.
The Vanguard will inhabit the building at 2659 S. Kinnickinic Ave. which used to house Home Bar. The restaurant and bar is the brainchild of Chris Schulist, longtime Cactus Club bar manager and musician, Jim McCann, a partner in Chicago's Longman & Eagle, and Chef Shay Linkus, formerly of Odd Duck in Bay View.
Linkus, who hails from Pittsburgh, Pa., has worked at restaurants all over the country including Aqua in San Francisco. He moved to Milwaukee when he ran short on funds while living in New York.
"A friend of mine was looking for a roommate in Milwaukee," he says. "I was originally planning to go to Berlin, but my bank account wasn’t in any shape for that."
So, he journeyed to the Cream City where he opened Mikey’s and Trocadero, and worked at other popular spots including Comet and Honeypie.
"I met Jim McCann while I was working at Odd Duck," says Linkus, "And we really hit it off. So we started talking. We really wanted to open a really laid back place where you can just hang out."
And laid back is exactly what The Vanguard will be. Sporting counter food service and casual fare served in buckets and on paper plates, the bar and restaurant hopes to become a neighborhood joint where customers can sit back, relax and enjoy better-than-average pub fare.
"It’s essentially really awesome pub food," says Linkus when we discuss the menu. "Everything will be made from scratch – from sausages to most condiments, including mayonnaise and ranch dressing."
The opening menu will include a wide variety of sausages – ultimately growing to 25 or more varieties – including standards like bratwurst, pork and beef hotdogs, mild Italian and cheddarwurst. Vegetarian versions will include tomato chorizo, Italian, bratwurst and cheddar brats.
But, that isn’t all. Ethnic sausages like longinisa (sweet Asian style sausage), alligator boudin blanc, spanish merguez (lamb flavored with cumin, harissa and oregano) and duck sausages will also be featured, along with "styled" sausages like the "Red Hot Zerkel," piri piri, Vietnamese and crab and lobster sausages.
All will be served on Turano Bakery rolls and will be priced in the $5-15 range, depending on the ingredients.
There will also be multiple version of poutine including veal with onion gravy, maple syrup braised duck and fried cheese curds, a version with merguez crumbles, piri piri butter sauce, pickled beans, blue cheese and chicken, and a vegetarian version with mushroom gravy, fried basil, Mornay sauce and whole roasted garlic cloves.
Fried chicken will be a staple, and will be featured two ways – Asian style with burnt ginger, togorashi fries and vinegar slaw, or served with "Sweet Baby Shay’s" barbeque sauce, chorizo fries and slaw.
Sides will include croquettes, which The Vanguard calls "baked potato balls," fried pork belly "popcorn" with Hollandaise aioli, and French fries with your choice of optional toppings including salt and vinegar, togorashi, chorizo, or broccoli and cheese. The luxurious addition of Cheez Whiz will cost you an additional $1.
Linkus, who has spent the last year working on sausage recipes, says that most will be made in house, with the exception of smoked varieties which will be made by Underground Meats in Madison.
"I’ve known Jonny Hunter forever," says Linkus. "They’ll be using my recipe for the sausages, but they’re cleared for smoking, so it all works out."
Sausages were largely inspired by Linkus’ desire to be creative. But some, he says, are the result of experiences he’s had working in Milwaukee kitchens.
"I was working with Paul Zerkel at Odd Duck," he says. "And he was eating Flaming Hot Cheetos. I decided those would make a good substitute for the milk powder in a sausage. And that’s how the Red Hot Zerkel was born."
He’s currently experimenting with camel meat for a sausage he plans to roll out after opening.
As far as beverages go, taps will include twelve beers and eight draft cocktails, as well as a highly-curated selection of bourbon. Prices, according to Linkus, will be competitive.
"We’ll have a $1 beer night, and probably offer $2-3 bourbon shots so that people can taste what we offer," he says.
The building houses two levels, the upper portion of which may eventually be developed into a lounge, and the lower level dining room and spacious shaded patio behind the building. The dining room and bar, which is decorated simply in warm wood and deep charcoal colored walls, seats 87. Flat screen televisions don the walls above the bar.
Food service is available at the counter, where patrons will order and pick up their food. Although the restaurant won’t have formal waitstaff, runners and bussers will fill drinks and clear tables.
Ultimately, Linkus says, the place is just going to be fun.
"We’ll have theme nights," he says. "And there will be lots of goofy things. I’m trying to talk them into buying me a hot dog canon."
We’re not sure what that means, but it sounds like a blast. And The Vanguard, overall, seems like just the sort of place Milwaukeeans will latch onto.
"It’s kind of funny that a guy from Pittsburg and another guy from Chicago are opening a sausage spot," says Linkus. "But – for being a sausage town -- Milwaukee doesn’t really offer much."
The Vanguard will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. and will offer carryout. According to Linkus, delivery will also be available in the future.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.