When John Sidoff and his wife, Cindy, bought East Side landmark Von Trier in late 2009, he left no doubt about his intentions. There would be no food, except for the traditional popcorn and maybe some happy hour nibbles imported from an outside source.
That raised a timely question yesterday. Why was I attending a tasting of the bar's small plates menu, scheduled to be rolled out in early March?
"So many people come in here and ask, do you have food," Sidoff explained during the sampling. "We have had to send them away.
"The days of owning just a cocktail lounge are over. It is impossible to get people in early and have them stick around without serving food."
The Sidoffs are no strangers to operating a famous bar with a busy kitchen. They also own Hooligan's, a stone's throw away from Von Trier.
Upscale small plate items are on the menu executive chef Christian Schroeder is developing. Think thinly-sliced smoked salmon on crostini topped by a dollop of organic dill sour cream. Or Medjool dates stuffed with soft chevre cheese and wrapped in prosciutto and a fresh basil leaf.
Schroeder, who was formerly executive sous chef at The Envoy in the Ambassador Hotel, is also planning a chicken and sausage fricassee with vegetables in puff pastry, and three different flatbread pizzas, including one topped with hummus, rock shrimp, blue cheese, white truffle oil and organic greens.
The menu, containing about 10 sharable items, will be seasonal. Look for gazpacho in the summer. Prices will range from $6 to $12.
Von Trier had a very small prep kitchen dating back to when the building housed its predecessor, Rieder's. The Sidoffs have expanded the kitchen for the new food service.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.