There's no shortage of articles and television shows that showcase the dishes that chefs love to cook at their restaurants. But, what do they love to eat at the end of their exhausting 16-hour days? Or on their days off? In this series, we ask Milwaukee area chefs to share their favorite dishes – both from area restaurants and for eating at home. In this edition, we talked with Chef Amanda Strandt of Mr. B’s, A Bartolotta Steakhouse.
If you’d have asked Amanda Strandt 15 years ago what her career path looked like, she wouldn’t have predicted she’d be working in a kitchen. In fact, her career was pointing in an entirely different direction when she attended UW-Madison to earn her degree in mathematics.
"I did love to cook," she says. "When I was in college, I’d host these huge dinners for my friends; and every time I did, there would be a friend who’d suggest: ‘You should work in a restaurant.’ But I’d always blow them off."
But during her final semester she and her friends took a trip to Virginia for spring break. There she met a park ranger who was an avid gardener and home cook; he invited them over to his house for a meal, and she says the time spent with him made her rethink her plans.
"Something in me clicked," she says. "I realized that math wasn’t going to make me happy. Working for an insurance company wasn’t going to make me happy. It was cooking that made me happy."
After graduation, Strandt packed up her bags and enrolled at Kendall College, where she earned her culinary degree. From there, she took her first position with the Grand Geneva Resort. In 2010, she took a position on the opening team for Harbor House in Milwaukee, and she’s been with the Bartolotta Restaurants group ever since.
When it comes to dining out, Strandt says she’s like so many other chefs. "We either go out to eat or we don’t. I’m in the latter group, especially now that I have a 2-year-old at home. When I do go out, I tend to go out for breakfast. What I order depends on my mood, though I definitely tend towards more savory items; but I throw a pancake in there here and there to change things up."
Chilaquiles at Cafe Corazon
"These are my go to breakfast. I always order them with the chorizo … I have no idea if they buy it or if they make their own; but it has the perfect amount of heat and spice. That combined with the eggs and the tortillas … It’s my absolute favorite breakfast in the world. I branched out and ordered the breakfast tostada for a while, but I always come back to the chilaquiles."
The Dubliner Benedict from Blue’s Egg
"This is a fun take on a typical Eggs Benedict. It’s served on pumpernickel bread with corned beef, melted leeks and poached eggs. What really makes it is the paprika aioli. You get a bit of brininess from the corned beef, richness from the leeks and the egg yolk and that nice bit of spice from the aioli. It’s delicious, and so are the hashbrowns ... I think they’re the only place in Milwaukee that does hashbrowns right."
Pulled pork tostada at Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern
"I went to Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern for the first time last Sunday and I ordered the pork tostada. It was so good. The pork is really great, and it’s got corn and lettuce, sour cream and cheese … all the things you want on a tostada. Everything about it was delicious, and I wanted like four more of them when I was done. I’m still having dreams about it."
Ultimate comfort food: Roasted chicken
"I love a classic roasted chicken … the kind that’s slathered in butter and roasted until the skin is nice and crispy and the meat is super moist and flavorful. It’s just classic Sunday dinner. You can’t go wrong with it."
Strandt says that lately she’s been spatchcocking her chicken to cut down on cooking time and make it easier to eat. She serves her roasted chicken with "some type of potato, usually mashed."
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.