When a favorite restaurant closes, there are always mixed feelings – sadness over the loss of a beloved dinner destination, confusion regarding the how and the why of the closing, and trepidation over whether or not the new spot will live up to expectations.
Roots Restaurant and Cellar carved out a special place in the hearts of many in Milwaukee – not only for its delicious locally sourced fare, but also for its atmosphere and service. In addition to positioning itself as a destination restaurant, Roots brought meaning to the term "farm-to-table" by sourcing a significant amount of its produce from a restaurant-owned farm. Roots also grew edibles from cherry tomatoes to day lily buds outside the restaurant, which sits on a hill overlooking the Milwaukee skyline.
Chef Dan Jacobs, who spent a year and a half running the kitchen at Roots before taking over as executive chef for Wolf Peach, says he understands what diners might be feeling about the restaurant's recent transition. But, he says customers should be assured that the spirit of Roots is still very much alive and well.
"This is just a continuation of Roots, the fruit of what it started," he says. "Farm to table isn't a new concept anymore, but we're expanding on the idea, trying to do it in a much more approachable way. My hope is that people who saw Roots as a special-occasion restaurant will be able to embrace Wolf Peach, and make it a place they can visit every week, rather than just once or twice a year."
For Jacobs, approachable includes serving up rustic European dishes made from locally sourced ingredients, priced fairly and served up in a comfortable environment.
"I love the idea of turning peasant food into something that people love," he explains. "Nothing overworked. Nothing crazy. Just really good food."
Wolf Peach will continue to source ingredients from area farms like Yuppie Hill and Hometown Sausage, while continuing to grow their own produce on a three-acre farm in Sheboygan County. The emphasis will remain, Jacobs stresses, on quality ingredients, including countless items made in house.
Charcuterie, pasta, breads and myriad items will be made on-site. Former Roots kitchen staff have taken on new roles – Chase Anderson oversees pastry and bread production, Kyle Toner puts his expertise with wood-fired ovens to work on Wolf Peach's pizza, and Cole Ersel takes on the responsibility for whole animal butchering and curing.
An ever-changing menu will include spreads and starters, vegetable plates, fish dishes, meat-based entrees and pizzas made in a newly installed wood-fired oven. In keeping with the restaurant's name, tomatoes (or wolf peaches) will be woven throughout the menu in creative ways, with canned, frozen and preserved fruit comprising the bulk of offerings during the fall and winter months, and fresh tomatoes appearing during the late spring and summer.
A first look at the Wolf Peach menu gave me hope that Jacobs is right on the money.
Dishes like squash-filled mezzaluna pasta served with blue cheese, walnuts and sauteed spinach made delicious use of seasonal ingredients at their peak. Wood-roasted bone marrow with sea salt and parsley was rustic and basic – but perfect spread on house-made French bread and embellished with caramelized onion jam.
Fish dishes like tender grilled octopus with farro, red peppers and arugula pesto and wood-roasted tomato-glazed salmon with beluga lentils and garlic emulsion showcased well-prepared seafood with complementary flavor profiles and well-executed side dishes.
And comfort food staples like breaded pork loin with potato pancakes and applesauce conjured taste memories of grandma's kitchen.
The crust of the wood-fired pizza was airy, slightly chewy within, yet crisp around the edges. And toppings like goat cheese, leeks, mushrooms and house-made lamb sausage were inventive, yet accessible – and delicious to boot.
Pricing is fair for generous small-plate portions that are designed to be shared by two or more diners. And there is plenty to choose from for both vegetarians and carnivores alike. Even gluten-free diners will find a variety of suitable options, although those with acute sensitivities should be forewarned that items prepared in both the kitchen and wood-fired oven are prepared in proximity to items that contain gluten.
Wolf Peach is open for lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on Sundays. Hours are Mondays-Fridays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Sundays 10 a.m.-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.