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Chefs Branch Out with Restaurants Within Their Restaurants

Jan. 17, 2017
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Red Light Ramen
414-837-5107 | redlightramen.com | $-$$

Ardent
414-897-7022 | ardentmke.com | $$$-$$$$

DanDan
414-488-8036 | dandanmke.com | $$-$$$

EsterEv
414-488-8036 | esterev.com | $$$-$$$$

Movida
414-224-5300 | movidamke.com | $$

The Churro Shop
414-224-5300 | thechurroshop.com | $

Vinchi’s Pizza
414-384-8040 | $-$$

The Bubbler
414-482-4941

Gypsy Taco
facebook.com/gypsytaco | $

Boone & Crockett
414-779-0818 | boonemilwaukee.com

A new trend is taking hold in restaurants around Milwaukee that gives chefs the flexibility to explore cuisine apart from their everyday menus: restaurants within restaurants. Not quite a pop-up restaurant, which is sporadic in its appearance, these restaurants operate in the same space, from the same kitchen, but under a completely different name and concept. 

Red Light Ramen, an offshoot of Ardent (1751 N. Farwell Ave.), was one of the first successful examples of this meta restaurant concept. Originally only open on weekend nights after dinner service was over, Ardent’s Justin Carlisle transformed the restaurant space into a loud, bustling Japanese ramen shop, the exact opposite of calm, cozy Ardent. It was so popular that once the space next to the restaurant became vacant, Carlisle made Red Light Ramen (1749 N. Farwell Ave.) a permanent spot. Red Light is now open Wednesday-Saturday 6 p.m.-1 a.m.

Other restaurants are now following Carlisle’s lead—though whether they will be moving into a separate permanent homes remains to be seen, and is probably unlikely thanks to restaurants with a larger footprint. DanDan (360 E. Erie St.), a Chinese American restaurant that opened in summer of 2016, also operates EsterEv in a private dining room. Available Thursday through Saturday nights for one seating, the 10-course menu ($80) from chefs Dan Van Rite and Dan Jacobs features dishes from around the globe, and generally doesn’t include a Chinese influence. The menu changes monthly and beverage pairings ($40), which usually include wines and cocktails, can be added. Past dishes have included steak tartare, sturgeon with oxtail and radish, and rabbit with gnocchi. Seating is family style and reservations are required.

Movida (524 S. Second St.), a Spanish restaurant serving tapas and paella, fries up fresh churros in a mini meta restaurant. Called The Churro Shop, diners can order churros at the restaurant’s bar for take-out or dine-in, or you can even get them delivered hot to wherever you like. (Can you imagine an office party with fresh churros? Everyone would actually show up.) The Churro Shop is available Tuesday through Sunday evenings, with hours until midnight on Friday and Saturday for night owls. Churros ($5-$6) come with your choice of dipping sauce, including chocolate and raspberry. And if you’d like something savory to go with your sweet, they also offer croquetas. The little fried fritters ($10-11) are available stuffed with ham or veggie goat cheese, and come with garlic aioli.

While the restaurant-within-a-restaurant trend is relatively new, many bars have had kitchens operating separately from the bar business for years. Vinchi’s Pizza, a clandestine South Side pizza spot, operates out of the Bubbler pub (3158 S. Howell Ave.). In this case, the kitchen space is leased out to a third party—namely, Paul Meka—that bakes some of the best Milwaukee-style thin crust around. You can order pies to eat in the pub, or call ahead for takeout. It’s cash only, so plan ahead.

Boone & Crockett (2151 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.) also has a permanent resident: Gypsy Taco. It started as a food truck, and technically it still is, though it’s parked in Boone’s backyard patio space. They generally serve the same hours as Boone, though they sometimes close for weather, given their al fresco location. The seasonal menu changes often, but you’ll almost always find their Dr. Pepper-braised pork shoulder taco ($4) and their take on Mexican street corn in a cup ($4) with Cotija cheese and arugula. No matter what you order, top it with their signature Gypsy Danger hot sauce.

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