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Roots Restaurant & Cellar, Milwaukee

Roots Restaurant & Cellar, Milwaukee
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  • Roots Restaurant & Cellar, Milwaukee

    Post #1 - September 19th, 2008, 7:23 pm
    Post #1 - September 19th, 2008, 7:23 pm Post #1 - September 19th, 2008, 7:23 pm
    I had never heard of this Brewers Hill gem until I stumbled on it while doing an internet search. A concept familiar to Californians but relatively new to the Midwest, Roots is owned by a farmer-chef partnership – close friends since high school with a shared dream. The love and care really show though in the restaurant. To a person, the staff act and talk with passion that must be a contagious outgrowth of this partnership. They seem to love working in a place with such a high regard for sourcing the best possible ingredients – local ones for the most part.

    Roots has a warm, neighborhood feel, with a little extra class. Its outdoor terrace is comfortable and has a beautiful view of downtown on one side, and the neighborhood’s historic mansions on the other. Inside, you can choose to sit upstairs in the main dining room, or down in the cellar. Upstairs you’ll find an open kitchen, hardwood flooring, nice wood tables sans white linen, and a very cool 10 seat bar with comfy stools and a marble countertop. Downstairs is more speakeasy-like – darker wood and smoother jazz. All menu items can be had in both rooms, though downstairs they do more to publicize the availability of less expensive items including a burger and a couple of other sandwiches.

    I sat with the knowledgeable and convivial bartender, and started with an order of corn-lima bean soup. This was basically a delicious, pureed succotash, with a strong backdrop of smoky bacon to accent seasonally sweet corn and roughly pureed fresh beans. This was a truly addicting homestyle soup.

    Moving on, I ordered “chicken 3 ways”, which consisted of a roasted hind quarter, chicken fried livers, and homemade pasta with pancetta and raw chicken egg yolk. The dish was a huge success. The livers were crispy on the outside and well seasoned, but gave way to luscious, pure, gamey liver flavor. The pasta was rolled with arugula which gave it a nice bite to offset the crisp, salty pancetta and rich, fresh, delicious yolk. The leg and thigh seemed to have been roasted well, though under-seasoned for my taste, and while the skin was crispy – it also had a somewhat strange plastic-like texture that made it hard to chew. Easily forgiven, given the overall smashing success this dish was on the whole.

    Passing on richer desserts which sounded delicious (the chicken entrée was incredibly filling), I ordered a sorbet trio: grapefruit/cinnamon, cucumber/ vanilla, and peach/blackberry. Though they were served harder than I’d prefer, each was intensely flavored and impossible to put down. The cucumber/vanilla was especially good – something had been done to dramatically intensify the cucumber flavor in this dish.

    Obviously, I was pleased to find Roots, and will certainly return when given the opportunity while working in Milwaukee over the next few months.

    Roots Restaurant & Cellar
    1818 N. Hubbard St.
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #2 - November 22nd, 2010, 12:33 pm
    Post #2 - November 22nd, 2010, 12:33 pm Post #2 - November 22nd, 2010, 12:33 pm
    Apparently, I ate in Milwaukee with a lot of good intel from Kenny this weekend. I've already posted about lunch at Thai Bar-B-Que, but Roots the night before was also lovely. A friend and I stopped in for a cocktail and snack before dinner on Friday.

    The first level of Roots struck me as hokey Wisconsin Dells-like lodge, and the bar was full at 6pm, which meant we would have had to sit at a regular table--not so much what we were going for that night. Upstairs seemed more spacious and toned-down, and we had a pretty view of downtown illuminated from our seats at the bar up there. I had a Plymouth Rock-n-Rye -- Plymouth gin, rye whiskey, bitters-soaked sugar cube with an orange twist (didn’t catch the details beyond that) -- which was pleasant enough. My friend had a drink I only half heard and maybe purposefully forgot to try, something with St. Germain, açaí, I’m guessing a vodka base. She liked it.

    To share, we ordered the night’s special, “Asian-inspired" Manzanilla-style Manila clams with andouille. I wasn’t sure the fusion would work, and the lemongrass in the broth and sausage seemed too pronounced at first, but the entire dish mellowed out beautifully.


    I want to kick myself for not choosing Roots for a full dinner, especially given our experience at Crazy Water later that night. Roots will be the first place I visit the next time I'm in Milwaukee.
  • Post #3 - November 23rd, 2010, 9:09 am
    Post #3 - November 23rd, 2010, 9:09 am Post #3 - November 23rd, 2010, 9:09 am
    Funny, I just read your Crazy Water post and had someone asked me I would have said Roots was the overrated of the two but as I mentioned in the other thread, I haven't been to CW in about a year and Roots in about 2 (having a kid has cut down on our dining out). My last visit to Roots I was very unimpressed with my meal so I haven't been eager to return but now it looks like I really should.
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  • Post #4 - May 21st, 2012, 10:49 am
    Post #4 - May 21st, 2012, 10:49 am Post #4 - May 21st, 2012, 10:49 am
    I hosted a family graduation dinner at Roots this past Friday. It was a very pleasant experience.

    It is hard not to start with the location, becuase Roots is atop a hill with a lovely view of the Milwaukee skyline (yes, it has one). On a pleasant evening, I'd love to go there for drinks and sit at one of the outdoor tables. The full dining area, however, is indoors.

    The food is supposed to focus on lots of locally grown stuff, but at this time of the year, not too much was evident. Lots of seafood and other products that clearly came from afar.

    The meal starts with a gratis "snack attack", which consists of a flavored popcorn, some pickeled vegetables and marinated chickpeas. All three were excellent. A great way to launch.

    For appetizers, I had the soft shell crab on a corn puree. The crab was first rate. While the corn was a bit sweet (corn at this time, in a place that emphasizes local food?), when combined with dressed greens it worked very well. The main dishes included quinoa fritters, a pork belly and scallop dish and a pork belly ramen. I thought all the combinations worked, but if I have one criticism, I found much of the food a touch underseasoned. With all that good stuff on the plate, I'd like the flavors to pop a bit more. It was all enjoyable but could have hit greater heights.

    The vibe in the restaurant is fairly casual and the service was excellent.

    To sum up: I'd certainly recommend Roots for those looking for a slightly upscale meal in Milwaukee. It should be particularly good in the middle of the summer when the local farms can supply a lot more.

  • Post #5 - November 25th, 2012, 10:58 am
    Post #5 - November 25th, 2012, 10:58 am Post #5 - November 25th, 2012, 10:58 am
    Roots has closed. Wolf Peach is now in its place.
  • Post #6 - December 13th, 2012, 6:02 pm
    Post #6 - December 13th, 2012, 6:02 pm Post #6 - December 13th, 2012, 6:02 pm
    Ohhh, how pity! Is it Wolf Peach at least in a half good as Roots was?
  • Post #7 - December 15th, 2012, 10:45 am
    Post #7 - December 15th, 2012, 10:45 am Post #7 - December 15th, 2012, 10:45 am
    Daniel Jacobs, executive chef of Roots, stayed on as executive chef of Wolf Peach.