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Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013

The Stackner Cabaret’s New Menu Aims for Comfort

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Executive chef Clifford Hull
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Tucked away on the second floor of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater (108 E. Wells St.), the Stackner Cabaret restaurant poses some unique challenges for its chefs. The restaurant keeps brief hours, ending service 15 minutes before each night’s showtime, and though it’s open to the general public, it primarily serves theatergoers, many of whom are in a rush to get to their seats.

“The biggest challenge is trying to keep everything on a quick serve-time, because we are trying to serve so many people in such a short time frame,” explains executive chef Clifford Hull, who took over the Stackner’s kitchen last year. “We give a lot of consideration to how we can execute menu items as quickly as possible without compromising quality.”

Last month, the Stackner debuted Hull’s new menu, which includes entrées like streak frites with seasonal vegetables and truffle-chive fries ($26) and a Thai shrimp scampi with cilantro-scallion miso butter ($20).

“I knew we wanted to cater to theatergoers, since that’s who we’re here for, but that being said, I didn’t want to just do old-school comfort food without putting more of a contemporary stamp on it,” Hull says. “The concept I wanted to embrace was familiar comfort with an edge, and you see that in something like a pot roast. When I get a nice pot roast at a restaurant, I’m always impressed, because it’s such an easy thing to do wrong. But when you get it right, and it’s got nice, tender chunks of beef and a favorable sauce, it can be a delightful thing.”

The Stackner’s pot roast ($21) pairs slow-braised chuck tender with horseradish whipped potatoes, mustard-glazed Brussels sprouts and carrots with bacon. Other popular additions include a massive chicken cordon bleu sandwich with tempura-battered chicken and aged swiss on a pretzel roll ($14) and a simple triple-decker turkey club ($11).

“I love a club sandwich,” Hull says. “We don’t do anything ridiculous or special with our club except do it well. We have nice roasted turkey and we use Neuske’s bacon. When I’m hiring cooks, I always have them make me a club, because it’s so easy to mess up. If the toast isn’t right or the bacon isn’t crispy, it doesn’t work. Everything needs to be perfect.”