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Thursday, Nov. 29, 2007

Ambitious Pub

From the Hinterland to Milwaukee

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A little more than two months ago, Milwaukee’s first “gastropub” opened in the Third Ward. Its name is Hinterland and it’s the second location for the Hinterland Brewery of Green Bay. The term gastropub was coined in Britain as a way to distinguish pubs with ambitious chefs from those serving fish and chips. Hinterland does not look much like a pub at all. It’s in a rehabbed vintage building with a sleek bar. Some of the wooden tables in the two dining rooms hold sculpted birds surrounded by rounded pebbles in the center. The only hint of Wisconsin in the dcor is an occasional cowhide rug.

The Green Bay brewery opened in 1995, with a restaurant following a few years later. Kelly Qualley is executive chef of the Milwaukee site and a seven-year veteran of the Green Bay operation. The menu shows a love for unusual ingredients merged with the best products of Wisconsin. You will find chanterelle and matsutake mushrooms, Tasmanian salmon and Hawaiian bigeye tuna on the same page as Nueske’s bacon, Glorioso’s Italian sausage and a fried pig’s trotter for good measure. This is a lineup that stands out in the trend-obsessed Third Ward.



The main menu is served at the bar and in the dining rooms. A small lounge to the rear has its own menu with the same soups, salads and starters, as well as a few less expensive entrees. The lounge also serves as the smoking area.



It would be easy to compose a meal from the lounge menu alone. Try the soothing roasted oyster mushroom bisque ($7), a rich tan puree with drizzled truffle oil and a few chopped chives. A salad of roasted beets and arugula ($8) is served with crumbled blue cheese, diced and pickled red beets and a lemon truffle vinaigrette on the side. The centerpiece is slices of golden roasted beets.



Fresh seafood arrives daily and is carefully selected. Order the raw Kumamoto oysters ($10). They are small, as oysters go, but of superior flavor and presented in a unique manner. Instead of the usual half-shell, the oysters are placed in ceramic Oriental soup spoons. It’s a more refined way to eat them. The shells hold diced Serrano ham and cucumber relish with lemon. Alas, the distinguished Spanish ham seems superfluous in this setting and is best served in thin slices. The menu also has Filipino-inspired lumpia ($12). These are rice paper spring rolls with a luxuriant filling of tiger shrimp and lump crab, served with a few leaves of bibb lettuce, cucumber kimchee and Buddha’s hand ponzu—a fancy term for a sweet-and-citrus dipping sauce. While the shrimp are noticeable, the crab is hard to discern.



The entrees reflect the menu’s diversity, including duck breast with quail and Australian lamb loin and angus steaks. The seafood draws attention, such as the unusual andouille-crusted Hawaiian opah ($26). How do you create a crust with spicy sausage? Chef Qualley finely minces it and blends it with bread crumbs. Opah, a colorful tropical fish, beloved by crossword puzzle authors, is served as a thick slab. The texture is firm with a flavor not unlike the increasingly scarce Chilean sea bass. This otherwise exceptional entre had one flaw: The center was raw. It would be permissible, even desirable, with ahi tuna, but not with opah.



The gastropub has a surprisingly good wine list, even including eight vintage ports. Do try one of the beers, however, for which Hinterland has won several awards. Order a sampler of three to find a favorite. Reservations are essential on weekends, though there is a chance for a table at the lounge. This is the best and most interesting menu to appear recently. Hinterland has great potential.

Hinterland Erie
Street Gastropub
222 E. Erie St.
(414) 727-9300

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