Elevated Midwestern cuisine from Ardent in Milwaukee

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Milwaukee offers much more than cliches. In fact, it's full of hidden surprises, including one restaurant emphasizing regional cooking. (WLS)

On New Year's Day, our food reporter is hitting the road, heading north to the land of beer, brats and cheese curds.

But he says Milwaukee offers much more than those three cliches. In fact, it's full of hidden surprises, including one restaurant emphasizing regional cooking.

The mood is more like a casual hangout in a friend's basement, rather than a stuffy, fine-dining experience. And that's on purpose, because Ardent, just a few blocks from Milwaukee's lake shore, spends most of its effort on the plate.

"A lot of those Nordic and German traditions we grew up with that are lost are kind of what we do at Ardent. They're very much in the sense of more of a fine-dining scale," said Chef and Owner Justin Carlisle.

Carlisle grew up in small-town Wisconsin, the son of a beef farmer. No surprise then, to see beef tartare on his tasting menu, seasoned with chives, onions and some lemon oil, he forms into a ring mold, piping on deviled egg mousse and tops it with roasted and whipped bone marrow.

"And we're making our own butter, and we make pain au lait - our milk bread - out of it, and then we source out these cheesemakers that are going through the same farmer at the same time, and source the cheese out of it. So now we're trying to isolate a period in time strictly through one herd of cattle, one farm," said Carlisle.

Carlisle enjoys telling these stories to each of his guests. He also takes liberties with classic Wisconsin diner fare, like escargot: here he adds a roasted garlic puree with compound butter, parsley and chervil, topping it with a parsley tuile, or thin, crispy wafer. He says diners appreciate the focus on regional ingredients and traditions.

"I think it's a fortunate thing in our time of the world and profession, that in America at least, that we're finally getting regional cooking," he said.

Now as much as the staff prides itself on elevating humble, Midwestern ingredients, they don't take themselves too seriously because every Friday and Saturday, from 11:30 pm until 1 a.m. the restaurant turns into Red Light Ramen where they serve just a couple of things: Japanese ramen, beer and boozy slushies. I'm coming back for that one.

1751 N Farwell Ave, Milwaukee, WI
(414) 897-7022
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