A New MVP in Milwaukee
July 29, 2012
I am usually dubious of restaurants owned by or endorsed by celebrities and athletes. For every Robert DeNiro (Tribeca Grill, Nobu, etc.) there is a Britney Spears (NYLA). For every Lee Roy Selmon (killer BBQ in Tampa, FL) there is a Jennifer Lopez (Madre's). So when Milwaukee's SURG Restaurant Group announced plans to open a restaurant with the involvement of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, I wasn't sure how I felt. I love both these guys; they are not only the best athletes in their respective sports, but are generous and heavily involved in Wisconsin's communities. But what do they know about restaurants? As it turns out, a lot.
8-twelve MVP Bar & Grill recently opened in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield in a space that has seemed to turn over every few years. But this is a place sure to last, not just because of the undying devotion of Wisconsin's pro sports fans, but because the food is wonderful and the service is great.
I dined with three other companions this past week and we were determined to get a good sampling of the menu so we started with some appetizers. And when I say some appetizers, I mean nearly all of them. We selected seven starters: Housemade Cheddar and Gouda Tater Tots, Fried Calamari, Lobster Crab Cakes, Wood Grilled Chicken Wings, Cheese Curds, Smoked Chicken Ravioli, and Shrimp and Grits.
All of the appetizers were explosively flavorful and comforting. My favorite was the Cheese Curds, which were dipped in a Spotted Cow beer batter and fried until golden. The curds were soft and stretchy and the coating was light and crisp with a slightly tangy taste from the beer. They come with buttermilk ranch and honey mustard dipping sauces; the honey mustard was my favorite. I also loved the Tater Tots, which were ethereal pillows of potato heaven. Dipped in the chipotle bacon ketchup and a cool, creamy cayenne ranch dipping sauce, the tots brought back a flood of memories from my childhood, although I never had tater tots like this when I was a kid. I also highly recommend the Wood Grilled Chicken Wings, which came with both the 8-Twelve BBQ sauce and a sweet chili sauce, and were smoky and lacquered with their flavorful sauces.
The Calamari, a staple of restaurants everywhere, was an upgraded take on the usual fried rings you get in most places. The coating was crisp, yet the calamari itself was tender as can be. In addition, cherry peppers and zucchini were also fried with the calamari, giving the dish an additional layer of flavor. With a squeeze of lemon and a dip in the creamy citrus aioli, this calamari put other versions to shame. The Lobster Crab Cakes were also excellent, with large lumps of crab and generous chunks of Maine lobster, along with a tarragon crème fraiche. The Smoked Chicken Ravioli were also tender and flavorful with smoked chicken in a sweet corn sauce. The Shrimp and Grits were creamy with a nice corn flavor and were topped with sweet rock shrimp and an assortment of vegetables, including asparagus and cherry tomatoes, which helped to keep the dish light and deeply flavorful.
We then moved on to our main courses, of which we chose the Wood Grilled Pastrami Spiced Pork Chop, Buttermilk Fried Amish Chicken, House Smoked Beef Brisket, and Pan Seared Day Boat Diver Scallops.
First was the bone-in Pork Chop grilled to a gorgeous medium pink with a lightly smoky char from its time on the wood fired grill. It was drizzled with a flavorful grain mustard jus which was creamy, tangy, and robust, and was served atop soft, tart braised red cabbage and soft grain mustard spaetzle. This was a crave-worthy dish that I have been thinking about since I first ate it.
I then tucked into the House Smoked Brisket, which was fall-apart tender and smoky with a thick, sticky barbecue sauce and was sitting atop a thick slab of garlicky wood grilled Texas toast. The brisket was beautifully complemented by the sweet bourbon baked beans, which were one of the best renditions of baked beans I have ever had.
Next up was the Buttermilk Fried Amish Chicken. For those of you that have been reading, you know I love fried chicken. And this was an excellent fried chicken. It's exterior was crisp and salty and the meat inside was juicy and tender from its luxurious buttermilk soaking. The chicken was served with a creamy house smoked tomato macaroni and cheese.
Finally, I tasted the Day Boat Diver Scallops, which were plump, juicy and nicely caramelized on the outside. They were served on a bed of creamy herbed orzo with peas, pea shoots, and crushed candied hazelnuts and topped with an orange vinaigrette. The dish was a study in contrasting textures and flavors and was light, yet satisfying.
To go with the entrees we also ordered several side dishes: Roasted Mushrooms, Housemade French Fries, Creamed Corn, Brussels Sprouts, and Parmesan and Summer Vegetable Risotto (actually an entree, but we shared it as a side). All of the sides were excellent; my favorites were the Brussels Sprouts, which were tender and caramelized beautifully, as well as the mushrooms, which were meaty and flavorful.
After polishing off 16 dishes for the four of us, we were barely able to eat dessert, although we managed to find the strength for the Chocola8. This was by no means a light way to end the meal, but it was a killer way to end the meal. The Chocola8 is a fudge brownie with a white and dark chocolate mousse sprinkled with a hazelnut crunch and chocolate crumble, and drizzled with chocolate ganache with a milk chocolate ice cream. As a chocolate junkie, this satisfied every craving and was a great way to end a great meal.
This meal changed my perception of celebrity/athlete-endorsed restaurants. 8-twelve MVP Bar and Grill is a restaurant that takes its food seriously (after all, much of it is sourced from Hidden Creek Farms in New London, WI) and it shows. The food is comforting but sophisticated and deeply flavorful and the service is friendly and gracious without the hiccups that usually accompany new restaurant openings. Wisconsin residents are lucky to have such great sports teams as the Packers and Brewers and are lucky to have such outstanding athletes as Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Braun playing for those teams. And now, we can count ourselves as lucky to have Rodgers, Braun, and SURG Restaurant Group giving back to the community through 8-twelve MVP Bar & Grill.
The Bottom Line: For a great meal made using local Wisconsin ingredients and highlighting the flavors of America's Dairyland, head to 8-twelve Bar & Grill. The menu touches upon a wide range of American classics prepared with sophistication and the service is top-notch.