y Jenny Wisniewski
During a year of unprecedented, unexpected events, it is a relief that some things haven’t changed (like the pumpkin ravioli at Il Mito) and in some cases only gotten better (like the oysters at Maxie’s). Many have adapted to the strange year we’ve had (like the food truck at Le Reve). And some, just by virtue of their welcoming spirit and family-friendly menus (like Cosmos Cafe and O’Sullivan’s) keep people coming back for more.
Holiday celebrations may be scaled back in 2020, but that doesn’t mean a fabulous holiday feast (or two) needs to be eliminated. For inspiration, five local chefs and restaurant owners share favorite recipes and discuss their holiday traditions, both in their restaurants and at home.
Chef/Owner – Le Reve Patisserie & Cafe, 7610 Harwood Avenue, Wauwatosa
Family Food Tradition
Andy’s mom, Kris Schneider, has loved experimenting in the kitchen for as long as he can remember. He and his siblings were called on to assist as taste testers. Her now traditional holiday eclair ring is one result of this passion for creating new recipes. (Another is Andy’s professional pursuit of the culinary arts.) This family-style dessert is a 20-inch ring of eclair pastry (pate aux choux) filled with a vanilla pastry cream and topped with a chocolate ganache.
On the Menu
Andy, along with fiancee and co-owner Therese Hittman, are featuring an extended take-home friendly menu for the holidays. Focusing on families and others eating at home, the offerings are reasonably priced and use quality ingredients like farm vegetables and free-range local meats. “We make it easy to have a nice meal of any size for the holiday, without cooking all day. 2020 is enough stress!” Schneider said.
For those who want to eat in, the option continues with spaced tables and a cautious approach to cleaning and COVID protocols. Guests can enjoy the in-house menus as well as wine pairings and batched cocktail mixes including the Spiced Pear Martini (Poire Epicee Martini). (Check out the recipe below.)
If you haven’t noticed yet, Le Reve now includes a food truck around the corner from the restaurant. Schneider and Hittman brought in the food truck as a way to provide more options to customers during the pandemic. They offer more casual fare like a French take on a burger and sandwiches on baguettes along with regular tasty sides like the pommes frites served with garlic aioli. The truck also offers specials like deep-fried smoked turkey legs, served around Thanksgiving.
It is hard to eat at Le Reve, either take-out or dine-in, without indulging in at least one of the irresistible pastries behind the glass case. Hittman, along with pastry sous chefs Abelardo and Patricia Guadarrama, continue to offer tarts, macarons and more, some with a holiday twist.
Poire Épicée Martini
2.5 oz Grey Goose Pear Vodka
1 oz Cinnamon Simple Syrup
0.5 oz Lemon Juice
1 oz Pear Purée
4 drops Bergamot Essence
Shake into chilled Martini glass and garnish with a sliced pear.
Chef/Owner – Il Mito Trattoria and Enoteca, 6913 W. North Avenue, Wauwatosa
Feker also owns Zesti in Hartland, 2Mesa in Milwaukee, and Americas in Delafield.
Family Food Tradition
During the holidays, the Feker family enjoys a traditional Mexican dish called posole. Feker’s wife, Maricela Feker, introduced the dish, a nod to her Mexican heritage. Posole is a festive stew made with pork and hominy and garnished with a variety of fresh ingredients like shredded cabbage or lettuce, radishes, cilantro, chili peppers, avocado and limes. Feker’s family loves the dish because it is served family-style which “allows each person to create their own favorite version,” he said.
On the Menu
Diners can expect to see the presentation of Feker’s dishes change as the holidays get under way. “I focus on the seasons and by doing so, I get to honor the traditions tied to those seasons,” Feker said. This might include root vegetables, squashes, Wisconsin apples and pears and maple syrup.
The most popular holiday dish at Il Mito is the pumpkin ravioli. Filled with roasted pumpkin, fresh herbs and ricotta cheese, the ravioli are covered in a sage cream sauce and sprinkled with toasted walnuts, grated parmesan and fresh parsley.
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 Tablespoon pure banana liqueur
1/2 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
4 firm bananas, cut in half then sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup Marsala wine
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
Melt butter in a 10-inch heavy skillet over low heat. Add brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; stir until sugar dissolves.
Add orange juice, banana liqueur, and vanilla extract; bring sauce to simmer for 2 minutes on medium low heat.
Add bananas and cook for 1 minute on each side, carefully spooning sauce over bananas as they are cooking. Remove bananas from pan to a serving dish.
Bring sauce to a simmer and carefully add the rum and the Marsala; cook for 2 minutes on medium-low. If the sauce is too thin, cook for 1-2 minutes more until it is syrupy. Add orange zest and stir to combine.
Immediately spoon the sauce over bananas and serve. (Serve with crepes and ice cream.)
Chef/Owner – Maxie’s, 6732 W. Fairview Avenue, Milwaukee; Blue’s Egg, 317 N. 76th Street, Milwaukee; Story Hill BKC, 5100 W. Bluemound Road, Milwaukee
Family Food Tradition
Joe’s holiday memories include “grand dinners” prepared by his Mom, Loretta Muench. This often featured a stuffed pork crown roast. His detailed memory is enough to make your stomach growl.
“She would roast the pork for a few hours and when it came from the oven to rest on the counter, I remember how rich it looked with all the crispy bits and drippings trickling down the sides of the roast into the pan. She would have my dad cut the roast at the dinner table and serve everyone Norman Rockwell style with people passing their plates to and fro filling them up with all the traditional sides of potatoes, pan gravy, stuffing, green bean casserole, fruit sauces, homemade bread and much more.”
A sign of the times, Joe’s family holiday traditions have evolved from an elaborate formal meal at the dining room table to a more casual, grazing sort of event. Everyone brings a dish, often a “kicked up” appetizer, which frees the host to participate in the celebration. Also, because a love of cooking and worldly cuisine runs in the family, everyone is treated to a smorgasbord of diverse flavors.
Full disclosure – one constant at the family gatherings is Cannibal Sandwiches (raw beef and onions on rye). “We all love this, and 20 to 30 of us will easily devour 5 pounds of raw beef at one of the gatherings,” Muench said.
On the Menu
Holiday dinners at the restaurant reflect the shift in seasons. You will probably see squash, root vegetables, brussels sprouts, pumpkins, pears and apples. For meats, Muench’s restaurants transition to “elegant offerings” like game and lamb, and richer cuts of beef like ribeye and short ribs. “One dish that stands out at Story Hill BKC is local venison. We love to serve the loin portion sauteed in nut crusts and accompany it with tart fruits like pomegranate infused into rich sauces,” Muench said.
Because seafood is popular during the holidays, Muench features shellfish including lobster, shrimp and scallops as well as caviar and smoked fish. And they don’t call it Maxie’s Oyster Bar, BBQ and Fresh Fish for nothing. Maxie’s sells close to 3,000 oysters each week. The holiday season is a great time to try oysters (or go back for more) as the oyster season is at its peak. (For oyster novices, the peak season is in December and January due to the cold temperatures of the Atlantic water where they are harvested. At this point, the breeding season, which yields an inferior product, has also concluded.) Muench recommends the Oyster Rockefeller for those coming in for a holiday meal. The grilled oysters are among the most popular oyster dishes, and the fried oysters are a good choice for someone trying oysters for the first time.
Planked Salmon with Potato Waffle and Caviar
Four 6 oz Fresh Atlantic Salmon Filets
Herbs Chopped: Fresh Thyme, Rosemary, Chives
Rub the salmon filets with butter to form a thin coating.
Season the buttered surface of the salmon with Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and equal amounts of herbs.
Place on cedar plank and roast, covered on the grill for 5 minutes.
Turn the planks and roast covered for 5-8 minutes more.
The salmon should be cooked to a medium temperature. 135-140* internal temp.
1 3/4 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 C Potato spuds (dried potatoes)
1 T Baking Powder
2 T Sugar
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
½ tsp. White Pepper
½ tsp. Onion Powder
½ tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 Large Eggs Separated
½ Cup Vegetable Oil
2 Cups Buttermilk
Preheat your waffle iron, spray with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, potato, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and cayenne.
In a medium bowl beat the egg whites with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl mix together the egg yolks, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract.
Add the egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.
Gently fold in the egg whites.
Pour the batter onto your hot waffle iron and cook.
Serve the Salmon with the waffle on the side, topped with sour cream, caviar and chives.
A light seasonal salad would accompany this dish nicely.
Owner – O’Sullivan’s Public House, 12525 W. North Avenue, Brookfield
Family Food Tradition
While growing up, Syvock’s holiday dinners were not just delicious feasts of turkey and stuffing; they were events. The fun began when Syvock’s mom and grandmother pulled out the hand meat grinder and bolted it to the kitchen table. The kids took turns grinding celery, onions, apples and pork sausage to include in the stuffing.
Her grandmother’s butterhorns are another great memory and tradition that Syvock’s brother has continued. Fluffy and light, the raised pastries are topped with powdered sugar frosting.
On the Menu
Pre-COVID, O’Sullivans always celebrated the holidays with several casual, festive and fun events. The festivities begin the week before Thanksgiving with the annual Turkey Bowl. Staff turn the bar into a makeshift bowling alley complete with bowling pins and frozen turkeys which serve as the bowling balls.
On Thanksgiving Day, customers enjoy a full spread of turkey and fixin’s at the O’Sullivan’s Thanksgiving Day buffet, and at the beginning of December, Syvock and team invite customers to come in out of the cold for their Christmas party which includes a free appetizer buffet. This year, Syvock decided that they will still hold these popular events; they will just postpone them until social distancing is a thing of the past. Turkey bowling in July may be something to look forward to in 2021!
While they are not hosting larger events, O’Sullivan’s continues to serve tasty Irish fare, both in their dining room and through carry out. With the holidays, comes winter weather and a desire for comfort food. At O’ Sullivan’s, this means shepherd’s pie, meatloaf and pot roast. Homemade soups become popular menu items, too. It is “whatever is going to feel good for the body and good for the soul,” Syvock said.
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tb sour cream
½ cup cream or milk
2 pounds ground beef
1 large and diced carrot
1 peeled and diced parsnip
1 diced onion
½ cup frozen peas
2 Tb butter
2 Tb flour
1 cup beef stock
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Boil the potatoes for about 12 minutes.
Drain the water and add potatoes back to the pot.
Add sour cream, egg and cream or milk to the potatoes.
Mash until well blended.
In a frying pan, brown ground beef with a little salt and pepper.
After about 5 minutes, add the carrot, onion and parsnip.
Cook until the vegetables are crisp tender and the beef is cooked.
In a small pan, combine the butter and flour and cook for about 2 minutes.
Whisk in beef stock and Worcestershire sauce.
Continue to stir on low heat for about one minute while the gravy thickens.
Add the gravy and the peas to the mixture.
Place the meat and vegetable mixture in a casserole dish.
Top with mashed potatoes and 1 teaspoon of paprika and parsley flakes.
Bake or Broil (6-8 inches from heat) until the potatoes are evenly browned.
Helen and Theo Tselentis
Owners – Cosmos Cafe, 7203 W. North Avenue, Wauwatosa
Family Food Tradition
Many Greek families, including the Tselentises, enjoy lamb and potatoes for Christmas dinner. Helen Tselentis prepares a leg of lamb that she roasts in the oven with lots of garlic and lemon. “We Greeks like everything with lemon!” she joked with an exaggerated Greek accent. It would be difficult to find a Greek kitchen without lemon, garlic, olive oil and oregano in it, she added.
During typical years, the Tselentis family enjoys large festive gatherings. “We do always have a big fat Greek wedding celebration with lots of people, good food, lots of wine and a lot of good memories,” Tselentis says.
On the Menu
As the weather cools, Theo Tselentis makes a variety of homemade soups. On Friday nights, the cafe serves a traditional Greek soup called avgolemono, a chicken broth with rice – and of course, lemon.
They also continue to serve many of their specialty pita sandwiches including the gyro. Nearly as popular, their signature jerk chicken pita is a big seller. The pork souvlaki sandwich is another that Tselentis says “they can’t make fast enough.” This recipe is one that they brought over from Greece and customized. It begins with rotisserie pork and delights with its unique flavor.
With its reasonable prices, tasty cuisine, and big Greek welcome, this small, family-run cafe, could likely coax Ebeneezer Scrooge into the holiday spirit.
16 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well-drained (if possible, place in a tea towel and squeeze out excess moisture)
1 bunch parsley finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus 2 tbs to saute onions)
3/4 lb feta cheese, crumbled
2 tsp dried dill weed (preferably fresh)
Freshly ground pepper/salt
1 16 oz package phyllo dough
1 cup olive oil (or ½ stick butter and ½ cup butter for richer flavor)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Before you begin mixing the filling, be sure the spinach is well-drained and squeeze out any excess moisture.
Use 2 Tbs. olive oil and saute chopped onion until transparent.
Add parsley and dill to onions and wilt slightly.
Add spinach to mix and combine, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs and add crumbled cheese. Pour into spinach mixture.
Add ½ tsp pepper and salt
Assembly: Unroll the phyllo sheets and cover with a cloth as phyllo dough dries very quickly. Using a pastry brush, brush the bottom and sides of a 9 ½ X 13” baking dish with a butter/oil mixture. Line the baking dish with a sheet of phyllo dough and brush lightly with butter/oil. Repeat this process for 5-6 sheets of phyllo dough allowing the sheets to drape over the sides of the baking dish. Add spinach mixture. Begin covering the spinach mixture with remaining phyllo until it is used up. Fold in the sides tightly. Brush top of phyllo with generous brushing of butter/oil mixture. This is important: score the top of phyllo dough with a sharp knife in the desired sized pieces. Sprinkle slightly with water to prevent phyllo from puffing up during baking. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour or when the top is golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares.