Chow Down In Milwaukee

Restaurant Reviews

Quality Grows From Wild Roots

The city of West Allis has been quietly undergoing a significant food renaissance. One of the most recent additions is something special and unique everyone owes it to themselves to discover. In the building at 6807 W. Becher that housed the now defunct Ka-Bob’s Bistro, Wild Roots have sprouted. Not just a catchy pun, Wild Roots is the latest, and some may say greatest dinning adventure to hit the Milwaukee suburb.

Wild Roots is a joint effort owned by both Thi Cao, who served as the executive chef at Buckley’s among many other culinary accomplishments. His partner is Bryan De Stefanis who owns Big City Greens. Big City Greens is a company that owns a 15-acre farm in Shawano county. There they forage for wild edibles including, but not limited to, vegetables, mushrooms, microgreens and herbsngr. Many of these quality ingredients find their way to your table at Wild Roots. There are even staff trips to the farm on Mondays when the restaurant will be closed.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to the official ribbon cutting ceremony for Wild Roots. After words of welcome by the mayor of West Allis, Dan Devine, owner Thi Cao had the floor. Mr. Cao explained the emphasis is not only on creating a ‘farm to table’ experience, but rather one that puts the accent on quality ingredients and respecting the ingredients they use. This is not limited to the plants they forage from Bryan’s farm, but includes the animals as well. At the bottom of the menu there is an item listed as ‘Nasty Bits’. Thi explains these are dishes made from parts of the animals that most restaurants throw away. This allows Mr. Cao not only to respect the products and let nothing go to waste, but in his own admission is homage to the late, great chef Anthony Bordain.

During the ribbon cutting we were able to sample some of Wild Roots standard offerings. If these were indications, the rest of the menu is certainly worth exploring as well. Before I get into specific dishes, I want to take a second to mention the attention to presentation given at Wild Roots. In my time on this fabulous planet, and certainly in my time doing reviews for this website, I have never seen a better example of presentation than you will see at Wild Roots. Each dish we were served both times we visited Wild Roots was a culinary work of art. A feast for the eyes before ever hitting the tongue.

Let us dive right into the dishes. It is great for food to come to your table looking like a work of art, but if the flavor doesn’t match you will still leave disappointed. This was not the case at Wild Roots. Not only was the flavor a literal symphony of taste, but you could easily discern the quality ingredients that went into each dish. I would love to describe each dish we tried on our two visits, but for brevity I shall highlight some of my favorites.

I would like to start with the Shishito Peppers. I want to begin by admitting cooked peppers are not usually my thing as I tend to get heartburn eating them. Bearing that in mind, I cautiously tried just two peppers. This dish contains not only the roasted peppers, but kimchi, sesame seeds and lemon aioli. My first surprise was for a roasted pepper they were remarkably juicy. The texture was soft but not mushy in the slightest. The skin was easy to eat, which can often be a problem with cooked peppers. The other ingredients gave the dish a well-rounded flavor with the Aioli adding the perfect bright lemon finish.

Next were the salads. Both the Roasted Beets Salad and the Grilled Romaine Salad had such depth of flavor calling them salads seems almost to do them a disservice. The Roasted Beets Salad had wonderfully roasted beets paired with nori, goat fondant, bitter greens, feta, oranges and balsamic. The earthy flavor of the beets, coupled with the bitter greens, the citrus of the oranges and the saltiness of the feta left a deep and somewhat complex experience in your mouth.

The Grilled Romaine Salad consisted of romaine heart, spiced croutons, fried oysters, anchovy dressing, grana Padano and the magical ingredient of bacon-paprika. Both salads were served on a slate with a beautiful presentation. This dish was warm and the perfect blend of both light and hearty aspects. The fried oysters were delicate and melted in your mouth. The romaine heart was wilted from the heat allowing for the perfect chewable texture. These were two of the best salads I have had to date.

Next was the Wild Game Meatloaf. This contained venison, wild boar and pork. It was served on slate with a side of greens and topped with a fried egg. For those of you worried that any dish that begins with the phrase ‘wild game’ may end up tasting well…gamey, you can put those fears to rest. This dish not only had a mild but buttery flavor, there was no gamey aspect to it at all. The fried egg was a nice addition and the greens were the perfect side.

My favorite dish from both of my visits was the Burnt Birch and Mushroom Dashi. This was a broth that contained tofu, yuba, mushrooms and scallions. When I put the first spoon in my mouth I glanced over at my lovely lady, Margie, and said “This is comfort in a bowl.” I have yet to discover a better way to convey the unique but absolutely delightful flavor of this dish. I later learned that pieces of birch are charred in the oven, cooked slowly in the broth to impart flavor and then strained out. Regardless of what magical process goes into the creation of this dish, it is one you must put on your table on a visit to Wild Roots.

We also paid a visit to Wild Roots for their brunch which is served both Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm. On this particular Sunday our server was Megan. Great presentation is one thing. Quality ingredients are another. Putting them together in creative ways that bring out the best in each of them is truly amazing. None of these will ever get noticed without the proper staff to serve your customers. Megan was that perfect staff. She smiled throughout the transaction including when she was suppling us with a great sense of humor. She was full of both knowledge and enthusiasm for the restaurant. Just another quality ingredient at Wild Roots.

The brunch menu was full of delicious sounding items that made the decision a difficult one. Margie chose the Corned Beef Benedict. This included corned beef, poached eggs, hollandaise and spinach served on an English muffin. It came with a side of their rosemary potatoes. Margie not being a fan a rosemary was able to get the potatoes without. Two things really stood out about this dish. The eggs were poached to perfection and the corned beef could not have been any more tender. When you put a forkful of corned beef in your mouth it melted as if it were made of butter. The healthy amount of spinach gave this dish a nice brightness.

My dish was the Fried Egg Sandwich. This included ham, wild boar shoulder, gruyere and mornay sauce served on sourdough. It was accompanied by the breakfast potatoes with rosemary. The one issue I have is that on the menu it did not mention the fried egg would come on top of the sandwich instead of the expected inside. After some creative flipping of the bread and use of a fork and knife I was able to dig in. Nothing could have prepared me for the warm and welcoming flavor of this sandwich. I am not sure if it was the mornay sauce or the wild boar shoulder that offered the sweet and savory combination that placed this in the upper echelon of breakfast sandwiches I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

Whether you stop by for a weekend brunch or make a relaxing visit for dinner, Wild Roots will not disappoint. From quality ingredients prepared to perfection and served with the most meticulous attention to detail when it comes to presentation to their top-notch customer service Wild Roots covers all the bases. There is even an opportunity to sit at a designated chef’s table right in front of the kitchen where you just may interact with Thi Cao himself. Nestled in a corner of West Allis that also contains the previously reviewed West Allis Cheese and Sausage as well as the soon to open beer garden and old-fashioned butcher shop, you owe it to yourself and to your taste buds to pay Wild Roots a visit.


Written By: Neil Panosian

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