Apples of My Eye

After spending time with Brian Frakes in the bowels of the Pfister, remedy I am quite confident that I will have no need to visit any doctor for 96 days or so.

Brian, the Pfister’s Executive Chef, caught me in the Café drinking coffee like I was in a contest to see if I could ingest a day’s worth of caffeine that might rival Voltaire’s daily in take. (If you’re not a Voltaire freak like me, and I sincerely hope your nerd strains don’t run that deep, you should know that Voltaire reportedly drank up to 40 cups of coffee a day).

I believe Brian sensed from my cocoa colored skin that the benefits of healthy eating would be well served on me with a trip to his magical apple cellar.

Brian tipped me off that he had just received a sampling of apples from his pal Ken Weston at Weston’s Antique Apple Orchard. An apple break sounded grand to me. I was also curious to see what an antique apple actually was. My mind conjured the thought of a fruit wrapped in a doily. But Brian has a great palette and essentially defines “cool chef”, so I knew that whatever the case, the snacking was bound to be good.

I gulped a long final draw of black coffee and got up from my Café table for apple tasting time. It seemed like a perfect thing to do on the first acceptable fall day when I had slipped into a wool suit because the temps outside the Pfister have started dipping into those beautiful autumn levels that remind all our visitors that Milwaukee is a truly spectacular place to be this time of the year. Brian’s invitation was more than a summons to apple snack, it was a welcoming to leaves crunching under my feet and hearty cheers at a football game.

I’m an apple fan, so what Brian had laid out for sweet and tart tasting time was a slice of heaven. He explained to me that Mr. Weston had given him some samples in the past and ever since then has shown the Pfister a lot of apple love. Locally sourced, delicately handled, these apples were a visual feast and Brian’s rustic display looked magazine photo shoot worthy as my eyes popped over which red or green goodness to try first.

I followed Brian’s lead and took slices of different varieties and dipped them into light colored honey. As the crisp slivers of apple and sweet honey hit my tongue, the seasons changed before my eyes. This wasn’t just an apple moment, this was my chance to see how the Pfister shifts and shapes with each new turn of the calendar. It’s fairly splendid to imagine a guest chomping down on one of these spectacular pieces of fruit and in one bite experiencing a rush of nature that is both full of flavor wonder and seasonal peace.

Call your doctor, and by all means invite him or her for a trip down to the Pfister. The apples are coming and it means very good things for everyone.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Sevens And Apples

 

Right now in the Mystery that is the Pfistery,

there is a basket out in the lobby

a tisket, a tasket of apples,

all sized small

enough

to keep inside my blazer pocket

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my pocket’s apple is named King David

cause I’m told these are King David’s Apples

an heirloom variety individually selected

by the hotel’s own king executive chef, Brian Frakes

who has decreed them the Hotel Apple

for the month of November you can taste

the Pfistery essence for yourself

it has a deep red flavor that doesn’t go all the way

down the dark path with declarations of feral passion

in the way heirloom red apples sometimes will,

this one stays sweet and neat, with a dry flesh

that would be good sliced thinly over oatmeal,

or as they do it here, served with duck

probably similar to the way my family served it

seven generations ago in Poland

I’m thinking of this ’cause

Chef Frakes told me King David’s sibling,

the Arkansas Black apple was discovered

in 1893, the same year this hotel first opened,

which was approximately seven seeds ago,

as he put it,

“If a seed is approximately 20 years,

we are now in the seventh seed at the hotel.”

I’m reminded of a poster in the bathroom

of my college’s liberal arts building,

that had a picture of wilderness,

and a quote about making all decisions

with consideration for those

who will live on this planet

seven generations from now.

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I am in my 27th year of life,

my seventh month

as the seventh Pfister narrator,

the voice the comes up behind

three guests from Dallas

to describe the Victorian painting they are looking at,

a scene, “The Eternal Apple of Eve,”

two friends peeling apples, peeling with laughter,

a painting that was bought by Guido Pfister,

the man who planted the first seed of the Pfistery

that feels so luxurious to explore on my own,

passing the rooms where meetings have been held,

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candies half unwrapped on the table,

notes taken on the complimentary pads,

complimentary pens strewn, chairs pushed back,

the intensity of multiple thoughts,

has yet to be swept away by the staff

I hear coming down the hall with their cart,

so I leave to inspect the 23rd floor

and run into the Dallas Trio again,

yes, I am the disembodied voice that narrates

the window view for these three flight attendants

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who are unaware that they are admiring the world’s only

inland freshwater sea.

These flight attendants take three-day trips every week,

before Milwaukee they stayed in Canton, Ohio,

“It was almost as good as this,

but this, is a step above even that.”

They tell me there is nothing so historically grand

in all of Dallas

the only thing that comes close

is the Pyramid Room,

a hotel still in its first seed.

 

I could end the story here

but then I’d miss how

on this day of apples and sevens

I was passing the elevator when

Peter, the concierge, asked me

if I was following him

to get his apple.

I did not know he had an apple,

he did not know I was thinking about apples,

but he stuck his arm out

as the elevator doors began to close

just his head and hand could be seen,

His head told me, “It’s a Jonamac!”

His hand held it out for me,

I accepted it so he would not be guillotined.

This is a comely apple.


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We Are The Larvae Eaters

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“Next year we we’ll have 120 pounds of honey coming outta the two hives, rx ” says Brian Frakes, Pfister head chef and as of this year, beekeeper. He takes me up to the roof; where 24 stories above the ground the bees await their sugar water refill. He lights the burlap in his smoker and climbs into a suit. I ask him how long the smoke sedates bees and he replies, “Twenty minutes. My understanding is it doesn’t actually sedate them; it stops them from being able to do their panic communication with each other. Therefore sedating them.”

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So far he’s only been stung once and yes, hospital it was as bad as he feared, “I did not like it. I was more upset with myself because it was my fault. I was by myself and he was riding on the back of me, I didn’t notice him and I pulled off my suit like a sweater.” When Brian went out of town for two days one of the banquet cooks, Marco suited up and fed them “Which was very brave of him, because no one is jumping out of their skin to mess with the bees.” Brian’s trick for checking if there are any bees on him when he is up here alone is to “Look at my shadow and see if there is anything flying around.”

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He points to the hive on the left, “These bees are very kind and very productive, and that’s why they are further along. But these bees on the right? These bees are always mad!” The same variety of bee resides in both of the hives but like most families each one is a little different. Which family did the bee that stung him come from? “I don’t know it was someone that was outside, but I’m going to say yes, the bees that stung me came from the mean family. Let’s not say mean, they are very aggressive, protective.”

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Lifting the cover off the protective family he warns, “They are possibly coming to attack you.” I step back, and indeed, a bee flies straight towards me, gets near my head and then hurdles back to its hive. Will the protective bees’ future offspring be as passionate? “Just because grandma was nuts doesn’t mean all her children will be.” Brian scrapes the excess honeycomb. “Wax. That’s the bee business. They need a place to make a lot of babies.”

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With the recent Pfister bee media frenzy, Chef Frakes put some of the honeycomb into a clear container so that the reporters could get close to it. Later he stored the container with the comb in his office and was watching as one of the bee larvae came to life. “It finished the larvae process and turned into a bee in one of these containers rather than in the hive. It was born anyways! Pretty incredible. It gave me chills.” He also ate one of the unborn larvae just to be weird and primal. “It was creamy and a little crunchy. Not overly pleasant, but not horrible either.”

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I ask so many questions about his larvae eating that he invites me to try one that he’s been keeping in his office. It’s cold and wet on the tongue, and reminds me of buttered corn-on-the-cob.

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Get them While You Can: Summer Menu Items at Cafe Pfister

Sure, summer is coming to an end, but while they’re available, you can still enjoy the delicious tastes of summer that Chef Brian has put together for the Cafe Pfister’s menu. Including two of Chef Brian’s favorites, the WELLspa Caprese Salad and the incredible Floribbean Panini.

WELLspa Caprese Salad

featuring: fresh burrata, heirloom tomatoes, torn basil, cracked pepper, Skyhawk cold pressed olive oil & herb grilled bread

Floribbean Panini

featuring: Sofrito roasted pork, sliced ham, melted swiss, sliced pickle, mango mustard

Milwaukee: The Best Deal In Chicago

The view from the 7th floor East on Wisconsin Avenue.

Ah, big brother Chicago. Just two hundred years ago we were part of the same Illinois territory.

People come to Milwaukee for many reasons. Business. Dinner. Conventions. Celebrations. Sporting events. Art openings. Museums.

Visitors ask certain key questions which lead me to conclude they’re not from Milwaukee. This line of conversation usually takes place after someone says, “So how do I get a cab around here?” or “This place is great, where else should I visit?” Or they call the water drinking oasis a fountain instead of a bubbler.

I’ve noticed a trend of Chicagoans visiting us just for fun. Upon discovering this I always ask what their impressions are. Being a life-long Milwaukeean I’m curious to hear how our city is perceived.

Below are some of the most common observations of Milwaukee followed by explanations I’ve been able to piece together.

* “It’s so inexpensive here.”

That’s true, part of the reason is the sales tax “Down South” is 9.5%, compared with our 5.6%. But also being a smaller city things are just cheaper in Milwaukee. Smaller population=more resources to go around.

* “That art museum on the lake is incredible!”

You’re right, we are lucky to have had our most recent addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed and built by Santiago Calatrava. But years before that the art museum has an interesting story. The core of the museum’s pieces were donated by Frederick Layton, also the namesake of Milwaukee’s Layton Boulevard. Mr. Layton, along with John Plankinton, their fortunes in cattle and pigs. The Layton School of Art was started shortly after his death and when closed in 1974 was listed in the country’s top 5 art schools.

Just to the North of the Calatrava addition is what Milwaukee residents refer to as the War Memorial. After World War II an architect from Finland named Eliel Saarinen was commissioned to build a Veteran’s Memorial. Despite Eliel’s passing in 1950, his son Eero took over to complete the project on Milwaukee’s Lakefront. With construction supervision by Milwaukee architect Maynard W. Meyer and Associates, this floating building was created. The building appears to hover above Mason Street on geometric legs of reinforced concrete.

Completed in 2001 Santiago Calatrava’s addition comprises a few different areas including the Quadracci Pavilion which regularly holds weddings, openings, and other special events. Windover Hall looks out toward the lake as though one is inside a glass wrapped ship hull. Atop Windover Hall is the incredible moving sculpture known as the Burke Brise Soleil whose wings literally open at 10am, close and reopen daily at noon, then close for the evening when museum locks up.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a four block walk from the Pfister Hotel.

* “Everyone here is so nice to us!”

Oh well gee shucks, ma’am. That’s really kind of you to say. But you should meet my cousin John. He’s a really, really nice guy. Are you hungry? I just made this pie for you…

* “That brewery tour was so much fun.”

What made Milwaukee famous… 

It’s true we are a beer city. Prohibition was more than a small stumbling block to the city’s industry but brewing culture is thriving in Milwaukee. So much that we named our baseball team after the people who make beer. Although Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz are no longer producing themselves, many brewers have taken up the cause. Visitors are able to tour Miller which has existed in the Valley for well over 150 years. If something smaller is your flavor we’ve got many options including (but not limited to) Sprecher, Lakefront, Milwaukee Brewing Company. Tours also take place at the Best Place; the bar, gift shop, and former board room inside the Pabst Brewery complex. With all the talk of beer it’s easy to forget craft distillers just past the Harley Davidson Museum, Great Lakes Distillery, who are on the cutting edge of producing rum, absinthe, vodka, and many other liquors.

* “Dinner was great last night, we’re trying to decide between our options tonight. Which would you recommend?”

Our restaurants are a bit of a great secret around here. According to Zagat we have 3 of the country’s top 30 restaurants in the area. I love getting dinner at Mason Street Grill, and they have a spectacular happy hour.

* “It’s so easy to get around this city, there’s hardly any traffic ~or~ We took the train here, it’s been such an easy trip; an hour here, an hour back. ”

This makes sense, Milwaukee’s metro area has about one fifth the population of Chicago and it’s suburban outskirts. Milwaukee also has a growing bicycle population and network of bike specific trails which cuts down on four-wheeled commuters. In addition our bus system has been revised recently and ridership is up. Milwaukee is also fairly spread out, our population isn’t too densely packed into any one area.

* (and probably the biggest compliment) “We’d both rather live here but then we’d have to commute every day to our offices in Chicago.”

Even if you don’t drive it is surprisingly easy to get between Chicago and Milwaukee. There are several bus options. The Amtrak Hiawatha route from ‘The Windy terminates in downtown Milwaukee a mere 12 blocks from your favorite hotel.

For all these reasons and more our Illini brethren are discovering that a mere 90 miles to the north Milwaukee might just be the best deal in Chicago.

Getting to know Chef Brian Frakes

The Pfister has received countless compliments on their Marcus Celebrated Chefs series. Many of the compliments centered around the hotel’s Executive Chef Brian Frakes. People talked about how generous he was with his knowledge and always sent them home with extra food. Guests went home energized with new ideas of how to invigorate their home cooking.

It turned out I’d met Brian briefly when I first came on as narrator. Concierge Peter Mortensen was giving me the introductory tour and we walked downstairs by the kitchen. Brian and I briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings. There were so many people and although good with faces names have never been my strong suit. We were in the kitchen but his manner was so welcoming it didn’t occur to me he could be the hotel’s chef. Most of the chefs I’ve observed in the past exude a territorial bravado (and, to be fair, it’s possible I’ve clicked the television past too many “reality” shows where the chef is always yelling about something), and Brian didn’t carry himself this way. He has a calm confidence and an “ask questions first, then respond with an informed answer,” way about him.

It’s quite possible that is why Brian’s events have translated so well. Yesterday Brian and I sat down and talked about his start in the business, his experiences in the kitchen, and how he ended up in Milwaukee as the Pfister’s Executive Chef. Listen in to give your ears a little taste of his experience and philosophy. Either click play below or download the track to listen later.

 

Getting to know Executive Chef Brian Frakes by Ed Makowski

The Work Behind the Wine

Heather doing what she does best: offering the right bottle of wine.

What is the meaning of life? I do not know and I’m quite sure many people are closer to having a conclusion than myself. The best I’ve managed to piece together is finding something you love and devising a way to make it pay your bills. Individuals who have successfully accomplished that have always fascinated me.

As an example I offer the sommelier. Their job is to become a walking wine database. How does one do this? Naturally, drinking wine is a large part of the job. But one can’t just become a lush and start wearing the expert cap. Uncountable hours of studying wine history and culture go into understanding not only wine but the very important aspect of pairing it with cuisine.

Heather Kanter-Kowal is Mason Street Grill’s in-house sommelier and assistant manager. For her wine is a way of life and a way of work. Last week Heather had a few minutes to sit down by the Mason Street Grill’s fireplace and tell me about the work behind the wine, her years getting to know the grape, and some of the exciting wines waiting for you at Mason Street. Click to listen below now or download for later.
The Work Behind the Wine by Ed Makowski

Family Dinner in Mason Street Grill

 

Saturday afternoon I swung in to Mason Street Grill. The restaurant wasn’t open and jazz played quietly while the fireplace crackled to an audience of empty bar stools. This Saturday was a sunny thaw of a day which followed a sudden Friday snowstorm. Roads now cleared by snowplows and sunshine generally forecasts a busy night for bars and restaurants. I was hoping to sit down and speak with Heather Kanter-Kowal, the restaurant’s assistant manager and sommelier. A sommelier is certified as a wine expert and anyone who has been able to pursue a field they love and convince the world to pay them for it is a person I want to know a little better.

It turned out Heather wasn’t available, but I noticed something curious. Nearly the entire restaurant staff was in the dining room seated at the counter. Everyone appeared to be eating and talking with one another. It was about 4pm, an hour before the ‘Grill opens for service. I happened to catch the bartender Ryan prepping the bar for the evening. 

I asked Ryan what was going on in the dining room. He took a brief look back through the clear glass behind the bottles and didn’t notice anything out of place.

“Oh, you mean our family meal?” he asked.

“If that’s what you call it, yes. What’s that all about?”

Ryan went on to explain that every evening before the restaurant opens the staff sits down for family dinner. This is the time when everyone gets to eat a meal before they plan to work around food for the next several hours. They are also able to try the evening’s specials to accurately describe them to diners. If wines are added to the restaurant’s palette, or changes in cocktails, or new menu additions this is when the staff is able to sample them in order to relay informed observations to customers. Managers Ed and Bradley take time to list all ingredients in case guests happen to have any aversions or allergies.

After the day’s specials were covered the managers brought out customer comments. When compliments were announced the appropriate employees received recognition. If there were criticisms everyone tried to pinpoint which day the guest may have visited, any issues that arose that specific evening, and how the guest’s experience could be improved upon. The two managers explained that to be successful the crew had to run smoothly as a team and to always strive to make their guest’s visit extraordinary.

I’ve worked in a few restaurants and I couldn’t help but marvel at the logical simplicity of such an idea. Feed your staff and they will be satisfied and smiling. It’s silly to think that anybody half hungry will be able to focus when in such a delectable environment. Then give them the tools to assertively explain to guests their dining and drinking options throughout their meal. Allow them the time to ask questions and voice any concerns. Then give them a few minutes to speak with one another as colleagues, friends, and family before they spend the next several hours concentrating on the needs of their guests. A staff requires down-time to communicate with one another before they can hope to perform successfully in the fray of a busy Saturday night. I stood quietly in the background listening to everyone. If a staff doesn’t have time to feel like a family, how can they welcome guests as warmly as one? It made so much sense I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

Family dinner struck me as an obvious metaphor for the Pfister ethos I’ve learned about up to this point. It starts by employing the best possible staff. Whether they’re a piano player, a dishwasher, or a wine expert, pay them well and fill their bellies. Then provide them with the tools they need to excel in their field. Keep the staff happy and they will make guests happier. Then open the doors and turn them wild at what they do best.

 

Marcus Restaurants Chef Series – Spring Edition

Back by popular demand, Marcus Restaurants has brought back its popular chef series starting on March 24th.

Every Saturday, our Marcus Restaurants chefs will host a special sequence of classes designed for guests to discover trade secrets from some of Wisconsin’s renowned culinary leaders.

Each class will feature a different beverage pairing to be sampled with each chef’s preparations, all while you learn great tips. Each class is limited to 18 guests, so you can enjoy a close-up look at cooking techniques in an intimate setting.

Our Spring Series will feature an array of classes from cooking with Latin Flavors to Full Flavor Gluten Free dishes—there really is something for everyone.

Each two-hour cooking showcase will be held at the Mason Street Grill Chef’s Counter, located adjacent to the  hotel, from 10:30am – 12:30pm. Tickets are $29/person or $49/couple.

Plus, you can extend your stay with a special overnight offer! Upgrade your reservation to include an overnight stay in a deluxe king or deluxe double guest room, two tickets to the Saturday demo, and parking included, starting at $179.

For reservations, guests can call (414) 935-5942. More information on our spring classes can be found at MarcusChefs.com.

Marcus Restaurants Extends Chef Series Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

The culinary fun isn’t over yet! Marcus Restaurants has extended its popular chef series through February 2012, cure after a successful autumn session. Each Saturday, Marcus Restaurants will host a special sequence of classes called Celebrated Chefs Winter 2012 Series. Guests will get to know some of the city’s culinary leaders, enjoy perfectly paired beverages and sample each chef’s preparations, while learning great tips. With classes limited to 18 guests, they’ll enjoy a close-up look at cooking techniques in an intimate setting.

The Winter Series will feature an array of classes from ‘The Best of Italy’ to ‘Aphrodisiacs for the Day of Love’ to ‘Cooking with Shellfish’—there really is something for everyone.

Each two-hour cooking showcase will be held at the Mason Street Grill Chef’s Counter, located adjacent to The Pfister Hotel, from 10:30am – 12:30pm. Tickets are $29/person or $49/couple. All guests will receive a $20 gift card to experience even more great eats with Marcus Restaurants. Plus, guests can extend their stay with a special overnight offer! They can upgrade their reservation to include an overnight stay in a deluxe king or deluxe double guest room at The Pfister, two tickets to the Saturday demo, and parking included, starting at $179.

For reservations, guests can call (414) 935-5942. More information on specific classes can be found at MarcusChefs.com.