Joe, The Rookie

I’m not the first to find Joe as a subject. Katie Musolff also painted him outside on Wisconsin Avenue during a break.

“I’m going to be 22.”

That was Joe’s answer when I asked how old he was. His response was shared with a grin in that adorable way that only people up to a certain age are excited to tell you how old they’re going to be.

Joe started with the Pfister as a busser at the ripe young age of 18. After time spent cleaning tables Joe moved on to being a food runner and from there he has become a bartender. Joe bartends upstairs in Blu on occasion but most nights you can find him downstairs in the lobby lounge. This is where he prefers to spend his workday, as he prefers the relaxed vibe and the ability to spend time getting to know his customers.

To be fair; calling Joe a rookie isn’t entirely accurate. He has worked at the Pfister Hotel for 4 years.

The other day Joe and I were discussing houses. I just bought a fixer-upper in the Harambee neighborhood and Joe asked about my buying experience and challenges faced thus far in remodeling. Joe said that he’s thinking about buying a house. Maybe a single family, maybe a duplex. Something that a couple of handy buddies can move in and help him fix up in exchange for cheap rent. He gets that far-off glassy gaze while describing his house. “Somewhere that can be my own place with a pool table and a garden and I can make it my own.”

“How old are you anyway, Joe?” I finally asked him.  That’s when he told me he was going to be 22.

“How many 22 year olds who want to buy a house and put roots down?” I found myself thinking. This is the biggest reason I waffle on whether or not to call this guy a rookie.

Joe is the youngest bartender currently pouring drinks between the Pfister’s lobby lounge, Mason Street Grill, and Blu.

Possibly as a result of being a young he is interested in discovering new things. Joe is always quick with the best place to get a bite of food, try an innovative cocktail, or find an under-the-radar music venue. He knows who has the best hot wings, and where the burgers only cost a buck on Thursdays. He’s got his pulse on the city and it would be a traveler’s loss not to ask this young man his recommendation. I call Joe a rookie not because of a lack of experience, but because of the youthful excitement we all hope to keep fostering as we grow older.

It’s true that at 22 he may not yet be a walking recipe dictionary for every variety of fruit juicy martini, or ironically named shaker filled with frou frou creamy sweet shots. But his youthful manner is very much a boon to the young man. Joe doesn’t lean behind the bar with the sneer of a bartender who has “seen it all,” and as such hasn’t developed a bedraggled ambivalence to the world. Joe hasn’t seen it all. The world is still relatively new to him. He hasn’t heard it all, and he’s not developed the presumption to assume how your story is going to end when you’re in the middle of telling it. This guy is interested in hearing about your hometown, your last vacation, or an artist whose work he hasn’t previously been exposed to. Joe has the current experience which one cannot buy, the experience of being in the middle of one’s glorious youth. But for the mere cost of a glass of beer, you can enjoy Joe’s company. Which is almost as good as being young again yourself.

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

Shelby Keefe’s Final Farewell

Unfortunately for us, our Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, has reached the end of her fellowship with the Pfister Hotel. We have been honored to have her diligently working in the gallery all year and want to celebrate her achievements and recognize the impact she has made on all of us here at the Pfister.

Join us as we bid farewell to our Resident Artist, Shelby Keefe, with a celebration in the Rouge Ballroom.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 – 6pm

Shelby will leave behind her legacy piece which will remain in the Pfister until the end of time.   Shelby’s urban landscape painting of Wisconsin Avenue at dusk is sure to impress.  Hear Shelby describe the inspiration behind the piece and her reminiscing on her time at the Pfister.

Also noteworthy is the release of the private label Mason Street Grill Cabernet which features Shelby’s artwork.  Part of the proceeds of each bottle sold throughout the year will benefit the Creative Alliance.

Here is a preview of the label featuring Shelby’s artwork.

We will also pay homage to the past Pfister Narrators, Julie Ferris and Stacie Williams, with the release of their Narrator books.  Julie and Stacie will be on hand to chat with guests and sign their respective volumes.  Who knows, they just might guest blog about the evening!

The festivities begin at 6pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 with a brief presentation followed by complimentary snacks and a cash bar, live music, and a live poetry reading.
RSVPs to Amy Hansen (amyhansen@marcuscorp.com) are appreciated.

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.

The Sparkling Season

Heather Kanter-Kowal

I am a geek for sparkling wines.  This is one of my very favorite seasons as there are so MANY occasions to elegantly sip Champagne and share toasts with my friends and family.  I cannot imagine a Christmas Eve dinner at my house without a few bottles of something bubbly chilling in my outdoor cellar (AKA-the snow drift on my patio), patient a Christmas morning without Mimosas and waffles, or a tiring but rewarding night at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve without toasting at midnight with my battle weary co-workers.  Here are a few of my favorite brut Champagnes and few other international sparklers that make me feel festive!

  • Krug Grand Cuvee Brut of Reims, ampoule Champagne.  As my pals at the American Club used to say, “No Krug? No thanks!” ( usually when being offered anything else bubbly).  If a budget is of no concern to you, this is the real deal.  This is the bottle for when you really have something fabulous to celebrate!  The Grand Cuvee is made from all three permitted grapes of the Champagne region, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but is predominately based on crazy good Chardonnay.  This is a more full bodied and bold style of Champagne that screams for osetra caviar.
  • Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut of Epernay, Champagne.  I recently tasted this again for the first time in years at the sparkling wine event that we hosted at Mason Street Grill on Monday night.  Really impressed with the depth and quality of this wine!  Buttery, toasty, with baked bread, pear and apricot notes with hint of smokiness.  Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in this cuvee.  A dash easier to locate than Krug, and a great deal more affordable.
  • Argyle Brut of Willamette Valley, Oregon.  Made from classic Champagne region grapes using classic Champagne production methods, this is a fun number from here in the States.  Their entry level brut is bright and racy with flavors of apple, lemon, and more of that baked bread nose.  Delightful and crisp, yet again, more budget friendly.  If you want to try something really special, track down their “Extended Tirage”, and taste it side by side with your favorite vintage Champagne.  Prepare to be shocked.
  • “Naked on Roller Skates” by Some Young Punks of South Australia.  I wonder sometimes if that name were in French if it would still seem as naughty… This bubbly is made from Shiraz and Mataro grapes.  Yes, this can happen.  No, this is not a sweet wine.  It has a darker reddish/pinkish color than you may imagine, and is dry yet balanced with flavors of red berries, spices and dark fruits.   Bring this to a party as a hostess gift, I dare you.  Your bottle will be an unwitting topic of conversation ALL NIGHT.

Cheers!

Heather Kanter-Kowal

Bird Wines, The All-American Way

Heather Kanter-Kowal

Oh yes, viagra the most gluttonous, diet-busting, football-watching, truly American holiday of the year is upon us once again…Thanksgiving.  An extravaganza of traditional autumn foods in heaping excess, from the cranberry sauce, the candied yams, unhealthy the fluffy mashed potatoes, the pecan pies, the apple pies, the pumpkin pies, to the centerpiece of it all- the turkey (or tofurkey, however you choose to celebrate).  With so many varied culinary flavors at work, finding wines to enjoy with the feast is truly a pleasure.  Here are a few of my personal favorites, and keeping with the reason for the season, this list is just as all American as baseball:

  • Pinot Noir- The soft and silky texture of Pinot Noir backed by juicy cranberry, cherry and spice flavors makes it a slam dunk for something to sip with a drier bird like turkey.   Some of my favorites are from California, such as Sea Smoke, Steele, Au Bon Climat, Folk Machine and Belle Glos.  A few stunners from Oregon would be Argyle, Domaine Serene, Ken Wright, and Beaux Freres.
  • Riesling- Because it tastes better than white zin and you just might be able to convince your Great Aunt Hilda to try it.  The bright apricot and peach notes balanced by zesty acidity are a natural match to many of the sweeter flavors at the table, and prove to be thirst-quenching to the more savory dishes.  Try “Eroica” (think Beethoven) by Dr. Loosen & Château Ste. Michelle, Kung Fu Girl by Charles Smith, or Hogue Family Cellars, all of which are from Washington State.  For something closer to Milwaukee, Stone Throw Cellars from Door County also bottles a delightful Riesling.
  • Gewurztraminer- Think of Riesling, and then throw some exotic spices and a bouquet of dried flowers at it.  A fun alternative that is a tongue-twister to boot.  Say “GUH-vertz-trah-meener”.  Now you even sound German.  Don’t let the wine snobs tell you that the only good stuff is from Deutschland and France…Covey Run and Chateau Ste. Michelle from Washington State make Gewurztraminer that is terrifyingly affordable and delicious.
  • Zinfandel- Yes, the RED one.  Juicy, jammy red raspberry and cherry tumbling over holiday spices.  Pick up Seghesio, Turley (if you can find it), Rosenblum, Ridge, or Four Vines…all from the Golden State.  This grape may have had Italian or Croatian origins, but this expression has been pure Americana since the Pre-Prohibition years.

Enjoy your holiday and please comment with any tasty pairings that you have come across!

Cheers!

Heather Kanter-Kowal