Joining the fashionable deep-fried downhome-ness of Maxie’s and the hash brown-y over-popularity of Blue’s Egg comes Story Hill BKC, restaurant number three from owner Dan Sidner and chef/owner Joe Muench. Here the concept is that of a tasteful threesome, one between Bottle, Kitchen and Cup. “BKC” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but the troika does act as an intriguing catchall for foodist trends of the day. You’ve got your growlers for the hophead; craft coffee assemblage for the hophead on his way to work after too many hops the night before; and, of course, your sharable, sustainable, obsession-suitable small plates. In this mélange you also have yet another reason to head away from the lake, toward the increasingly promising caloric exchanges of the burgeoning West Side.
The space: There’s brick aplenty, repurposed wood, and Edison bulbs—because, well, what other kinds of bulbs are there today? Al Green and Charles Bradley alternately moan of heartache and sexual conquest low, and dim lighting keeps the weird parquet floors from being an aesthetic issue. There are pleasant sightlines between smatterings of logo-ed growlers, a warmly glowing back beer cooler, and large windows that peer onto the modest action on Bluemound Ave.
It’s all part of an expectedly hip vibe, stylish and almost sexy. And though designers Lucky Star Workshop could have likely pulled off such ambiance in their sleep, next to Fat Valdy’s Bar & Grill, along endless Miller Park shuttles scuttling by, it gives much hope to an unsaturated strip of underrated neighborhood.
The service: Our server let impassioned recommendations fly from the hip, but only when asked, and between easygoing Friday night chattiness, kept everything moving, grooving, and head-nodding comfortable. In fact, her menu familiarity and competence was downright disarming for a joint barely open three weeks. It’s the time period where most new employees, in earnestness and ignorance, can be counted on for little more than “everything’s really good here.” Steady pacing, cheery whisking, question-answering, and a never-empty glass showed the old “I’ll be taking care of you” wasn’t as empty as that intro so often proves.
Milwaukee Record’s food: We pondered as much over our first drink of the night. And how we felt about the joint’s claim of being “Milwaukee’s only true coffee bar,” and also how much we had fucked up by getting here too late for the growler service. Does this review even count if we only sample one of BKC’s three domains? What’s up with that nine o’clock cutoff shoved down our throat by the man?
Our next thought was that there’s great hope for that old bread-and-butter before dinner notion. Just weeks after we’d grown smitten with the beaten beauty of Braise’s whipped butter, Story Hill delivered a similar airy and endlessly spreadable nectar of pre-meal. Here the carbs were even better. Croissant-like, with a crusty exterior and soft inside, the Butter Flake Rolls ($3) left us scraping the plate for crumby, salty residue. Likewise, the meatball ($3) was tender, soft, and quickly vanquished. But paying three bucks for a single, tennis-ball-sized orb of rolled meat seemed a bit of a stretch. Especially considering the chicken tasted much like chicken, and very much like it was missing whatever it is that mom does to her balls. The accompanying truffle honey peppercorn sauce did prove a nice counterpoint to a Founder’s Red Rye IPA ($6), but it was time for more serious matters.
Bring on the roast potatoes ($6). These little ballers (literally perfect golf-ball-sized baby potatoes) hit on every level: warmth, texture, sauciness. The dish makes poutine seem limp and benign. Here the spuds have a snap and pop for days, and survive being covered with meat drippings, slivered garlic, and jalapeno mayonnaise. The latter could stand next to the butter as one of the best of its siding kind. And it gets better, hotter, and gooier with each subsequent level of the bowl. Add drops of the vinegary hot sauce as you descend, and you have a saucy, salty, zinging goop mess of bite-sized starch brilliance. Never before has the difference between routine menu item name and multi-dimensional flavor been greater. And maybe never before have we yielded to such a surprising, near-perfect recommendation.
So we were even on board when with an endorsement for Tripe ($6). It’s not for everyone. Still, in menudo form, it’s an undeniably satisfying, spicy chile tomato broth, and even if you hate the weird, tendon-y texture of cow stomach lining, steer around it for a Bayless-esque mix of happy hominy and fresh cilantro. Maybe it was a bit hearty for a summer night, but it was definitely what the doctor ordered for our next mid-winter hangover.
The only way the butter poached Cornish hen trotters ($13)—pulled with schnupfnudel, baby kale, oyster mushrooms, and cracklings—could have been better was if we were still hungry. The first bite was crispy, thigh-y, and vaguely Bavarian, with the soft German gnocci-like noodles offering texture contrast. As you become slow and stuffed and Bohemian, it’s a generic starchy and fortifying meat-plus-brown-sauce formula feel—but in the good way, one that left us more than sated, with a Karl Ratzchs-like, ready-for-bed full gut.
We hadn’t even bothered with the large plates. In fact, this might be a good time to mention the menu is broken into three, ascending-size sections: Taste, Share, Pass. But, with so many see-it/order-it tapas-type joints, we overdid it fast and early. Who cares? Our favorite byproduct of the “food-is-holy” wars is the everybody-wins, no-commitment, convivial nature of communal dishes. Those three categories are basically small plating synonyms anyway. And we’d already seen enough to know we’d be back. If not just for coffee and a growler.
The verdict: Though not a capital-R “Restaurant Group,” this may be our favorite restaurant group in town. We find little to complain about from any of the lot. So, yes, Tosa-ites might love Blue’s Egg so much that it’s like that “Brunch Village” episode of Portlandia. And maybe the price point at Maxie’s is a smidge high. But who else could do such disparate things so consistently? And now we have Story Hill, which just might yarn the most pleasant gastrointestinal tale of the bunch.