North Avenue Grill Gets Its Game On

Just-opened American diner defies its own description by offering a world of choices — including some inventions of its own, all available gluten-free.

The name is as straightforward as they come. North Avenue Grill is a grill on North Avenue.

It's in keeping with the "keep it simple" concept the owners advertize on the front window: North Avenue Grill is a "New American Diner."

There is, however, a whole lot more going on inside than that implies, as a couple of private test runs earlier this week showed.

North Avenue Grill is open as of now with a limited menu through the weekend, but the full menu becomes available at the restaurant's Grand Opening on Monday.

"It's a more urban twist on a traditional American diner," said Jon Anne Willow, one of four co-owners. "We have everything on the menu you're likely to find in a diner, but everything is made from fresh, whole ingredients and much of it is locally sourced.

"And then there are some things that are new takes on traditional diner dishes, and some that are pretty unique."

For instance, breakfast at North Avenue Grill, 7225 W. North Ave., can be as simple as bacon and eggs, omelets or pancakes, typical to any diner — or you can step up a bit to freshly made crepes or eggs Benedict, which are a little harder to find.

But it's the rare diner indeed that offers Eggs en Meurette, as North Avenue Grill does — two poached eggs in red wine meurette on grilled sourdough, topped with bacon, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions ($8.95).

Thinking local, cooking global

Offering up something unexpected like a French country classic alongside more familiar breakfast fare is a concept carried through the day. In fact, as soon as you get to the appetizer menu, you've pretty much left the American diner behind.

There's hummus, tabouli, mirza, bruschetta, Indian and Italian flatbreads with pesto and cheese — even French fries come topped with melted gorgonzola (Firefries if with Tabasco, Coolfries if without).

The lunch and dinner bill of fare returns to plenty of the tried and true, with a bunch of burgers and a BLT, turkey breast and tuna salad, a couple of melts and a Reuben.

But there are also surprises such as a Cuban sandwich (the Havana, $8), and twists such as the Tosa Cheese Steak, featuring slow-roasted Angus beef with gruyere cheese, sautéed mushrooms, caramelized red onion confit and black pepper mayo on a toasted, butter-topped baguette ($9.5).

Then there are the complete departures from anybody's idle idea of dinner at the diner, such as the Mad Persian sandwich, a panino of cayenne-spicy caramelized red cabbage, gardiniera pepper mix, red bell pepper pesto and melted provolone ($8).

North Avenue Grill even has it's own food challenge (although no prize for finishing is yet offered) with the warning: "Treadmill not included." It's The Chrustic ($10), billed as "A Goliath of a burger with corned beef, ham, bacon, Firefry fries, cheddar and red onion confit on grilled ciabatta."

Jumping into an opportunity on The Avenue

Clearly, someone is having fun here.

"It's a mix of diner classics with urban and international," Willow said. "But it's not pretentious."

Willow's co-owners are chef Mehrdad Dalamie, general manager Michael Gull and business manager Patti Wenzel.

"Everyone brought something unique to the table," Willow said.

Willow wasn't planning to get back into the restaurant business, she said. She's also the owner and publisher of ThirdCoast Digest. But she had years ago partnered with Dalamie on the Bremen Cafe in Milwaukee's Riverwest.

"Mehrdad was the only one shopping for a restaurant," said Willow, who lives nearby. "But the opening came up, and it was a chance to do something fun and challenging."

The partners did not ask for or receive any financial assistance from the city through the , but Economic Development Director Paulette Enders helpfully "walked us through the process," Willow said.

The group also got assistance from the Tosa East Towne Neighborhood Association and the Neighborhood Association Council, Willow said.

The landlord, Al Rusk, paid for infrastructure improvements to his building, including some new plumbing, she said.

"The inspectors said they had never seen this space in such good shape," she said.

Menu is gluten-free maximus

One aspect of the North Avenue Grill that will be welcome to a growing number of diners is that every item on the menu is available gluten-free.

Willow and Wenzel were eagerly explaining to a reporter the diner's many "vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options" when general manager Gull broke in.

"They're not options!" he said. "We don't want to call them options! If you can get everything gluten-free, you no longer have to call it an option."

Indeed, for the person with celiac disease or any form of gluten intolerance, it is more than a semantic difference.

Marge Donegan, dining with her husband, District Ald. Pete Donegan, is such a customer, with a very high sensitivity to gluten.

She said a lot of restaurants that offer GF "options" often mean only one or two items on the menu; and others, though they say they can make gluten-free substitutions, do not follow through properly.

"I have to watch them," she said. "At a place I went to recently, I watched the cook cut my tomato with the same knife on the same board where she'd just cut regular bread.

"I said, 'Don't serve me that, I can't eat it."

Gull, who is himself highly gluten-sensitive, said that at North Avenue Grill, the protocol goes far beyond wiping off boards and utensils. There are separate containers for all gluten breads and segregated surfaces for all preparation.

"The other danger in some places is that they don't even know they're using gluten," Willow said. "In prepared foods with additives, it's everywhere.

"We know we're safe because we don't use them. Everything starts whole."


Let's Go!

North Avenue Grill

At: 7225 W. North Ave.

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday

Phone: 414-453-7225

Website: www.northavenuegrill.com

Accepts: Cash and credit cards – Visa, Mastercard and American Express

Gluten April 27, 2012 at 06:51 AM
North Avenue Mill Grill are providing With gluten free foods , that is quite enthusiastic and appreciable . thanks and regards. http://www.felicitysglutenfreehandbook.com
Taoist Crocodile April 27, 2012 at 12:18 PM
Excellent, can't wait to try this place. Hopefully there's a line out the door, so the other restaurants in the area see some spillover. There are some good things happening in East Tosa, ridiculous East Tosa Plan notwithstanding.
Random Blog Commenter April 27, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I wish them best of luck. Sounds like a good fit for North Avenue. "The partners did not ask for or receive any financial assistance from the city through the North Avenue Plan, but Economic Development Director Paulette Enders helpfully "walked us through the process," Willow said." I appreciate this change in philosophy in city hall professional staff -- how can we help you and assist you navigating the process, as opposed to the former attitude of "you don't conform to our plan, change your's." A welcome change from the fiefdom mentality. I hope our elected city leaders celebrate and promote this business as much as the bakery that received public resources.
gb May 05, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I understand they are new.I just finished having breakfast . Hash browns were ice cold. I mentioned this to Michael the GM and not even sorry about that. Let me replace them or let me deduct it from the bill. Won't be going back and the eggs were borderline ok.
Michael Gull May 07, 2012 at 04:07 PM
GB: So sorry about your experience at North Avenue Grill, particularly my lack of attention to the problem with your hash browns. I do remember the exchange we had and my follow-up consisted of communicating to the kitchen that they needed to do better job on hash browns. I take full responsibility for my failure to ensure a positive dining experience and would like the opportunity to make it up to you and convert you into a regular customer. Please email me at: northavegrill@gmail.com to discuss this.


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