The definition of hinterland is the area surrounding a city. For our group of diners, though, our next restaurant, Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub, was right in heart of the Third Ward, an area where we’d enjoyed our last dinner together.
Hinterland is a brewing company from Green Bay, Wis. This was their second foray into the restaurant business–they also operate Hinterland Green Bay, another fine dining establishment. I’d tried and enjoyed their Pale Ale before, and was excited to find out what the food was like at a gastropub, which is why I chose Hinterland. (I won again!)
Hinterland takes pride in the gastropub heritage they embody. Their menu reads, in part:
“This all started long before you walked in. Before your arrival here, rich soil was turned. Produce was nurtured, grown and harvested. Local farmers tended to their pastoral landscapes and livestock. Fish plucked from the briny depths and arrived this very morning. All in preparation for you to walk through our doors. Yes, this is the essence of a gastropub; a celebration of farm-to-table mingled with some of the finest craft beers in Wisconsin.”
An inspiring piece of writing, to be sure, but would the food live up to the expectations?
The front of the restaurant is all windows and the front door opens on one level with the hostess station to the right and a cozy, small bar on the left. The dining area was in the same room, but a level higher, beyond the bar. The décor was classy and vaguely German or Scandinavian. (There was also a back bar beyond the dining area–Cindi and Michelle said it was cool, but I never ventured back there, though I heard people having a good time.)
Hinterland was relatively busy, which isn’t surprising for a Friday night. Our reservation was probably a necessity.
Michelle and I arrived first and ordered a beer flight at the bar, which included three 4-ounce samples for $5. The beer was good, but not as flavorful as I expected.
Adam and Cindi arrived next. Cindi had been before and did the beer flight like Michelle and I did. Adam opted for a specialty beer. He said:
The bartenders were friendly and informative in regards to their beer and brewing process. I ordered their limited Bourbon Barrel Stout and it was quite good. They dipped the bottles in wax but the person who did it forgot to make that little tab that you’d find on a Maker’s Mark bottle. It took the bartender about 3 minutes to get the bottle open, which was kind of funny.
TJ and Shannon arrived next. TJ said:
The ambiance was what you’d expect for a place in the Third Ward–chic rustic.
We had arrived and we took the stairs to the second level, to a masculine wooden table near the back of the dining area. Our table was good for conversation for our six-person group.
We continued to sample some of Hinterland’s interesting beer choices. Michelle enjoyed the Cherry Wheat, Cindi liked the Grand Cru and I was partial to the Saison.
As we looked at the menu, we realized three things instantly: The menu is small, changes daily and contains items that are among the most expensive we have ordered during this quest.
We opted to order three appetizers. Normally, I really dislike cheese and sausage platters, however, I was eager to try this “upscale” version. The sausage was paired with Hook’s 5 year cheddar crackers.
I thought the sausage and crackers were okay – not too much unlike most sausage/cracker platters you’d find at a Packer game spread.
As ho-hum as the first appetizer seemed, the next two more than made up for it, starting with the grilled eggplant. It was succulent and perfectly grilled, paired with housemade mozzarella, arugula pesto and sungold tomatoes.
The staff was very helpful with suggestions and ideas for what beer or wine would compliment the meals we were trying to choose. Our server’s comment about our last appetizer was especially prescient.
The Pork Scrapple isn’t much to look at, but it was incredible! The server described it as “the best breakfast ever.” I would concur, a lot of familiar flavors working together to form something even better than the sum of their parts. Like when you go for the last scoop of breakfast and there is a little sausage left, maple syrup covering the plate and eggs, and you just eat it all at once. It was nearly everyone’s favorite appetizer.
The night we were there, seven entree choices were available. Shannon ordered the trout, she said:
The trout was paired with lebanese couscous, sungold tomatoes, herbs, and goat cheese. I thought the fish was good but nothing remarkable. I was happy the server warned me of the fish being served full – head to tail. It was flakey, which I like. The couscous made up for the flavor the fish lacked.
Cindi and I both ordered the hanger steak with squash and zucchini salad, grilled trumpet mushrooms and lemon vinaigrette. She said:
I thought it was just delightful! My steak was perfectly done (medium rare) and very flavorful. I ordered a very generous glass of wine for 7.50 (not a bad price!) It went great with my meal.
I concur. It was one of the tastiest steaks I’ve had. Tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The sauces and veggies provided a nice, light compliment to the steak. Probably the best meal I’ve had during the dining quest!
Michelle opted for the sturgeon, despite the fact that we all agreed it is one of the ugliest fish out there. It was paired with parisienne gnocchi, braised beef short ribs, endive, brown beech mushrooms and red wine syrup. She said:
It was my favorite meal I’ve ordered anywhere in a long time. The combination of flavors was so good. I had low expectations with the meat-heavy menu but I loved my food.
Shannon and Adam also gave Michelle’s dish high marks. Adam said:
Michelle’s sturgeon stuck out in my mind. That entree seemed like a really odd combination of foods but that’s why I’m not a chef. Put together, it tasted phenomenal.
Adam not only loved Michelle’s dish. He very much enjoyed his own as well, he ordered the salmon, paired with mustard spaetzel, swiss chard, heirloom carrots and almond-tarragon mustard. He said:
The salmon was cooked perfectly and the compliments were perfect. It might have been my favorite meal I’ve ordered so far [on this quest].
TJ never misses a chance to tell people he doesn’t like fish, but chose the salmon as well. He said:
As someone who typically does not like seafood, I went out on a limb and ordered the salmon. I figured since 60% of the menu was fish, they had to do it well. I’m happy I made the choice because it was pretty good. It had a good “smoked” flavor to it and it wasn’t fishy at all. The spaetzle was also really really good.
After a short debate on desserts, we promptly selected the donuts over the Chocolate Marquise. We made the wrong choice. Shannon led the pro-Marquise faction and did not enjoy the donuts. She said:
The outside was good because it was pure sugar. The inside tasted like uncooked pancake batter.
We were all underwhelmed by the dessert, although it did have some interesting aspects, the donuts were paired with sweet corn creme, huckleberries and candied corn. I guess you can’t win them all.
Nevertheless, despite the expense, many of us would come back and recommend Hinterland to others, though with caveats. Adam said:
I enjoyed the ambiance. It is classy enough to go on nice date and still laid back just enough to have dinner with a group of friends. Overall, I really liked the food and the restaurant itself. I would recommend it to friends for a special occasion.
It would be a good date place as long as your date enjoys game meat.
Personally, I was most excited for the beer, the menu is so limited that I was unsure what I was even going to have. I left having loved the food. I would recommend Hinterland to people who were looking for a celebratory night out.
This was by far our most expensive meal (we spent more than $100/couple), but we were well fed and, as always, the company was impeccable.
Ratings for Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub were, as follows:
Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub cumulative rating: 7.5
Visit Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub online at http://www.hinterlandbeer.com/MRestaurantMKE.html.
Photos courtesy of TJ UTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Losing nominations for ‘H’ were The Hotch Spot (Adam and Cindi), Hamburger Mary’s (Shannon), Honeypie (TJ) and Harbor House (Michelle).
AJ Bombers: 6.8
Beta by Sabor: 7.9
Comet Cafe: 7
Eatery on Farwell: 6.2
Fajitas Grill: 5.25
Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub: 7.5