Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
On the bottom of the menu, next to the warning about the hazards of eating undercooked meat, a note asked diners to “put your cell phones away.” This was not in Milwaukee, but in a restaurant on the West Coast. And it made me pause. I’m guilty of texting while dining, as is most of the modern world. I can’t think of a reason why my cell phone needs to be anywhere but tucked away in my purse. But it comes out. So when AJ Dixon, owner of Bay View’s new Lazy Susan, says she hopes that people “put down the phone, have a conversation and share a meal,” it seems reasonable and natural.
“Sharing” is an oft-used word for Dixon, most recently the chef at Riverwest’s Centro Cafe. Her restaurant’s name refers to the rotating tray used to hold foods to share with one’s dining pals. (Dixon’s late mother was also named Susan.)
The bar-lounge opens into a slightly lower-level main dining area, populated with wooden tables of various configurations, along with a combo of chairs and a church pew set up for banquette-style seating. Some tables also have a lazy Susan and a set of whimsical salt-and-pepper shakers. The space feels homey and hodge-podgey; the only drawback is that the clash of patrons chatting and hard surfaces creates a strong din. In late May, Dixon told me sound barriers were next on her agenda.
The menu, printed out a handful of times per week, is small (10-12 items ranging from house-made bread with toppings to a more elaborate dish like venison stew) and rather simple. Add to that three or four specials each night and a couple of desserts (e.g., dulce de leche banana cream pie).
Chefs like Dixon are steering away from traditional menu terminology (“appetizer” and “entrée”) in favor of “plates.” Diners might favor the conventional labels because they offer insight on portion size (in theory, an appetizer is smaller than an entrée). Dixon posits her plates as shareable, not small. Take, for example, the sloppy fries – a nest of frites topped with grass-fed beef, cheddar cheese, scallions and crème fraîche ($10). If you add an additional plate, like the corned buffalo hash with shaved Brussels sprouts and a fried egg ($15; it later became a brunch menu item), that could constitute a meal for two.
If it’s a piecy kind of plate, like the Boursin-stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto ($5), you’re looking at something nibbly – chewy, salty, addictive. And I ordered the dates (six to an order) as a first course, but the timing of the dish isn’t crucial. Like small plates, with input from the server, you order two or three and then see where your appetite is once the plates are clean. And that is the beauty of this comparably unconventional menu style. There are no rules. You just dive in.
The chef-owner says, in terms of the menu, that she’s “not tied to any one thing.” Though I don’t think that means there won’t ever be repeats, Dixon is committed to a changing – and seasonal – menu. A bowl of spring pasta – with sautéed ramps, peas, asparagus, chard and green nettle pesto ($16) – gratifyingly reflected the regenerative nature of spring.
On another plate, four feathery Swiss chard pancakes (with red onion marmalade and maple gastrique, $8) could be a very light supper for one, or a first course for two. The night I order them, they’re followed by a steaming crock of cioppino (seafood stew), thick with crushed tomato, sliced fennel, salmon and shrimp. The tarragon-infused broth melds well with the crisp toast points ($17).
Grilling a tall head of romaine is kind of genius. Lazy Susan’s version is twice as nice. Two long heads with the firm, juicy ribs glazed with ranch dressing, then dusted with crumbled blue cheese, and bacon-like diced prosciutto ($8). A sturdy follow-up on an earlier menu, was the grilled skirt steak with chimichurri sauce and red beans and rice ($17), a beet risotto with seared scallops and mint pistachio pesto ($18), or a lamb rack with strawberry blue cheese spinach risotto ($22).
Sharing isn’t in every diner’s lingo, but the plates here make it plentiful-going for a duo. Dessert also merits a combined effort – in this case, a dense slice of blueberry-studded cake served with a scoop of gelato-like banana ice cream ($6).
Finding “decent” rent allowed Dixon to settle in a neighborhood “going through massive transformation.” A block south of the seemingly magical commercial intersection of Kinnickinnic, Lincoln and Howell, Lazy Susan is set in a transformative community – no better place for sharing. ■
➽ Lazy Susan
2378 S. Howell Ave., 414-988-7086. Hours: Tues-Thurs 4-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 4-11 p.m.; Sun 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Prices: plates $5-$22; desserts $5-$7. Service: Friendly but shaky on busy evenings. Dress: The uniform of Bay View. Credit cards: M V A DS. Handicap access: No. Reservations: Accepted.
This article appears in the July 2014 issue of