Photo by Adam Ryan Morris
The basement of 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. could not have been more helpful. When the folks who ran eco-friendly shop Future Green moved out, they left some things behind, including the very cool, sustainable building material called cork.
It so happened that subsequent tenants Melissa Buchholz and Ross Bachhuber could really use those materials. They were pooling their own money and muscle to transform the Bay View storefront into a cozy, homey, unaffected source of … whatever the square footage of the kitchen dictated. It cannot be described as large.
Small plates it would be. The name for the establishment? Odd Duck.
The thing about the name – lent by a family member who went by the nickname as a kid – is that there’s nothing odd about the mood conjured here. Unless “odd” is good. Buchholz, who runs the front of the house and has held managing gigs at Hamburger Mary’s and Café Centraal, keeps a calm but kinetic presence, greeting and seating and setting the tone. “Unflustered” should be her nickname. Bachhuber is much less visible. On a busy night, the executive chef – who counts Piano Blu and Café Centraal as previous employers – shares the kitchen with a handful of other cooks who also have the green light to follow their creative muse. If you’ve been under-awed by small plates in the past, they’re worth reconsidering in light of the ones here.
As this review was penned, former Roots Restaurant chef Paul Zerkel – who’s mounted a few pop-up dinners with chef-spouse Lisa Kirkpatrick under the name Butcher, Baker – was working in the Duck’s kitchen. Among his creations is the octo-brat (a ground pork and octopus sausage) served in a rich steamed bun with kimchee and wasabi mustard. Kirkpatrick, also a Roots alum, was making a majority of the desserts, including a homey plum-almond cake with chocolate sauce, and an airy French silk pie with Chantilly cream.
Although the kitchen’s size may have pushed the menu toward small plates (plus charcuterie/cheese boards and a handful of large plates), it didn’t mandate a fixed menu. A new one is printed each day by 4 p.m., which has brought one challenge. “Some days, the small-plate list is so huge, I tell Ross he has to make it smaller!” Buchholz jokes.
A recent menu (divided into categories of animal and vegetable) brought the house down. On the animal side, there was a bright-pink filet of seared wild sockeye salmon packaged in a Middle Eastern ribbon of tabbouleh salad, minted yogurt and pickled onion ($11). And little balls of ground lamb (albondigas) in an assertive paprika tomato sauce with shaved manchego and a little peppery arugula ($9). The chicken-fried quail with spicy duck butter on a crisp waffle offered a juicy little bird (better than most chicken-fried chickens) with lots of distracting chunky texture and the bonus of that spicy butter ($9). For color and contrast, it was topped with a simple striped beet salad.
Breaking up the creamy chevre terrine are pretty sliced radish and chopped asparagus ($7). The vegetables lend crunch to the soft spread we slather on herbed crostini. Sliced heirloom tomatoes, in variegated shades of green and red, wrap themselves in the accompanying pesto, olive oil and shaved Sarvecchio Parmesan like a comfy sweater ($8). I almost forget there is chewy grilled bread served with it.
Fortuitously for the Duck’s owners, the plates get an extra helping of attraction from the restaurant’s handsome tables, which the owners made from Kirei board (crafted from reclaimed sorghum straw; samples were left by the tree-hugging former shopkeepers). Look up to see the locally made collaged screen prints, and you’ll surely be inspired to eat more, drink more and not cede a Kirei board table for a long time.
Few new restaurants make you yearn to be a regular, but for the close to half-year-old Duck, it’s more than luck that conjures up that sentiment. It’s the combination of gorgeous plates, staff showing requisite eagerness, and a warm, singular space that reflects people who love food. The Duck’s address is also just a stone’s throw from Alterra Coffee’s new headquarters in an area that’s become Bay View’s commercial hub. A perfect recipe for synergy, and there’s nothing odd about that.