This café in East Troy balances small-town magnetism and progressive thinking.
The last time Jonna Froelich was featured in these pages, in 2016, she was wearing a white coat at I.d., the small plates restaurant that replaced Andrew’s in the Delafield Hotel. As executive chef/GM, she played a key role in developing the restaurant’s concept, even helping design the tricked-out open kitchen. But just a year after I.d. opened, Froelich gave in to the pull to “be present,” as she puts it, in her own community of East Troy, a village in Walworth County some 20 minutes from Lake Geneva.
East Troy. Population 4,306. Home of the East Troy Railroad Museum and Alpine Valley Music Theatre. Drive a ways through blocks of attractive single-family homes to the town square, where time has stood still in some ways. There’s a barbershop with an old-fashioned striped pole and an old tavern/guesthouse that dates to the 1830s. The park around which these businesses are built – reminiscent of fictional Stars Hollow in TV’s “Gilmore Girls” – hosts live music, food trucks and art shows in summer.
Froelich’s commute to her executive chef job at 2894 On Main, next door to a wonderful little indie bookshop on the square, is under 10 minutes. (She likes that she can pop home, let her dog out and pop back.) The open floor plan combines a counter-service café with a little specialty market. The main counter is prime sink-it-all-in territory for the array of fresh-baked cookies, croissants, scones, squares, cupcakes and other sweets. (The chocolate praline pecan cupcake had a dense but tender crumb, topped with a thin layer of ganache, then piped with a thick, creamy, billowy frosting – a rich companion for a cup of joe.)
These days Froelich starts her mornings at 8 or 9 a.m. With a kitchen staff of six, she turns out a breakfast-lunch menu ($4-$13) that’s 99.5 percent organic, the menu changing “randomly, driven by the [surrounding] farms,” she says. The primary supplier is Rohrganics, a family farm called that belongs to the café’s owner. The savory menu manages to pack in a remarkable amount of plants despite it being the dead of winter. The roasted carrot tacos ($11) are an absolute delight. A mix of brown rice, black beans, cabbage slaw, avocado and carrots is spooned inside three chewy-crispy house-made corn tortillas, topped with lime crema. Froelich piles her dynamite meatball sandwich ($12) with grass-fed beef, pesto, fresh mozzarella and marinara on a sourdough roll with fresh arugula and pickled peppers.
“Breakfast” is served as long as the kitchen is open. That’s great news for menu stars like the roasted root vegetable-pesto hash with roasted heirloom tomatoes, avocado and Brussels sprouts buried under poached eggs and fresh pea shoots ($11). Though the menu changes, there’s a daily quiche, rotating soups and a sandwich that might incorporate Rohrganics smoked ham or pork loin. Even on a smaller, café scale, Froelich’s affinity for bright flavors and seasonal inspiration are front-and-center, anything but “small town.”
Hours: food served daily 8 a.m.-3 p.m.; extended hours to come.
More About Jonna
You have a master’s in British Literature from Marquette. What drew you to cooking and this industry?
After school, I shifted to doing corporate training in Chicago, reintroducing homeless people to jobs in the F&B industry. But I always loved cooking and worked in restaurants when I was in school. My boyfriend and I decided to quit our jobs and move to Colorado to a town 35 miles from Telluride. We ran a restaurant there for two years … then ended up in Telluride, where I got a job as chef at a boutique hotel. I served breakfast and apres-ski for three-and-a-half years. Family brought us back [to the Midwest]. In Evanston, I worked at Trio, after [chef Grant] Achatz left.
Why settle in East Troy?
It was mostly geographical convenience. In 2012, I was working in Lake Geneva, my husband was working in Milwaukee. There is a real interesting, albeit small, progressive-fringe element in East Troy, having to do with the food system, that attracted me here.
What’s in the cards for this little town and 2894 On Main?
East Troy is at this cool little juncture right now. An artisan pizzeria is opening a few doors down [from 2894 On Main]. There’s also a proposal to open a boutique hotel with a gourmet restaurant. We’re working on a plan for staying open five nights a week till at least 8 p.m. and offering wine, beer and craft cocktails. ◆
‘Local Vernacular’ appears in the March 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find it on newsstands beginning February 26, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.