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Patio Fever Last week, the unusually warm spring weather brought out some alfresco tables. But most restaurateurs are waiting another month or so to officially start the patio dining season. One of them is Jackson Grill owner Jimmy Jackson (3736 W. Mitchell St., 384-7384). The three-year-old restaurant seats more diners outside than in – 90 […]

Patio Fever
Last week, the unusually warm spring weather brought out some alfresco tables. But most restaurateurs are waiting another month or so to officially start the patio dining season. One of them is Jackson Grill owner Jimmy Jackson (3736 W. Mitchell St., 384-7384). The three-year-old restaurant seats more diners outside than in – 90 on the patio, to the tiny dining room’s 34. The patio’s centerpiece is a 95-foot Siberian elm tree, which itself attracts visitors – and keeps diners from squinting at each other over their flat-iron steaks. The shaded patio will undoubtedly be a nice spot to experience Jackson’s new entrée specials and desserts. For entrées, that would be scallops with asparagus risotto, macadamia-crusted tilapia with maple sweet potatoes, and seared halibut cheeks with roasted red pepper cream and herbed mashed potatoes. The Kobe beef craze has hit the Grill, too. At Jackson Grill, it’s a flat-iron steak for $45. Old-fashioned desserts are a staple here. Joining the strawberry Napoleon is a pair of pies – pistachio with lemon frosting and pecan/three chocolate with chocolate crème.

Bakery of Champions
The recent remodel of 66-year-old Johnston Bakery in Sheboygan has caught the attention of lots of town folk. It also wound up in the April issue of Fortune Small Business. The remodel was extensive, and if you look at the before-and-after photos, you’ll see why the mom-and-pop shop is garnering national attention. The dated-looking spot was in dire need of a facelift. The grown Johnston children, whose parents founded the business in 1950 and moved it to this location in ’57, embarked on the overhaul, inspired by an 1892 photo of a prior bakery in the same location. The Johnston brothers worked with an architect to recreate the building’s facade and found period materials for the interior. They also added square footage (for more seating) to help increase retail business. There’s a phrase for this: not giving in to the chains.

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Town Cheer
A recent transplant to Milwaukee started a blog last month for the organization VISIT Milwaukee, the city’s official cheerleader. In frequent installments, Oklahoma native and “food enthusiast” Audra Shalles describes her discoveries – Kopp’s frozen custard, Pizzeria Piccola in Tosa, the new Milwaukee Public Market, La Fuente Mexican restaurant – at www.tasteofthetown.blogs.com. Unless you live under a rock, the info probably won’t be new to you. But then again, it’s only been a month. And are you tired of the negative spin some folks put on Milwaukee? You’ll get plenty of rah-rah energy on Shalles’ blog.

No Glutes
For years now, I’ve been noticing the “gluten-free” tag on various dishes at Tess (2499 N. Bartlett Ave., 964-7790). If you have Celiac’s disease or are gluten intolerant, you’re one of many who has to avoid the protein found in wheat, rye, oats and barley. I’m not gluten intolerant, but I used to buy the gluten-free bread at Breadsmith because I liked the texture of it! On Tess’s winter menu, gluten-free options included blackened tilapia with coconut jasmine rice, grilled Gorgonzola and walnut chicken, and herb marinated lamb chops with roasted red pepper mashed potatoes. Tess’s sister restaurant, Holiday House (525 E. Menomonee St., 272-1122), also flags the gluten-free options – osso buco and seared cocoa-marinated beef tenderloin, to name a few. And I happened upon a Web site for Stewps, a Hales Corners soup joint (5301 F S. 108th St., www.stewps.com). Special gluten-free choices are available every day – like Mom’s chicken soup, Jack Daniel’s chili and vegetarian selections. Let’s get more restaurants on the gluten-free bandwagon!

Can’t get enough dining? I chat about restaurants every Friday with Jane Matenaer and Kidd O’Shea on “The Mix.” Listen between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. That’s 99.1 WMYX-FM.

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E-mail your worst restaurant gripes to me at ann.christenson@milwaukeemagazine.com

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