The first thing you’ll likely notice when you walk into The Bridgewater Modern Grill is the mouth-watering smell. The new restaurant’s oak-fed, Jade grill fills the space with the enticing aroma of wood-fired steak, chicken and vegetables.
A bar stretches across the rear of the open space, leaving plenty of room for wide booths and tables. Floor-to-ceiling windows line the wall, looking out over the Kinnikinic River and a spacious 245-foot patio, that will certainly be packed when warmer weather returns. Around the side, there’s a 1,300-square-foot lawn complete with yard games as well. Inside, there’s also a private dining area with seating for 30. The owners call the mood “California casual,” with a hip, upscale feeling that remains relaxed and welcoming. The sleek modern design – brought to life by Milwaukee-based RINKA Architecture and ADK Design – is bright and modern, but remains warm, and the open kitchen lets diners get a glimpse at the chefs at work on the grill.
Three years in the making, The Bridgewater officially opened for business on Tuesday. The restaurant was first envisioned in 2019 by the folks at Benson’s Restaurant Group (formerly known Hospitality Democracy, which operates AJ Bombers, Blue Bat, Smoke Shack and Onesto), but was delayed due to the pandemic shutdown.
“Our feeling was that, with this location, we needed a place that would draw people from all over the city,” says David Marcus, the chairman at Marcus Investments, Benson’s parent company. “In my philosophy, food should be sophisticated and delicious, and also approachable. I think if someone has to Google an item on the menu, you lose something. We want people to look at the menu and want to order one of everything.”
Benson’s corporate chef Alex Sazama and the Benson’s team devised the concept – an upscale but reasonably-priced restaurant, focusing on flame-grilled food, while incorporating a wide array of dishes. They brought in executive chef Steve Gustafson to help shape the menu. That custom wood-fired grill remained the centerpiece as they devised dishes.
“The concept was really exciting … bringing ash, coal, fire and food together,” says Gustafson. “Incorporating fire really interests me. [The Bridgewater] doesn’t focus on just one cuisine – it’s a diverse range.”
That diversity ranges from tostadas ($14) to ziti ($23) to Strauss veal tenderloin ($38) and oak-fired oysters ($16). The restaurant is partnering with local providers like Strauss Meats, Greige Patisserie, BelGioioso Cheese and many more to source ingredients.
“What I love about this place is that you can come in if you’re wearing a blazer or if you’re wearing blue jeans,” Marcus says. “It can be a place for a special dinner, or a place to grab a burger and a drink and catch the game at the bar.”
Tuesday’s grand opening event saw a full house (save for the rain-drenched patio). Like Marcus said, some folks were just enjoying a drink and appetizer at the bar, while many others sampled the new menu in the dining room.
The menu provides a wide array of choices and many unexpected treats. The oak-fired baby-back ribs ($29) are a staff favorite, along with The Bridgewater Burger, a waygu patty with coal-roasted shallots, gruyere and roasted garlic aioli ($18). A side order of oak-fired carrots ($8) is a standout, with an inventive and warming mixed of herb yogurt, hazelnut and dill. The gnocchi ($22) makes for a delicious and surprisingly light main course. The aforementioned tostada ($14) packs just enough spice, with ancho chili, avocado puree, yellow pico, cotija, radish and lime. And you can taste that smoke. Even the salads incorporate it, like the ancient grain, which has miso sweet potato puree, charred onion, snap peas, mushroom, avocado and cilantro pumpkin pesto ($12). New offerings will also be introduced over the coming months, incorporating seasonal ingredients.
“It’s elevated dining and elevated service, but in a very approachable style,” says Chris Adams, Benson’s executive vice president. “The food is amazing, and we worked hard to keep the prices reasonable, so we can have guests come here two, three, four times a month and not just on special occasions.”
The drink selection is also impressive, with almost 70 wines available, along with eight beers on tap, including from local craft brewer Eagle Park, and a menu of unique craft cocktails. The caramelized rum old fashioned is particularly noteworthy, with rum, curacao, caramelized bitter syrup, angostura bitters, and orange bitters ($13). It packs a punch. Plus, there are bright mocktails available – like the Berry Smash, with raspberry, lime, cherry bark vanilla bitters, mint and sparkling water ($10) – that enliven the alcohol-free drink selection.
Currently, the Bridgewater is open for lunch and dinner, with hours Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. You can make reservations at bridgewatermke.com.
2011 FIRST ST. | 414-299-6556