Fertile Ground

Chef Dan Van Rite, of DanDan Restaurant, invites us into his bountiful backyard.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Photo by Adam Ryan Morris.
Cinder-block planting beds, set between narrow foot paths, create order in the dense, flawlessly tended garden-backyard of this Bay View home.

The garden’s architect, chef Dan Van Rite – who came to local fame due to his long tenure at Hinterland (which he departed earlier this year) – used trial and error and tips from vegetable-farmer acquaintances to build his own green oasis.

Van Rite, who this month plans to open DanDan American-Chinese restaurant in the Third Ward with former Odd Duck chef Dan Jacobs, found his gardening muse shortly after moving to these digs. Replacing rubble with soil and seeds, he filled out the roughly 30-by-40-foot yard with hop vines, fruit trees and bushes, and pots for herbs, tomatoes, peppers and others. As someone who works nights, the chef welcomes the lush spot’s ability to get him “out of bed in the morning” to tend his progeny.

And he’s learned from last season’s triumphs and failures. For the new restaurant, he hopes to help supply staples such as garlic, ginger, onions, Thai chiles, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh herbs such as lemon grass and cilantro. As for the hop vines (pictured below), eventually the shoots of this plant (used to flavor beer) will be pickled and served as a snack or garnish.


‘Fertile Ground’ appears in the July issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
Find the July issue on newsstands beginning June 27, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.
Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.