Santorini Grill, Café Corazón and Bavette are three local businesses that make much-needed Mequon Public Market a solid draw.
After a trip to Southern California five years ago or so, I came home jonesing for the diverse indoor markets that offered various styles of cuisine with multiple areas to sit, plus entertainment, all under one roof. On that trip, I hit at least three of these epicurean epicenters on one fast-paced weekend and returned home with a stretched-out belt and savvy perception of the trend.
Our first and, for a long time, only such venue, the Third Ward’s Milwaukee Public Market – which combines a homegrown restaurant focus with specialty shopping options like spices – was entering its 14th year before the East Side’s Crossroads Collective debuted its one-stop culinary excursion to seven different locally owned eating spots.
The concept is a crowd-pleaser, literally, because everyone can have a completely different style of food and still dine together as a group. The new Mequon Public Market adopts a similar focus, with nine vendors that specialize in a variety of cuisines, plus indoor and outdoor seating, concerts and more.
Best Bets at Mequon Public Market
What to Order at Each of The Market’s Vendors
Anodyne: The Honeybee, a latte with honey and vanilla – or something stiffer, like one of the tap beers. ($2-$6)
Bavette la Boucherie: Charcuterie and cheese boards, and the roasted cauliflower-grape salad that will change your life. ($10-$25)
Beans & Barley: The burritos are a fail-safe. Also, the daily quiche, grilled cheese on challah, and stir-fry over brown rice. ($8-$13)
Bowls: The completemeal-in-a-bowl is at its best in the Green Goddess (barley, kale, cashew cream) and North African, with quinoa, arugula, pickled pepper, feta and pistachios. ($9-$13)
Café Corazón: PEI mussels with shrimp and chorizo, the salmon tacos, and the wet burrito (your choice of meat; I like carnitas, which is pork) with red enchilada sauce. ($8-$13)
Happy Dough Lucky: The hot, fresh mini-doughnuts come in a multitude of ways, including super-decadent Nutella-banana. (Classic doughnuts six for $4, 12 for $7; loaded doughnuts six for $6)
The Lil Tuna (sister to Screaming Tuna Sushi & Asian Bistro): Opt for the specialty maki rolls (vegetarian versions, too) and shareable bites such as crab chipotle wontons. ($5-$18)
Purple Door Ice Cream: Get a scoop (or two) of one of the rotating flavors, like beer and pretzels or butter pecan. ($2.50-$5)
The Island Blues: Santorini Grill
MOST OF THE MEQUON MARKET vendors represent expansions of existing local restaurants. Santorini Grill is the only completely new food vendor, inspired by owner Spiro Asimakopolos’ early childhood in Greece and fondness for Santorini, a palatial island along the Aegean. His space is inspired by the deep blue water and stone structures overlooking the sea. Even the flooring replicates the surface that native islanders have walked on for years.
Santorini, the restaurant, is like visiting your own little island. The menu is a tipping-off point and offers specialties such as souvlaki (chicken and pork shish kebab, $16), citrusy, lightly charred octopus ($13), Greek salad tossed with good briny feta ($10) and saganaki ($9) – the warm, dense square of fried, firm cheese is set aflame before it’s served and is topped with lemon juice. Fold hunks of the cheese inside triangles of warm pita bread. It makes a rich, salty and chewy appetizer.
Also try a bowl of avgolemono soup ($4), a thick egg, rice and lemon soup that has the same comfort of chicken soup. Follow it with one of the combination plates, like chicken souvlaki with a beeflamb gyro and a square of flaky spinach pie ($14). Add a side of Greek roasted oven potatoes ($3), dressed liberally with olive oil, salt and fresh lemon. Finish with a piece of the sticky, nutty phyllo pastry baklava ($3).
What was the most challenging part of opening a restaurant that isn’t a stand-alone but part of a large development?
The kitchen! It’s only 200 square feet. So although we couldn’t do a full menu, it still allows us to do grilled octopus, lamb chops and Greek potatoes, really traditional things. At the same time, we’re able to get the food out fresh and hot in 10 minutes.
Tell me about your octopus. What’s the key to making it so tender?
We get 8-ounce pieces of beautiful octopus, saute with olive oil, lemon and garlic salt, and finish up on the char-grill. Then we cut the larger pieces into half-inch slices and pour all the sauce on top. Simple and perfect.
6300 W. Mequon Rd., Mequon
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.