By Liz Johnson and Hannah HoffmeisterNeither Kurt Fogle nor Katie O’Neil has family from Italy. So when the coordinators of Festa Italiana reached out to them about being a festival vendor, the two Milk Bottle Bakery chefs initially hesitated.
“But we’re opening an American bakery, an American bakery that’s gonna be highlighting the best versions of what our grandmothers would make,” Fogle says. “We’re not gonna draw the line at American classics, because I think that American classics is everybody.”
For Festa Italiana, this past weekend, the bakery offered four options: a muffuletta sandwich, Italian beef sandwich, sfingi ricotta donuts and chocolate hazelnut parfait.
Offering Italian classics at Festa Italiana fits Milk Bottle Bakery’s motto, “the intersection of the masters and our grandmothers.” Fogle and O’Neil may not have the Italian grandmothers, but the mastery is there. In doing research for the muffuletta — meat, cheese and olive salad in large portions — the two went to New Orleans, the sandwich’s origin, to craft their recipe.
The research was consistent and time-consuming, the two agreed.
“But it turns out if you’re a huge nerd like us and have an attachment to this, it doesn’t feel like work,” Fogle says. “It’s work, but the value behind it is so present that we lose track of time easily doing it.”
Fogle and O’Neil, who are engaged, both work for Bass Bay Brewhouse (S79W15851 Aud Mar Dr., Muskego) and Camp Halcyon (N1875 21st Ave., Wautoma). Fogle is a “culinary guru,” says David Kiepert, manager at Bass Bay Brewhouse. O’Neil is a pastry chef. These operations provide opportunities to test recipes.
Milk Bottle Bakery is doing events until they officially open a storefront at the 3rd Street Market Hall, set to open next year in place of the Shops of Grand Avenue. Fogle, O’Neil and their other partners will also open Milk Can Hamburgers & Custard and Fine and Dandy Fried Chicken in the food hall.
The couple’s enthusiasm for the job was apparent when we swung by Milk Bottle Bakery’s Festa Italiana location. The two led us through the kitchen and stopped at a picnic table — both in the shade and away from the sweltering ovens.
After we got the scoop on all things Milk Bottle, we tried three dishes, all but the Italian beef. The consensus: We’re definitely Team Milk Bottle Bakery. We only bought the half muffuletta, but it fed three of us, so infer what you will about its size. The sfingi ricotta donuts had a crunchy, fried shell with a moist, chewy inside. We recommend dipping the donuts in the chocolate hazelnut coppetta. This smooth mousse meshed well with the candied hazelnuts and was, by far, the group’s favorite.
Despite serving us the best festival meal we’ve had yet, the two are humble almost to a fault. Fogle downplayed his role as co-owner of Bass Bay Brewhouse.
“Oh, what is my position?” Fogle asked. “Do-gooder? Dervish? Whirling dervish.”
O’Neil, who laughs easily, immediately countered that with a joking, “What does that mean?”
“You’ll have to Google it.”