Summer is so short, it often feels like a trick on the mind. Make the most of the season at these elevating restaurant patios.
2300 Pilgrim Square Dr., Brookfield
YOU’RE DRIVING WEST on North Avenue, passing commercial developments on each side of the road, beyond the bones of beloved old Grasch Foods, then things get a little greener, more residential, and you’ve hit Pilgrim Road. Here’s ParkSide 23, the homestead-like space anchoring the corner, Wirth Park just a minute away. This Brookfield venue doesn’t need to soundproof its patio. The 70- seat dining area next to the front entrance is fenced in, framed by flora and shrubbery and enveloped in glowing light. The seating, modest but comfortable, offers enough room between tables that conversation isn’t impaired by other, more boisterous diners.
Adjacent to the restaurant is PS23’s 10,000-square-foot garden, a seasonal powerhouse of menu inspiration, from its summer squash and leafy greens to raspberries and fresh herbs. The comfort/farm food vibe runs through the menu in offerings like creamed corn with bacon, leeks and poblanos; chicken pot pie in puff pastry crust; and meatloaf with mashed potatoes. When it opened in 2010, the Joe DeRosa-owned venue was one of the first I’d seen organize its menu by price range – $9-$14, $15-$19 and $20+. It’s easy to eat well for not a lot of money – small plate-style. Try the seasonal caprese salad; mushroom-kale flatbread; and butter baked chicken with mashed potatoes, gravy and a cornbread muffin. You’ll learn more about PS23’s farm and the other local purveyors it uses at its summer farm dinners, July 16-19 and 23-26 (with dates in August and September, too). The five-course meals follow a guided tour of the farm. Call the restaurant for reservations.
1101 S. Second St.
THE SIDEWALK PATIO HERE is plain as day. You drive up and there it is on the north side of the restaurant, shaded by the Cream City brick building. (And note to dog owners: Those spots are canine-friendly.) The rooftop deck is both intimate (seating about 18) and a showpiece for Braise’s hands-on, farm-to-fork mentality. From your rattan chair under strings of tea lights, you’ll see the fruits of the gardeners’ labor on the green roof, and from a safe distance, the bee pods, whose honey is used anywhere from the charred parsnips with toasted hazelnuts to the juniper panna cotta. (Be sure to order the bread with whipped honey!) This is a tranquil barnwood-lined deck on which to gaze out at the eaves of nearby buildings and follow the parade of cars passing on the Hoan Bridge and city life slowing as the sun sets.
Summer plates to nibble and share with a friend include rooftop radishes with ramp butter, esquites (Mexican sweet corn) with cilantro chimichurri, and fresh pasta utilizing goat ragu and tomato-basil sugo. Plates will get more colorful as summer goes on, with tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, eggplant, summer squash and specialty herbs. Desserts offer a break from the usual, like a recent parsnip cake with cream cheese semifreddo, maple candied pepitas and candied parsnips. $5-$14
3) La Merenda
125 E. National Ave.
THIS WALKER’S POINT alfresco space comes alive during these short, precious months. The build-out for this space includes a pergola-shaded dining area and seating that offers more rays. There’s also an eightstool outdoor bar and a lounge area, next to a fireplace, for socializing and imbibing. Once the flora is thick and lush and the cocktails are dribbling deliciously over their rims, it’s easy to forget that traffic is flying by less than a block west on busy First Street. That’s one of this patio’s best qualities – the ability to tune out the cacophonic world.
The drink menu is where you’ll really see the playfulness of the season, with an expanded list of draft cocktails using La Merenda’s house-made sodas (in summer, it adds a flavor like hibiscus or tamarind-lime to the lineup). The bartenders use the culinary herbs grown in the garden in fruity cocktails, with or without booze. The global emphasis of the small plates menu (30 strong) has never wanted for variety or bright flavors. Chef Brian Brown continues along that track, focusing on seasonal, local ingredients prepared without much fuss. Look for a veal gnocchi, sopes (fried tortillas) with braised Maple Leaf Farms duck and the farmer’s salad, shaped around the crops making their yearly return. $5.50-$16
310 E. Chicago St.
Late last summer this East Side bar finished transforming an old parking lot into an intimate 700-square-foot patio/ deck with multiple styles of seating, and a gas fi re pit. Parent company Mojofuco (which also owns the BelAir Cantinas) hired Rinka Chung Architecture to do the job. This summer they’ve added a projector screen and various outdoor games for a distraction other than the cocktails, which range from Manhattans to specialties such as the Dirty Sprite.
5) The Outsider
Kimpton Journeyman Hotel, 310 E. Chicago St.
The rooftop of this nine-floor Third Ward hotel is as lush as you can imagine – umbrella-shaded cushioned furniture, a panoply of flora and a full-service bar. If the view isn’t distraction enough, various games such as a shuffleboard court may lure you in. No wonder there’s usually a line outside the lobby elevator. The Outsider has its own “sips and snacks” menu of deviled eggs, braised shortrib sliders, pork belly tacos and signature cocktails. Chinchin!
6) Harbor House
550 N. Harbor Dr.
This lakefront seafood restaurant offers the most spectacular patio view of Lake Michigan you’ll find in MKE. A sunshade made of sails covers the white patio furniture. The waves and wing-like Burke Brise Soleil offer a lulling tranquility that’s helped along by something shaken and stirred. Come during weekday happy hour (Mon-Fri 4-6 p.m.), when specialty cocktails (a cranberry orange Manhattan!) are $6 and appetizers like tuna tartare and spicy shrimp skewers are under $10.