Restaurant Review: The Many Secrets to Jake's Restaurant's Success

There’s a reason Jake’s has been in business close to 60 years. The steaks and haystack onion strings are only part of its secrets to success.

The remnants of cocktail hour linger a few moments before the bartender leans over the bartop to clear them. The bowl of cheese spread has been impressively ravished, a few crackers left behind on the tray. The bartender scoops up two empty martini glasses, but not before this scene of tradition has left an impression.

Jake’s Restaurant in Pewaukee is almost 60 years old, but despite many scenes like the above happening on a daily basis, it’s not caught in a time warp in the dated sense of the term. Owners Jake and Karen Replogle aim for a balance with the menus (food and drink), service and even the décor. In an era where the supper club is indubitably in vogue, the couple say they have to remind themselves that traditions like “old fashioned” and “rumaki” are now marketing buzzwords. And yet, “we were doing it before it was cool,” says Karen.

It’s old-timers, still rounding the bend from Capitol Drive to Gumina Road for reasons like the Monday night tenderloin special, who remember Jake’s history. Founder Jake Replogle Sr. bought two restaurant spaces – the first Jake’s in 1960 on 60th and North in Wauwatosa, and the present-day Jake’s in 1967, located inside an old barn on a family farm in Pewaukee. (The Tosa location closed in 2001.) Framed on the barnwood wall next to my table one evening is a Jake’s menu from the ’60s, advertising steak and onion rings for $1.95. The special runs $14.95 now but still has a solid fan base. Those folks are a key part of Jake’s audience.

Before making any changes – and those have included, over time, adding tuna tartare, grilled octopus and a roasted market fish to the menu – the couple consider whether it’s “still our style,” says Karen. Ultimately, Jake’s is a family business that still feels like one. And that could begin with a Manhattan made with your choice of bourbon and Jake’s brandied cherries, or one of the new mocktails such as the juniper-infused Gin(less) & Juice.

Jake’s Restaurant

21445 W. Gumina Rd., Pewaukee,
Daily Mon-Sat
Experienced, professional

The approach of “conservative change” – delivered by servers who’ve mastered the art of efficient, confident hospitality – has served Jake’s well. The modern-leaning tuna tartare ($18.50) melds sweet, fleshy, rare fish with tart, acidic fruit (Meyer lemon, tangerine) and creamy avocado – a symbiotic and luminous pairing. But I also can’t help but travel old-school, beginning with the wonderfully smooth, earthy tru¤ed deviled eggs ($7.50) and Nueske’s bacon-wrapped water chestnuts with white truffle honey ($9.50). Both pop with flavor and richness.

At Jake’s, entrées come with two sides or a salad. While I like a kale and romaine Caesar, I like the sides a lot more – especially the crusty, cheddar cheesy twice-baked potato and crock of creamed spinach dusted in browned breadcrumbs. You might have some to take home. Partner them with a steak – I suggest the well marbled, 35-day dry-aged rib eye ($53), adding Jake’s sweet-pungenty steak sauce and some firm, buttery sautéed mushrooms ($7.90). If you’re a tenderloin person, the filet (6-ounce, $38) is best with a classic, tarragon-laced bearnaise sauce and Jake’s haystack onion strings ($9.50) – creamy and crisp complements that add richness to the lean meat.

Owners Karen and Jake Replogle

The seasonal touches to the taut-but-tender seared sea scallops ($37) – creamy carrot puree, tart-sweet Honeycrisp apple, toasted pumpkin seeds and anisey fennel – give it an autumnal lift that feels very Wisconsin. But I think my love of nostalgia is better served by the panko- and hazelnut-crusted walleye with lemon and brown butter sauce ($30). It’s just plain great.

And for a final course, nothing resurrects an appetite like a well-appointed dessert tray. From choices like tiramisu, crème brûlée and a toffee hot fudge sundae, we think we’ve hit the jackpot with the chewy, relatively light pavlova meringue with fresh berries and apricot sorbet.

No doubt about it: Jake’s holds the secret to longevity. But it takes experience and maturity to discover it.

“Suburban Scares” appears in the October 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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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.