We’re Living in the Age of the Pop-Up Restaurant

These trendy spots are here now but might be gone – or at least somewhere else – tomorrow.

About three years ago, at one of my first pop-up dining experiences – I’ll call it East Side Out-of-Work Hipster Chefs Dinner – the hush-hush location was revealed a few days before the event, which was held in someone’s three-level bohemian-styled home and featured 10 courses (including a bougie riff on French toast and bacon). At the end of the night, tips were collected in an empty fishbowl. Diners also brought their own booze. Now that was a night. And an unusual pop-up.

Sometimes described as temporary restaurants, pop-ups allow chefs to test out culinary ideas on customers before committing to a concept or signed-on- the-bottom-line space. Lasting anywhere from one day to an indefinite period of time, pop-ups typically operate out of existing bars and restaurants. And if you think you’re hearing about them more than ever, you are!

From pizzas to cocktails, the pop-up craze has found a pandemic-proof niche here. One thing to note is that these operations often make a set amount of their product for each pop-up and sell out quickly. Looking to try this trend? Here are some local pop-ups to check out, along with their Facebook pages to keep tabs on them.

1. Zócalo Food Park

This winter, the outdoor venue, with enclosed picnic table seating, has hosted pop-ups from Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge, Mister Bar-B-Que, pizza-focused Flour Girl & Flame and the local farm-to-table restaurant Braise. Open Tues- Sun, hours vary by pop-up. 636 S. 6th St.

2. Brute Pizza

A collab between fine dining chefs Paris Dreibelbis and Jackie Woods, Brute offers pre-order delivery each weekend from its digs at Woods’ Donut Monster in White sh Bay. The duo use heritage stone-milled our for a sourdough crust and a high-heat oven that cooks their hand-tossed 12-inch pies in just 5-7 minutes. Five varieties are available, including a pizza of the day.

3. Phat Dumpling

About once a month, co-owner/ chef Kristen Schwab offers six flavors of frozen Asian dumplings – pork/kimchi and chicken/wild mushroom are two options – by contactless pickup at venues like the former Fauntleroy in the Third Ward.

4. FlourChild

Once a week or so, chef Andrew Miller and his crew at Third Coast Provisions and Merriment Social feature their pies for pre-order and pickup at one of the two restaurant venues. The unusual pizza choices (i.e., cheesy gordita supreme) change each week, and ingredient collaborations with MKE restos (Ardent, Iron Grate BBQ Co.) happen sometimes, too.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s March issue.

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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.