It’s Awards Season– and not just in Hollywood. Nine Badger State restaurants are up for the culinary industry’s most prestigious honor.
Wisconsin will be well-represented at the 2023 James Beard Awards, considered the Oscars of the culinary world. Nine chefs, restaurants, and owners in the state were named semifinalists in six different categories:
- Best Chef- Midwest: Dan Jacobs and Dan Van Rite, EsterEv, Milwaukee
- Best Chef- Midwest: Gregory Leon, Amilinda, Milwaukee
- Best Chef- Midwest: Francesco Mangano, Osteria Papavero, Madison
- Best Chef- Midwest: Itaru Nagano and Andrew Kroeger, Fairchild, Madison
- Best New Restaurant: Lupi and Iris, Milwaukee
- Emerging Chef: Jamie Hoang, Ahan, Madison
- Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: Andrew Hutchison, Madison Sourdough, Madison
- Outstanding Restaurant: Wickman House, Ellison Bay
- Outstanding Restaurateur: Blackshoe Hospitality owners Amy and Jason Kerstein, Milwaukee & Shorewood
The James Beard Awards, considered among the country’s most prestigious honors, are about more than just food. The annual honors recognize exceptional talent in the culinary and food media industries, as well as a commitment to racial and gender equity, community, and sustainability.
The list of semifinalists will be whittled down on March 29, when this year’s finalists are revealed, and the winners will be announced June 5 at the 2023 James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards Ceremony in Chicago. Click here for the full list of semifinalists across 23 categories.
And because you can’t write a story about food without showing it, we compiled a list of “can’t-miss” dishes at each of Wisconsin’s semifinalists’ restaurants.
EsterEv’s globally-inspired menu changes with the seasons and includes eight courses for $95. (Wine pairings are available for an additional $45.) American Wagyu is often available, but how it’s served frequently changes. Whether accompanied by risotto and mushrooms or paired with Benoit Daridan Cheverny, it’s always delicious.
Amilinda’s menu, inspired by the flavors of Spain and Portugal, changes so frequently (based on the availability of produce) it often varies by the day. According to owner Gregory León, when Chicken Piri Piri is listed, order it! A little sour, a little sweet, and slightly salty, the sauce has a complex flavor, but is a consistent crowd pleaser.
Osteria Papavero, Madison
A casual, rustic Italian restaurant located just blocks from the Capitol Square, Osteria Papavero’s menu is filled with recipes from Chef Francesco Mangano’s hometown in Bologna. He recommends first-timers try the Wild Boar Ragout with Pappardelle Pasta. And don’t forget the Gran Piatto, a large platter filled with local, cured meats and charcuterie, as an appetizer.
Fairchild specializes in elevated casual cuisine, or as the trio of Wisconsin-bred chefs that run the place call it– “good food done right.” Like the other restaurants on this list, Fairchild’s menu is always evolving based on what’s in season, but its Deviled Eggs (topped with paprika and parsley) are a mainstay and the perfect start to any meal.
Lupi and Iris, Milwaukee
Close your eyes and you’ll feel like you’re in Europe when dining at Lupi and Iris– a French and Italian Riviera-inspired restaurant with a menu focused on “refined simplicity.” Try the Roasted Veal Chop: a wood-fired, oven-roasted Strauss veal rib with grilled broccolini, caramelized anchovy, and roasted potatoes. And don’t forget the Olive Oil Cake with lemon and honey creme fraiche for dessert!
Ahan, the Lao word meaning food, joined the Madison food scene in 2020 as one of the rare restaurants to open during the pandemic. Any of the menu’s noodle dishes–from Drunken Noodles with pork, tomato, and bok choy, to Red Curry Udon, with tofu, mushrooms, and toasted coconut–make the perfect comfort meal. And if you like spice, ask for a side of chili oil.
Madison Sourdough, Madison
A bakery, cafe, mill, and patisserie all in one unassuming storefront, Madison Sourdough makes everything from scratch. If you’re in the mood for something savory, order the Classic Breakfast Sandwich (egg, aioli, and cheddar served on a butter croissant.) And if you’re craving something sweet, a slice of Funfetti Cake from the bakery menu is always a good idea!
Wickman House, Ellison Bay
Not only does Wickman House owner Mike Holmes say he’s committed to sustainable agriculture– he shows it, by sourcing many of his key menu ingredients from his restaurant’s own onsite backyard garden. The Wickman Charcuterie and Cheese Board and the Chef’s Cut Steak, with smash-fried potatoes, seasonal vegetables, and mole roja, are standouts.
Blackshoe Hospitality, Milwaukee
Blackshoe is the only name on this list that’s an ownership group, not an individual restaurant. Amy and Jason Kerstein run four Milwaukee-area hotspots. At the cozy and casual Story Hill BKC, try the ham and cheese-stuffed Crepe Monsieur. At the brunch-focused Blue’s Egg, order the caramel-drizzled, pull-apart Monkey Bread. At the Southern-inspired Maxie’s, choose between traditional Jambalaya (with shrimp, andouille, and chicken) or Vegetarian (with smoked tofu, pecans, and spinach). And at the upscale Buttermint, don’t miss the 100 Acre Pesto Pasta with basil pesto, parmesan, marinated peppers, and bread crumbs.