The setting: White linens. Delicate stemware. Cartoonish murals.
The pizza choices: Pepperoni. Sweet potato pie. Sausage and rapini.
Also on the menu: Meatballs. Watermelon-beet salad. Hot wing ravioli.
Wooing customers, behind the scenes: chef Dominic Zumpano, who makes his own Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, tomato jam, breads and more. Expanding the fan base, but seldom seen: all-star leftfielder Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The restaurant is Ryan Braun’s Graffito, riverfront dining in Milwaukee’s Third Ward and not your typical Italian restaurant. The former Ryan Braun’s Waterfront Grill, sold in late 2010 to the SURG Restaurant Group, reopened with a new personality in April.
The same major league baseball player – a top contender for National League MVP – in 2010 assumed a high-profile role at a second Wisconsin restaurant: Ryan Braun’s Tavern and Grill, four blocks north of busy Highway 50 in downtown Lake Geneva.
You won’t mistake either restaurant for a sports bar, although a few televisions exist at both locations. Think of Graffito as “edgy elegant” and the Tavern/Grill as “classy cozy.” Both emphasize Italian fare but have different menus and owners (the Lake Geneva site is a part of restaurateur Tom Romano’s investments).
Dinner entrees in Lake Geneva lean more toward traditional offerings and include a soup or salad. Most are under $20. An exception is the R.B.8 mixed grill: pork chop, beef filet, shrimp, mashed potatoes and sauces.
Most entrees at Graffito also are under $20, but the menu is a la carte. Some entrees involve truffle-drizzled purees or are unusual combinations, like pappardelle (pasta ribbons) with a duck prosciutto and duck ragu. Some diners build a meal by sharing small plates of calamari, bruschetta, stuffed shrimp, marinated olives, soft pretzels with cheese sauce.
Both restaurants serve small pizzas. The four-cheese version in Lake Geneva contains mozzarella, Fontina, Pecorino Romano and Parmesan. At Graffito, it’s mozzarella, Fontina, Taleggio and Gorgonzola.
Popular cocktails at the Tavern/Grill include a Bloody Mary that arrives with thick pickle, cucumber and celery spears, plus a skewer of olives stuffed with bleu cheese. “I’d add spicy cheese curds,” says our waitress, “but we’ve gone through so many today that we’re out of them.”
At Graffito, Italian Sangria arrives as a slightly sweet mix of white wine and citrus juices. On tap is Lakefront Brewery Ale No. 8.
Is the restaurants’ namesake an avid cook, involved in menu development or restaurant tone/décor? Maybe one or more menu items are based on family heritage/recipes?
Maybe he’s influenced the cocktail menus in some way?
What are the chances that fans will see him there?
It’s the wrong time to be asking such questions, says Ken Spindler, who coordinates media relations for the Milwaukee Brewers. “Thanks for the interest, but we won’t be able to accommodate your request (for answers to questions) at this time,” he says, via email.
“Ryan is focused on the baseball season and we cut back on interviews during the stretch towards the postseason.”
Elsewhere, we learn the All-Star player is especially proud of his Jewish roots, that he is generous with fans when his time permits and that his name is his lone significant investment in these businesses. His visits to the restaurants tend to be unannounced.
The University of Miami business management major, drafted by the Brewers in 2005, apparently stays sharp and savvy when away from his day job. “Off the ﬁeld, Braun capitalizes on business opportunities like he would a bad pitch,” states the most recent issue of élevée Lifestyle, part of an enterprise that creates custom, hand-tailored wardrobes for pro athletes and other celebrities.
Ryan Braun’s Graffito, 102 N. Water St., Milwaukee, is open for dinner daily and lunch/brunch on Fridays through Sundays. For more: www.ryanbraungraffito.com, 414-727-2888.
Ryan Braun’s Tavern and Grill, 430 Broad St., Lake Geneva, is open daily for lunch and dinner. For more: www.ryanbraunslg.com, 262-248-0888.
What are the chances that a celebrity-named business will outlive its namesake’s career and residency? It happens. Look no further than the Brett Favre Steakhouse, 1004 Brett Favre Pass, Green Bay, two blocks from Lambeau Field.
The former Packer quarterback’s name shows up all over the menu, including the 20-ounce signature steak, a London Broil with sautéed mushrooms. In the Brett’s Famous Chopped salad is fried prosciutto, bleu cheese, black olives and veggies in red wine vinaigrette.
Outdoor brat-and-beer tailgates begin three hours before the kickoff for home games. Indoors, dinner is served daily (but not on Sundays from January through Memorial Day). For more: www.brettfavresteakhouse.com, 920-499-6874.
“Roads Traveled” began in 2002 and are the result of anonymous travel, independent travel, press trips and travel journalism conferences. What we choose to cover is not contingent on subsidized or complimentary travel.