A Little Wisco in New York City

Flavors of the Badger state create a unique corner of the Big Apple

Kettle of Fish in New York City

Kettle of Fish in New York City

PHOTO BY JOE ROSEN

New York City: few deny it’s the food mecca of the United States; many argue it’s the culinary capital of the world. There you can indulge in a nine-course modern French dinner for upward of $300 at Thomas Keller’s Per Se, or a heaping $3 plate of masala at a canteen in the basement of a Hindi temple in Queens. And somewhere between my favorite bagel shop and the best $1 slice of New York pizza I’ve had lies a cluster of restaurants fondly referred to as Little Wisco.

Yes, even Wisconsin has found a culinary home in New York City. Just off a busy avenue in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village are several well-respected establishments owned and operated by Wisconsinites. What began as a coincidence evolved into the corner of New York that celebrates the Midwest spirit.

The oldest and most casual is Kettle of Fish, a sports bar just off Sheridan Square, down a flight of stairs marked only by a small wooden sign hanging out front. It’s got dartboards, New York brews on tap and a history that dates back to visits from Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan. But more than that, it’s been the favorite spot in the city to watch Wisconsin sports ever since former Wauwatosan Patrick Daley bought the business in 1998.

“It’s a Greenwich Village Bar with a strong Wisconsin tint,” Daley explains. The draught list always includes a beer from Sixpoint, a popular New York brewery that is, as it happens, owned by a Wisconsinite. On game days, patrons enjoy Usinger’s brats, aged Wisconsin cheddar from Marathon and summer sausage from Oshkosh. Though Daley has lived in New York for decades, his friendly demeanor and hearty laugh reveal he keeps his home state close to his heart. “My dentist is still in Wisconsin,” he explains, “so I get back at least twice a year. “

Just across the street is Joseph Leonard, a busy New American bistro and the flagship restaurant of Wisconsinite restaurateur Gabe Stulman’s growing Little Wisco restaurant group. The UW–Madison grad set out to open a restaurant in New York City that imitated the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of Madison’s best eateries.

“Hospitality is the number one way that we’re Wisconsin,” explains general manager and fellow former Madisonian Adam Benedetto. “That’s what we’re famous for.”

Stulman’s other Little Wisco outposts include Jeffery’s Grocery, a raw bar with a wide selection of oysters and a legendary poached lobster pasta entrée with clams, leeks and tomato; Perla, a classic Italian restaurant; and Chez Sardine, a twenty-four-seat sushi and Japanese tapas joint.

Try the Black Squirrel cocktail at Fedora, Stulman’s rustic French restaurant with an old-school NYC vibe. The cocktail is an old-fashioned made with Wisconsin maple syrup and tobacco bitters from Brian Bartels, a former employee of both Paul’s Club and the Great Dane.

Montmartre, the most recently opened Little Wisco venue, is named for the Madison establishment at which Stulman first tended bar in college. It’s a classic French restaurant with a few Asian twists, like the Hong Kong–style French toast with peanut butter, cherry jam and condensed milk.

It seems that humble Wisconsin has made a big home for itself in New York City.

Ruthie Young is a former Madison Magazine intern and freelance writer. She blogs at the-tasty-truth.com.

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