Stroll into the dimly lit confines of Smyth and you’ll be surrounded by texture and light playing off one another. Rough brick walls rise behind black leather-tufted banquets. Burnished wood tables catch the shimmer of candlelight from dozens of candles strewn along a nearby ledge. Overhead are small glass pendants, each holding a single light bulb. Further emphasizing the restaurant’s theme, canvases portray blacksmiths at their forges.
This variety of unexpected combinations is the perfect reflection of the culinary artistry of chef Joshua Rogers. He feels a sense of satisfaction at introducing new tastes to diners’ palates. In a kitchen that has seen several chefs come and go in a relatively brief time, Rogers also seems happy to put down roots in Milwaukee.
No matter the dish, Rogers stresses his commitment to using traditional cooking styles with a contemporary approach.
“I’m always expanding my vision of how to present the menu, according to the season,” he says. He promises that one popular repeat from last summer will be a Spanish octopus salad. The dish includes watermelon, garbanzo beans, olives and greens, dressed with a vinaigrette.
That’s just a sample of many new flavor combinations that will surface on Smyth’s menu this spring and summer.
Rogers has been at the Iron Horse Hotel for 10 months, overseeing the restaurant, bar area, banquets, room service and patio service in the summer. He was born in California and formerly served as chef de cuisine at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco.
Rogers also has traveled the world, plying his trade from Shanghai, China, to Nantucket Island Resorts in Massachusetts. He says he keeps developing his culinary style wherever he goes.
As for Wisconsin diners, Rogers learned quickly that some refuse to stray from well-honed tastes. As a result, Smyth’s menu always offers at least one or two large steaks and/or pork chops.
Those with more adventurous palates can select items such as foie gras bread pudding or chicken liver mousse, which is served with onion jam and pickles.
Mention Smyth to locals and you’ll invariably hear about the Sunday brunch. The not-so-humbly named Great Northern Brunch — served 10 a.m.–2 p.m. — includes specialties from Maine to Montana. It features both a buffet and served-to-order items, along with bottomless mimosas — all for $33. Hearty appetites are needed to sample all the offerings, which include prime rib, crab Benedict, tiramisu pancakes, and Iron Horse corned beef hash topped with an egg.
The restaurant also is open for breakfast and lunch. One favorite lunch item is a biker’s sandwich that consists of a flat iron steak topped with caramelized onions and mustard, served in a pretzel bun.
Rogers recently took a month off for paternity leave when his first child was born. He says it will be a challenge to put in the long hours required in the kitchen and to be an attentive father. Thankfully, Rogers has a willing partner in his wife, Qing.
And the Iron Horse isn’t too far from their home on Milwaukee’s east side, he adds.
Since Rogers has only been at the Iron Horse since May, he said he is still discovering the area’s culinary treasures.
So far, he has found “a fantastic cheese shop” near Madison and capable local vendors who provide him with top-quality, hard-to-find items.
Like many Milwaukeeans, he already has developed a taste for locally made Purple Door Ice Cream. This heavenly treat accompanies some of the restaurant’s desserts.
500 W. Florida St., Milwaukee
A dark, cozy retreat inside a luxury boutique hotel, Smyth is a tribute to master craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Small plates are offered along with heartier entrees. Menu items are in three categories: from the farm, from the ocean and from the pasture. Items include squash risotto with sunchokes in a port wine reduction; cioppino with mussels, clams, shrimp, whitefish; and filet of beef with fried yucca in a Bordelaise sauce.
Breakfast, 6:30–11 a.m. Monday–Saturday, 6:30–10 a.m. Sunday; lunch, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Monday–Friday; dinner, 5–9 p.m. Monday–Thursday, 5–10 p.m. Friday–Saturday; brunch, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Sunday.