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Meritage: A neighborhood gem near the suburbs

Jan Kelly, owner of the Meritage restaurant in the Washington Heights area, founded Meritage in 2007 with the goal of creating “a casual, comfortable restaurant with a bistro, neighborhood feel.”

Jan Kelly, owner of the Meritage restaurant in the Washington Heights area, founded Meritage in 2007 with the goal of creating “a casual, comfortable restaurant with a bistro, neighborhood feel.” Photo By Peter Zuzga

Nov. 23, 2010

One of the things that I love most about New York City is the great little neighborhood restaurants that seem to be around every corner. Those of us who live in the Milwaukee suburbs might feel like we have to drive all the way across town to find such places. Fortunately, there is one such restaurant, just across the street from Wauwatosa - Meritage.

People sometimes ask how I choose the restaurants that I feature. Sometimes it's a new spot, sometimes it's a place that's getting a lot of buzz and sometimes I want to share what I feel are hidden gems. Meritage fits in that last category.

Chef and owner Jan Kelly founded Meritage in 2007 with the modest goal of creating "a casual, comfortable restaurant with a bistro, neighborhood feel." Located at 5921 W. Vliet St., the restaurant was chosen for this Washington Heights neighborhood specifically for its location. "I wanted a place that is centrally located, perhaps within walking distance, that gives people a fine dining experience without spending an arm and a leg," she explains.

Meritage has a quaint, "storefront" feel with a welcoming awning and tables in the window. It's a small space, but not cramped, featuring modern décor and a bar that spans the length of the dining room.

Kelly uses local ingredients and focuses on a seasonal menu that changes four times per year. There are three daily specials - fish, meat and vegetarian. Customer favorites are often kept on the menu for a while or offered as specials depending on seasonality. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they offer $4 tapas and Fish Tacos for $10.

Currently, Meritage is featuring the Fall menu that includes dishes such as Flat Iron Steak ($17), Braised Lamb Shank ($18) and Shellfish Pasta e Fagioli ($16). The wine list is not overly long, but offers a nice selection of reasonably priced wines, some of which are available by the glass.

For me, one of its most charming traits is the friendly and familiar staff. The service is top-notch, rivaling any restaurant in town, but without being stuffy or overbearing. The staff turnover is also very low which adds to the cozy, homespun ambiance.

The Basics

NAME: Meritage

ADDRESS: 5921 W. Vliet St.

PHONE: 414-479-0620

WEBSITE: www.meritage.us

FARE: Seasonal, featuring local ingredients

HOURS: Tuesday to Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.

PRICE RANGE: $14 to $18 (approximate)

LOOKING TO 'GRAB A BITE'?

"Grab a Bite" is an informal look at the food scene in the Wauwatosa, Brookfield and Elm Grove area by freelance writer Karen Waldkirch. Whether you're looking for a place for a "date night" or a casual spot for lunch, Waldkirch will be out and about scouting eateries for you. If you have a suggestion for a column, e-mail her at kmwaldkirch@yahoo.com.

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