Innovation Restaurant, in the Crowne Plaza Milwaukee West, opened in 2008 with the hotel, but its menu has undergone several transformations since then.
The original chef’s menu was largely game meats, said Justus Smith, the restaurant’s director of food and beverages, while the second chef offered more traditional, prepackaged hotel fare.
But under Smith’s direction that’s changed, and Innovation is now a scratch kitchen that uses local food as much as possible and caters to the international diners who stay at the Crowne Plaza while visiting the nearby Medical College of Wisconsin, Froedtert, Children’s Hospital or Innovation Research Park.
“We make all our desserts in house,” he said. “We make all our pasta in house, except for the penne. It’s simple food, but it has to be executed correctly.”
Diners will find familiar favorites, but Smith said they also will find some surprises.
“We try to give them a little bit of Wisconsin,” said Smith. “We have fried cheese curds on the menu. What’s more Wisconsin than fried cheese curds – besides cream puffs?”
Because so many of their customers — many repeats — are involved in the medical community, Smith said Innovation’s menu needs to be health conscious as well.
“We know what’s gluten-free,” he said.
And because so many of their patrons are travelers, Innovation offers a homestyle meal every Tuesday.
“A lot of people want a home-cooked meal when they’re in a hotel,” Smith said.
He said the restaurant’s ever-changing menu is driven by its customers.
“If we’re not listening to people who are staying in our hotel, we’re not going to be successful,” Smith said.
But Smith said Innovation also listens to members of the greater Tosa community, who frequent the restaurant more for its Friday fish fry or Sunday brunch. And there are specials every day of the week: Monday is a pasta dish; Wednesday, seafood; Thursday, chicken; and Saturday, prime rib.
The restaurant seats 75, and it also has a lounge and a full appetizer menu that includes the fried cheese curds, tapas, wings, chicken quesadillas and calamari.
Tables and half booths are available in the dining room, and the atmosphere is “casual with some fine-dining dishes,” said Smith.
The menu has its staples — chicken and salmon, for instance — but every fall and spring, the menu is revised.
Right now, the lamb Bolognese with handmade pappardelle noodles topped with goat cheese is one of the favorites. “Whatever ravioli we put out there is pretty popular.”
“It’s not hotel food,” Smith said. “That’s something I never wanted. I look at it as we have a hotel attached to our restaurant – not the other way around.”
ADDRESS: 10499 Innovation Drive, Wauwatosa, in the Milwaukee County Research Park
RESERVATIONS: Not required but can be made online
FARE: Innovation offers a wide variety of options for lunch and dinner, including standard fare such as a Caesar or Cobb salad, hamburgers and Reuben and club sandwiches, and filet mignon and a changing salmon entrée. But there are less common entrées too, such as lamb Bolognese, chicken confit and a walnut burger.
PRICE RANGE: Sandwiches start at $9.95 for the Caprese, a mixed green salad is $4.95, and dinner entrees range from $11.45 for pasta fresca, made with fresh tomato, garlic, onion, oregano, basil and penne pasta, to $41.95 for the filet mignon, which is served with six ounces of bleu cheese, sautéed mushrooms or onions, asparagus and choice of potato.
HOURS: 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, with brunch between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.