New Lambeau Field Restaurant Finding Niche on Green Bay Culinary Scene
1919 OFFERS DIVERSE MENU AND, FOR SOME, A TRIVIA QUESTION
Any time you come across one of those restaurants with a name that is a number you immediately assume it has something to do with its address. What else could it be? Maybe the uniform number of a famous athlete might work, but it’s a rarity to find numbers associated with the name of some of the most famous restaurants in the world.
Then there is 1919 Kitchen & Tap in Green Bay. Having just opened last July, the restaurant hasn’t had time to establish itself as one of the nation’s premiere eateries. Right now it’s working on becoming one of the best in Northeastern Wisconsin. But it makes up for it by being located in one of the country’s premiere sporting venues. Situated on the Atrium level of Lambeau Field, the restaurant’s title could actually qualify as a catchy trivia question, especially for those not up on Green Bay Packers history.
The restaurant’s web presence cleverly offers a clue, opting to describe the origins of its name in the form of a timeline. Clean, short and sweet, the chronology begins in 1919. It was the year that football player/coach Earl “Curly” Lambeau and newspaperman George “Whitney” Calhoun founded the Packers. The first team practice was held later that year and its first season produced a glittering 10-1 record, the cornerstone to what has been pro football’s preeminent franchise.
Launching a restaurant based on such a prominent date is a daunting task. How would someone as demanding as legendary coach Vince Lombardi critique the food? Would Curly, who was noted for savoring fi ne food, feel right at home?
It’s all a bit of a balancing act that Josh Swanson said he and the rest of the 1919 crew embrace. Swanson is one of two sous chefs at the restaurant under Delaware North’s executive chef of Lambeau Field, Heath Barbato.
And while Lambeau Field has been built on the laurels of the players who donned the famed “green & gold” uniforms, one can’t help but be impressed with the dedication and hard work needed to help run a high-end restaurant.
For a guy born and raised in Green Bay to be plying his trade at Lambeau Field is pretty exciting, something Swanson couldn’t hide as a broad grin breaks out across his face.
As steeped in tradition as Lambeau Field and the Packers are, the restaurant is carving out a fresh reputation following the extensive remodeling at the stadium.
The relocation and expansion of the Packer Pro Shop and Hall of Fame also brought with it the transformation of what was Curly’s Pub into 1919 Kitchen & Tap. Just like the other two key Lambeau Field attractions, 1919 was moved and is now immediately accessible off the stadium’s indoor plaza.
Many of Packers fans familiar with Curly’s Pub, will fi nd a noticeable change in both the design and menu of the new restaurant.
This is where the balancing act comes into play for Delaware North, which operates the restaurant and all of the food and catering associated with Lambeau Field. It must fuse elements of a Packers themed restaurant like Curly’s Pub that proved so popular with a world-wide fan base — a base that treats trips to Lambeau Field as borderline pilgrimages — while also growing a local following.
“We want it to be a destination in its own right,” said Swanson, who was hired after Curly’s closed, but brings considerable knowledge of the Green Bay restaurant scene.
Rising from the ranks of dishwasher as a teenager to the responsibilities associated with being a sous chef, Swanson worked kitchens at Mackinaws, Thornberry Creek and the Hinterland Brewery Restaurant. He also ran the deli operation at Waseda Farms Market in De Pere, which especially melded with the others to instill the importance of developing a menu heavy on a locally and regionally produced product.
“Sustainability has and will always be important to me,” he said.
With all that kitchen experience in his back pocket, one local chef and restaurant owner he worked for advised him to bypass culinary school and the residual loans he’d have to pay off.
“I feel like I’ve had to work twice as hard,” said Swanson, who now tries to absorb as much as he can at 1919. “I’m blessed to have so much talent around me.”
Swanson repeatedly refers to the “team” at 1919 and since opening last year, the kitchen staff has worked to find that perfect blend of fi ne dining and beverage options to attract a wide range of customers.
“The dining scene in Green Bay has changed dramatically,” said Swanson, drawing on his years of extensive experience in the area. “We at 1919 want to embrace that.”
Asked to be a little more specific, Swanson said the cultural mores of the times have shifted.
“I describe it as less consumption but better eating and drinking,” he said, emphasizing the public’s demand for enhanced quality whether it is food or the nearly 40 types of beer behind the extensive bar.
He describes the Ancho Chili Crusted Chicken that the team has rolled out as an example of the ever-evolving culinary offerings. But what about all those Packers fans who come to Green Bay from parts unknown for Wisconsin-based favorites.
Never fear, says Swanson, you’ll still find bratwurst, grilled cheese, the Wisco Burger, venison sloppy joes and the traditional Friday night fish fry. You’ll find cheese of all sorts disbursed throughout the menu, including goat cheese that Swanson has procured through a local farmer.
“We take full advantage of being the dairy state,” said Swanson, who said that the menu also reflects the Lambeau Field partnerships with Wisconsin- based producers of such essentials as beer, brats and cheese with brands such as Miller, Johnsonville and Sargento. Steaks, including elk, salmon and an assortment of salads add to the diverse menu.
“We like to refer to it as “deliciously different,” said Swanson, who also said significant planning went into the design of the restaurant from the bar and row seating off the entrance to the more intimate seating arrangement towards the rear. “Kind of a Wisconsin supper club feel,” he said. Swanson is also particularly excited about the open kitchen that allows diners to observe the hustle and bustle.
Of course, there’s a reason seating can be removed around the bar so it can handle the sizeable crowds that fi ll the area on game days. Of course, summer training camp will also bring in its share of customers.
“I wasn’t around for training camp last year,” he said. “I can’t wait.”