From similar roots comes a Titletown pairing
LODGE KOHLER MENUS AIM TO ATTRACT THE LOCAL DINER
It’s hard to ignore the connection when you sit five floors up in the LODGE KOHLER’s Taverne in the Sky Restaurant and gaze across the street at Lambeau Field.
Having opened in July, the Lodge fittingly sports all capital letters letter since it is the latest addition to an internationally recognized resort and hospitality brand with a big-time reputation. It is a byproduct of an equally impressive plumbing fixtures company literally forged with a blue-collar work ethic. Yes, the forge pun was intentional.
Meanwhile, the Packers was named for a packing company in an era when professional football was a fledgling rough-and-tumble enterprise that seemingly operated on a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. Today, it is one of the most recognized and valuable sports franchises in America, allowing it to also venture into entertainment ventures like the rapidly emerging Titletown District.
Kohler signed on to become one of the first enterprises to open in the district, and when you sit down and talk to Food & Beverage Manager Gianny Darias and Head Chef Joey Kolenc, it quickly becomes obvious both are excited about blending the Packers mystique with the Kohler marque. “We want to be part of the community,” said Darias, who said the Lodge’s restaurants seek to attract local residents and hotel guests on an equal footing. To do that they must overcome one dining nuance that is prevalent in most communities.
“Many people don’t go to a hotel to eat,” said Kolenc. “Most go to restaurants to eat.”
But Kolenc and Darias have a bit of a secret weapon, and it’s right on the sign. Maybe it’s not so secret; it’s the Kohler name. Kohler and Green Bay may not be that far apart, but both men admit there is a curiosity that still exists about Kohler properties in the area and Darias is determined to take full advantage of that.
Kohler is often perceived as being synonymous with high quality, regardless of what it puts its name on, and persuading the public that it doesn’t have to come at a high price is part of the balancing act at LODGE KOHLER.
“I love this city, ...I come from a humble Cuban family.
Wisconsin has a lot of those kind of people.”
— Gianny Darias, Food & Beverage Manager
Lodge Kohler in Green Bay.
Lambeau Field presents a striking backdrop both indoors and outdoors.
Dark chocolate offers an interesting taste twist to the classic Wisconsin old fashioned.
The building is beautiful but certainly not ostentatious. It is cleverly designed to blend in with the stadium and then takes full advantage of its location, giving the diner a classic Lambeau backdrop that both hotel guests and locals alike should find appealing, unless it’s the day after a tough loss for a Minnesota Vikings fan.
Following a trend that both Kolenc and Darias said is becoming more commonplace in the dining world, the menus are not large but are crafted to meet a variety of tastes while being reasonably priced, regionally sourced and “contain a little of a modern twist,” Kolenc said.
It’s evident in both restaurants at the Lodge. The first floor Leaps & Bounds Café, with its outdoor terrace, offers breakfast and lighter fare, with the Taverne In The Sky serving lunch and dinner.
At the heart of it all is the wood-fired, open-flame rotisserie that is branded right into the Taverne In The Sky name.
The rotisserie chicken is sprinkled throughout the menu, from the chicken wings and wild rice soup on the appetizer list to a chicken club on the sandwich board. Appetizers range from the $6 soups to the $18 smoke salmon dip.
After you try the chicken club you realize the $12 price is not only reasonable but worth every penny and, according to Kolenc, entices people to try any of the other four sandwiches from which to choose.
While the Lodge Burger may not entice diners on name alone, Darias shares a back story that both reflects the quality of their products and the standards established by Herbert Kohler Jr., the chairman of the company. “We had 11 tastings with Mr. Kohler,” said Darias, reflecting the respect he has for his boss who, as with his famous golf courses and other properties, was heavily involved in all aspects of the lodge’s development.
As for the burger, “We use 100 percent brisket meat,” said Darias. At $11, the price again isn’t over the top and is an example of how the menu has been uniquely crafted.
Another offering is the Reuben, but rather than using beef, this one features walleye.
“Once you get it all together, it just works,” said Kolenc. The Cracker- Crusted Walleye Reuben is the descendent of one of two house specialties, Cracker-Crusted Walleye and Rotisserie Chicken.
While there is a noticeable absence of red meat on the menu, outside of the burger and the prime rib sandwich, Kolenc is quick to point out that will likely change as he continues to tinker with the choices. He also hints that there could be some venison and duck introduced.
The Taverne In The Sky kitchen featuring an open fire, rotisserie inspired menu. Contributed photo
Down on the first floor, the Leaps & Bounds Café offers a variety of breakfast-themed offerings, but the one item that brought a smile to Darias’ face is the powder or vanilla sugar beignets, a New Orleans staple which both he and Kolenc feel could be the café’s signature attraction. The menu switches up a bit on Packers game days, as Darias not only tries to appeal to his hotel guests who came for the game but also those who want to watch the game at the hotel.
“You really get a feel and vibe for the game here,” he said. “You just step outside and it’s right there.”
Of course, the natural place to watch the game is in the bar, and the Taverne’s beverage menu has a distinctive Kohler touch. Kohler’s signature Dark Chocolate Brandy is borrowed from the company’s line of Original Recipe Chocolates and makes a one-of-a-kind chocolate old fashioned. It is also used in another of the Taverne’s signature cocktails, the white Russian. Don’t be surprised if it’s chilled with a football-shaped ice cube. “It’s really good,” said Darias, hardly needing to explain why anything with dark chocolate in it wouldn’t be.
Another cocktail is built around Kohler’s Chocolate Mint Brandy. Darias takes particular pride in the Taverne’s wine selection of 140 labels, which includes Brad Pitt’s and Angelina Jolie’s.
But his particular imprint on the Lodge’s offerings is the cigar selection. A native of Cuba, Darias’ grandfather worked the tobacco plantations. “I grew up around them,” he said. And while Cuban cigars are still not legal in the United States, Darias’ knowledge of what it takes to produce a fine one has harvested four brands from surrounding islands from which to choose.
Both Darias and Kolenc have local ties that helped bring them to Green Bay. Kolenc is a Sheboygan native with three years of previous Kohler experience at the company’s renowned American Club in Kohler. He headed out West and worked in the kitchens of a number of high-profile restaurants as well as graduating from the Arizona Culinary Institute.
He smiles when agreeing that Wisconsin natives often find themselves coming back to the state, especially when the opportunity presented itself at LODGE KOHLER.
Darias studied the culinary arts in Cuba before taking a management position at the Casa DeCampo Resort in the Dominican Republic. He moved in 2013 to Miami, where he met his eventual wife, who just happened to be from Green Bay.
“I love this city,” he said. “I come from a humble Cuban family. Wisconsin has a lot of those kind of people.”
And Darias has taken it upon himself to acquaint as many of them as he can to a Kohler experience in Green Bay, one that he feels many will find offers the same level of high-quality service you’d expect from a Kohler property yet is surprisingly affordable.
“We’re open to the public and everyone is welcome,” said Darias in that delightful Cuban accent.
And although he comes from a country he admits is passionate about baseball, his appreciation for football has grown.
Darias is fully aware of the stadium’s iconic status in the world of sports, and it’s hard not to think the Packers appreciate Kohler’s status in the hospitality game.
Seems like a good fit.