The ambitious expansion of Buckley’s Restaurant & Bar comes to fruition Wednesday, when the new dining room opens in the building next to the original restaurant, at 801 N. Cass St.
Buckley’s will have a new chef to go with its new dining rooms: Van Luu, who is a fine-dining veteran of Milwaukee restaurants including Bacchus and the late Locavore.
And a greatly expanded kitchen with new kinds of equipment also point to new kinds of dishes eventually joining the menu.
Previous chef Thi Cao left Buckley’s at the end of 2018 to open his own restaurant, Wild Roots, at 6807 W. Becher St. in West Allis. That restaurant was expected to open yet this winter.
Buckley’s was closed Monday and closing again Tuesday for last-minute touches and staff training before reopening for regular lunch and dinner hours on Wednesday.
In the next phase of the Buckley’s project, the restaurant’s original building will be converted entirely to bar space with high-top tables, and the original kitchen will be turned into a 20-seat dining area.
Work on the new bar area starts Jan. 14, said Britt Buckley, a partner in the restaurant with his parents, Mike and Pam Buckley, and brother, Taylor. The corner building will be closed for the duration of the project, which is expected to wrap up by April.
When it reopens, Buckley’s new bar area will have seating for guests without reservations, and it will have space to display more bottles of spirits. “I’ve been stockpiling wine and liquor downstairs for a couple of years,” Britt Buckley said; his collection of amaro and whiskey can be on full display at the bar.
In the meantime, customers can dine downstairs and upstairs in the expansion, which includes a new connector building between the two older buildings, dating to 1897 and 1922.
Buckley, acknowledging that some customers have worried the restaurant would lose the cozy feel of the old 30-plus-seat dining room, said none of the new dining spaces is as large as the original.
Once the conversion of the original dining room is finished, second-floor dining in the expansion will be used for private parties.
The expanded Buckley’s has a second kitchen now for pastries, made by Pam Buckley, as well as four times the prep kitchen space.
The new kitchen itself certainly will shape the sorts of dishes diners will see at Buckley’s in the months to come. Besides the kitchen being much larger — “You could fit our old kitchen into this new kitchen five or six times,” Buckley said — it has more tools for the chef, executive sous chef Nathan Taylor, sous chef Zachary Peterka and cooks to use.
It now has two French-top ranges instead of a six-burner stove, to begin with, with a “more refined ability to control the heat on our pans,” Buckley said.
The kitchen also has a plancha, a high-heat flat-top grill; a salamander for broiling; a freezer that will allow items like granita to be added to new dishes; and an oven from Alto-Shaam replacing the previous fan oven “that gives us a lot more versatility,” Buckley said, allowing for braising, steaming, dehydrating and smoking.
“It really opens up a whole new set of options,” he said.
When the expanded Buckley’s reopens, though, much of the menu will look familiar.
“We’ll stick to our method of trying to change out a few dishes from the menu for each season,” Buckley said, then introducing more dishes as everyone gets used to the new surroundings.
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