[FOOD & DRINK] REVIEW THE PATH LESS TRAVELED CHEF LEE KUEBLER’S MILWALKY TR ACE HONORS LIBERTY VILLE’S RUR AL ROOTS WHILE SHOWCASING MODERN AMERICAN CUISINE. By Michael Wren Photography by Anthony Tahlier sEa CraZy From top: Tuna tartare with avocado cream and housemade tortilla chips; the relaxed bar area; seafood boil with gulf prawns, manila clams, Bangs Island mussels and Pernod butter. If you want to get the most out of Milwalky Trace, the new small-plates spot in downtown Libertyville, you’re going to have to get your hands a little dirty. Chef and co-owner Lee Kuebler isn’t interested in formal fine dining nor in the kind of burger and brew fare that has come to dominate Libertyville. He’s interested in tactile foods— homespun American fare that you’ll want to eat with your hands as much as your fork. Think Gruyere-onion dips with toast. Ruby-colored tuna tartare that has to be scooped up with tortilla chips. A nd fried arancini that gush gooey ribbons of mozzarella cheese. Th is is a menu built for sopping. Whether it’s a Low Country seafood boil with Old Bay butter broth or a casserole of roasted garlic dressed with balsamic vinegar and sea salt, almost everything Kuebler creates comes with some kind of toast—an invitation for diners to soak up every last drop of his rich broths, gravies and sauces. Kuebler, who worked at the classically French Restaurant Michael in Winnetka and the cocktail-centric Ada Street in the city, named the restaurant after the Native American trail that once linked Milwaukee to Chicago. Along with his fi ancée and co-owner, Kristine Kurtzman, he’s tried to grace his space with subtle homages to rustic days gone by. C o c k t a i l s a re served in mason jars. Entrees often arrive in thick black skillets. And sepia-tone pictures of historic Libertyville line the dining room, which proves to be a cozy composite of pale brick, fi lament lighting and rough-hewn tables. On warm nights, the restaurant’s gigantic garage-like front facade can be retracted, ushering in warm summertime breezes along with the sounds of downtown Libertyville. But when the windows are closed, you can smell everything being prepared in the open kitchen, which has been positioned near the center of the room so that the sweet aromas of roasted garlic and grilled apricots envelop the space. Before deciding to be a chef, Kuebler What to Eat Asparagus, miso butter, poached egg, $8; grilled apricots & burrata cheese, prosciutto, chiles and mint, $12; sustainable ﬁ sh, seasonal preparation, market price; braised pork shoulder, clams, conﬁ t cabbage, chipotle butter, parsley, $24; French toast, pure maple, seasonal fruit, $10. Table it The tables inside Milwalky Trace were handmade by Kuebler, who painted each with a white stripe down its center, what he refers to as an “unconscious homage” to his favorite rock band, The White Stripes. 134 NS SUMMER 2014 Take a Sip Milwalky Trace’s stellar cocktail list offers gentle variations on classic cocktails including an Old Fashioned made with Evan Williams single-barrel whiskey and demerara sugar, and a refreshing Moscow Mule mixed with Tito’s vodka, lime, soda and a housemade ginger syrup.