Mike Stoner, co-owner of North Star American Bistro, calls his restaurant “upscale, casual.”
It’s an accurate portrayal, but hardly begins to describe all that the sleek, spacious eatery, 4518 N. Oakland Ave., has to offer.
The 4,300-square-foot bistro serves everything from cheeseburgers and pizza to crab cakes and steak au poivre. Wine, beer and spirit offerings are extensive.
Three distinct dining rooms each own a unique vibe, including one designed to accommodate diners with young, potentially rambunctious children. Where most of the restaurant’s walls are covered with artwork and photography, the family room hosts a chalkboard and collection of children’s toys.
“I want to appeal to a broad base, but remain specific in concept,” Stoner said, explaining he expects all customers to feel comfortable and welcome.
Whether a diner is taking in a Brewers game in cut-off jeans and flip-flops or is looking for some fine dining before a formal night out, Stoner said North Star has something to offer everyone.
Most important to the equation, of course, is the food.
“We’ve got a very diverse menu that appeals to a wide palette,” he said.
Menu items change seasonably to reflect what’s fresh. For example, the pumpkin risotto — a fall favorite — is replaced by artichoke risotto during the spring, Stoner said.
North Star serves dinner until 10 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and until 9 p.m. on Sundays. Lunch is only available Wednesday-Friday, starting at 11 a.m.
Sunday brunch, the busiest lunch rush of the week according to Stoner, begins at 10 a.m.
New this summer is an outdoor patio capable of seating 60. The interior seats about 180, Stoner said.
Salad offerings are impressive. One signature dish, the scallop and truffle salad, comes with pan-seared scallops, mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, candied walnuts and Granny Smith apples. It’s topped with white truffle vinaigrette and fried parsnips, and sells for $14.45.
More entrees are available during dinner than lunch. Highlights include surf and turf for $25.95, beef short ribs for $19.95 and bacon wrapped meatloaf priced at $16.95.
An assortment of burgers, sandwiches and pizza are round out the main course listings. Stoner and general manager Carline Miller began to practically salivate when describing the four-cheese prosciutto pizza.
The children’s menu includes nine main dishes and several sides. Kids eat free on Sundays.
Crème brulee, fruit tart and a hot tin roof sundae stand out as desert options.
Stoner credits his more culinary-inclined business partner, Duffy O’Neil, for inspiring the menu, but said much collaboration goes into deciding what’s served.
Duffy studied fermentation sciences, or the art of spirit making, in San Francisco. He has worked as a brew master, chef and kitchen operations director, according to the North Star website.
“Whether he’s making a chicken marsala or pale ale he knows what flavor combinations go together,” Stoner said.
And though he insists all of the food is excellent, Stoner picked the blue cheese burger and seafood risotto as two of his favorites, referring to the dishes as “stupid good” and “so flippin’ decadent,” respectively.
The third part of the management team in Shorewood is Miller. She grew up in Grafton and was the general manager at Nanakusa, a Japanese restaurant in the Third Ward. She's been at North Star for only one and a half months.
She described the restaurant industry as "a tight knight family" and said working at a restaurant was "the first thing that taught me how to multi-task."
"Great food is what we expect on every plate," she said.
It appears Stoner and Duffy have found a winning formula with North Star since opening its door in November 2004.
In August 2006, the bistro businessmen opened a second location in Brookfield, 19115 W. Capitol Dr., and in October 2010 they relocated the Shorewood branch from its original, smaller home to the current space across the street. About 75 are employed between the two North Stars.
In April, Stoner and Duffy acquired the Grafton-based Milwaukee Ale House and took over kitchen operations of the Ale House in the Third Ward. They plan to eventually buy the second location outright, Stoner said.
Taking on the Ale House projects while continuing smooth operations of North Star will keep Stoner and Duffy busy for now, but the pair are already considering future expansion.
“I want more North Stars,” Stoner said.
He credits his energetic staff, loyal regulars as well as the favorable reviews he received from the late dining critic Dennis Getto for his business’s success.
He also made sure to mention his wife, Faithann, who years ago allowed him to leave his salaried sales job to pursue his dream of cracking the restaurant business.
By 1 p.m. Saturday, more than 120 reservations had been set for the evening’s dinner.