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Wisconsin restaurant sees business spike after making national list of 50 most exciting restaurants

Birch, a farm-to-table spot in Milwaukee, makes list in The New York Times

A set of diners sit at a restaurant as employees serve them
Kyle Knall stands in the dining room of his nationally recognized restaurant Birch. The New York Times named Birch one of its 50 most exciting restaurants in the country. Photo by Siege Food Photo and courtesy Birch

The smells and flames of a hearth welcome hungry patrons when they enter Birch, a farm-to-table restaurant in Milwaukee operated by Kyle and Meghan Knall.

Chefs primarily cook food at Birch using the live, open fire. Kyle Knall says the hearth keeps cooking simple and lets ingredients shine with daily menu changes.

Birch’s shine is brighter this autumn after The New York Times named the restaurant to a list of 50 exciting eateries across the country. To Kyle Knall, this recognition presented an opportunity.

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“This is not a guarantee of business,” he said. “Now, we have to really work hard and show people who are coming in for the first time why we got this recognition and hopefully prove to them that we’re somewhere to come back to.”

Kyle Knall recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Morning Show” to discuss the restaurant at 459 E. Pleasant St. He said “business has really jumped” since the newspaper’s esteem, and he is thrilled for the staff, guests, city and state.

“Just super excited we got this recognition,” he said.

The New York Times credited Birch for adapting well to Wisconsin-inspired dishes.

“Where else can you get roasted wild walleye, served in its own smoke-scented broth with pickled fennel salsa verde, or exceptional housemade pastas enlivened by premium Wisconsin ingredients, from feta to corn to shishito peppers?” The New York Times writes. “This is worldly Midwestern cuisine free of clichés.”

A wall full of wine bottles
The wine wall inside Birch, a nationally recognized restaurant in Milwaukee. Photo by Siege Food Photo and courtesy Birch

Kyle Knall is from Birmingham, Ala.. He has worked at restaurants in New Orleans and New York City. Meghan Knall is from Wisconsin. The couple came to Milwaukee because they saw it as a great community where they could put down roots, Kyle Knall said.

The Knalls opened Birch in 2021. A year later, the James Beard Foundation nominated Kyle Knall for its outstanding chef award.

Kyle Knall is also the culinary director at Stone Bank Farm near Oconomowoc. The first day he moved to Wisconsin, he toured the farm. He fell in love immediately. He kept ties with the farm after opening Birch to this day. Over the next five months, Birch will serve the 26 lambs recently raised at the farm.

“It has done a really good job of anchoring me to the agriculture,” he said. “I go out there one day a week.”

Next, Kyle Knall said he plans to open a pizza place in West Allis in the springtime. It will be next to the West Allis Farmers Market, where he said he gets nearly all his produce.

“I couldn’t say no and wanted to jump on the opportunity to be even closer to that market and to those farmers that we love to support,” he said.