BY NICOLE BELL | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
With another NBA season just around the corner and the Milwaukee Bucks hotter than ever, the Deer District will again teem with basketball fans, bolstering the area’s ever-growing appeal for sports lovers and foodies alike. At the heart of the action? The MECCA Sports Bar and Grill, owned by the Bucks organization.
Executive Chef Matthew Kerley, a Milwaukee restaurant scene veteran, credits the 5-month-old, two-story eatery’s popularity to both its elevated bar food and the ambiance of the restaurant. With decor reminiscent of the neighboring Fiserv Forum, plus a ticker board, air horns and the occasional DJ, dining while watching a sporting event at The MECCA is a memorable affair. “It’s a multidimensional experience, the moment you walk through the door and hear the crowd cheering,” he enthuses.
Though Kerley trained in Mediterranean cuisine, he welcomed the challenge of working in an upscale take on the sports bar. “What I really love about what we’re doing here is that this is a fun, personal play on ‘sports bar’ cuisine,” he says “We’re doing very classic, traditional sports bar food, [but] we’re doing it in a very elevated manner.”
Kerley supports local vendors as often as possible to create tasty favorites like the Cream City Chimney Stack Nachos shown here. The dish was inspired by Kerley’s daily commute from Bay View. “Every day, I drive past a lot of chimney stacks on I-43 and I just thought it’d be really cool if there was a way we could incorporate blue-collar, gritty, Milwaukee chimney stacks into our nacho,” he says. “I was thinking it’d be really cool if we used a charcoal chimney you use to start a fire on a grill. We cut out the wires and it fit perfectly.”
The resulting dish layers tortilla chips, smoked chicken, sweet barbecue sauce, pico de gallo, red onions, black beans, fresh cilantro and a house-made cheese sauce into the chimney. Diners push its handle, lift the chimney and watch as the nachos emerge in a perfect pile on their plates. Other Kerley favorites include brined chicken wings spiced with “MECCA Seasoning” from The Spice House, and wild-caught gulf shrimp soaked in buttermilk, flash-fried and served with chili sauce.
Kerley says the Bucks’ playoff run presented the perfect launch for the restaurant.
“I’m a big Bucks fan, as we all are,” he says. “It was amazing and very encouraging to be part of something bigger than all of us individually. We really felt connected to Milwaukee. Any given day we’d have 100 people line up outside and 700 people inside. …. Just being a part of that and feeling that energy and working off that energy was very monumental for us and kind of helped push us further and harder.”
The MECCA Sports Bar and Grill, 1134 N. Vel R. Phillips Ave., (414) 908-0401, the meccamke.com MKE