BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
For Mike Topolovich, co-owner of both Midtown Grill and North Avenue Grill in Wauwatosa, taking over the building on North Avenue that once occupied John’s Sandwich Shop blossomed as a sentimental undertaking. As a kid, he was offered and turned down a job at John’s, going to work at McDonald’s instead. That position fell through and led him back to John’s. It’s where he learned much of what he knows in the culinary world.
“I think the property itself is probably a little more sentimental because I spent so much time here,” Topolovich explains. “Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t see it as a sushi joint or a taco joint. It’s probably always going to be this little size. … It just means a lot to have the place I started at.”
Topolovich, who co-owns the business with his father, Peter Topolovich, stayed at John’s for about 13 years before leaving for another position that taught him about serving elegant meals for larger crowds. A self-taught chef, he ended up returning to John’s before opening North Avenue Grill. Six years later, he learned of the opportunity to buy the building that housed his first workplace.
“I just couldn’t see it become nothing — or nothing else,” he reminisces. “The place meant a lot. I believe in the small diner. I love the open kitchen, the counter. I just had to jump in and save what it is.”
Operating two popular restaurants in close proximity inspired Topolovich to develop menus that varied slightly and would attract patrons to both locations. The Midtown Grill location offers breakfast and lunch, while the North Avenue location offers those plus dinner. Once focused mostly on the diner’s original savory, comfort-food centered meals, Topolovich is expanding the menu to offer health-conscious and vegan-friendly options, like the five grain power bowl shown here.
A hearty five-grain blend is mixed with a variety of superfood veggies, including Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, carrots and diced sweet potatoes. The dish is topped with avocado, sliced beets, pistachios, and a balsamic glaze to tie it all together. For customers who want their power bowls first thing in the morning, a breakfast version is available that swaps in fire-roasted tomatoes, artichokes and eggs for the beets and pistachios. If a diner is not so keen on one of the bowl’s ingredients, Topolovich is happy to tweak the recipe.
“I’m always priding myself on trying to be as customizable [as possible],” Topolovich says. “It’s like a guideline: If I put everything I knew on a menu — or if any chef did that — it would be a book.”
Midtown Grill, 8913 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa, (414) 837-6400, midtowngrilltosa.com MKE