BY NICOLE KIEFERT | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Robin Matovich Mastera originally planned to open a food truck. But when she went to scout kitchen space owned by a pal in West Allis, she knew her plan had changed. Sixty-six is Mastera’s lucky number, so when the locale she was eyeing happened to be on 66th and Mitchell and was only a block-and-a-half from the farmers market she loved, she rethought her mission and opened the cozy eatery she called The Farmer’s Wife. Mastera talks to MKE Lifestyle about her menu inspirations, her penchant for using fresh, local ingredients and her affection for her neighborhood.
How did you come up with the name “The Farmer’s Wife?”
Well, I married a guy that was born on a fifth-generation dairy farm. And it kinda suits my personality.… I always just believed feeding people was a good thing and that there is always room for one more at the table. Getting people around a table nowadays is so important.
Tell me about your commitment to bringing farm-to-table dining to West Allis.
I was raised in a natural setting. My mom was the daughter of a corn farmer, so she taught me about canning and preserves from early on, and “the fresher, the better.” We would walk to the farmers market and bring home bushels of berries and make jam. Nothing she ever made came from a box. So, I just feel that it’s all the more important these days to have a pure, clean product. I’m allergic to soy, so to try and buy something that [doesn’t have] soy in it that comes from a box? Fresh is best. And I think this area really needs that. The people in the community are moving forward and they want it too. I’m filling a need.
Your meats are organic too?
Absolutely. The Farmer’s Wife proudly serves Kettle Range Meat, so they’re a huge part of what I offer here and I try to make sure I get the best of the best. If I’m going to serve chicken or I want to do duck, there’s local farmers that are producing them in a natural way and I’m going to work with them. I use a lot of the farmers from the farmers market. If I can’t get [some meats] from Kettle Range, there’s a little lady there that does the most amazing grass-fed, grass-finished meats.
Do you exclusively tailor your menu around whatever is freshest and most available?
I have a staple menu, but the way I prepare the dishes will reflect what I can get, so it may not be exactly the same. My seasoning blends that I make are always the same, but you might have butternut squash in the shepherd’s pie or something else, because I like to keep with the fresh product and the seasonal product. It makes the dish a little more interesting, I think. I try to do a very “classic” spin on my menu. Where everybody is trying to do the new twist on everything, I want to give people things they probably haven’t seen, because it’s the way it was done 60 years ago.
What type of customers do you see coming through your doors?
We have everybody walking through the door. One of my regular customers is a judge from Milwaukee. I have doctors. I’ve got people from the commercial properties right around here that are coming in. And a lot of the neighborhood families. I did raise my kids in this area; we’ve been in West Allis for 32 years now. All my kids went to West Allis schools, and lot of people from the community coming in are people that I’ve known forever, it seems. It’s so diverse.
You said your husband was a farmer, but I read on your website that he had also been a sailor on the East Coast.
He’s from New Bedford, Mass. [His family] actually lost the dairy farm to a hurricane and his generation decided not to rebuild. So he was in the Navy when we met. He was stationed here in the Great Lakes. You’ll see a lot of influence from the Gulf Coast in my menu and that’s because of where we were stationed. … My clam chowder, I learned how to make that from my mother-in-law. Stuffed quahogs, I have them from time to time. Very much home cooking for him. And when I do Portuguese dishes, it’s because it was such a big influence in the area where he was from. So I’ll have Linguica [Portuguese sausage] and things like that, from time to time too.
So both of your backgrounds combined inspire the menu here?
Yeah, and our love for the Gulf and all the Southern food. I’ve been told that we have a really good gumbo and I think that’s because I’ve eaten it from Galveston, Texas, all the way through to Orange Beach, Ala. I kinda picked my favorite little points from each one that I’ve had.
You prefer heartier, comfort-food fare. What’s the idea behind that?
I like to serve Sunday dinner, and that’s what I want to offer people. I want you to come here and I want you to be comfortable in my environment. I want my food to make you feel good. I do have a couple of light side dishes, but mostly it is hearty comfort food. I want to take people “back home,” mentally; I want to give them that mindset. MKE