Gregory León, chef and co-owner of Amilinda, drew his Spanish-Portuguese menu from his travels. He is one the most approachable restaurateurs in the biz. Everything at Amilinda from tiles, exposed Cream City brick walls, paintings or the brightly colored rooster sitting on the chef’s counter (aka bar) has a story he is willing to share. However, this story doesn’t end with the décor, but carries over to a creative and thoughtful menu. Bravo to León for doing fewer menu items, doing them well and changing them daily (menu prices fluctuate based on market prices). León works with local farmers, taking what is in season and creating an abbreviated menu that doesn’t have so many choices it makes your head spin. Almost everything is made in house (Alisa Malavenda)
Chef Gregory Leon has grown Amilinda from a sporadic pop-up restaurant, to a weekly pop-up restaurant, to a permanent restaurant. The demand from diners for spots at the pop-ups was so high that finding a permanent home was the only next logical step. Now diners can get a taste of Leon’s small, constantly changing menu any day they like. Leon spent his childhood in Venezuela and worked in Spain, lending those cuisines to the menu, along with a hefty dash of Portugal.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced going from a pop-up to a permanent restaurant?
I would say the only challenge we really faced was getting customers to the correct location. After operating as a pop-up for so long at The National Cafe, people seemed to think that was our permanent home–It took a few months for the word to get out.
Do you find that customers are familiar with the Portuguese and Spanish food on your menu, or is it new to them?
I find that when it comes to the Portuguese influenced dishes on our menus our new guests are completely unfamiliar at times with them (our regulars have become more knowledgeable as time has gone by and they have visit us more frequently). As for the Spanish inspired dishes, our biggest challenge was the diners’ expectations of finding tapas and paella. I think–and this is just my opinion–that most Americans really just equate Spanish cuisine to those two elements of the Spanish culinary culture. We really have had to teach them that there is a whole other world of Spanish cooking out there.
Your kitchen is very open to diners. Was that something that was important to you when you were designing the restaurant?
It was always something we really wanted but was not a “must have.” Our approach was to work with whatever space we ended up finding and making it work for us. We were very lucky to not only have found a space that had the potential for an open kitchen but also was open to the street.
What was the biggest inspiration for your menu?
Mostly my travels through Spain and a lot of reading. I just concluded a ten day trip to Barcelona and came back with lots of great and new ideas we will be implementing in the coming months.
Are there any food or restaurant trends you wish to see more of in Milwaukee?
I’d like to see more ethnically diverse restaurants and cuisine. Also late night dining on days that are not the weekend would be great for those of us working in the industry.
Where do you like to eat on your off days?
Goodkind, DanDan and Bavette are always on the top of my list. The National Cafe is our favorite breakfast/brunch spot and for a special occasion it’s always Odd Duck.
What would we find in your fridge at home right now?
Ketchup, Port and lots of BBQ sauce along with a tub of bacon fat – Keep in mind I just got back from Barcelona.