BY Patrick K. Mares
S.I.L. Waterfront Restaurant is so well tucked away on 1212 Marine Street that it’s easy to miss. But the eatery next to Zeller’s Ski and Sports feels like the sort of place you’d like to brag about finding to your foodie friends. S.I.L. which stands for Such is Life, is owned Walter Melgar, a Salvadoran-American by way of L.A. He also runs the kitchen, featuring a rotating stable of deeply hispanic influenced dishes from around the world. The way he rolls his d’s on the roof of his mouth and lapses into the spanish names as he talks about food, implies a deep familiarity with those culinary traditions. Walter and S.I.L. manager Stephanie Puta sat down with us to talk about how they came to bring a piece of the wider Americas to a little place on the Fox River.
Walter: Our goal is to cook with local ingredients, work with farms that grow vegetables and different items around the area during summer time. Wintertime [other than] meats, eggs, it’s really hard. But fresh. Keep it simple, fresh and elegant; even going to the farmer’s market and checking it out. I’ll say, “we’ll make this the special today. This fish looks really great, this fruit looks really good.” So that kind of stuff. That’s the whole goal.
We’re a little more towards mediterranean right now. But our goal is [to change that] that every four months, every season. Because everything is different. Different vegetables are good every four months, so swap it a little bit. You know, make plates from Brazil, Argentina… Something to keep customers interested.
On weekends, [we] run specials. We’re flying in the seafood from Hawaii, Alaska, different areas. They catch it today and we get it tomorrow.
Stephanie: We do a buffet brunch every Sunday from like 10 to 2 a.m.
Walter: It’s in small batches. We don’t cook a lot of stuff. We just cook so we can keep it fresh. We have a station where you get to come in and make your omelet. There’s also a champagne brunch, but in addition to that we also have what we call Paco’s breakfast.
And this is a Mexican breakfast. We do a Mexican sauce. It’s one sauce, but it’s authentic Mexican sauce, how they make it down in Mexico. It could be a red sauce, it could be a verde sauce, could be salsa colorada. It goes over a breakfast burrito, huevos rancheros, enchiladas, whatever, en la sol [under the sun].
Scene Newspaper: Sure. You said you’re in a Mediterranean phase right now. What all have you gone through, while S.I.L.’s been open?
Walter: We’ve been a little bit of Caribbean, but the Hispanic area. I’m talking more towards Cuba, Puerto Rico. We have what we call tostones rellenos. That’s a plantain, whole, deep fried, plantains, like a potato chip. But it’s different. It’s really healthy and a different taste. And we have loaded avocado with shrimp ceviche. You know. So all those flavors are a little on the hispanic, but a little bit on the Mediterranean. So right now the menu is focused a little bit of Mexico, Mediterranean, but also the Caribbean. But still with the Latin flavors.
Scene Newspaper: Clearly you have experience cooking with a wide variety of areas in South America and Latin America among others. How did you get involved in a restaurant in Green Bay?
Walter: I grew up in Los Angeles. And with my mom, that’s how I started my love for cooking. Down in Los Angeles, my first job was in a restaurant, when I was in high school. That’s where I started getting a feel for the cooking, getting a little more attention [for my craft]. So I started working in different restaurants down there and I started learning the Hispanic cuisine. Then I came to Green Bay when I was 18 approximately and I started working in different restaurants in this area. I was a sous-chef in different restaurants in the [Green Bay] area, and that’s when I learned a different type of cuisine. Different techniques and such like that. I’m very much a self-taught chef.
It costs a lot more money to teach yourself than going to school I think.
But the good thing about us is that I like to cook with the heart. You know, I put my heart in what I do, and I’m into flavors. I think we do a really good job. I’m very involved in everything we cook, in everything that comes out of the kitchen. All of the ingredients are made up from scratch. We make everything here you know, so I make sure that I use the best ingredients that you can find out there. The best olive oil, the best vinegar. You know. So, [we’re] really careful about what we do and what we put in our recipes.
Scene Newspaper: Is there anything else you’d like to tell the readers?
Walter: I think, it’s to give us a try. And if they’re willing to try something different in the area, we are down here. And I’m sure they won’t be disappointed with our food, our composition, and we’re going to keep doing new things, new dishes so we can keep the customer happy.