Korean Spirits (and Fried Chicken) at Merge

Korean Spirits (and Fried Chicken) at Merge

Read the full article in the Shepherd Express here

Milwaukee’s first Korean Fried Chicken (KFC) bar is a funky, urban gastropub with globally inspired food and a tease of delicious Korean fare.

Start your Merge experience sipping on a draft or house cocktail while looking over the menu. Merge doesn’t have table service for ordering, so the bar is where you will make your decisions and your questions will be answered. You will then find yourself a cozy spot where the servers will bring your food when ready. Merge has two large bar areas and patio tables lining the front entrance, banquette seating around the wall and a communal table in the upstairs bar, making this a fun neighborhood hangout with a relaxed atmosphere.

The drink menu is as eccentric as the murals on the wall and the lively music. Both draft cocktails ($16) and draft beers ($10) come in flights of four. Merge also offers shots of soju ($2). Soju is a Korean distilled spirit (like vodka). We were there when they were doing a test run of a hollowed watermelon party cocktail made with soju. The watermelon juice and fresh fruit was perfect for a warm day and fun to share with friends.

Merge’s claim to fame comes from its Korean fried chicken—a process of double frying the chicken wings so they have the crunchiest outer coating while the meat stays juicy and flavorful. The trick to a good Korean fried chicken wing is the cornstarch coating (making it gluten free). It has to be thin enough to get that crispy exterior in the double frying but also hold up to whatever sauce you choose to dip or toss them in. Merge’s KFC has all the hallmarks of the traditional Korean fried chicken wings, especially if you choose the sweet and spicy sauce. They do have other sauces to choose from, however, including soy garlic, Nashville dry rub, honey mustard and spicy volcano. You can order wings in small to party-size portions of from eight to 36 pieces ($10-$39).

For the vegetarian in the group, the Korean fried cauliflower is available in small or large portions, and you can choose any of the same flavors that are available with the chicken wings. We had the panko-crusted cauliflower with Nashville dry rub, and they were a little bland, but when dipped in the extra volcano sauce or with a spritz of lime and salt, they became addictive fried morsels.

Merge has a few burgers and sandwiches on the menu, including a Korean street burger with jalapeño omelet, Swiss cheese and secret sauce ($5). The kimchi smokehouse burger garnished with three nice-size pieces of pork belly, Jim Beam barbecue sauce, fried onions and, of course, kimchi sits handsomely on a pretzilla bun ($10).

Tacos can be ordered by pieces: one for $4, two for $7 and three for $9. Choices include kimchi tofu, grilled Korean beef bulgogi, pork belly with pineapple salsa or volcano chicken. All of the tacos were so different, but each had perfectly juxtaposed garnishes to bring out all the flavors. One of the popular snacks—rice cake skewers ($5)—was fun to eat and covered with sweet and spicy sauce, but we wished it was crunchy like the chicken wings. The other snack we found to be a great accompaniment to our burger and wings was the Son of Elote ($6), a gochujang roasted corn dish topped with a scallion-lime crema and topped with Takis crumbs for crunch. Beef-loaded or kimchi-loaded fries are both served with a 5-year-aged cheddar sauce ($6). These were both a meal in themselves.



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