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PORT WASHINGTON – Not much unlike the new lives of thousands of settlers hundreds of years ago, Twisted Willow Restaurant started with the abundance of possibilities that start with a farm.

Twisted Willow Farm was built in 1860. When Jill and Rick Bunting originally became the third owners in the property’s long history, they had the idea of opening a bed and breakfast. But it wasn’t long before another possibility took shape.

Like the farm, the building that now houses Twisted Willow Restaurant has a history dating back to the 19th century, having spent time as a hardware story, hotel and martini bar during its lifetime.

“My husband and his partners, who are three doctors in Port Washington, they owned our building. They were wondering what to do with it,” Jill Bunting said.

The answer came in May 2013 when the Buntings and Rick’s partners, Doug McManus and Ken Jensen, teamed up with Jill’s brother Dan Wiken to bring something new to the heart of Port Washington.

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“I was a chef at The Packing House in Milwaukee for 30-plus years. I got into a lot of gardening and using some ingredients that I was growing at The Packing House and when I moved up here, Jill had the farm,” Wiken said. “So we came up with the idea to expand the farming idea and use that for the restaurant.”

“It goes back to our own personal roots,” Bunting said. “Our mother was a really avid gardener, and she still is a member of the Bay View Garden Society, so we get that from her.”

Overall, Bunting described Twisted Willow as a restaurant that serves high-quality comfort food in a relaxed atmosphere.

“We try to create different specials depending on what’s in our garden and what might be a little more interesting to people as well as some of the standards like the short ribs, and we have great meatloaf,” Bunting said. “We try to do as much as we can locally and from scratch. We are known for offering heirloom recipes with a modern American twist.”

In addition to its own farm, Twisted Willow also gets a large amount of its ingredients from other local sources, such as Rare Earth Farms in Belgium.

“We incorporate as much as we can from our farm, but we are still in Wisconsin, and we don’t have any greenhouses, so we are at the mercy of nature,” Wiken said.

The meatloaf is among the favorites with customers, along with the pan-fried, panko-crusted walleye; Indian butter chicken and salmon, according to Wiken and Bunting.

Wiken has been in the industry for nearly 40 years, but he has continued to make learning from other chefs a constant goal. He has taken classes with chefs and food experts such as as Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Jill Prescott and Sandy D’Amato.

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Recently, the restaurant also brought in cookbook author and “Healthful Indian Flavors” host Alamelu Vairavan.

“She came in and gave us some classes on using Indian spices and Indian methods of cooking,” Bunting said.

While a meal at Twisted Willow is a treat in itself, the end to the meal brings another special treat from the farm.

“At the end of your meal, we always give everyone a bag of candied fennel before they leave,” Bunting said. “It’s a good way to settle your stomach; it’s a probiotic.”

Bunting noted that the five partners at Twisted Willow have considered the idea of expanding the farm and using it in new ways, but that there are no specific plans. Rather, the owners are happy with what they’ve created.

“We have truly created a sense of family at Twisted Willow. Our cooks, dishwashers, busers, waitsaff and hosts have spent time at the farm planting, weeding, rototilling and, of course, harvesting,” Bunting said. “They take pride in picking produce in the morning, washing, cooking (and) serving it.”

Twisted Willow

ADDRESS: 308 N. Franklin St., Port Washington

PHONE NUMBER: 262-268-7600

WEBSITE:TwistedWillowRestaurant.com

HOURS: 3 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 3 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday

Contact Geoff Bruce at 262-446-6642 or Geoff.Bruce@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GeoffBruceNOW.

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