Milwaukee has a surprising number of casual, but chic places to eat in the Historic Third Ward and the East Side of town. Cafe Hollander and Comet Cafe are among my favorites.
Looking for a casual dinner on our first night in Milwaukee, Gene and I head to familiar territory, Café Hollander (2608 N Downer Ave). We share a pound of Wittekerke Ale Mussels with whole grain mustard and onions and cream. Gene has Ahi tuna with a wasabi sauce and sweet potato hash. I order a portabello mushroom sandwich with roasted red peppers and chipotle mayo.
Cafe Hollander is know for its beers; we must come back when we have no morning obligations. I agree with this recent review of Café Hollander, the perfect place for summer dining.
I meet Gene outside Comet Café (1947 N Farwell Ave). He is holding his Bulls Eye Records (1627 E Irving Pl) haul in a cardboard box. Uh-oh, I guess Gene bought a few albums. He takes the box back to get his goods shipped to New York (only five bucks!). Comet Cafe is a regular Milwaukee haunt for more than its proximity to Bulls Eye. Comet manages to be old-school and new-school, vegan-friendly and comfort-calorie-friendly all at once.
Flash storms crackle through the heat with lightning and buckets of rain. No rain in months I’m told, and the dry yellow grass confirms it. Comet has a short wait–odd for a weekday afternoon, but people are looking for dry comfort this afternoon.
We sit at the fifties-style counter. I love the draught beers listed on individual cards in sleeves mixed in with classic baseball cards. I order a grilled Buffalo chicken sandwich (hold the Buffalo!). Gene goes for Ahi Tuna again, this time in sandwich form. Food is slow, and not especially great, the first time Comet has let us down.
Benelux Grand Cafe
We plan to meet Tammy who has flown in from Virginia; Eden who has driven in from Iron Mountain, Michigan; and Tara who has traveled here from New Zealand via Green Bay. We are meeting up at the Wicked Hop (345 N Broadway).
We wait for the elevator in the Milwaukee Athletic Club. The elevator door opens and Tammy pops out in a long black-and-white striped jersey dress. She is with a guy she introduces as her old friend Joe. The Wicked Hop rendezvous has moved to the Milwaukee Athletic Club rooftop, just a dozen steps above our room, the “Lakeview Suite.” (I keep looking out the window, but I don’t see the lake.)
Eden and Tara arrive within minutes of each other and Tammy screams greetings across the roof deck. We drink a glass of wine or two, then we leave to get dinner at Benelux Grand Café (346 N Broadway) a few blocks away, across from the Wicked Hop. We wait for a table on the patio rooftop.
Gene and I share a crab and lobster salad appetizer that is too salty and spicy for me. Gene and Eden swear by the long flat fries called pannenkoeken chips, which I suspect is another word for doughnuts, so I don’t touch them. My rocket salad with apples, almonds, honey-lavender vinaigrette and salmon rocks and I eat every scrap of greenery on my plate.
Benelux and Cafe Hollander are both Lowlands Group restaurants and the similarities are clear. However, I prefer Cafe Hollander; they don’t seem to be trying so hard to be cool and the food, even with multiple common menu items, is just better.
Wicked Hop Brunch
Today we will make it to Wicked Hop finally. Brunch at 11:00– no, 11:30. We sit on the second level, looking down on the main room across the iron rail. Tara and Tammy order Bloody Marys. Wicked Hop’s standard Bloody comes with a Slim-Jim stick and Silly String bouquet of string cheese. The concoction is served with the de rigueur beer chasers.
I order the waffles because I am just a waffle girl. But this waffle is thin and sad, not even close to the fluffy Belgian served at the Milwaukee Athletic Club. Gene has corned beef hash with Hollandaise Sauce. Double whammy. Add a side of brat patties and you may have the most decadent brunch meal in Milwaukee.
Tammy asks for a glass of ice, then slides me a bottle of her own vodka: a basil, grapefruit concoction she made in her hotel room.
Not bad, though I didn’t plan on any alcohol this morning. I will have to ask her to send me the recipe. I put the rest in my purse. The Wicked Hop is okay, but came so oversold to us it was destined to disappoint.