Envoy - A Brunch Spot Not to be Overlooked

Milwaukee is steeped in history. From the beginnings of three settlements: Juneautown, Kilbourntown and Walker's Point to the days of Prohibition that nearly brought the brewing industry to it's knees to today's celebrations of diversity and music on the lakefront, Milwaukee has many institutions to take pride in. One place in particular that highlights the "Glory Days of Yore" is The Ambassador Hotel and the restaurant, Envoy. This meticulously restored Art Deco hotel combines historic character with modern refinement and attentive service throughout.

Driving west on Wisconsin Avenue you pass through Marquette's campus and the beautiful architecture of the homes and buildings that span across many decades and architectural styles. The Ambassador, located on the corners of 23rd Street and West Wisconsin Avenue stands out as a reminder of how buildings and hotels were once built: proud institutions and welcoming spaces (notice the "A" logo ornament that lines the top of the building). Envoy is located right inside the side entrance to the hotel. Immediately after the sliding doors, you take a step into the past. The chandeliers, ornate metal dividers, steam heaters in the wall and the decorative floor greet the guest as they have since the hotel opened in 1928.

For this brunch outing I was joined by my friends Jeff and Carrie, both who love any reason to have brunch at Envoy, because brunch at Envoy is like no other place in the city (at least none that I have experienced). Envoy offers an all-you-can-eat small plate brunch for $13.95: any item that you desire on the menu, you can have, and as much as you want. There are no lines and no large vats of pre-cooked food that you have to scoop out on to your plate. The guests are allowed to take a leisurely journey through the menu items and enjoy conversations and a little Frank Sinatra playing over the speakers.

I had made reservations ahead of time, because the restaurant does get busy for their brunch. Jeff, Carrie and I were seated and our server, Ross, explained to us how the brunch would work. We were each encouraged to choose two plates at a time and order more once we were finished with those plates. He was very attentive and while pouring water in our glasses asked for our drink order. I had ordered my usual (coffee and mimosa ($7)). Jeff and Carrie both ordered coffees and mimosas as well. After our drinks were delivered, we launched into our meal.

I started off with the Crab Cake Benedict and Pancake plates. The Crab Cake Benedict was simply delicious. Since each plate was smaller than a typical entree portion, the crab cake was nice a flaky topped with a poached egg and very flavorful Hollandaise sauce. The addition of an asparagus stalk helped add a splash color to the plate. Also the southwestern potatoes with roasted pepper and a touch of heat were a nice twist to add to the plate. This is one of my favorite items on the menu, and it didn't last long on the plate.

The single pancake was massive compared to the plate. Served with a side of butter and pure maple syrup, this fluffy, creamy hot cake is a great item to order in addition to a plate such as the Crab Cake Benedict. It acts as a "palette cleanser." Since the flavor of the real crabmeat can be potent, the pancake and sweet maple syrup helps clear that flavor and gets the diner ready for the next course.

Jeff started his meal off with Steak and Eggs and an order of French Toast. The steak was cooked as ordered (medium), and he asked for the eggs to be scrambled. Garnished with a side of the southwestern potatoes and toast, this dish was also a great start to the meal. The two small grilled filets were nice, tender and full of flavor. The eggs as well needed no salt and pepper and were nicely cooked thoroughly. Jeff and I also had the discussion about the proper amount of potatoes to eat throughout the meal. We decided we didn't want to eat too many to become too full too quickly, however we did not want to waste any food as well. It was a delicate balance, one that needed a planned out strategy.

The French Toast is amazing, simply put. Although the portion is not huge, it packs in the flavor and subtle sweetness.  The cinnamon brulee batter lightly coats the bread so that the diner does not get a chunk of scrambled eggs with their bite. The topping of whipped vanilla cheesecake is a nice tang to go with the bananas, strawberries and maple syrup. It is the perfect blend of sweet and tangy with a hint of cinnamon.

Carrie ordered the Eggs Benedict and Fruit with Yogurt plates to start. The Eggs Benedict was a nice portion, enough to get the great flavors of a Benedict, but not too much to fill you up. The single English muffin was toasted and had s slice of ham folded under the poached egg. The Hollandaise sauce was generously poured over egg and had a tasty combination of butter and lemon. The southwestern potatoes were cooked to perfection, once again with the earthy taste from the bell peppers and slight heat of the spices.

The Fruit plate with Vanilla Yogurt is a great addition to the menu for anyone looking for a lighter item. The yogurt is not overly sweet and the addition of melons, strawberries and grapes adds all the sweetness needed without high fructose corn syrup of some yogurts. Served with a small portion of granola, this plate is a nice choice for those that do not want a "heavy" plate with each course.

Once we finished our plates and Ross was filling our coffee cups, we looked into ordering our next round for the brunch.

Jeff chose to have the Crab Cake Benedict and an order of the French Toast. Carrie decided to try the Huevos Rancheros. This unique take on a Southwestern dish is a nice addition to the menu. The plate has a base of black beans topped with a fried tortilla two scrambled eggs, queso blanco, and dollops of salsa and guacamole. Although Carrie would have liked a little less egg, the plate was still a nice change of pace.

For my last two plates, I chose the French Toast and Green Eggs and Ham. Our server, Ross, did caution me as I ordered, "if you like pesto, you will love this dish. If not, you might not care for it." Having studied abroad in Italy for a semester, I have a passion for pesto, so I said, "bring it on!" The plate came out and sure enough the scrambled eggs were green! The pesto was folded into the scrambled eggs and added a wonderful pesto flavor. The aroma of the garlic and basil almost had me forgetting I was eating brunch. Rather I was back in Florence on the piazza enjoying a great meal. The ham was quickly seared on a griddle, which added the savory taste to the eggs. Mixed together, these two items would make a great omelette. The toast and southwestern potatoes were added on to the plate, but at this point in the brunch, I just could not eat them.

If you hunger for an excellent all-you-can-eat brunch experience and enjoy many diverse entrees, plan to spend a Sunday with the staff at Envoy. For only $13.95 (drinks not included), this restaurant sets the bar high and delivers with plate after delicious plate. Also, since it is placed in The Ambassador Hotel expect plenty of free parking in their parking lot and garage. As an added bonus, sit near the front of the restaurant for excellent people watching coming in and out of the hotel. So, if you sometimes cannot decide which brunch item to get on a Saturday or Sunday morning, choose Envoy at The Ambassador Hotel and have your pick of the menu!

Until next weekend, have a great week; enjoy the weather and happy brunching!

What have been your experiences at Envoy? What are some other good entrees? Respond below in the comments!

All the details you want to know: (on a five star rating)

Envoy (*****)
2308 W Wisconsin Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53233

(414) 345-5015
Envoy Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Brunch hours:
Sunday: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Atmosphere: ***** (awesome)
An upscale, renovated Art Deco hotel without the stuffy and old persona.

Food: ***** (awesome)
Amazing flavors for traditional brunch fare with unique twists on others.

Service: ***** (awesome)
Attentive, knowledgeable, helpful and friendly

Drinks: *****
Mimosa - ***** (awesome)
Bloody Mary - n/a (didn't try)

Price: ***** (awesome)
About $20 a person with food and drinks