Ginger - Expect the Unexpected

On a bright, sunny Sunday morning this summer, I was looking for a unique brunch location. In talking with some friends, we decided to check out Ginger. This restaurant is known for their tappas, but their brunch is another thing I hope they become known for.

Located on South Second Street, just to the west of the Third Ward, Ginger sits on the corner of a historic Cream City brick building. Once you walk through the door though, you can see how the space has been opened up to join the adjacent building to the dining space. The open kitchen lets you greet the chefs as they are preparing your food. The dark booths and interesting mosaic lights all give Ginger the spice it needs.

On this outing, Andrew and I were joined by our friends, David and Jason. The four of us walked in and were greeted by a pleasant bartender that told us to check out the place and find a table where ever in the restaurant. We walked around and looked throughout. While walking past the open kitchen, the chefs looked up and greeted us as we walked past. One waitress told us to check out the patio in the back, and sure enough, hidden behind all the historic buildings, this area of green emerges as a great "secret" patio. However, we chose to stay inside and found a table near the front corner with large windows.

Our server, Sarah, greeted us with a smile, and presented us with menus. I was stunned to see some of the drink offerings, and quickly ordered my drink, the Rise and Shine ($6.50) and coffee ($2). Andrew ordered a bloody mary ($6.50) and David and Jason both ordered just orange juice. My Rise and Shine is a combination of Emergen-C, vodka, orange juice, pineapple juice and seltzer. This twist on the mimosa was great. It had everything one would want in there to help get over the night before. Andrew's bloody mary was delicious he said. It was not overly spicy, but has a great blend of all the flavors. Garnished with a beef stick, shrimp, mini corn cob, olive and mushroom, he said this was one of the best bloodies he has had in a while. David and Jason also commented that their juice was excellent. Not too sour or sweet, but rather tasted like it was freshly squeezed.

After we has tried each other's drinks, it was time to get down to business and figure out our entrees. Andrew order the special of the day, the White Bean Fritter ($9). The white beans were mixed with pancetta and leeks to create two patties. Topped with two eggs, creme fraiche, and pico de gallo, this dish was brilliant. The earthiness of the beans, pancetta and leeks were contrasted by the creme fraiche. The pico was a great breath of freshness to the plate as well. This was an amazing special, and I hope they move it to their regular menu soon.

Jason ordered the Eggs Benedict ($10). Before you skip over this dish, it was no ordinary benedict plate. Substituting for the English muffin was rosemary ciabatta bread. Instead of the normal ham, there was pancetta and asparagus. The two perfectly poached eggs were topped with a tarragon Hollandaise sauce. Structurally it was a benedict, but the intense flavors were so unusually good, this breakfast entree could have been severed on a dinner menu. Served with a side of mashed sweet potatoes and some fresh fruit, this is definitely an dish you do not want to pass up when you visit.

David chose to try the Omlette ($7.50). This spinach, mushroom and goat cheese omlette was divine. Fluffy and light, the eggs hid the wealth of flavors on the plate, but not in your mouth. I am sucker for anything with goat cheese in it. I love the unique flavor, as well as the creaminess of the cheese. The spinach was nice and wilted where you were able to get flavor of the greens without the raw texture. On the side, David chose the hash browns. These potatoes were browned with onions and seasoned nicely. The proportion was excellent for the price, since we had to take some of it home.

I had looked over the menu before we left the house, and I knew what I wanted just from the title, Steak Awesomeness ($12). This tenderloin filet sat in the middle of the plate with the "awesomeness" all around it. Laying on a bed of the same type of hash browns of David's dish, the stake was topped with an egg that was poached in red wine. Red wine! The flavor alone in that made this entree to-die-for. Atop that, though is spooned some Hollandaise sauce. Finally finished off with a haystack of onion strings. Served with two slices of homemade white bread, this entree still makes my mouth water. The combination of flavors was very unique and quite unexpected. The only way you can see how awesome this plate is, you have make a trip to Ginger and try it.

Whether it's for the friendly service or unique food options, I would highly recommend Ginger to anyone looking for an excellent brunch experience. For a total of about $19 per person, this restaurant is well worth the price. If this service with a smile and unique flavors are how brunch is at Ginger, you can expect to see me back to try out their tappas at night. One note: parking can be a downside, since the city is completely rebuilding South 2nd, but don't let that stop you from getting there on a Sunday morning!

Until next time, hope you have a great weekend and happy brunching!

UPDATE: Ginger has officially closed for brunch. Instead they are focusing on brunch at Stonefly Brewery, their sister restaurant. Read my review of Stonefly Brewery.

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

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

Ginger (*****)
235 South 2nd Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204

(414) 220-9420
Ginger on Urbanspoon

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

Atmosphere: ***** (awesome)
Cream City brick, unique floor plan and open kitchen

Food: ***** (awesome)
Awesome flavors and entrees

Service: ***** (awesome)
Impeccable, attentive, friendly and knowledgable

Drinks: ***** (awesome)
Rise and Shine - ***** (awesome)
Bloody Mary - ***** (awesome)

Price: ***** (awesome)
Less than $20 a person with a minimal leftovers.
Willing to go? 
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Carleton Grange Pub - A Bit of British Breakfast

The summer guest reviews continue with this one sent in from Sarah Ogden. Born and raised in southeastern Wisconsin, she had the great fortune of growing up in a culinary adventurous family. She has a passion for food and trying new restaurants and recipes, and is thoroughly enjoying her stint writing guest reviews for some great Milwaukee foodies! You can follow here on Twitter, @sarah_ogden.

UPDATE: Carleton Grange Pub closed its doors as of Monday, September 6, 2010 due road construction in front of the restaurant and a weak economy. For more information read the article on JSOnline

First of all, I’d like to thank Chris for all of his patience during my guest review undertaking.  After thoroughly enjoying some weeks of World Cup magic at neighborhood meeting spot, Carleton Grange Pub, during which the brunch schedule was suspended in favor of more soccer friendly fare, my dining companion Jered and I finally had the opportunity to sample the Sunday morning menu.  Let me state for the record, it was worth the wait!

Named for a hostel in England, Carleton Grange Pub is styled after a traditional English pub from its casual, friendly atmosphere and offering of classic pub games, to its menu of fish and chips, pub sandwiches, international beers, and more. Carleton Grange Pub serves brunch on every non-holiday, non-World Cup Sunday, so Jered and I hopped on the Vespa and headed to St Francis.

We were greeted by a friendly hostess who asked if we wished to dine inside or out.  Since this was one of the first dry and not swelteringly hot Sundays in a while, we opted to dine alfresco at a partially shaded table. The patio was charming, although would have been slightly more so had the brown and wilting roses been better tended.  Also missing was the lovely music of the Jazz duo performing inside.  Piping the music to the outdoor guests would have been a nice touch.

Our waitress promptly arrived with the specials of the day and took our drink orders. I ordered my brunch fave, a mimosa ($4), and Jered his, a bloody mary ($7.50) with a Hoegaarden chaser ($1.50 extra, since it wasn’t the designated chaser beer). The mimosa included pulp free juice and was accented with a cherry, which I like, but it didn’t taste incredibly fresh. Jered’s bloody was thin and lacked complexity and depth of flavor. Set with our drinks and basking in the glow of the sun and coolness of the breeze, we sat back to peruse the menu. Among the normal brunch plates of omelets, waffles, and fruit, a few traditional English dishes were peppered in, which were just what I was looking for.

My brain did not choose my meal, but rather left the decision to my taste buds. One of the morning’s specials, Hopple Popple ($8.95), jumped off of the page. The description of a “large open faced omelet, with sausage, bacon, peppers, onions, and mushrooms, with cheddar jack cheese,” while simple, got my mouth watering. Suffice it to say, the dish did not disappoint. The deliciousness of this egg concoction reached the ends of the plate and was complemented by an English muffin and small skewer of fresh fruit. The potatoes were seasoned to perfection without being the least bit salty. The veggies were well cooked, not raw, not soggy. The cheese added just the right amount of creaminess. The English muffin was a nice addition to cut the richness of the eggs, and the fruit was a delectably ripe and juicy palate cleanser.

While I was drooling over the Hopple Popple, Jered was doing the same over the Homemade Scotch Eggs ($9.25). The two eggs were well cooked, the layer of sausage tender, and the coating crisp and golden delicious. The only complaints were that the sausage was a bit bland, and the tangy bistro sauce seemed superfluous, as it did not complement the eggs very well. It wasn’t a bad sauce, and my guess is it’s a catch-all dip since it appeared multiple times on the menu. Accompanying the eggs was a delightful and savory Roasted Potato and Pepper Hash. Well seasoned and dusted with parmesan cheese, this side was reminiscent of Mom’s warm and cozy home cooking. As with the Hopple Popple, an English muffin and fresh fruit topped off the dish.

While much of our delight that morning came from us actually being able to enjoy brunch on their regular schedule, Carleton Grange Pub delivered an enjoyable experience.  The service was great, and the meal, with the exception of our drinks, was satisfying and delicious.  We will be returning to sample more English inspired goodness, and suggest you do the same!  My advice - check the soccer schedule when planning your trip!  Cheers!

What has been your experiences at Carleton Grange Pub? What are some other good entrees? Respond below in the comments!

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

Carleton Grange Pub ****(very good)
3807 South Packard Avenue
St. Francis, WI 53235
(414) 747-9669
Carleton Grange Pub on Urbanspoon

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

Atmosphere: *** (pretty good)

Food: **** (very good)

Service: ****(very good)

Drinks: ** (ok)

Price: **** (very good)

Cafe LuLu – Bring a Little Funky to Your Brunch

The summer guest reviews keep coming in! Today's post it is from Lori Fredrich. Lo is best known for her work over at Burp! Where Food Happens. When she's not blogging, she spends her free time hanging out with her awesome husband Peef, flipping through cookbooks, tending her urban garden, and making whimsical birthday cakes for her nieces and nephews. She also wastes a ton of time on twitter as @Burp_Blog.

It’s difficult to believe that Cafe LuLu used to be the former home of a George Webb’s restaurant.  The walls sport rotating art from local artists. The bar is built from recycled wooden doors, and the décor marries 1950’s supper club-style chairs with a junk-sale floor and swag lamps, providing a cozy ambiance for casual dining. Although the atmosphere is still vaguely reminiscent of a classic “blue collar” diner, LuLu really shines in capturing the funky chic vibe that characterizes Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood.

Located just south of downtown, at the intersections of Kinnickinnic, Lincoln, and Howell Avenues, this eclectic café and bar serves up creative variations on the usual brunch theme, including a selection of sandwiches, pancakes, French toast, and a selection of scrambled egg dishes.

We hopped on over to Cafe LuLu with friends last Sunday. It had been a hectic weekend, and we were really looking forward to some good old fashioned down time, a great bloody mary, and some delicious eats.

Our friends Al and Karrie arrived first, and they were seated immediately at one of the high top tables toward the front of the restaurant.  By the time Peef and I arrived, they’d both ordered and received their drinks – a bloody mary ($5) for Al, and a cup of coffee ($1.50) for Karrie. Peef also ordered a bloody mary and coffee, and I opted for a mimosa ($5) with my coffee.

The “bloodies” were thin but flavorful with plenty of Worcestershire, a prominent pickle flavor, and a hint of spice. They came garnished with a full skewer of veg, featuring two pickles, an olive, and a cherry tomato as well as a beer chaser. Although a mimosa isn’t usually my drink of choice, I quite enjoyed LuLu’s version of this classic cocktail. It had plenty of bright orange flavor and a pleasant sweetness. The drink also had plenty of sweet, juicy orange pulp – which might be a turn-off for those who don’t enjoy a bit of texture in their drinks.

We got a little distracted and spent too much time chatting over our drinks, so when our waitress, Betsy, came around to take orders, we weren’t exactly ready.   However, she was kind enough to overlook our indecisiveness and she patiently came back three times over the course of the next 20 minutes to check-in with us an make sure we weren’t feeling neglected.

Karrie, a vegetarian who prefers to avoid eggs, initially found herself a bit disappointed by the LuLu menu, which didn’t feature many vegetarian options. The fact that the menu also explicitly stated “no substitutions” meant that she had to avoid most of their brunch specials. After much deliberation, she decided upon the roasted vegetable pita ($7.25), which featured fresh seasonal vegetables (carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, red peppers, mushrooms, and onions) on a soft Greek style pita with cucumber sauce. When given the infamous choice between house-made chips or Asian slaw, Karrie opted for a full side of the slaw, which really delivered on flavor. Crisp cabbage, carrots, Chinese noodles, and peanuts were combined in a deliciously balanced toasted sesame dressing.  The vegetables in the pita were perfectly cooked – crisp tender and well seasoned.  Karrie commented that the sandwich was particularly deicious thanks to the “awesome” cucumber sauce.

Peef ordered the brunch burrito special ($8.00) – a flour tortilla stuffed to the brim with chorizo, black beans, onions, eggs and roasted poblano peppers. The burrito was served with a side of zesty salsa and sour cream, chive hashbrowns, and garnish of melon and orange.   Although the salsa was thin, it made a great sauce for topping the burrito, and the sour cream helped to balance out some of the heat.  Peef mentioned that, although his hashbrowns were good, he thought they could have used a bit more salt.

Al opted for the garden scramble ($7.00) – three eggs scrambled with roasted seasonal vegetables and topped with fresh goat cheese.  The scramble was served with crisp buttered toast and a side of chive hashbrowns.  The goat cheese was fresh and delicious, with a pleasant tang that paired nicely with the roasted vegetables.  Al would have liked the dish to have a bit more flavor overall, and probably a few more vegetables, but he enjoyed the dish and eagerly finished the entire plate full.

I ordered the LuLu Benedict ($8.50) – two poached eggs nestled into a bed of capicolla ham atop an English muffin and covered with house-made hollandaise. The benedict was served alongside a generous portion of chive hash browns.   The eggs were perfectly poached, and they were stellar combined with the slightly peppery capicolla and LuLu’s delicious hollandaise, which was spread generously over the top.  Unfortunately, the generous helping of hollandaise also covered my orange and melon slices… so, they lost a few points for presentation in my book.  In addition, although the chives in the hash browns were a nice touch, the potatoes themselves weren’t as crisp as I would have liked. Note to self – be sure to specify crispy hash browns next time.

Overall, we had a great time at Café LuLu.  Food was hot and fresh. Service was prompt and friendly. And it was the perfect place to relax after a long, stressful week.  We would caution those with food allergies or restrictions to be cautious about LuLu’s “no substitutions” policy, which can limit choices.  Nonetheless, at just under $14 a person, this was one lulu of a brunch.  And we’ll definitely be back again to sample more of their offerings. The bourbon almond French toast is definitely calling my name.

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

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

Café LuLu
 ****(very good)
2261 and 2265 South Howell Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53207
(414) 294-LULU 
Cafe Lu Lu on Urbanspoon

Brunch hours:
Sunday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Atmosphere: **** (very good)

Eclectic café featuring unique local art, hip furnishings, and a friendly vibe.

Food: ***1/2 (pretty good)

Food generally under-seasoned. Not a great selection for vegans or vegetarians who prefer to avoid eggs.

Service: ****(very good)
Our server was pleasant and attentive, and the food came out to the tables in a timely fashion.

Drinks: ***1/2 (pretty good)

LuLu gets points for affordability.

Price: ***** (awesome)

Around $14 a person, drinks included.