Restaurateurs Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro have brought us some classic Milwaukee eateries over the years: Fuel Café in Riverwest, Comet Café, Hi Hat and Balzac on the East Side, and Palomino in Bay View.
Their latest venture, HoneyPie Café at 2643 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue, was established in 2009 with partners, brother-and-sister team Adam and Val Lucks. Adam Lucks also partnered with them in Comet Café and is the executive chef there and at HoneyPie. Knowing how much we enjoy Comet Café, an environmentally conscious friend recommended HoneyPie.
Its mission, as stated on their web site, is “to make great, Midwestern-inspired food from scratch.”
They use as many local meats, produce and other ingredients as they can. Nice!
If you blink while driving past too quickly on KK Avenue, you’ll miss it. The small restaurant has a cramped inside dining area with an outside patio hidden out back. The interior is a kitschy hodgepodge of antique ceramics, old books, green plants, antique and newer wall hangings, and a grotesque array of deer heads and other hunting trophies. Each table has a box of Trivial Pursuit game question-cards for waiting guests, but the astoundingly quick service insures that they do not wait long.
The breakfast selections range from $6 to $7 and are of the sort typically served in all parts of the United States, like eggs and French toast. The Saturday and Sunday brunch menu is a little more out-of-bounds of typical Midwest, with choices like “The Contender” (sausage, sweet potatoes, eggs, cheese rolled into a tortilla topped with salsa, sour cream and cilantro) for $9.50, and the “Southern Gentleman” for $13, composed of a chicken-fried pork chop on breakfast potatoes smothered in sausage gravy with two eggs and toast on the side.
The brunch selections, incidentally, are the only things served until 3 P.M. Sundays.
Looking for the Midwestern-inspired food, we find the appetizers: homemade bread, fried potato skins, a cheese plate, French fries topped with BBQ pork, and “beef and bean chicken chili.” Appetizers go for between $3 and $9.
But we think that’s where the Midwest inspiration ends, as the rest of the menu echoes the same kitschy hodgepodge that surrounds the diners inside. This, in fact, made for a very nice and unexpected diversion. Sandwich selections include the “U-Boat” (Pastrami, gruyere, veggies and pepper oil on toasted rye), the “Turkulator” (now, what on earth could be in that?), the “Composter” (all veggies, cheese and dill sauce on toasted rye), and a BLT made with duck-breast meat. Sandwiches cost between $8.50 and $10.
Moving on from the boring-sounding Midwestern inspiration, “Other Delicious Things” include a tantalizingly decadent dish called “Fancy Mac” which is topped with toasted bread crumbs and julienne strips of fried bacon (we have a winner!) for $10. The British-inspired Cornish pasty ($7), authentically Midwest by way of the Upper Peninsula, has a delicate, flaky crust and a filling that changes on a daily basis. Brilliant!
The first thing Mrs. M. got was a glass of uniquely smooth and citrusy South African Chardonnay, unlike any she’s had before, for $6. She couldn’t resist pairing that with the chicken curry salad for $9, which she discovered buried in the middle of the sandwich list (it did say “served on wheat bread,” but it was more a substantial salad than a sandwich). You might be thinking, “Oh, great! Another boring chicken curry salad with McCormick’s curry powder!” But this was no ordinary chicken curry. The creamy dressing was light, sweet and delicate, but very much in the tradition of authentic, Indian curry.
Mrs. M. is a huge curry aficionado, so you can take her word that it was delicious and out of the ordinary.
Mr. M. tried the Cornish pasty du jour and the decadent Fancy Mac. This day’s pasty choices were an intriguing creamy sweet-potato-and-tuber filled pasty (vegan) or a succulent-sounding chicken, bacon & Swiss cheese version (meat lover’s). Good God – pass the pasty! As usual lately, Mr. M had to take half of each item home because he ordered too much.
Desserts vary from day to day. During our visit, they included a number of cream pies and cupcakes. We shared an order of fluffy, sweet, sky-high vanilla cream pie for $4.50. Amen. This restaurant also provides a strong selection of vegetarian and vegan options across the board.
We encourage everyone to support good restaurants that support local farmers, dairies and food cooperatives, like HoneyPie. So what are you waiting for?
HoneyPie Café, 2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee, (414) 489-7437. Major credit cards accepted. No reservations accepted.
P.S. When we think of Midwestern-inspired food, something like the following recipe comes to mind:
Sunday-Supper Chicken Casserole
1 large red onion
1½ pounds red potatoes
1 to 1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
16 oz. baby carrots
8 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 can (10¾ oz.) condensed “golden mushroom” soup
½ cup sour cream
Oil (to brown the chicken)
Preheat oven to 350º F.
Rinse the chicken breasts under cold, running water, pat them dry with paper towels; sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, then brown them in oil in a skillet on the stove over medium-high heat.
Cut the onions and potatoes into 2-inch cubes (we zap the onions, potatoes and carrots in the microwave about 1½ – 2 minutes to soften them up a little). Arrange the chicken and vegetables in a suitably-sized baking dish. Combine the soup and sour cream, then pour over top. Cover the baking dish (if you don’t have a lid for it, then tightly cover it with aluminum foil), and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, stir and bake another 20 minutes, uncovered. Makes two servings.
Enjoy (and be sure to buy locally)!