Jeffrey Merlot
Mr. and Mrs. M

Avant-garde Allium

By - Nov 4th, 2011 04:00 am
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Allium is the latest eatery to occupy the don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it corner space of the decorative, low-profile building at 2101 N. Prospect Avenue. that used to be called Café Brücke. The owners changed the name but not the style or the eclectic but simple menu with its broad spectrum of offerings. At first glance, one wonders what the heck is going on inside the place and its menu. The interior is quite small and cramped (we would say it’s small and “cozy,” but “cramped” is a better description).

Upon entering, what immediately catches the eye is a huge Wisconsin historic marker-sign about beer that dominates a towering bar display. Allium has an outstanding collection of imported beer. A variety of interesting, original artworks are displayed on the walls. And then there’s what lays below it all: Worn-out, dingy-dark carpeting that looks better suited for covering the floor of a greasy-spoon diner than a trendy, East-Side café. The mismatched diner-style chairs add to that feeling. But, still, the place has character and it charmed Mrs. M.

On to the menu:  Mr. M. appreciated the big, bold font because he left his glasses at home. But the oddly flickering, arbitrarily dimming lights hanging above us made it just as hard to read at times. Appetizers regularly offered run between $3.50 and $8.50, and include hummus infused with red pepper, served with assorted bread and crackers ($5.50), a Cheese Plate featuring assorted cheese served with fresh fruit, bread and crackers for $8, Pretzel Sticks served with a selection of mustards ($2), and “The Nutty” – chicken paté with walnuts and pecans, served with assorted bread and crackers ($6). We started our meal with the small charcuterie platter, featuring an assortment of European cold-cuts, olives, cornichons (little French pickles) and slices of various types of bread. It was delicious and, for $9, it was the best thing we had that evening.

Handmade soup costs $2.75 by the cup or $3.75 by the bowl. Sandwiches offered include, among others, a vegetarian option made of roasted red pepper, tomato, cucumber, red onion and field greens with melted gouda and pesto-mayo for $6, a grilled cheese with bacon and tomato on foccacia ($5.50), the “Deutschlander” with Usinger’s braunschweiger, limburger and red onion on rye bread ($7), their version of a croque monsieur with turkey or ham ($5.50), and the “Green & Blue,” which is toasted bread, bleu cheese and green apple with field greens and walnut drizzle vinaigrette ($7).

Salads range from a simple house salad made of mixed greens, fresh vegetables and choice of dressing ($5.00) to one they call “It’s Easy Being Green” with pesto-covered chicken and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette served over mixed greens ($8). Dessert choices include a Crepe du Jour ($5.50).

Now, let’s see here – what haven’t we covered? Oh, yes! The entrées offered at Allium. With a couple of Duvel beers served European-style in Duvel glasses, we opted for a couple of the specials. Mrs. M. ordered what she thought she heard was a beef tart when, actually, it was a tart pastry filled with a mixture made primarily of beets which they served cold with a few leaves of lettuce splashed with simple vinaigrette ($8). The crust was light and tasty, but the dish went way too heavy on the beets to be served as an entrée, and it was not properly seasoned. It was a let-down.

Mr. M. couldn’t resist the meat lasagna with home-made pasta for $9 or the cup of onion soup for $4. Mr. M. caught it when the waitress called it “onion soup” served with croutons and melted cheese, and not “French onion soup,” though a French-style onion soup is typically served with croutons and melted cheese. So the fact that the onions were a completely-undercooked, blond texture and hue is neither here nor there. However, the fact that the soup was not seasoned at all counts as a strike. It was bland and lifeless.

The meat lasagna with homemade “pasta” was, simply put, not made with pasta (not any that could be seen or tasted). The dish came topped with a golden-brown pastry lid which was quite tasty, but not pasta. It was, in fact, quite difficult to discern that this was even a lasagna. The layering technique of meat, cheese and “pasta,” and the taste of the dish was more like Bulgarian Moussaka, but made with a pastry topping instead of a yogurt topping (see recipe below). And, again, the dish was bland and lifeless, completely wanting of seasoning.

On the plus side, we have to give high accolades to the very friendly, attentive service and the way the dishes were artfully presented. If you’re looking for a place where you can pop open your laptop and do some work in private while enjoying excellent imported beer and nibble on simple, but creative combinations of tasty European meats, cheese and bread, then Allium is the perfect place. As for treating a date out to dinner at Allium, there are far better choices in town.

Allium is located at 2101 North Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, find them on Facebook here

 

Bulgarian Moussaka Recipe (serves 4 – 6)

Meat, potatoes, tomatoes under a golden-browned topping – this is a great winter dish to serve for supper!

Ingredients:

1 pound ground beef

1 pound tomatoes, chopped (or a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomatoes)

3 lb. potatoes (about four big ones), peeled and diced

1 medium, white onion, diced

2 eggs, beaten

1/8 teaspoon (a pinch) of baking soda

16 ounces plain yogurt (plus a little extra for topping, if you want)

1 tablespoon flour

salt and ground, black pepper

garlic powder to taste

ground paprika to taste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Peel and dice the onion – brown the ground beef and onion in a large, deep frying pan over medium heat. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste. Peel and dice the potatoes while the seasoned meat and onions fry.

Mix together the diced potatoes, chopped tomatoes, and browned meat/onion in the skillet. Transfer to a 9” x 13″ casserole dish and bake in oven for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yogurt, eggs, baking soda, and flour in a separate dish (it’s alright to leave it sitting out while the casserole bakes).

After the potatoes begin to soften (about 45 min.), take it out of the oven and sprinkle with a good amount of salt, pepper and a little garlic powder. Pour the yogurt-egg mixture evenly over the casserole, spreading it evenly with a spoon or spatula. Next, sprinkle the yogurt-egg topping very lightly with a little paprika (for a nice appearance), place it back in the oven and continue to bake until top browns and potatoes are soft (about another 25 minutes).

Serve with additional yogurt, either on the side or as a topping for the dish. Season more to taste at the table.

Добър апетит! (Dobãr apetit)

Categories: Dining, Mr. and Mrs. M.

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