Cafe Vocar’s European Charm
The Riverwest restaurant features Eastern European comfort food that’s terrific.
One of the more appealing restaurants to open recently in Milwaukee is Café Vocar, located at 932 East Wright St. in Riverwest. It’s housed in a wonderful old building at the corner of Wright and Weil, built in the 1880s and serving at various times as a fruit store, a soda shop, a tavern and an apartment building, before its recent renovation. The atmosphere of the restaurant is tasteful and soothing, with off-white painted walls hung with local art (including a painting of Café Vocar itself), stylish wrought-iron ceiling fixtures, halogen lighting, simple slat chairs and the greeting “Zeveli” (“Cheers” or “Good Health”) stenciled above the front door.
When I ate there early on a recent Friday night the place was empty when I arrived, though on Valentine’s Day it was so crowded the friend who told me about it couldn’t get in. The menu is small, eclectic and inexpensive, consisting mostly of what might be called Eastern European comfort food. There’s a cheese burek appetizer ($5), along with mushroom crepes ($5), an ample portion of light and tender crepes filled with creamed mushrooms, which was one of the best dishes I’ve had anywhere in a long time. Entrees ($11-14) include several schnitzels, Hungarian goulash, a wild mushroom pasta and a couple of kinds of authentic Sicilian lasagnas.
I liked the idea of meatloaf schnitzel with spinach sauce, which turned out to be ground pork and beef lightly breaded and fried and served with perfect mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. I’m a great fan of creamed spinach, but you can usually only find it at steak houses (it’s a classic accompaniment to steak) and I’m glad to know it’s available here. The dish was nicely balanced and satisfying and the meatloaf schnitzel itself reminded me a bit of chicken fried steak, another favorite of mind.
There are two desserts ($5) at present, a peanut butter chocolate parfait and a crème brule, with a glob of dense chocolate underneath the burnt sugar cream. The restaurant’s most popular dish is the goulash, and the menu will gradually expand. Brunch will be served starting March 9, there will soon be new entrees, including grilled meats, and an outdoor patio will open when (and if) the weather warms up. There may eventually be a full liquor license, but right now there’s a small but very well chosen selection of wines and beers.
The restaurant is currently open for dinner only from Friday through Sunday, though service will soon expand to include Wednesday and Thursday. There are lots of restaurants on Milwaukee’s South Side that serve Eastern European cuisine, but very few north of Downtown. Café Vocar’s owner and chef Decek (he answers to other names too) Vocar started helping his mother, an amazing chef herself, cook when he was just four. His restaurant is an immensely likeable place: the location and building are picturesque, the dining room is comfortable and attractive, the ambiance (including a hip but melodious and subdued soundtrack) is relaxing, the staff and chef are friendly and helpful and the food is terrific. Give it a try.
Also by John Koethe: Where To Get a Great Burger and Martini