Gouda’s Charming Deli, Good Food
Great Italian atmosphere and good prices for lunch. Mangia!
If you live or work in the Third Ward, or, if like me, you find yourself in the neighborhood killing time while your car is getting an oil change, check out Gouda’s Italian Deli at 218 N. Water Street! Tucked away in the old Centanni Building on Water St., it’s a place I’m sure I’ve driven past a hundred times yet never noticed since it opened last September.
Stepping into Gouda’s is like a stroll into Italy. The colors of the Italian flag all over the shop’s exterior welcome visitors into a charming, Old-World interior cleverly put together by Milwaukee’s famous Flux Design, with deli meats hanging from the rafters. You can not only buy a sit-down lunch here, but choose from all kinds of Italian foodstuffs, like canned Italian tomatoes, pickled peppers, candies and other sweets, cheeses, a variety of pasta and pasta sauces (both in jars and made by the deli) and Italian soft drinks, waters and beers.
“Pesto Tuna Salad Melt” for $6.99 and “Mushroom Bisque” for $3 a cup on the sidewalk chalkboard outside is what caught my eye that day. I don’t normally care for basil pesto, but that was one of the best tuna melts I’ve ever had, made with pesto Gouda cheese with thick slices of fresh tomato on grilled Panini bread. I washed it down with a bottle Peroni beer and my bill totaled $10.60.
Other sandwiches featured on Gouda’s menu are the Luciano ($7.95) with Italian olive oil, tuna, tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil, and the Bugsy Moran ($6.95), with ham, Swiss cheese and olive spread. Gouda’s also serves paninis and build-your-own sandwiches with eight different meats, five different cheeses and 16 different toppings and extras to choose from.
Daily take-home specials are offered Monday through Thursday. Tuesday it’s beef spiedini for $16.99 per pound — breaded, rolled beef with sautéed onions, breading and provolone cheese. Now, that’s Italian! Sunday offers an old-Milwaukee classic, ham and rolls.
Everyday, you can get a “take ‘n’ bake” 9-inch pizza for only $5.99. You can choose from Margherita (the Italian classic pizza with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese and basil), pepperoni, spicy salami or sausage. And how about dessert? Cannoli are $2.25 each (mini cannoli for $1) and spumoni for $3.49 a pint. Have an espresso coffee with your dessert for $2.25!
But there is much more to this place than just a deli, it turns out. The owner wanted to show me something after I ate my sandwich. He guided me through a doorway that led into a hallway and what appeared to be antique elevator doors. He explained that, during prohibition, this building had a speakeasy on the second floor. He pushed or pulled some kind of switch or button that I couldn’t make out in the dark hallway, and the elevator doors swung slowly open to reveal that they are, in fact, a single, large door that leads into a sexy, secret piano bar with gorgeous, dark wood and a crystal chandelier hanging over a beautiful, black symphony piano. It’s now called Bugsy’s Back Alley Saloon and the folks from Flux Design did their number in here, too.
My guide then led me through the empty bar to the back where there is a bank vault door. He opened the vault door to reveal that it is actually an opening to a short passage which in turn leads to the building’s back door in the alley where a sign says “Gouda’s Italian Deli Delivery Entrance.” Ha! This bar is open to the public Monday through Friday from 5 pm to 2 am, and on Saturdays from 7 pm to 2:30 am, depending on how busy it is. And you don’t need to know a secret password or do some lame tricks on camera to get in. I’d like to try it some day, but meanwhile, I heartily recommend Gouda’s.
Gouda’s Italian Deli
218 N. Water Street
Accepts major credit cards and they deliver, too!
10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon-Fri, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun
Recipe for Spicy Italian Beef Sandwiches
Just enough for you and your significant other. This is actually an Italian-American recipe created by Italian immigrants for weddings and other large celebrations when they moved to America and found how affordable red meat was here. This recipe normally feeds dozens, but I engineered it down to only two servings. Mangia!
1½ teaspoons olive oil
¾ pound (12 ounces) chuck roast
Salt, ground, black pepper and granulated garlic powder, to taste
1 cup beef broth or bouillon
14 ounces canned, whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
4 ounces whole, hot yellow peppers (“pepperoncini” – about 12 of them), with ½ cup of their juice, stems removed
4 ounces whole cherry peppers (about 6 fat ones), drained and stems removed
1 – 2 ounces jarred pimentos, finely chopped (I buy one of the little 2-ounce jars)
Crushed red-pepper flakes, to taste
Bread rolls for serving (optional)
Preheat oven to 300° F.
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Season the chuck roast well on both sides with salt, pepper and garlic powder; sear it until well browned on both sides, about 1½ minutes per side. Remove roast from pot and set aside on a plate.
Reduce heat to medium. Pour in beef broth, whisking to scrape the bottom of the pot. Pour in crushed tomatoes, yellow peppers and their juice, the cherry peppers, pimentos and red-pepper flakes. Stir to combine, then add the roast back to the pot.
Place the lid on the saucepan and place it in the oven. Cook for 4 hours, or until meat is fork tender. If it’s not, return the pot to the oven for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until it’s falling apart. Alternative method: cook in a small (2-quart) slow-cooker on high heat 12 hours (you can prepare it the night before and start it before going to bed on low heat for next day’s supper).
Skim off any fat from the top. Remove the roast to a cutting board and use two forks to shred it up, then return the meat to the cooking liquid.
Serve in bread rolls or just piled on a plate with extra juice in dipping cups on the side.