La Masa Is Empanada Heaven
During Happy Hour some are just $2 -- and damn tasty -- with $2 off tap drinks.
My grandparents immigrated to Milwaukee from Ecuador in the 1950s. When they arrived my grandfather encouraged my grandmother to abandon her culinary tradition and learn the local cuisine. She never let go of her Spanish father’s paella recipe, which I adored, but for the most part she cooked German-American food. It wasn’t until later in her life, when my cousin started cooking Latin American food, that my grandmother returned to her roots. My favorite dish from this period was her empanadas, which she made both savory and sweet.
You can imagine my excitement when I learned that an empanada bar would be replacing the World of Beer franchise on Brady Street and Arlington. I ventured to Brady Street earlier this week in search of a happy hour to include in this column, given that this Saturday Brady Street hosts Milwaukee’s longest running neighborhood street festival. Since 1970 the Lower East Side main drag has shut down for traffic and comes alive with music, vendors, and all kinds of festival fare.
Brady Street Festival 2016 will feature BMX bicycles, the Milwaukee Flyers Tumbling Team, pro wrestling, arts, crafts, craft beer, wine, and more. One of my favorite local rock bands, Canopies, who have been very quiet lately, will play the main stage at 7 p.m., as well as festival favorites New Boyz Club, Foreign Goods, Bo Triplex and his Beautiful Band, and D’Amato. Other Milwaukee staples like The Sounds of Time, Devil Met Contention, and The Pukes will play. Even Madison’s Faux Faun will get in on the fun. The all-day celebration will also feature the triumphant return of Fuzzy Logic’s party in the alley outside Rochambo.
Considering I’ve already written up the Nomad, Balzac, Hi Hat Lounge and the Garage, Bosley on Brady, and nearby Zaffiro’s Pizza, there aren’t too many happy hour options still left to cover . I’d always wanted to try La Masa Empanada Bar, and to my surprise, it has a happy hour, and a damn fine one to boot.
La Masa is the rare place in town where I’ve found James Beard- awarded chef Justin Aprahamian’s Like Minds beer on tap. The beer in question is his Intelligentsia Imperial Coffee Stout, an incredibly smooth and potent ale. A good place to try it, while we wait for Like Minds’ triumphant return to Milwaukee in the form of a brew pub that will soon open two blocks north of Brady Street in what used to be The Hamilton. La Masa also has Boulder’s Nitro Mojo IPA on tap, which is my favorite nitro IPA on the market. They are also one of the few places I’ve found Door County’s Island Orchard cider on tap, this one being a pear variety. All told, half of the taps were Wisconsin beers.
The $2 happy hour empanadas rotate daily and include 3-4 options. I first tried the Argentinian beef, a staple of their menu, which has seasoned beef, green olives, raisins, crushed chillies and hardboiled egg. The mushroom truffle parmesan empanada is actually their best seller. The three-mushroom blend with white truffle oil and shaved parmesan is great, but my favorite was the spicy potato and peanut (potato, peanuts, leek, Serrano Chile, tomato and roasted pepper). When I return I’ll be sure to try the Wisco Corn and Carnitas Verde.
Each empanada is regularly $3 or $4, and if you order a dozen or more you get $5 off. They come with chimichurri, an aji amarillo aioli or a smoky blue sauce. What impressed me the most was the house jicama slaw. The rest of the menu includes snacks, unique, fruit-filled salads, and sandwiches. They also have two dessert empanadas. Each week they have new empanadas they are trying out; just ask your server.
Even if empanadas aren’t your thing, the tap cocktails are worth a trip to La Masa. The Mula is infused with real ginger and is far superior version of the classic Moscow Mule. The Caipirinha uses Brazilian rum instead of the usual Puerto Rican rum and is topped with a hard rock candy. The house sangria is well-balanced. White sangria will be going on tap this weekend. Though they aren’t on the menu, La Masa also offer pisco sours, micheladas, and Fernet and coke, Argentina’s most popular drink. Naturally, they have three different malbecs. The rest of the wine menu includes seven whites, eight reds, four rosés, and four sparkling. They also have about 20 bottles and cans, with import, domestic and craft options.
The atmosphere at La Masa is bright and cheerful. Latin American music was playing during my visit. Right on top of the bar they have these interesting lights, perfect for a writer jotting stuff down in his notebook. There are three medium-sized TVs for the casual sports fan. Behind the bar they have a nice collection of framed vintage Brady Street Festival posters. Speaking of the festival, on Saturday La Masa will have a tent outside selling three empanadas, sangria and cocktails.