Cari Taylor-Carlson
Dining

City’s First Tequilaria Is Hot

And so is the food. Plus 160 different tequilas at Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria.

By - Aug 30th, 2018 03:58 pm
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Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Tequila, no surprise, stars at Milwaukee’s first and only tequilaria. With more or less 160 to choose from, plus another 20 varieties of mezcal, you can easily satisfy your craving for a shot or three at the recently opened Blue Bat Kitchen & Tequilaria.

The “Blue” in the name refers to the blue agave plant, the only source of tequila, while other varieties of agave produce the smoky-flavored mezcal. The “Bat” refers to the Greater Long-Nosed Bat, the primary pollinator of that blue agave plant. So, there you have it, in case you wondered, the short story behind the naming of this restaurant, formerly Water Buffalo, a member of Hospitality Democracy restaurant group which also includes Swig, Smoke Shack, Holey Moley, AJ Bombers and Onesto.

Salsa options. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Salsa options. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

If you’re a salsa freak, you’ll want to know something about the three colorful bottles that appear at your table before you slap a generous portion on your food. They come with clear labels, mild for Baby Bat, warm for Blazing Bat, and Hot for Bat Sh#t Crazy. Each, a blend of a peppers, salt, and vinegar, has its own personality. I offer a warning because my companions and I found the “warm” choice — the red one in the mid-range — unexpectedly lip-blistering hot, with more heat than the Bat Sh#t Crazy. That said, when used with discretion, all three will enrich the flavors of whatever you have on the plate.

From the kitchen, a brief menu features Snacks and Appetizers, Signature Bowls, Eclectic Street Tacos, and Salads. On two visits, friends and I had a meal from each of these categories.

In my opinion, it’s smart to follow a server’s recommendation, and I did just that when I ordered Fried Brussels Sprouts and Milwaukee Street Corn. For the record, both dishes were more like small plates meant to be shared, than single servings. The sprouts hit all the right notes with roasted crisp sprouts, crunchy pecans, bits of dried sweet mango, a sprinkle of soft cotija cheese, and good heat from the underlying layer of chipotle aioli, a playground of textures and flavors.

You don’t want to order the corn if you’re on a first date. It’s impossible to keep it off your face, but worth the effort when you dive into the bacon and the aioli that coats the corn which they roasted, and in some places, charred. Don’t look for street corn like this in Mexico; this is better, a fresh approach to a classic, truly a creative upgrade.

Eclectic defines the tacos we sampled, each with a twist on what’s possible to stuff inside a corn or flour tortilla. The Fried Green Tomatoes had a crisp shell and paired well with Nueske’s bacon; the beer-battered cod in the Baja, a perfect balance of cod and red cabbage slaw married to chipotle aioli; the Cajun, three juicy shrimp exceeded expectations based on dozens of shrimp tacos I’ve had in Mexico; the Curried Cauliflower with hummus and golden raisins a fiesta in the mouth; and the Portobello, with more of that roasted charred sweet corn and black beans, a good vegetarian option. If you wish, all the tacos can be turned into bowls with rice and rajas, roasted poblano chile strips.

We departed Mexico and headed to Cuba with the Cuban bowl. No regrets. At $15.00 it was pricey but the mountain of juicy pulled pork, and the bounty of crisp bacon made it a bargain at the price. Pickled cucumbers added a whisper of sweet acidity, while moist jasmine rice gave it heft. My companion noted the ingredients were arranged separately in the bowl, giving each a chance to shine. There are three more bowls to choose from: Korean Beef, Moroccan Cauliflower and Creole Shrimp.

From Salads, Chimichurri Chicken came to the table in a bowl so artfully arranged it was almost too pretty to eat. They grilled a large chicken breast, sliced it, centered it, and surrounded it with roasted corn, sliced avocado, red cabbage, blistered tomatoes and cilantro. Cilantro ranch dressing completed this still life in a bowl.

There’s another art display in the window, those 160 bottles, all colors and shapes, each beautiful in its unique presentation of the tequila, an impressive collection. Prices for shots range from $5.00 for Milagro Silver to $150.00 for Clase Azul Ultra, the black bottle in the window that looks like a pepper grinder. And yes, they occasionally sell a $150.00 shot. Our server told us recently a couple came in at 11:00 in the morning and ordered two shots. “They were celebrating,” he said. “That’s all they told me.”

Perhaps they followed up with some of those tasty eclectic tacos, because this is, after all, both a tequilaria and a kitchen.

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On The Menu

The Rundown

  • Location: 249 N. Water St.
  • Phone: 414-431-1133
  • Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Mon-Sat, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sun
  • Website: http://bluebatkitchen.com
  • UM Rating: 4 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)

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