Cari Taylor-Carlson
Dining

Comet Cafe Is a Milwaukee Classic

Comfort food with gourmet twists and big portions. Gotta love it.

By - Aug 16th, 2019 04:58 pm
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Comet Cafe. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Comet Cafe. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

If you’re hankering for some comfort food, come on down to the lower East Side, seat yourself at a table at Comet Cafe, preferably a clean table, as the management says, and dive into their extensive menu.

If it’s breakfast you want, come before 3:00 for pancakes, an omelet, or a Breakfast Burrito as big as a Volkswagen buried under ranchero sauce and sour cream. Meat lovers can add sausage for an additional $3.00 and call it a Beast Mode Burrito. Carnivores can also order The Stendler, corned beef with scrambled eggs, cheese, and hash browns, in a flour tortilla, or the Meatloaf Omelet with cheddar-jack, sautéed mushrooms, and onions. If you wish, you can go all veggie with the Veggie Omelet, or the Frankie Scramble with tofu, blistered peppers, collard greens, veggie sausage and mushroom gravy.

They do not serve fussy food at Comet. What they do serve are humongous portions of Mom’s home cooking in a retro hip café where tattoos are the norm. It’s a come-as-you-are, a Brady Street, lower East Side place to hang, where you can expect good value, good food and great people watching. As for the servers, friendly and efficient barely covers the extraordinary care they lavish on their customers.

Comet opened in 1995 and sometime after 2000, doubled its size, when the owners knocked down a wall and moved into the space formerly occupied by a forgotten Chinese restaurant. Sidewalk tables help cut the wait on summer weekends when the café gets busy.

They’re famous for their Classic Comet Meatloaf served with bacon-chive mashed and gravy. When I ordered it, I expected the usual bacon-wrapped slab of meat, but instead, I got a tower: sautéed salted rye bread topped with the meatloaf, the mashed, grilled tomatoes and onions. It sat in a puddle of beery gravy which kept everything moist and juicy. Order it, and you’ll know why it’s the café’s most revered dish.

My companion’s Compact Turkey Dinner defied convention. Deep-fried, beer-battered crusty balls filled with turkey, stuffing, and cheesy mashed potatoes, came in a bowl filled with turkey gravy. The accompanying blistered green beans, the perfect side for a Thanksgiving dinner, tasted infinitely more delicious than the classic Cream of Mushroom green bean casserole. All this compact dinner needed was cranberry sauce to add a tart edge to this nod to a holiday meal. The Café didn’t forget the vegans. They can substitute a veggie roast, vegan mashed and mushroom gravy.

Vegans and vegetarians will find many more options on Comet’s menu.  There’s a Vegan Gyro, a Tofu Banh Mi, an Artichoke Melt, Vegan Mac and Cheese, a luscious vegetarian Mac and Cheese and more. If it’s marked on the menu with two fingers, it can be converted to vegan using seitan or tofu. For a healthful drink to accompany all this healthy food, there’s the Rishi Turmeric Ginger Fizz, a concoction designed to head off whatever ails you. For the record, it tasted more like turmeric than ginger.

When I returned with a companion for another meal, we ordered sandwiches, the Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup, and the Charlie Melt. My companion, who considers himself a grilled cheese aficionado, declared that this could be the best-ever grilled cheese served in a restaurant in Milwaukee. Gooey, cheesy, buttery, with American, mozzarella and provolone spilling out of toasted sourdough, while two slices of thick-sliced bacon, an extra, added more than calories. Rich flavorful house-made tomato soup, a far cry from Campbells, completed this update on an old favorite.

The Charlie Melt raised the bar on what can be done with tuna in a sandwich. This was a distant cousin to an ordinary tuna melt. It was designed for the gourmand, the cousin with the finely tuned taste buds who appreciates a creative twist to an old standby. The chef combined chunky tuna with cheddar-jack, peppery arugula, sliced tomatoes, and banana peppers, stuffed the mix in between slices of multi-grain bread, and grilled it. For an additional buck, I ordered the Spicy Fries. They reminded me of potatoes seasoned with Lawry’s salt combined with chili powder for some spicy heat. Next time I’ll stay with the house hand-cut fries.

If you’re inclined toward dessert, you will find the daily cupcakes and pies listed on a menu at your table. Key Lime Pie, always an irresistible choice for me, had a buttery crunchy made-this-morning crust with a tart filling balanced by abundant, almost too much, slightly sweet whipped cream. According to our server, all the bakery is made in house daily.

When you’re in the mood for big portions of unfussy comfort food, it’s time for a visit to Comet. Bring your appetite and dig in. You might even leave with a few leftovers.

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