Cari Taylor-Carlson

Canela Café Is Sweet Place for Breakfast

Downer Avenue space is lovely, menu is huge, with good food and exceptional service.

By - Mar 17th, 2023 10:26 am
Inside looking out at N. Downer Ave. Photo taken Jan. 13, 2023 by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Inside looking out at N. Downer Ave. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Ghosts of the former Coffee Trader on N. Downer Ave. greeted my companion and me at Canela Café. From 1974 until 1999, this beloved coffee shop/restaurant served locally roasted coffee and my favorite, the Ratatouille Omelet. The omelet is long gone, but the restaurant space looks mainly the same with beamed ceilings, large windows to the world on Downer, and those luscious Cream City brick walls that line the north side of the restaurant.

In later years The Original Pancake House had been located in this space, but it closed in 2021 and after some seven months Canela opened here, under owners Dina and Ray Awadallah – who had gotten experience working at El Beso Mexican restaurant in Greenfield and the Mad Rooster Cafe on 44th and Greenfield Ave.

Before opening Canela, they added a display of large contemporary art pieces to liven the brick walls and replaced the wood floor with neutral-colored tiles. Together they give the space a bright upscale and inviting ambience.

Thanks to our 11:00 reservation on a very busy Sunday morning, we were immediately seated by a friendly and efficient server. Because we let her know we were headed to the theater, our meals were delivered in a timely manner, but not before we enjoyed Classic Mimosas from a list of five choices.

If we had come on a Tuesday or Thursday, we could have enjoyed the Two for One Special on Mimosas, not a wise decision when continuing on to the theater, but good to know. In addition to the Classic, you can order the Hawaiian Mimosa with champagne, pineapple juice, coconut rum and grenadine, the Cranberry, the Tropical with peach schnapps, or the Tequila Sunrise made with Blanco tequila instead of champagne. Bottled beer and wine by the glass from Portugal are also available.

You will need a few minutes to choose an entree from the lengthy menu that appears to include every brunch option that currently exists in the brunch world in Milwaukee. However, under the category Originals and Classics I found a surprise, Shakshuka, a Moroccan dish not often, if ever, found on local menus. Two once-over-easy eggs topped a spicy tomato-onion-pepper sauce along with crumbled feta and cilantro. It was served with warm naan, an ideal receptacle for scooping the eggs and the sauce. It was an unexpected treat.

The Wild Berry Crunch Pancakes had granola baked into the batter and yes, they crunched. Three fat pancakes were topped with strawberry cream sauce, blackberries, and strawberries. With all that sweet deliciousness, the accompanying maple syrup was superfluous.

The Santa Fe Bowl, a relatively healthy choice, was a bowl filled with crispy breakfast potatoes, chicken chorizo, grilled jalapeno, tomatoes, cheese, and two once-over-easy eggs. It was a tasty potpourri of complementary and contrasting flavors with good heat from the jalapenos.

Several days later, I made another visit, and a companion’s Chicken and Waffles combined a slightly sweet Belgian waffle with spicy heat in the Southern fried chicken breast. The sweetness in the waffle balanced the heat in the chicken and satisfied my spice-adverse companion.

The menu at Canela is designed with breakfast and brunch in mind, but there are a few lunch choices, mainly salads and sandwiches. The Bangin’ Burger is one of the sandwiches, a burger piled with grilled jalapenos, two thick slices of bacon, American cheese, pepper jack cheese, and an over-easy egg. To add more flavor, or perhaps to gild the lily, a smear of chipotle sauce was added to the toasted brioche bun. To say it was a mouthful would be an understatement. I ate it with a fork. It was served with Crispy Breakfast Potatoes, not the usual medium-sized portion, but a bowl full, enough to serve at least four and still have leftovers for dinner. They were, as advertised, crispy.

Canela has something on their extensive menu to please everyone from Chunky Monkey Pancakes to Breakfast Bowls, Banana Crunch Oatmeal to a Classic Eggs Benedict. If you want something unique, you can order a New York strip with your eggs, Chilaquiles Verde, or the delicious Moroccan Shakshuka. Canela is a neighborhood place that anyone in town can enjoy, with good coffee, good food, and exceptional service.

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