Cari Taylor-Carlson

Elsa’s Has a Unique Parisian Flair

Tasty, classic American food, good service, and such an elegant setting.

By - Jun 11th, 2023 10:32 am
Elsa's on the Park. Photo taken April 7, 2023 by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Elsa’s on the Park. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

“Life is short; eat dessert first,” is the first thing you see when you open the menu at Elsa’s on the Park, 833 N. Jefferson St. The list of desserts is enticing, but it might be best to wait until after your meal to order, given the portion sizes of the mains and the irresistible appetizers like the Galettes and Greens.

This plate is a shareable, especially if you order the large portion of this cracker-like flatbread which is totally covered with crisp Nueske’s bacon. There were also black olives and caramelized onions, but the bacon was the main event. The menu read “garnished” with a side salad, which was not quite accurate as the salad, and there was a lot of it, was hidden underneath the flatbread that covered the plate. The salad added a piquant contrast, creating a happy medley of salty bacon, tart vinaigrette, and sweet onions.

Water Chestnuts, another appetizer, also features Nueske’s bacon. This time the bacon is used to wrap the water chestnuts which the chef then places on a bed of sliced radishes and cucumbers. A side of honey finishes the dish.

My companion ordered the Burger Au Poivre because she remembered it from the last time she ate at Elsa’s. She had excavated that detail prior to our lunch from a journal entry she made in 1996. Twenty-seven years later, she said, “It’s the same burger with the same peppercorns and the burgundy-flavored sauce.”

Only the price had changed, of course, and this is worth a mention because at Elsa’s they include an 18% gratuity in the price you see on the menu. You have the option of adding more, and most do, our server confirmed. So that $16.00 burger listed on the menu includes about $3.00 in tip, meaning the dish itself is $13. A good deal at this restaurant where the service, the cuisine, and the ambiance, adds up to an impressive dining experience.

A meal at Elsa’s is like dining in Paris in a cosmopolitan setting from the 1880s. I checked online and learned Elsa’s is located inside what was originally Arnold and Quistorf’s Tavern which was built by the Schlitz Brewing Co. You know it’s special when you enter through the high glass doors and see fresh flowers on every table. In April, it was perky yellow tulips, a happy addition to the black and white décor. There’s a long bar with an impressive display of bottles for creating craft cocktails and Elsa’s well-known martini. Floor-to-ceiling white Corinthian columns act as dividers between the front and the back rooms. When we were there, a niche in the back room held a bouquet of red amaryllis and a magazine rack in case you are solo and need something to occupy your brain.

Elsa’s owner, Karl Kopp, the Kopp of Kopp’s Frozen Custard, is the son of Elsa Kopp. He opened Elsa’s in 1981 and named the restaurant in honor of his mother who passed in 2003. You will see Elsa’s Beet Salad on the menu, a combination of red and golden beets, served on arugula and tossed with lemon vinaigrette. It’s one of seven salads on the menu that also includes a Teriyaki Pork Salad, greens topped with a half-pound of meat, a long list of add-ons, blue cheese dressing, and your choice of a croissant or toast.

When I returned for a second lunch, our server recommended a pork sandwich. “Boneless pork is a house specialty,” he said. I went basic with the Pork Chop Sandwich, burnt onions, and a side of Grey Poupon. It was delicious, two tender chops served on a toasted bun, with a plate unexpectedly adorned with veggies and a slice of melon. The accompanying chips were house made as were the fries that came with the Burger Au Poivre.

My companion ordered the Grouper and gave it an unqualified rave. A large piece of fish was grilled in teriyaki butter, and presented on a bed of spinach with peppadew peppers and potatoes. Not only was it a beautiful plate with the red peppers and bright spinach greens, it was also a perfectly seasoned piece of grouper thanks to the teriyaki butter.

We finished with the dessert of our dreams, the World’s Smallest Turtle Sundae, a perfect ending when you know you can’t manage a full-sized dessert. This mini-sundae came in a tiny dish with a demitasse spoon, vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, caramel, six toasted pecan halves, and whipped cream.

Els’s main dishes include seven with pork, and five burgers, but not one chicken dish. The bird’s only appearance is on the list of appetizers, where you find Elsa’s famous Chicken Wings done four ways, including Buffalo Wings. But the restaurant does offer the Gary Stein Chicken Monday Menu that includes 10 chicken sandwiches, Chicken Salad, Teriyaki Chicken Salad, and, of course, Chicken Wings. Our server told us this came about after Gary Stein, a friend of Karl Kopp, requested a chicken dish. Soon afterwards, the Gary Stein Chicken Monday Menu appeared. I suspect that was an abbreviated version of a more juicy story.

My companions and I found Elsa’s delightful. It’s elegant without being pretentious. It’s comfortable, classy, and a downtown restaurant where you can expect tasty classic American food, competent service, and at the end of your meal, if you wish, you can indulge in the World’s Smallest Turtle Sundae.

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