Cari Taylor-Carlson

Ouzo Café Is Classic Greek Fare

Downtown restaurant has authentic cuisine in big and small plates.

By - May 23rd, 2024 10:27 am
Ouzo Café. Photo taken March 18, 2024 by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Ouzo Café. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Romantic music playing in the background and scenic vistas of Greek coastlines will transport you to another place where the sun seems to always shine and life moves at a leisurely pace. This is Ouzo Café, a cozy café with dark wooden tables attractively set with white napkins and water goblets. As soon as you are seated you will be served a complementary bread basket along with a small dish of olive oil. The warm crusty bread was a fine way for friends and I to start our meal in this small Milwaukee Street café that’s been serving food in Milwaukee’s East Town for some 20 years.

You will notice many Small Plates on the menu, some you could call a meal and others that appear more appropriate as shareables. In the latter category are the dips, such as Hummus, Basil Pesto Hummus, Tirokafteri, a roasted red pepper dip, and Tzatziki, a yogurt-garlic dip. Each dip is served with freshly baked pita dusted with oregano.

Other Small Plates included Zucchini Fritters and Tomato Fritters. Both dishes featured two fritters covered with semi-melted feta cheese. The fritters, served on beds of pea tendrils, were crunchy, crisp, and spicy from red pepper in the mix, and enough for a tasty light meal.

Sandwiches and Burgers include a Gyro, of course, Chicken, Beef, or Shrimp Souvlaki, Falafel, a Veggie Gyro made with Hummus, an Impossible Burger, also for vegetarians, and the Ouzo Burger, topped with cheese, onion, tomato, bacon and an egg. Whew! The Beef Souvlaki, grilled sirloin on pita, had large chunks of tender steak that hinted of lemon from a marinade. The accompanying fries were especially tasty, thin, gently salted, and not a bit greasy.

The Daily Soup, Avgolemono, a classic Greek soup made with chicken broth, egg, rice and lemon, had a powerful lemon flavor and it was a refreshing contrast to the spicy fritters. It came with a plate of warm pita that friends and I dipped in our soup.

Another Small Plate that could also serve as a light meal was the Triopita. For this dish, the chef mixed ricotta and feta, stuffed it in triangular shapes made with phyllo dough, and baked them until the cheeses were melted. Then more feta was sprinkled on top of four creamy, tart, silky bundles of crisp phyllo.

Turn the menu over and you will see the entrees. Here is where you find the traditional Greek specialties: Dolmades, stuffed grape leaves; Athenian Chicken roasted with Greek potatoes; Pastitsio, pasta with ground beef topped with bechamel sauce; and the entrees my companions and I ordered, Spanakopita and Moussaka.

The Spanakopita, phyllo dough served with rice pilaf, was topped with more than a handful of feta and a sprinkle of fresh dill. The phyllo was crisp and filled with a generous amount of healthy spinach and feta. The Moussaka, a seasoned mix of ground beef, was layered with eggplant and sliced potatoes, topped with bechamel sauce, and served with rice, pita, a lemon-flavored sauce, and of course, more feta. It was rich from the bechamel and combined the flavors you would find in a cliffside café on a Greek Island overlooking the Aegean Sea.

For a sweet finale, a small slice of Baklava hit the spot for my companions and me. It was served warm with buttery honey oozing between multiple layers of phyllo. Your sticky fingers will be a small price to pay for this sweet complement to the rest of your meal. Also on the dessert menu, you will see the unpronounceable Galaktoboureko, custard baked in phyllo with syrup, Ekmek Kataifi, dough layered with vanilla custard and covered with whipped cream, and Mosaiko, chocolate cake mixed with crushed biscuits.

If you long for a taste of Greece served in a small café, come Downtown for a meal at Ouzo where everything on the menu is classic Greek cuisine.

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