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In Dining

Fuel Cafe's food items range from $3.95 to $6.95. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining

Sandwiches and paninis are staples on the Fuel's menu. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

In Dining

The Fuel Cafe is a Center Street anchor. (PHOTO: Whitney Teska )

Fuel Café green lights a brand new menu


In 1993, Milwaukeeans knew about the Pacific Northwest's cafe revolution, but it wasn't until Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro opened Fuel Café that we got to taste caffeine culture in Brew City for the first time.

In the past 15 years, Fuel Café made a big impact on the local coffee scene and hipster culture in general, from its notorious neon window sign that unapologetically states "Killer Coffee, Lousy Service," to the recognizable logo, to its creative menu with infamous items like the insanely caffeinated Kevorkian Crush coffee drink and The Buttafuoco – a hot, cheesy sub named after Joey Buttafuoco, who made headlines in 1992 after his 16-year-old lover shot his wife in the face.

Earlier this year, Fuel underwent a major change and banned smoking. Recently, the Riverwest coffee shop switched gears again, this time on its food offerings.

"We had the same menu for 15 years, so we decided it was time to change it," says Fuel manager, Katie Johnson, who has worked at the Fuel for 11 years and is not related to owner Scott Johnson.

Because of the small kitchen, Fuel's menu is limited to relatively low-prep food items. Sandwiches continue to be Fuel's bread and butter, and now, paninis are a menu staple, too.

On a recent visit, I sampled the pesto melt panini ($6.25) and the sloppy salami panini ($6.95). Both sandwiches were grilled to perfection and not at all greasy. The salami sandwich was indeed super sloppy and could have been even a little spicier. It came with a delicious dipping sauce called red pepper aioli, but because of the aforementioned sloppiness, it really didn't need the extra sauce.

The pesto panini, however, was well complemented by the ailio, and had an impressive amount of pesto on it which tasted very fresh.

Both sandwiches came with a pickle and El Rey chips. The panini portion size is ideal: hearty but not walk-away-with-a-gut-ache huge.

Later, I sampled the spaghettini, "an entire Italian dinner in one sandwich" made with noodles, marinara, meatballs (veggie "meatballs" coming soon) and mozzarella cheese grilled on a sub roll. It was flavorful and unique, despite the starch overload.

I was tempted by the tacon, which is a sub sandwich piled with turkey bacon, sliced green apple, cucumbers, cheddar, lettuce and mayo.

The cheesy artichoke sandwich was reinvented for the new menu as a panini. Unfortunately, the classic hippie hoagie sandwich did not make the cut.

"But we'll make it if someone asks for it," says Johnson.

Luckily, the cheesy tomato sandwich in all of its gooey glory remains on the menu, along with the aforemention Buttafuoco and the popular wasabi veggie melt. Plus, Fuel still offers its weekend chili that's different every week, but consistently good.

Also, the new menu features Mexican food items again. For a while, Fuel discontinued its Mexican eats, but now offers a bean burrito ($6), super burrito ($6.50) and quesadillas ($5.75-5.95).

The quesadillas are arguably the most kid-friendly item on the menu, which is worth noting because since the non-smoking ban, more families dine at Fuel. The laid-back attitude and the gumball machines assist in the kid-friendliness.

Fuel owners Johnson and Montemurro also own Comet Café, 1947 N. Farwell Ave., and a few of the Comet's top menu items are now on the new Fuel menu, including the vegan supreme ($6.50), a VLT with cucumbers, sliced apple and a spread of Sriracha (chili paste) or red pepper aioli.

Johnson makes most of the spreads herself. She says the new menu is a culmination of Montemurro's ideas and her bad eating habits.

"I eat like a 4-year-old kid left home alone," says Johnson.

Fuel's menu continues to offer breakfast items including bagels, ham and cheese or fruit croissants, a granola parfait and a continental breakfast featuring a croissant or French roll with Laughing Cow jam, sliced Swiss cheese and apples.

"The menu will continue to evolve," says Johnson. "It's really coming around."


Talkbacks

littlelamb | July 30, 2008 at 12:32 a.m. (report)

I love, love, love Fuel. I would like to EAT there more but the offerings are a true indulgence for me. I would love to see a few items that aren't so carb ladden. It prevents me from eating there more regularly. Everyone there is so nice. No attitude. Too bad it's just coffee and tea for me.

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college_dave | July 29, 2008 at 11:37 a.m. (report)

Sounds good. I look forward to checking it out.

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brewcitymarcus | July 29, 2008 at 10:46 a.m. (report)

Bravo to the Fuel for growing up with us & the neighborhood. Where we once went as kids is now a place to bring our kids. Thanks!

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Z_boy | July 29, 2008 at 7:41 a.m. (report)

It's such a simple item, but I really love that bean burrito. It was taken off the menu for a while, but it's back -- and I couldn't be more thrilled. Also, going no smoking has been utter genius. If Scott and Leslie are reading this, THANK YOU for eliminating tobacco smoke from The Fuel. I'm here all the time now; it's such a treat.

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