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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014

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In Dining

Cafe Hollander proves it can fill the void that Gil's has left. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

In Dining

Vintage bike models hang over diners' heads from the loft above. (PHOTO: Eron Laber of Front Room Photography )

Cafe Hollander proves itself a great new Milwaukee icon


Gil's Café was a Downer Avenue icon, known for its outdoor seating, coffee drinks, four-cheese pizza, and an unparalleled chicken Caesar sandwich, not to mention Gil Fest, the restaurant's own Milwaukee festival; so when Gil's closed their doors and made way for Café Hollander, 2608 N. Downer Ave., many Milwaukeeans mourned the end of an era.

Café Hollander, a creation of the Diablos Rojos group, maintained the integrity of the cream city brick building, and threw us a few memory bones in the form of coffee drinks, hearty breakfasts and for our more mature dining audience, a tribute to the Coffee Trader Potato Noshers ($8.50); a french fry meets nachos creation that won the hearts of many locals some 10-plus years ago.

Café Hollander features a split smoking and nonsmoking downstairs dining section, which offers a good selection of Belgian ales, and like the Bay View icons The Palm Tavern and Roman's Pub, offers these specialties in their brand appropriate glasses for that added panache.

Menu items are in a word, eclectic. This restaurant features two direct ends of the spectrum while almost entirely avoiding the middle ground; for example, diners can order baked pretzels ($3.50) or a filet mignon ($24.00); but most items at Hollander lean towards the more expensive side, with a trickle of Dutch influence throughout the menu.

Recent visits brought two entirely different experiences at Cafe Hollander. Sunday brunch brings with it a crowd of young families, college students, and young couples, to sample Belgian waffles, eggs Benedict and bloody marys. The restaurant is child friendly, as are the waffles; large thick Belgian classics ($6) dusted with powdered sugar or with a variety of toppings from fruit ($7-$8), to onions and bacon ($8.50), to Guinness stout ($9.50).

The Hollander brunch special ($9) paired one of these waffles with shaved ham, white cheddar cheese sauce, tomato and a fried egg for a hearty and delicious offering. Tuscan Benedict ($9.50) served with prosciutto, asparagus, and white truffle hollandaise was the only disappointment to an otherwise above par brunch; the dish had sat too long, making it cold and congealing the hollandaise leaving it bitter and inedible.

Weekday dinner at Café Hollander brought with it a crowd of more mature diners, likely stopping for a visit before a show at the Downer Theater or a book reading at the nearby Harry W. Schwartz. With such a diverse menu, we spent a lot of time deciding what to order before settling on several items from acrossed the board. Curried mussels ($10.50) were delightful in a rich curry cream sauce served with a crusty baguette. Belgian burger sliders ($8.50) were overcharred and bitter, and were surprising served with mixed baby greens. A cup of Dutch split pea soup ($3.50) was thick, creamy and delicious, and a bowl would be equally satisfying as a meal.

Café Hollander's lunch and dinner menu features entrees in the $18-$24 range, and sandwiches in the $8-$10 range, and on our most recent visit, we opted for the sandwiches. Blackberry turkey ($9.00) was the enticing combination of turkey breast with blackberry jam, gruyere cheese, and hot giardineira served with a side of the house specialty patat frites (french fries). A Belgian Dip ($9.50) added smoked gouda cheese and ale braised onions to the classic sandwich. Both sandwiches were good, but overwhelmed by their baguettes; the actual slice of baguette was only filled with meat to the half way point, leaving the diner with another half of sandwich that was comprised of cheese, bread and spread. The French fries are crisp and lightly salted, and for 75 cents, you can choose one of their 18 sauces including spicy Thai peanut and curry ketchup.

Café Hollander shines in ways that will easily make it a new Milwaukee icon, and a place where former Gil's fans and new patrons alike can feel comfortable and well served. Service here is exceptional, and the space lends itself well to either dining or just stopping by for a Belgian ale or a glass of wine before a show. Outdoor seating will make this an even greater dining option for both students and Downer avenue area residents for many years to come.


Talkbacks

lexor | July 19, 2007 at 10:33 a.m. (report)

having heard a few less than glowing reviews of this place, i was a bit wary of eating there, but i thought it deserved a at least a try...i was wrong - it didn't. being owned by the same folks who run Troc, it comes as no surprise that the establishment is long on style but woefully short on substance. i attempt to order, "i'll have the filet mign....", waiter interrupts, "um, we're out of that, sorry.". me, "ok, then i guess i'll have the wild mushroom pappard...", waiter again interrupts, "i'm afraid we're out of that, too.". i try again, "well, i'll need a minute to look the menu over again, in the meantime, could you bring me a cup of the split pea soup?" guess what? yep, they're out of that as well. at this point i inform the waiter that we'll just finish our mussels and frites plate thingy and leave. the mussels tasted old, the broth pretty much tasted like warm water, no flavor, no seasoning. the frites? soggy, room temperature, not a grain of salt to be found in the whole order. nice mustard aioli: tasted pretty much like, well, straight up mustard. ailoi, by definition, has garlic in it; throw mustard in it if you like, but if i can't taste the garlic, it's just mayo. add this to the long and ever lengthening list of Milwaukee restaurants that will never get another dime from me. to sum up - apparently the kitchen staff know neither how to cook nor how to stock a kitchen - i swear there are only about three chefs in this city who know their ABCs, and that's sad.

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TomSellecksMustache | June 10, 2007 at 7:53 a.m. (report)

Even after reading the slew of negative comments on this place, I decided to meet up with some friends and form my own opinion. We arrived right around 9pm Saturday and were seated immediately. When finally settled at our table for five I quickly noticed the full bar and the wide screen TV in the smoking section. A nice touch. The beer menu offered many options. I have to say the person who said this aspect of the menu was expensive is mistaken. Maybe they were looking for cheap bottled domestic swill, but a Guinness was only $5 and it was not alone at that price. Sure, there are quite a few more pricey selections but there is plenty to choose from at the $5 to $6 range. I had the eggplant panini and it was quite good. My other dining companions had the Proscuito delight, the Mussels in Steamed Ale and another sandwich which I believe was chicken based which everyone loved but I did not catch the name. Our server was prompt and attentive, although once she did forget a beer refill whilst remembering to bring back a new martini to our table. All in all a fine dining experience. Our tab between five people including eight beers and two martinis was approximately $130, including five entrees and one appetizer of fries ($4!). It was a fine evening that everyone enjoyed.

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DavidOtto | March 23, 2007 at 9:24 p.m. (report)

This place has the WORST FOOD and THE WORST SERVICE I have been there three times and have been under whelmed and extremely disappointed every time. I ordered a dish if fries, peanut sauce and mayo, the portions were sickening to say the least, at least 2 cup of mayo was sloped on my plate and the amount of fries made me lose my appetite. I left with out taking a bite. DISGUSTING, HORABLE are the only words for that place.

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yucky. | March 8, 2007 at 5:07 p.m. (report)

Oh, man. The food was terrible. Sandwiches were so hard and greasy we couldn't get past the first bite. Fries were good but too soft and greasy to even campare to real frites. Beer selection is great but so expensive. I wouldn't recommend this place to anyone...was a disappointment.

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jmhummel | March 3, 2007 at 11:17 a.m. (report)

Service here is exceptional?! Unfortunatley, I took my parents here after being fooled by ordering seemingly the only good thing on the menu (Belgian dip) my first visit here. We liked Trocadero, so we figured we'd like this place....I would have to echo the sentiments of not impressed on this one...The only thing worse than sitting at your table being ignored while your food is in plain view congealing under heat lamps in the kitchen is actually getting the food and it tasting...not good...My burger was a charred cold hockey puck, my mom's wild mushroom pizza was incredibly bland (good luck getting water to wash it down with!), and my dad's belgian dip was good as ususal. And note to owners: Belgian fries or 'frjtes' as they are called are supposed to be thin, well-done and crispy, almost like fried potato sticks. Pairing thick-cut soggy french fries with different types of mayo does not make them frjtes! As we were leaving, my dad said, "we should have just gone to Comet"....my thoughts exactly...

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