Sign in | Register now | Like us on FacebookLike Us | Follow us on TwitterFollow Us

Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014

Wed
Hi: 67
Lo: 51
Thu
Hi: 59
Lo: 51
Fri
Hi: 70
Lo: 62
Advertise on OnMilwaukee.com
Brew City served up a great plate of ribs.
Brew City served up a great plate of ribs.

Brew City: the end of an era

The legend of Brew City Barbecue comes to an ignoble end Thursday with the Mequon restaurant shutting its doors, most likely for the final time.

Dennis Eisenhauer, the current owner, notified employees on Wednesday that Thursday would be the last day. According to employees they were told that traffic at the restaurant wouldn't support the restaurant.

Brew City had an incredible history among Milwaukee bars and restaurants.

It was started in the mid-80s by legendary barman Tom Shepard and paved the way for the resurgence of Water Street as a mecca for revelers, cocktail hour and great barbecue. Shepard was a magic force in Milwaukee with successful restaurants throughout the area.

He modeled his ribs after those sold at Speed Queen, a legendary Milwaukee restaurant. They were Texas-style ribs, a little tough to the bone, not the fall off the bone so popular elsewhere in the area.

But tastes and time change lots of things and before long, financial problems forced Shepard to sell his Downtown location and move to a more serene location in Mequon.

That restaurant enjoyed minor success but never recreated the halcyon days of the Water Street spot.

Eisenhauer said Thursday morning that he just couldn't keep the place running after several bad months.

"November was about 50 percent from a normal November," he said. "Then the Christmas parties were much smaller, with so many companies laying people off. And that hurt a lot. We got to February and it was getting harder and harder to keep the doors open. It's a shame. I loved this place."

One of Milwaukee's best known and popular bartenders, he said he was going to spend a couple of weeks getting the place ready for the landlord to show, and then "I'm going to have to go get a job."

Have you tried La Merenda yet?
Have you tried La Merenda yet?

La Merenda: small plates, big tastes

I think you could make an argument that La Merenda is right at the
top of the list of restaurants where it's tough to get a reservation.

And I was reminded why Saturday night at dinner with friends. I had
some things to eat you can't get any where else (that I know of) and
they were prepared with the kind of love and attention to detail that
you might find in your own kitchen.

La Merenda is a tapas restaurant so the best way to enjoy it is for
your table to order a variety of small plates and share them.

The star for me was a duck confit crepe. Soft chive crepes with duck
and mushrooms and a rosemary cream sauce. It was out of this world,
and I learned that any kind of confit means something that is cooked
in its own fat.

Second place was patatas bravas y chorizo (which might mean "brave
potatoes with sausage"). This was fried chopped potatoes, tossed in a
spicy tomato sauce, served with a garlic aioli and with a piece of
chorizo sausage on top.

I was also reminded of the wonderful atmosphere that Peter Sandroni
has created. It resembles nothing so much as a big family dining room
with mismatched chairs and servers who move easily back and forth with
small plates destined for a table, more than just a person.

The other thing about La Merenda is that it doesn't cost an arm and a
leg to get this wonderful food. Even if you have wine you can get out
of the place for less than $100 a couple. If you don't drink, you are
probably under $75 and that is more than worth an experience like
this.

Looking for a new Friday night spot?
Looking for a new Friday night spot?

Oakcrest knows how to fry the fish

You know that old saying about finding good things right in your own backyard? Well, maybe there's not a saying like that, but there should be.

My wife and I have spent a lifetime driving all over hell and gone
looking for great fish fries. Neither one of us regularly eats much
fish, but the fish fry is something special. North and south, east and
west, we have traveled, finding some good, a little great and a lot of
"eh."

Then, in our own backyard, almost, we stumbled into the Oakcrest Tavern on Oakland and Capitol Drive. And it was a great and pleasant surprise.

Rick Schmidt of the famous Schmidt Brothers restaurant empire took over this space about five years ago, and it easily reflects why he's a consultant in demand for other people opening restaurants and bars.

I didn't have the fish fry, opting instead for the French onion soup
and an avocado and shrimp salad. The soup was outstanding and the cheese and croutons were actually broiled under a broiler, instead of just nuked like so many other places do.

The fish fry was truly something, since they obviously believe the
word fish is more important than the word fry. The batter was light
and didn't overwhelm the flavor of the fish, a rarity in the fish fry
world. Way too many places are proud of their batter while Oakcrest is proud of the fish.

The place is very comfortable and although it's crowded on a Friday night, the wait wasn't bad at all and the bar was a comfortable setting to enjoy that wait.

I just live a few blocks from Oakcrest and that's what I mean about
finding good things right in your own backyard.

Benji's: A mecca for corned beef.
Benji's: A mecca for corned beef.

A big beef with a recent review

Recently the dining columnist for the Journal Sentinel ran a long article about the best places for corned beef in Milwaukee.

I don't know who Carol Deptolla is, but she lost all credibility with me with just one article. Talk about your bombshell mistakes, this is a world class one.

She left out Benji's.

She mentioned a couple of good places, like McBob's and Jake's Deli. But for corned beef fans, there is no place as good as Benji's. Using a recipe from Werner Benjamin, the founder and former owner, this place has corned beef that, in my not so humble opinion, is as good or better than any I have had anywhere in the world.

Corned beef is hard to cook. It is easy for it to come out too hard or too soft. But once you get the corning process down, then the secret is in how you cook the brisket.

Benji's is without doubt the king of corned beef in Milwaukee. The late, great Ben Barkin, who brought the circus parade to Milwaukee and who was a co-owner of Jake's, often snuck away to grab the corned beef at Benji's.

Don't get me wrong. I love Jake's. And I think their pastrami is better than Benji's. But for corned beef there is only one place that Milwaukee can call great. And to miss it on a dining list just marks the writer as a pretender who doesn't know what she's talking about.