By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Jan 30, 2019 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

What's in a restaurant? In this series, we ask chefs around the city to describe their restaurants in their own words and recommend three dishes that embody the best of what they offer. In this edition, we talk with Chef Francisco Sanchez of Sabrosa Cafe & Gallery.

Sabrosa Cafe & Gallery
3216 S. Howell Ave.
(312) 834-1929

It’s been about a year and a half since Sabrosa Cafe & Gallery opened in Bay View. So we caught up with Chef Francisco Sanchez to find out what’s new at the restaurant.

"I feel like I have a full idea of what Sabrosa is at this point. When we opened, we had a business plan, but we were very much coloring inside of the lines. But now we’ve moved on to the point that we’re really able to be creative."

Sanchez, who had open heart surgery just before the cafe opened in July 2017, says the experience impacted his perspective.

"I’m happy to be alive," he says.  "I’m happy to dig into the creative corners inside of me that I was afraid to touch. There’s something liberating about that.

"It was bred into me that you have to be perfect every day; but I had to release myself from the fear of falling. Restaurants are live theater, and life itself is a stage. But the show must go on. Even when things crack or break, we make it look cute and move on. ‘If you can’t fix it, 86 it’ is always what we say.

"I’m approaching this with the perspective that every day is an attempt toward perfection. And that’s allowed me to really get back to having those aha moments that have helped us to really look at the finer things… the tempo in the dining room … the level of service we’re providing to guests.

"When we opened, Ruben [Piirainen] and I merged all of our loves -- for food and art  and we really wanted to create a safe place … for everyone, where they felt welcome, no matter who they are … because they really are.

"We’re always being creative, and at this point, we’re also multifaceted. You should expect the unexpected when you come here. But at the same time, you can expect comforting, welcoming … delicious."

1. Winter vegetable pancakes

Spiced sweet potato pancakes with Brussels sprouts, tri-colored organic carrots, dried cherries, almonds, pecans and pepitas; served with poached eggs and honey hollandaise and topped with bacon, sliced apples, parmesan and balsamic glaze ($12).

"Initially this dish was captured as a harvest hash. But when the holidays came around, I pulled out a holiday spice blend and really rethought the dish. It began with the idea of creating something similar to potato pancakes. We pulled together Brussels sprouts and sweet potatoes, celery and carrots and added dried cherries, almonds, pepitas … then I hit it with our pancake mix as a binder. It’s beautiful and winter inspired."

2. Corned beef chilaquiles

Corned beef brisket scrambled with eggs and crispy tortilla strips; garnished with horseradish sauce and served with Oaxacan black beans ($16).

"We’re really playful with our food, We do a variety of versions of Eggs Benedict, changing out the bases. Right now we’re serving a fried green tomato benedict with ham steak, eggs and hollandaise with cheddar grits on the side. We do the same with chilaquiles; I serve barbacoa chilaquiles every weekend. But this is a take on it with corned beef. We use our own housemade corned brisket, which starts with a classic pickling mix, but it’s infused with my Mexican cooking influences. A little chipotle … a little guajillo and a dark beer."

2. Bacon jalapeno casserole

Shredded hash brown casserole baked with bourbon glazed bacon, fresh jalapeno and Sabrosa cheese blend. Served with scrambled eggs, country sausage gravy ($15).

"People want cheesy hashbrowns. They love cheesy hashbrowns. And this is a dish that captures that with some variations. It’s really simple. It’s shredded hashbrowns, mixed cheeses and our brown sugar bourbon glazed bacon … We also add fresh jalapenos, with the seeds, so it’s spicy. It’s topped off with our housemade country gravy."

New & forthcoming at Sabrosa

Among the new things offered at Sabrosa is a "Commuter Express" menu featuring items like coffee, cappuccino, jugo verde (green juice) and a variety of quick serve breakfast dishes including housemade bakery, breakfast wraps, yogurt granola fruit cups and hot trail mix. When summer hits, Sabrosa will offer curbside service; just pull up your car in front of the restaurant and they’ll take your order for coffee and breakfast to go.

The gallery aspect of the cafe is also building steam. You can also watch for upcoming installations with Alverno College students, sculpture gardens and a variety of other forms of artistic expression as we move toward summer.

Beginning in March, Sabrosa will also offer a Lenten fish fry on Friday evenings. Watch for more details about its offerings in the coming weeks.