October is the fourth-annual Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delicious features, chef profiles, unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2010."
Regular customers at Maxie's Southern Comfort often asked co-owners Dan Sidner and Joseph Muench to open the popular West Side restaurant for lunch. The partners did their fans one better.
They opened for breakfast and lunch -- eight blocks away at 317 N. 76th St. Just as Maxie's offers Milwaukee diners Southern tastes not easily found here -- fried green tomatoes, maple braised collard greens, chicken-fried chicken -- Blue's Egg gives its customers a hint of what might be found on a European breakfast or lunch table.
You don't find creamy polenta or a curry tofu sandwich on many Milwaukee breakfast menus. Hashbrowns stuffed with a variety of you-pick-'em ingredients are also unusual. Chicken chorizo, pulled ham and aged provolone are among the available fillers.
A home-made coffee cake of the day and monkey bread -- a mixture of challah tossed with butter, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg molded and baked -- is aimed at your sweet tooth. The kitchen also prepares gluten-free and vegan dishes.
Lunch offers duck livers with bacon and onions; a shrimp, scallop and calamari scramble, and chicken paillards. You can even buy deviled eggs for a buck a piece.
"You gotta have deviled eggs," Sidner recently said while putting away an order of stuffed hashbrowns in a Blue's Egg booth. He said the economic hard times have triggered a return to comfort food in restaurants. "And deviled eggs can be high cuisine," he added.
Speaking of the unusual items on the breakfast menu, Sidner said, "If you want eggs, toast and bacon, we can do that. If you want to be a little more adventurous, we can assist you with that, too."
Located in a small strip mall on 76th and Bluemound, Blue's Egg is in a space that had been occupied by a Heinemann's restaurant for 42 years. During a breakfast chat with a reporter, three people separately approached Sidner to thank him for opening his eatery.
The interior of the space has been refurbished, but it is still reminiscent of the old Heinemann's. "We embrace the fact that there was a longstanding tradition of hospitality here," Sidner said.
Blue's Egg's name refers to Bluemound Road and it also is an acronym, according to Sidner, that stands for breakfast, lunch in an urban environment and everyone's good graces. The Egg part of the acronym alludes to the owners practice of doing minimal advertising and devoting the money saved to charitable and community causes.
Maxie's supported 43 charities in 2009, Sidner said. Blue's, which opened in July, donates to a different charity each month. "We believe you build a business over time with loyal customers.
"We're business people. This is our approach, and we think it is good business. "We also hope to accomplish some good along the way," Sidner explained.
This may seem to be an unusually risky time to open a new restaurant venture, but the co-owner said he and his partner see opportunity. "Maxie's business is up, and we thought there was a need in the market for a restaurant like 'Blue's Egg,'" Sidner said.
"Breakfast is a trend in our business. More and more restaurants are opening for breakfast. That is partly driven by the aging population and partly by people who like to eat out thinking breakfast is a better (dining) value."
Within the breakfast segment of the day, Sidner said he and Muench identified a void in Milwaukee. "There are multiple options for really nice breakfasts in other cities the size of Milwaukee, but here there is nothing between greasy spoons and high end brunches. We want Blue's Egg to be the nice place you go for breakfast, but you don't have to dress up.
"We certainly are not the cheapest restaurant in town, but we are moderately priced. Both of our concepts (Maxie's and Blue's Egg) are built on value."
Blue's Egg breakfast prices range from $5.50 for items such as buttermilk pancakes and thick cut french toast to $12.95 for steak and eggs. Lunch also tops out at $12.95.
Everything except bread, which is supplied by Broadway Bakery, is made at the restaurant from scratch. Blue's Egg also offers full bar service in the morning, with breakfast cocktails and even beer, if you want to wash your pancakes down with a brewski.
Mindful of people who eat breakfast on the run, the restaurant has a takeout menu that includes a smoked salmon bagel sandwich; a parfait of berries, granola and yogurt, and crepes with two different sets of fillings. Alterra coffee and Rishi tea are available.
Items on the grab and go menu, which is offered from 7 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday, are cooked to order and ready in five minutes.
Sidner said there are no plans to open Blue's Egg for dinner, but he and his partner are interested in using the restaurant for special evening events such as private parties and wedding rehearsal dinners.
Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.
During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.
Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.