By Julie Lawrence & Molly Snyder Edler   Published Oct 06, 2005 at 5:33 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1}After years of sampling food and drink around the world, spouses Jerry Patzwald and Chris Lorch opened Café Brucke, 2102 N. Prospect Ave., inside the old Hartter's Bakery.

The corner sweet spot opened in June 2004 and is, seemingly, as much of a bar as it is a restaurant, boasting a Euro-Bohemian feel that's hip and cozy with -- at least the night we were there -- a guitar player finger picking in the next room. Further European nods include the name, which is German for "the bridge," a lively bar area including a "Stammtisch" table for communal drinking, and the Belgian beer tap that, until recently, was the only one like it in the city.

But what really matters to Milwaukeeans, who live 4,000 miles from "The Continent," are the tastes and prices. Luckily, both completely cut the mustard.

On the subject of mustard, an appetizer featuring a variety of mustards and pretzels for just $2 tempted us. However, we went with The Nutty, a chicken pate with walnuts and pecans, served with breads, for $5.95. Creamy yet hearty, this flavorful appetizer is appealing all year 'round.

Although the wine list is comprehensive without being overwhelming -- prices range between $4 and $6.75 a glass -- the beer's the thing to imbibe here. Brucke features more than 28 kinds of brew, plus has the before-mentioned Belgian tap, called the Antoine beer tower, that cleans and chills the glass before dispensing the beer for a most aromatic experience.

Non-alcoholic drinks include Anodyne espresso made with a La Marzocco machine.

"Our concept is to make really good food that goes well with beverages," says Lorch.

Brucke has an ever-changing selection of home-cooked entrees (Lorch casts most of the kitchen magic herself), but when we visited, the sandwich and salad menu was calling our names. We thought about chucking our red meat fast for The Duetschlander, which features Usinger's Braunschweiger and Limburger on rye ($5.95), but went with the chili peanut chicken sandwich ($6.95) and the vegetarian sandwich ($5.95) instead. We were not disappointed.

{image2}The chicken breast was well portioned and juicy, topped with a sweet and spicy homemade peanut sauce. An interesting take on peanut noodles, the tasty sammy came with greens, tortilla chips or a salad. We chose the cucumber salad, which was fresh and light with a tangy Italian dressing.

Although the vegetarian could stand to have a few more veggies on it, the sandwich was nonetheless deliciously rich with flavor. A healthy helping of gouda cheese, roasted red peppers and greens mingled between two warm pieces of ciabatta bread, each coated with a tasty layer of pesto mayonnaise.

Another eclectic, non-carnivorous option is the aptly named green and blue sandwich ($6.95), which features a combination of blue cheese and green apples smothered in a walnut drizzle on foccacia bread.

The attentive staff is friendly and helpful, leaving no water glass half-empty. The gold walls, fresh basil and aloe plants and stacks of vintage books lining the sills of the large windows create a smart and comfortable neighborhood feel. Think Nessun Dorma with more natural light and less parking.

Overall, the food is simple yet unique, an exceptionally good deal, and served inside a cozy environment that overtly invites relaxation. Best of all, with so many drink options, your "tasse" will floweth over for hours.

Call (414) 287-2053 for more information. Hours are Tuesday-Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 5 p.m. to midnight.