Can you believe that the first Cafe Hollander opened 15 years ago? It’s true. It was before Blue’s Egg blazed onto the scene and Harbor House opened its doors on the Lakefront. In fact, the original name for the restaurant – which replaced Gil's Cafe on Downer – was intended to be Cafe Centraal (though, in the end, that moniker would be set aside until 2008 when a sister cafe was established in Bay View).
Cafe Hollander was a hot spot from the get-go. But, over the years, the brand has become known for their award-winning selection of storied biers from Belgium and some of the worlds’ greatest breweries as well as developing a reputation for offering memorable al fresco dining on their patios and rooftop spaces.
In celebration of its 15th year, the Cafes are kicking off the summer season by introducing an expanded new menu featuring over 20 new items, plus fresh takes on a number of traditional Dutch and Belgian dishes.
What to expect
Inspired by the adventuresome spirit of Hollander guests, Lowlands' Chef Rebecca Berkshire created a menu that reflects the globally influenced cuisines found in modern day Amsterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp in Belgium.
She incorporated ingredients and techniques inspired by the Mediterranean, North Africa, Asia and the Levantine region. She also paid heed guests requests for healthier options, along with dishes that can be readily adapted for diners with dietary restrictions.
Here are some highlights of what you’ll find on your next visit to any one of the five Cafe Hollander locations.
Even at brunch, guests will be treated to numerous dishes that conjure the spirit of the Netherlands.
Among them is the over-the-top Uitsmijter Croissant (Outs-My-Ter). Roughly translated into English, the word “uitsmijter” means “to eject forcefully.” And it’s an apt name for a dish which was often served at cafes late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, right around the time area bouncers were giving local bar-goers the boot.
Sure to cure whatever ails you, the breakfast sandwich features a toasted Troubadour Bakery croissant piled with scrambled eggs, harissa glazed ham, spicy mustard, smoked gouda, sliced tomatoes, onions and braised spinach. It’s served with a side of breakfast potatoes for $15.95. The uitsmijter is also available to order all day long, along with a few other popular brunch options. Pair it with a Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Ale for the ultimate hang-over cure.
Guests can also satisfy their sweet teeth with shareable Oliebollen (Oh-Lee-Bowl-En). This Dutch treat was enjoyed well before the doughnut was introduced, and it’s probably that early Dutch settlers actually brought the concept with them to the New World. At Hollander, the old fashioned Dutch doughnuts are served with a dusting of cinnamon-sugar and chocolate sauce for dipping ($9.95).
There’s also fried chicken and French toast, a filling dish that sports a bit of global flair. Troubadour Bakery challah French toast is topped with bacon, crispy fried chicken and a sunny-side Yuppie Hill egg. It's embellished with harissa and poblano sauces, pickled peppers and maple syrup ($14.95).
Other additions to brunch offerings include a farmers omelette (roasted cauliflower, mushrooms, shredded beets, goat and cheddar cheeses and basil pesto); a sausage and Edam omelette ( breakfast sausage, Edam cheese blend, braised spinach, roasted peppers, black pepper and scallions); and berry and sweet brie French toast made with challah and topped with fresh blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, lemon sugar and sweet brie.
Lunch + dinner
Guests will also find a taste of the Netherlands on the lunch and dinner menus. First up, you’ll find Smorrebrod (Smore-Eh-Brod), casual open-face sandwiches often served at Dutch pubs alongside a bier.
“We have two smorrebrod on the menu,” notes Berkshire. “They are filling on their own, but they can also be ordered as shareable items. Either way, we’ve used ingredients here that are meant to keep the dish light and summery.”
Both options are loaded up with good stuff and meant to be tacked with a knife and fork. First up is the salmon smorrebrod, which features smoked salmon, herb cheese, basil creme fraiche, roasted tomatoes, paprika-dressed arugula, red onion, radish, hard-boiled egg, toasted pepitas on buttered toasted sourdough ($8.95).
The other, a vegetarian riff on avocado toast, features salted mashed avocado, dressed baby spinach, garlic yogurt, roasted Roma tomatoes, poached eggs and pickled peppers on buttered toasted sourdough ($8.95).
Indonesian fare, while a relative rarity in Milwaukee, also makes a showing thanks to the fact that it’s a popular offering throughout Europe and particularly in the Netherlands thanks to the country’s history of colonization. It comes in the form of Hollander’s Indo Beef Curry, a dry curry with a mild spice profile that features shredded beef, green beans, sweet peppers, spiced coconut curry sauce, braised spinach, potato kripik (potato crisps), brown rice, and a medley of peppers ($19.95). The curry is also gluten-free.
Beer-loving guests can also enjoy a brand new sandwich: the Wagyu Royale, a messy-delicious offering that Berkshire says is a playful take on the “Royale with Cheese”.
The hand-held sandwich includes a ripper-style Wagyu beef hot dog topped with bacon, braised spinach, giardiniera, spicy mustard, brie and green onions served up on a toasted New England style roll ($14.95).
Vegetarian dishes & lighter fare
The lunch and dinner menus are also littered with lighter fare, including numerous vegetarian options, as well as the option to substitute a variety of sides like cucumber salad, cauliflower tabouli, fruit or falafel for the usual frites for an extra $1 or $2.
“We’ve been very thoughtful about the inclusion of vegetarian dishes,” notes Berkshire. “We don’t want them to be an afterthought.”
Their new falafel bowl is another solid example. Inspired by the Mediterranean, this offering features a base of cauliflower tabbouleh topped with herbed falafel, garlic yogurt, roasted tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, arugula salad, feta and grilled pita ($13.95). The bowl can be made dairy free (sans yogurt and feta) or gluten-free (sans pita).
And guests will find a number of other new meat-free options, from tomato basil pasta with whole wheat spaghetti ($15.95; substitute zucchini noodles for +$3) to the Loaded Kapsalon Frites, a classic Dutch street snack topped with falaveel, cheese sauce, basil aioli, harissa, pickled peppers, cucumbers, red onions and arugula ($13.95). They're great shared, but also make a meal unto themselves.
Meanwhile, healthful salmon dishes are also available, including spice-rubbed salmon with cilantro zhoug featuring Atlantic salmon treated to a six-spice rub and served with garlic lemon fingerlings, red peppers, red onion, asparagus and a topping of whipped feta cheese and the herbal, slightly spicy cilantro zhoug – an herbal hot sauce which is also wildly popular in Israel (and, more recently, the U.S.), $21.95.
There’s also salmon fattoush, a riff on the popular Levantine salad made with toasted pieces of Khubz (Arabic flatbread) combined with greens and other vegetables. Hollander’s take includes baby spinach, arugula, crispy seasoned pita bread, diced tomatoes, radish, pickled peppers, red onion, marinated cucumber, feta, and lemon sumac dressing ($17.95).
“Since the day we opened our doors, we have worked hard to create the best spaces for people to gather within neighborhoods and communities, says Lowlands Owner Eric Wagner. “Our travels have inspired our culinary program which is always evolving as we borrow from some of the great Dutch and Belgian classics as well as other culinary influences from around the world.”
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.