Those who love the Plaza Hotel, and the Cafe at the Plaza in the hotel, accept -- even appreciate -- the shabby chicness of the establishment. It's art deco ornate and very clean, but still, it's scruffy. The green awnings, for example, are stained and tired -- and the carpeting has seen better days -- but the rest rooms and the cafe eating areas are spic-and-span.
All of this, however, is about to change because the hotel is undergoing a slow renovation, which more or less started with the cafe. Three weeks ago, the cafe was closed for a few days and employees spent time cleaning while new equipment -- including refrigerators and coolers -- was installed.
But the biggest change at the Cafe at the Plaza is new chef Karen Bell, who expanded on the menu. Bell received a culinary degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) 14 years ago and went on to work at Crawdaddy's, restaurants in Chicago and San Francisco, and also ran her own eatery in Spain. Recently, she returned to Milwaukee to live closer to family.
Bell's vision for the new menu was to expand it, but also to improve the classic dishes.
"We're making everything from scratch now, including our scones and our corned beef hash," says Bell.
The cafe is now working with Braise RSA to buy more food from local farmers. Currently, all of the produce and the eggs come from nearby farms and the beef is bought from a local, grass-fed meat co-op.
"This was already such a neighborhood place, I wanted to make it even more local," says Bell.
The new menu includes some fancier seafood dishes, such as sherried black truffle eggs and scrambled smoked trout, but classic dishes like the banana pancakes and the vegetarian eggs Benedict are still on the menu. The veggie Benedict is an example of Bell's desire to maintain the menu item, but to improve it. Overall, the dish is better, with fresher vegetables, including artichoke hearts.
"I don't want to take away from the character of any of our dishes, I just want to improve them," says Bell.
The new menu also includes alcoholic beverages. Because it's part of a hotel, the cafe always had a liquor license and servers would, occasionally, mix up Bloody Marys for diners who asked.
Now, half of the back side of the menu is dedicated to the spiked libations such as Irish coffees and mimosas, as well as a large selection of Wisconsin beers, including New Glarus, Lakefront, Central Waters and more. Plus, the cafe serves Alterra coffee and Rishi tea.
Naturally, the prices increased with the new menu, and this has been difficult for some long-term customers to swallow. Whereas once, a breakfast / brunch rang in around $5, the average cost now is $7-$9. Still a fair price, but certainly not in the category of "cheap eats" that the former menu was in.
"There was some resistance at first," says Bell. "But now, the people are tasting what we have to offer and they seem to really like it."
Five-year veteran server Grant Shaw says he was a bit skeptical of the changes at first, but has come around.
"I wasn't sure what to think at first, but so far, it has been going really well around here," says Shaw.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.