By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Sep 25, 2006 at 5:35 AM Photography: Eron Laber
I, like many fellow Milwaukeeans, am not a big fan of chain restaurants. The cookie cutter approach to average food pumped out to feed the masses has never been the key to my heart or my stomach, and I particularly abhor places where the staff has been transformed into walking, talking photocopies of the “ideal waitstaff” with uniform throwbacks to Jennifer Aniston in “Office Space” and her 15 pieces of flair.

However, something needs to be said for a restaurant that has taken the time, money and effort in its franchise years to find every little detail that makes a dining experience holistically exceptional, and the new Capital Grille Milwaukee, 310 W. Wisconsin Ave., has gone above and beyond to create the perfect experience for Downtown diners.

In what was once a decrepit pharmacy space, patrons of The Capital Grille will be stunned to find beautiful woodwork, intricately patterned carpets, a large open kitchen and in general, one of the most beautiful restaurant spaces in Milwaukee. The Capital Grille strives to infuse each location with the culture of the city in which they are opening, and in Milwaukee’s case, this means decorative mounted deer heads, portraits of the likes of Golda Meir and Nueske’s bacon.

From the moment we walked in the door on both of our recent visits, we were treated with exceptional courtesy and utmost professionalism. The Capital Grille puts their employees through a rigorous training program, and it shows.

Lunch at The Capital Grille is a pleasant mix of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees, and everything we had was above par, from the grille’s signature cheeseburger ($11) to the Filet Mignon (10 oz., $32). Prices here are not shy, but the ambience is worth paying for; our server even prompted us for any time restraints upon seating for a recent business lunch visit and had us in and out in 45 minutes.

The grille’s cheeseburger was big and juicy and showcased bacon and havarti cheeses with a jalapeno marmalade and came with a selected side of cole slaw that was delicious. The grilled parmesan sourdough club sandwich ($11) was also very good, with prosciutto and turkey and an order of good, crisp French fries.

Steak tartare ($14) was breathtakingly beautiful and tasted as satisfying as it looked, layered with sweet onion, chopped egg and capers with mixed greens and paper-thin crostini. Oysters on the half shell ($14) were exceptionally fresh (seafood is flown in daily) and served with cocktail sauce and a classic mignonette which one typically does not find on Milwaukee menus (mignonette is made from captured oyster juices, white wine and sherry and really brings out the flavor of a fresh oyster, as opposed to cocktail sauce, which sometimes masks it.)

The dry aged filet mignon was also very respectable, perfectly cooked to temperature, and was on par with other Downtown steakhouses. Sesame seared tuna ($31) with gingered rice was huge in portion size and was above average. The Capital Grille offers tables of two the option of splitting a la carte sides, so we sampled two: the au gratin potatoes ($6) and the cottage fries and onion strings ($5), both of which were good.

We liked the little nuances at The Capital Grille that made it enjoyable and a must-visit, the solid service that is prompt and meticulous without being overbearing, the fact that they change your napkins out from white to black when you are wearing dark clothing, the studied precision of the plate presentations, and the other painstaking attentions to detail that make this new restaurant a great addition to Downtown.

And little upscale twists like prosciutto instead of ham and a signature upscale martini made with vodka marinated pineapple are the only pieces of flair you’ll find at The Capital Grille.

Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.

The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.

Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to