On the long, fun, and chameleon-like stretch of westermost Brady Street, vegetarians and lovers of Middle Eastern cuisine have found what will hopefully be their permanent paradise in Casablanca, 728 E. Brady St.
In a restaurant destination spot that has housed everything from Sherman's on Brady to Tarantino's Beyond the Sea, to Di Salvo & Brennan's, the short-lived Rudolph Valentino's, and the more recent Club 728, Casablanca's Chef Jesse ventures to go where no man has gone before, pairing a lively menu, warm colors, and oh yes, hookahs, to make this space a destination that is here to stay for many years to come.
Weekday vegetarian all-you-can eat buffet for only $6.95 features something one finds hard to get anywhere else in town: an entirely meatless smorgasbord of flavors of silky smooth hummus, tuboleh (parsley mint, onions, tomatoes, and cracked wheat), babaghannoj (baked eggplant pureed with tahini, olive oil, lemon and garlic), stuffed falafel (ground chick peas and vegetables, formed into delightful, filling balls and deep fried with Middle Eastern spices), and other delights accompanied with pieces of delectably toasted pita bread.
As a die-hard carnivore, I found specific delight in the mixture of flavors here. Where I oftentimes find vegetarian options at restaurants to be boring, I found every item on the buffet from soup (a rich spicy lentil) to dessert (baklava) to vary in flavor and texture, and they left both myself and my dining companion feeling full and sated.
For those of us who eat higher up on the food chain, Casablanca proves to deliver some of the best stuffed grape leaves ($5.95 appetizer, $11.95 entrée) in town, stuffed to nearly overflowing with spiced beef and rice. Lamb kifta kabob ($13.95) featured thinly sliced, spiced lamb, similar to what one would envision as a high-end version of tasty Gyro meat over a bed of rice which was a little too firmly cooked, but flavored wonderfully with bay leaf and other spices.
Chicken Sumac ($11.95) was also a success, featuring a marinated and deep fried half chicken, which, like other entrees, was accompanied by the trademark basmati rice, lentil soup, and warm pita breads.
Warm earth tones and reds complete the Casablanca picture, which is warm and classy without being pretentious. Patrons frequent with their children in tow, and the crowd at lunches and dinners is diverse. However, service at Casablanca can stand to improve. Servers lackadaisically seat diners and remove plates, water glasses are slow be refilled, and at one visit we watched a server ladle soup from the buffet into a bowl for a person ordering off the menu (the kitchen should keep separate appetizer and starter items from the menu for serving behind closed doors off the buffet).
But, despite a few service nuances, Casablanca is a stunning addition to the Brady Street scene and is one of the few restaurants in which vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores can all dine together with options and delight.
Casablanca is open Monday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. and Sunday, (featuring Middle Eastern brunch), 10 a.m.-9 p.m. The phone number is (414) 271-6000.
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 OnMilwaukee.com.