By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Feb 19, 2020 at 1:07 PM Photography: Lori Fredrich

Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 25, the Historic Third Ward will be a place for after work tapas, sips of tequila and glasses of sparkling wine.

That’s because the former Batches Bakery at 401 E. Erie St. has been transformed into Cavas, an opulent Spanish tapas bar owned and operated by Ana Docta, who most recently operated Kasana on Broadway in the Historic Third Ward.

Docta says her vision for the space was inspired by the tiny tapas bars you find across Spain: congenial, invigorating spaces where folks come to grab a quick drink, a bite of delicious food and chat with friends before heading off to enjoy their evening.

"It’s so bright and beautiful, so I wanted it to be like a little jewel on the corner of the building," says Docta. "I wanted it to wow people from the outside, and then when they come inside for them to experience a moment of relaxation, grab a bite to eat and something to drink after work."

Take a peek

Step into the cozy space and you’ll find exactly that.

The space, decorated in brilliant gold tones with pops of red, reflects the opulent flourishes for which Docta has become known.

The sleek bar showcases a reflective black bar top and a corrugated metal base that’s flanked by velveteen bar stools which underscore the color scheme of the space.

There are stories embedded in nearly every element of the decor. For example, the bar showcases botas, traditional Spanish wineskins, hanging from bright red strings. The calfskin canteens were once slung over the shoulders of shepherds in the Basque region and used to transport wine and other beverages.

Adventurous guests can try their hand at drinking "zurrust" by slurping from the stream of liquid without touching the bottle (much like drinking from a modern water bottle equipped with a sports cap).

A small seating area to the west of the bar features intimate tables set with gold-tone flatware, shapely stemware and pretty plates which beckon guests to enjoy a moment of indulgence.

Meanwhile, the back wall is lined with bottles of spirits – Mediterranean gin, tequilas and mezcals from Mexico – and bottles of Spanish wine, including the restaurant’s namesake Cava.

The sparkling wine theme is underscored further with a large spherical gold-toned light fixture which Docta says reminded her of the delicate bubbles which rise up in a glass of the refreshing beverage.

"The idea was to give people a beautiful, artistic experience," says Docta. "A welcoming space where they can stop to enjoy a bite and a glass of wine or spirits."

On the menu

The space at Cavas creates the mood. But the experience is enhanced by a menu filled with food and beverages. There are wines from Spain and Portugal, including 12 sparkling varieties. There are boutique, small batch tequilas from Mexico, fragrant Spanish gins and a menu of cocktails.

Guests can also enjoy a special housemade aperitif called Gancia, which Docta says is reminiscent of the vermouth her family enjoyed in her native Argentina. The botanical beverage is made by infusing vodka with ingredients including citrus, rosemary and peppercorns. The drink can be enjoyed on the rocks or with a splash of dry cava for a light, citrus forward drink that’s light and citrusy with a savory backbone.

To accompany the beverages is a list of affordable tapas created by Docta and Chef Olmedo Marcangelo.

"Everything is made with simple ingredients," says Docta, noting that Marcangelo has a particular flair for creating beautifully presented food.

Options include raw oysters served with aioli, salsa roja and Cavas vinaigrette (six for $13 or a dozen for $26), and pimiento relleno featuring a roasted red pepper filled with goat cheese, chorizo, pine nuts and almonds that’s baked and served with picada sauce made with garlic, parsley, olive oil, almonds and pine nuts ($10).

Meanwhile, wild mushrooms sourced from Mushroom Mike are baked with a fragrant topping of parsley, garlic chives, Spanish olive oil and Manchego ($8). And prawns are marinated in Cava and baked with garlic chives, jalapenos, olives, capers and parsley for gambas al  ajillo, which is served alongside pan de marta and salsa verde ($12).

A house platter, which feeds two guests, features items like Jamon serrano, aged Manchego, mixed Spanish olives, boquerones (anchovies), baked chorizo and roasted red peppers, served with rustic bread, tomato jam and two glasses of Cava ($24). 

On the sweeter side, Cavas features petite desserts from flan and crema de chocolate to arroz con leche ($6).

For guests who’d like to take advantage, Cavas also offers Famiglia, a wine and spirits club which enables guests to purchase any bottle of wine or spirits and hold it on reserve at the restaurant. The bottle can then be enjoyed on each subsequent trip to Cavas at no charge. Tequila purchases are accompanied by two Himalayan salt glasses.

Docta says she’s looking forward to the return of more clement weather. At that point, she says, the capacity of Cavas will increase exponentially, thanks to an extensive sidewalk patio where guests can enjoy their food and drink.

Cavas will also be available for off-site catering, private events and tequila, mezcal and cava tastings.

Beginning Tuesday, Feb. 25, Cavas will be open Tuesday through Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m.

Docta will host a grand opening party for Cavas in the coming weeks. For more information, follow Cavas on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

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.