Café Centraal, 2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., the Diablos Rojos restaurant group's fourth and newest venue, has been open just shy of a month and a half now, and the restaurant's popularity seems to continue to grow as the days pass.
With a menu overlapped with items from Downer Avenue's Café Hollander and Downtown's Fat Abbey Bier Café (under the same ownership) food here is already solid and consistent, and the restaurant's cool vibe meets Bay View's demand for another nightspot, as well as a venue for lunches and weekend brunches. But diners should be aware, that either due to new growing pains or training issues, the service at Café Centraal is rough.
Frites (thin, crispy and delicious French fries; $4.95 for a cone with mayo) and Belgian beers are the stars at Café Centraal, which also features sandwiches, salads, and entrées, all with the homespun feel that has made Diablos Rojos establishments so popular. Centraal also focuses on mussels by the pound ($11.95 for one, $16.95 for two) and they proffer sweet potato fries which are crisp, sweet and salty all at once for pure enjoyment.
The mussels need a tiny bit of work, as ours were ever so slightly overcooked in a curry cream sauce that just wasn't quite thick enough. That aside, however, all the other items we sampled on three separate visits to Centraal were above average and good enough to make us want to come back for more.
Bitterballen ($7.95) quickly became a favorite appetizer with fried, crisp on the outside, tender on the inside beef meatballs served with a spicy curried ketchup.
And if you're a ham and split pea soup lover, Centraal is the place to go. At $3.95 a cup or $5.95 a bowl, the soup is thick and rich with ham that makes this another quick favorite; I could do without the croutons, but they definitely give the soup a different flavor and not unpleasant crunch.
A curry chicken pita ($8.95) also earns high marks, with sweet and spicy curried salad with a little crunch tucked into warm flatbread. Benelux meatloaf ($11.95) is tender and flavorful, and is even more delicious as a sandwich ($9.95) with swiss cheese.
Brunch at Centraal, too, is worth a visit, and offers everything from pancakes and waffles to steak and eggs, or a combination of all of the above. Look for fun options like a Mr. Hollander ($8.95) that merges a waffle with a ham, white cheddar and fried egg sandwich, or basics like eggs benedict ($8.95), all of which come with roasted rosemary potatoes.
The service waits at Centraal for drinks and other inquiries are lengthy, and if you want items to be paced, you best ask up front, or you'll receive your appetizers at the same time as your soup and your entrées. But if you aren't in a hurry and you're looking for solid, homestyle comfort food, this new place will definitely fit your bill, and your stomach.
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.