By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Jun 06, 2022 at 10:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

It’s been nearly two years since guests were able to enjoy the breakfast burritos, tofu scramble, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and more from Comet Cafe, which closed its doors in July of 2020.

But, after months of clean-up and interior renovations and a brief soft opening this past weekend, the cafe at 1947 N. Farwell Ave., is slated to reopen on Thursday, June 9 at 9 a.m.

In fact, the cafe is back better than ever, complete with familiar-yet-updated digs, plenty of nostalgic dishes and a new life under a progressive ownership team.

Comet exteriorX

New ownership

Among the biggest changes for the cafe is its ownership. Comet is now owned and operated by Pie Inc., the restaurant group which operates Honeypie Café, Palomino and SmallPie. Behind the moniker is founder, CEO and managing partner Valeri Lucks and executive chef and managing partner Derek Petersen, both of whom are dedicated to restoring the cafe’s longtime reputation as a fun, quirky neighborhood hangout.

Both Lucks and Petersen have a history with the cafe. Petersen got his start working as a dishwasher at Comet in 2006. Meanwhile, Lucks – along with her brother Adam – partnered with former owners Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro in 2005 to convert the punk rock coffee shop into a full blown restaurant with scratch-made diner fare and a full bar. The Lucks operated the neighborhood cafe until 2015, when they departed to focus on their own concepts, Honeypie and Palomino.

“We’ve worked hard to maintain the old coffee shop spirit, as well as the nostalgic cafe which came after,” says Lucks. “And we’ve worked to create a balance between the old grunge-era cafe and a modern restaurant appropriate for 2022.”

Cafe updates

While Comet Cafe will look largely the same to most customers, the inside of the cafe has been entirely spruced, thoroughly cleaned and (in some cases) updated.

Visual cues include new black wainscoting along the bar and banquettes built and installed by chef-turned-carpenter Adam Lucks. There’s new paint on the walls, brand new lighting fixtures and snazzy shiny tile on the back wall surrounding the service window on the west side of the bar.

View of the bar areaX

Behind the scenes, the restaurant also boasts a completely rebuilt HVAC system, as well as a new kitchen hood in the kitchen.

The sidewalk patio will also make its triumphant return, just in time for the summer weather.

Nostalgic eats

Now’s a good time to remind you that the restaurant industry is still struggling. Supply chain issues and rising food costs are still a huge issue, as well as staffing shortages, all of which present challenges for local restaurants across the board.

So, while Comet has returned, and its ownership has worked hard to preserve favorite menu items (and add some new additions to appeal to its modern customers), guests will notice some changes, including abbreviated hours and a slightly abbreviated menu. 

Amid those changes, Lucks and Petersen have retained their commitment to scratch-made, responsibly sourced fare, as well as a community-focus, friendly service and the provision of a fair, living wage and good working conditions for employees. And yes, there are plenty of nostalgic dishes which have made a return.

Food being servedX

For one, Comet will still serve breakfast all day long. Most of the menu can be adjusted to be vegetarian or vegan. And a slew of beloved dishes have made it back into rotation including the wildly popular veggie chili bowl ($8 or $5 for a cup).

Guests can still enjoy appetizers like vegan chili cheese fries ($15), the undeniably retro spinach artichoke dip ($14), tofu wings ($15) hand-breaded chicken strips ($14).

Returning breakfast and brunch dishes include the vegan scramble ($13), breakfast burrito ($15) commuter sandwich ($12) and Stendler (corned beef, scrambled eggs, hasbrowns and cheddar wrapped in a grilled tortilla and topped with Sriracha, $16).

StendlerX

It also includes sandwiches (served with fries and a pickle) like the Big Luck Burger (double patties, American cheese, LTO, pickles and Thousand Island dressing, $16); the cheesy tomato sandwich ($12; make it a Buttafucco with giardiniera for +$1); the cheesy roast beef sandwich ($14) and the artichoke melt featuring artichoke hearts, red onion, spinach, mayo, herbs and provolone broiled on a baguette ($14). 

Artichoke meltX

And yes, you can upgrade to seasoned fries, a cup of creamy tomato (or daily) soup or a small house salad for $2. 

Entrees include classics like meatloaf with beer gravy, bacon-chive mashed potatoes and grilled tomatoes served open-face on salted rye ($17); made-to-order ultra-creamy  macaroni and cheese ($16; add chili, bacon or ham for +$3); and the compact turkey dinner featuring beer battered fried balls of slow-roasted turkey, sage stuffing and cheesy mashed potatoes with country gravy and veggies of the day ($17).  There’s also a Friday night fish fry for $18 (Fridays only).

And yes, the bar is still stocking plenty of craft brews, whipping up brunch cocktails and serving a slew of coffee drinks from hot black cups of morning buzz to cold brew and flavored concoctions.

Brunch drinksX

New on the menu

Among the new additions to the menu are avocado toast (complete with crispy sprouted lentils, hard-boiled egg, red onion, cherry tomatoes and herbs, $14); a cured salmon sandwich served on a Ruby’s Bagels rosemary sea salt bagale ($15); a fried chicken biscuit served on a housemade biscuit with hot honey ($15) and new salads including a classic wedge salad ($15; add chicken or tofu for +$3-$4); Caesar salad ($15; add chicken or tofu for +$3-$4); sprouted lentil salad with crispy sprouted lentils, Hundred Acre greens, cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, cucumbers and tomato vinaigrette ($15; add chicken or tofu for +$3-$4).

Cupcakes won't be back on the menu (yes, it's gonna be OK), but there are handmade pies created with locally sourced ingredients by the bakers at Honeypie Bakeshop.

Lemon pieX

The daily selection will include between eight to 12 pies, with flavors varying daily. Slices will be $7 for fruit-based pie, $7.50 for cream pies and $4 for a scoop of Scratch Ice Cream on the side.

Current & future hours

Starting Thursday, June 9 Comet will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (bar open until 5 p.m.) with brunch served on Saturday and Sunday. 

As soon as staffing allows (likely in a month or so), Comet will extend its hours to include dinner service from 5 to 10 p.m. (bar open until midnight).

Work for Pie Inc.

All Pie Inc. restaurants, including Comet Cafe, Honeypie Cafe, Palomino Bar and Smallpie are hiring for both front and back-of-house positions. The restaurant group follows One Fair Wage practices, including shared tips for all positions, health insurance, a 401K retirement plan (with company matching), “pie bucks” to spend at their restaurants, free yoga, set work schedules and a progressive, respectful and healthy work environment.

Serious inquires only. Get more information and apply online or apply by email at mail@pieincorporated.com (include a copy of your resume, plus information about the position for which you’d like to apply).

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

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.