By Amy L. Schubert Food Writer Published Dec 18, 2006 at 5:34 AM Photography: Eron Laber
Long before there was Hi Hat, The Palomino or the newly opened Café Hollander, there were two tiny sandwich and coffee shops known as Fuel Café and Comet Cafe, the Adam and Eve of what is now the Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro restaurant empire.

When the other establishments by Diablos Rojos (Red Devils) restaurant group (which also includes Eric Wagner and Mike Eitel) continued to expand over the last few years, Fuel and Comet got some well-deserved facelifts.

I was a semi-regular at Comet Café, 1947 N. Farwell Ave., back in my college days when I spent more time on the East Side, and I was quickly taken in by their cheesy tomato sandwich ($7.25) which cascades a crunchy baguette with sliced tomatoes, onions, mayonnaise, Italian dressing and, oh yes, cheese.

And I was pleased to see that the new Comet, with its cleaner, more restaurant-like, less smoky coffee shop décor (there are both smoking and nonsmoking sections around the U-shaped bar) still offers this sandwich and many other menu items from their formative years.

Two recent visits to Comet left us satisfied with the year-old transition, and looking forward to the day that Bay View’s Palomino can raise its food quality back up to the new standards of its East Side sister.

Comet Café is the perfect meld of relaxed nightlife destination spot and artistic coffee shop, and they feature well-made, solid food for those cold winter nights when homemade meals and mashed potatoes call your name.

Comet’s lunch menu had me waffling over whether to order my beloved cheesy tomato sandwich or an adult version of grilled cheese and tomato soup ($7.25). The cheesy tomato won out and was just as I remembered it, now with a healthy serving of good, crunchy seasoned fries. The only complaint I had was that my baguette was a bit over toasted.

We encountered the same problem with the open-faced meatloaf sandwich ($8), which aside from being served on a charred piece of toast, was very good and comforting on a cold winter day. The meatloaf was rich, tender and delicious, smothered in a brown beer gravy sauce and topped with sliced tomato and bacon.

Dinner was even better, and our visit on a Thursday night brought with it half-price bottled wine night, which allowed us to sample a good, peppery Crios Malbec for only $19.

Artichoke dip ($6.50) came out hot and creamy and was one of the better versions we have tried in town. Fried chicken ($9.50) was breaded in what appeared to be a corn flake cereal breading, and was good, but not nearly as good as the version that was once served at the Palomino.

The chicken was juicy, and it came with a side of mashed potatoes in gravy and beer braised Brussels sprouts, making it the perfect comfort food. Turkey tetrazini ($8.50) was also pleasantly simple and delicious with pasta in cream sauce with peas, shredded turkey and just a hint of cheese, just like mom used to make.

Serving sizes here are good, and the food is heavy, which left us with no room to try dessert, but offerings like a Ho Ho Cake ($4) and fresh baked pie may just have us returning strictly for coffee and sweets.

Atmosphere at Comet Café is relaxed, and service is good. For those of us who have watched Comet evolve, it is a pleasant place to remember, and also one to return to.

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