When you think about the term "consistent," you most likely think "harmonious," "conformable, "comfortable." Yet, when it comes to restaurants and consistency the definition is not that easy. You need to factor in comfort, quality and tradition.
What area restaurants do we think are some of the most consistent? Here is my take and the selections of Drew Olson, Amy Carlson and Molly Snyder Edler as well. Use the talkback feature to react and provide your comments and additions.
When I think of consistency in a restaurant I think along the lines of "I just know what I'm going to get." It will be good, rewarding and there's no "fear." Face it, we all have a few favorite local restaurants that just never let us down. Those places that treat us well, serve us good food and never fail. That got me to thinking what are my "most consistent' choices for Milwaukee restaurants? Not necessary the best, but those that I can always trust and count on.
Beans and Barley
Beans very well might make this list by default as it's across the street for the OnMilwaukee.com office and a stop of mine at least twice each week. Nevertheless, whether it's picking up dinner or a quick basic burrito, Beans never disappoints. The burritos are consistently fresh, sandwiches always tasty and even the hummus and guacamole never disappoint. Kudos to "Beans" for its consistent consistency.
What's so hard about pizza, you ask? Well, have you even ever had bad pizza? It's easy to say you haven't (since you'll admit you love for the stuff), but you have. Calderone's pizza is always good, consistent with its sauce, fresh (never uses canned mushrooms) and always placed on a crispy crust.
Fresh Mexican cuisine. I love this place and never go away hungry. Great guacamole, moles, tostadas, salsa and more. Consistent in its service, presentation, friendliness and food quality. Haven't been to Brady Street lately? Why not?
When I think "consistency" I think of four places:
Breakfast / late-night at George Webb: The location near my house is quick, cheap and virtually never disappoints. Even on a busy Saturday or Sunday, the staff seems to be cheerful and accommodating.
Casual eats at Charcoal Grill: They have a big menu and the place is kid-friendly, but the quality of the food seems to be a notch above the Applebee's, Friday's and similar chain restaurants punching in its weight class. The burgers are great and the appetizers like bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are top-notch.
Special occasions: Eddie Martini's and Ristorante Bartolotta. The service is impeccable. Attentive and not intrusive. The cocktails and steaks at Eddie's are among the best in the city. Bartolotta has terrific pasta and wine.
For me, I needed to break consistency down into a few pieces. While I ultimately believe that consistency is the most important element of a restaurant, and also the most difficult to achieve, I think it also needs to be broken down into categories by type of restaurant. Honestly some of the most difficult challenges in consistent cooking lie in the products used, especially when dealing with fresh produce, which can vary seasonally or sometimes even delivery to delivery. This is why oftentimes in higher end restaurants, the chefs will do seasonal menus....it allows them to experiment with their craft of course, but also lets them reap the bounties of the seasonal produce without being limited by something like bitter spinach or out of season tomatoes.
There is also the element of service, because for me, when I am evaluating a dining experience, the quality of service is just as important, if not sometimes more so important, than the quality of the food. And that doesn't always mean that service needs to be expedient or perfectly timed; there re some restaurants I love in this city where I know I am going to get slow, imperfect service; but it is consistently slow and imperfect, so I know exactly what I am walking into when I pass through the doors.
That being said, I have three restaurants which I find to be the most consistent in the Milwaukee area.
McBob's Pub and Grill
I love McBob's. I love that I can order anything on the menu and know that it's going to be consistently down and dirty delicious. The owners and staff here are so good at what they do that once when we visited over brunch and all the power went out, they still managed to serve up our six breakfast orders with one functioning gas stove and a coffee warmer over candlelight. Sound impossible? We were shocked, too, but they did it, and did it well, true to form.
Libiamo does basic Italian fare and does it well with no surprise since owner Dean Cannestra was basically born into the restaurant business (his family owns Palermo Villa, and Cannestra is also a part owner of Riverwest's Nessun Dorma). Service here is consistently spotty, but the food is superb. Libiamo does some of the best spedini in town, and while their pastas and pizzas are not fancy, they are solid. And of course, little beats the atmosphere of this former Schlitz Brewery.
Lake Park Bistro
Lake Park Bistro has it all, beauty, ambience, great staff, and exceptional cuisine. This is truly one of Milwaukee's best restaurants, and by far the best of the Bartolotta empire, and it shows in everything they do. The kitchen shines, their seasonal menu is always superb, and the servers are consistently attentive without being invasive. Over the many, many times I have dined here, I have never left even slightly disappointed, and as the years go by and my expectations of Lake Park increase, the restaurant continues to grow and evolve in such a way that it continuously stays ahead of all measures of excellence.
Molly Snyder Edler
Amy mentioned Libiamo, which inspired me to shout-out on behalf of another Cannestra family establishment. I have never had a bad meal at Nessun Dorma, and ate there at least a dozen times. The sandwiches, panini and nightly specials are consistently well-prepared and very affordable. Riverwest needs a few more places like this.
A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.
He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.
Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.
He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.
He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.