When Edgar's Calypso, 628 N. Water St., opened its doors in October 2007, the space had undergone a major transformation from cool and trendy Swank to a casual, colorful tropical restaurant, complete with thatched roofs over the bar and a painstakingly painted mural covering all of the walls with an island theme.
Michael Dillon, owner of Edgar's and also McDill Design, housed upstairs in the same building, hand painted the murals and seems to have captured every detail of the islands, save a sand floor.
The first thing diners will notice about Edgar's Calypso is this meticulous novelty décor, which takes you away into a kitschy, tropical and fun environment. The atmosphere lends itself well to light-hearted cocktails and socializing, and the menu is diverse, alternating Jamaican, Cuban and other Caribbean influences, while offering staples like cheeseburgers and chicken breast sandwiches.
Edgar's excels in the Cuban and Jamaican selections, but the other menu items we tried ranked at average or slightly below, and service here has some issues.
Cups of Cuban black bean soup and white Tuscan bean ($3.50) started a lunch experience off on a tremendously high note. Both soups were rich and skillfully seasoned, and were good enough to make me return for lunch to sample the soup of the day.
Appetizers of seafood cakes ($9.50), chips and avocado salsa ($4.95), and tostones ($6.95) were a mixed bag as far as quality, and were inconsistent. Tostones during a lunch visit were slightly mushy and on a dinner visit, were slightly burnt and hard to bite through.
Both the Cuban sandwich ($8.50) and the BBQ pork sandwich ($8.50) were excellent, packaged cutely in butcher paper and served with sweet potato or regular French fries. But temperature disparity with the fries diminished the quality of the dish overall.
Cold French fries are always disappointing, and our server, who brought the wrong side dish for one order and the wrong sandwich for another, seemed unconcerned with his mistakes. Although he did ask if we wanted to wait for the correct sandwich to be prepared, he never offered to adjust the bill or make any other efforts. A second visit offered more service challenges, with empty plates and glassware at our table until we asked politely for them to be removed.
Ropa Vieja ($10.95) a slow-roasted skirt steak of Cuban origin, was phenomenal, and was only slightly tainted by the rice which accompanied it, which while very good in flavor, was not fully cooked, leaving hard kernels. A jerk pork tenderloin ($14.95) was also excellent; tender and flavorful, and accompanied by a side of seasoned black beans and more of the rice. Edgar's best cheeseburger ($7.95) provided a good, classic cheeseburger on an egg bun, playfully deemed a "cheeseburger in paradise."
The mojito menu provides enough variety to tickle even the pickiest of palates, with tropical twists on the rum-based drink that could have you sampling different variations for weeks.
Edgar's has potential to excel, with the fun, playful atmosphere and a few stellar dishes on the menu, predominantly in the Jamaican and Cuban cooking styles. If it can expand on the good dishes and increase the level of service, this could quite easily become one of the best places in town to meet friends for a casual lunch or after work.
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.