Legend has it that OnMilwaukee.com Publisher Andy Tarnoff first shared the idea of OnMilwaukee.com with his future business partners during a meal at Emperor of China in the late 1990's, making this restaurant a special place in the company's history.
Legend aside, I first visited Emperor of China, 1010 E. Brady St., while in college during the-mid ‘90s and it soon became one of my favorites for consistent, affordable Chinese food.
Even though I lived on the other side of town, I would often make the short trek to the East Side, passing many of the near-South Side Oriental restaurants along the way. That trend continued for many years, until my tenure at OnMilwaukee.com began and my time for unscheduled restaurant visits became increasingly limited.
Since it had been several years since I last visited Emperor, I thought now may be a good time to reconnect with the family owned and operated Chinese restaurant which has been a part of Brady Street since 1986.
Some items, like crab rangoon ($5.95) and sesame chicken ($12.50), grace the menus of just about every Chinese restaurant in town, but Emperor does both exceptionally, retaining its spot in the upper echelon of Milwaukee Chinese restaurants.
Other items, like Emperor Prime Seafood ($25), a medley of lobster, shrimp, scallops, squid and vegetables in a brown sauce, can be found only at Emperor of China, and are worth a visit for sampling.
Rather than eat things I've had before, I tried two of the Emperor Specialties, one of which, prosperity shrimp ($17.95), was definitely unique to Emperor. The other, orange peel beef ($13.50), is a little easier to find in other restaurants. The prosperity shrimp reminded me quickly why this restaurant has been thriving for nearly 25 years.
Tender shrimp were dredged in water chestnut flour and fried to a golden brown, and served with candied walnuts and pieces of pineapple. The dish was sweet and savory at the same time, with a rich creamy white glaze that almost made it main course and dessert-like at the same time.
The orange peel beef offered up slender slices of meat, also adeptly fried and married with orange peel and broccoli florets in a brown sauce reminiscent of a General Tso's sauce with the tang of fresh orange. The result was a crunchy yet tender dish with just enough citrus punch to make me want to eat the entire generous serving.
With the check, we received their little something extra, two tiny containers of strawberry and vanilla ice cream served with chocolate fortune cookies.
Sometimes when you visit a restaurant after being away for some time, you run into the "not what I remembered" curse; you remember places and food as being far superior to what you actually experience upon your return visit.
Happily, this was not the case when I returned to Emperor of China, which seems to have changed very little in the last decade or so.
White tablecloths, tapestries and even paper placemats with the Chinese horoscopes by year remain, and the menu continues to offer a generous selection of regional cuisines that can satisfy just about every palate.
I was thrilled to be just as impressed with the food and service at Emperor of China now as I was over 15 years ago, and look forward to many more meals there as they continue into their 25th year and beyond. Their tenure on Brady Street is well-deserved and well-earned, as is the litany of "Best of" awards they've collected over the years.
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.