I, like so many others in Milwaukee, was dreadfully sad when the Brown Bottle Pub closed its doors in early 2004. Over the years, I had attended weddings, private parties, fundraisers and various other events in the Historic Schlitz Brewery, home to beautiful woodwork, marble, and at one time, one of Milwaukee's favorite fish fries.
Enter Dean Cannestra and Libiamo in July 2005, and now we all can once again enjoy the beauty of this Milwaukee landmark with some of the best Italian fare in Milwaukee and a fantastic wine list to boot.
Libiamo, 221 W. Galena St., takes full advantage of the extensive wine storage behind the familiar and gorgeous bar, filling it to the brim with a list of now 50, soon to be 150, varieties that will keep both sommeliers and basic layman wine lovers busy for months. And for wine novices, don't fret; staff here is educated on the wine list and you cannot fail with a recommendation from them.
The dining room sports contemporary colors, black linens and candles that succeed in complementing the original horned light fixtures overhead. Large, comfortable booths and friendly servers complete the picture, making dining at Libiamo a casual, homey, and classy experience, equally perfect for a date or a night out with friends.
The fried ravioli ($7.50) appetizer is the perfect introduction to Libiamo's lively red sauce, one of the heartiest and most flavorful in town. We sampled the portabella version, which we found lightly crisp in texture and creamy and delicious within. Spedini ($6.50) is fork-tender and comes with a variation of the sauce, decorated with fresh, crisp bell peppers.
Nessun Dorma regulars will recognize the panini sandwiches on Libiamo's menu. Here the sandwiches are just as delicious and crisp, and come with side salad or crisp waffle fries. The sliced tenderloin on the steak tapenade ($7.50) held up wonderfully to the salty kick of their signature kalamata olive tapenade and provided enough food for a to-go bag. Pizzas ($6.50-$15.50) come with a crisp crust, more delicious red sauce, and a wide array of fresh ingredients including artichokes, pepperoncini, and scallions. The positive influence of Cannestra's family's restaurant, Palermo Villa, is apparent in the quality and flavor of these pies.
For entrées, smoked gouda and portabella stuffed chicken ($13.95) pared spinach and artichokes with the aforementioned ingredients and fared well in a rich, creamy smoked gouda sauce, but came with a side of orzo that was not quite warm enough. Grandma's Sicilian meatloaf ($9.95) was an exceptional spin on the traditional, and was stuffed with capocola ham and provolone cheese and smothered in more of the marinara. Garlic mashed potatoes and a side of perfectly seasoned and roasted vegetables made this dish utter perfection.
Cannestra mingled with the customers on both of our visits, a sure sign of a dedicated restaurateur. With Cannestra's obvious passion for the new restaurant, his knowledgeable, professional staff, and a menu of wines and entrees that easily call diners back for more, Libiamo should be at home in the Historic Schlitz Brewery for many, many years to come.
Libiamo is open Monday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Vegetarian selections are available. Catering and private room rental available. The phone number is (414) 271-1155 and the Web site is libiamorestaurant.com.