Chips or Asian Slaw? It's a lulu of a question that's been buzzing about Bay View for several years now, at Café Lulu, 2261-65 S. Howell Ave.
The south-of-downtown café and cocktail lounge has been Bay View's lunch and nightlife hot spot since it first opened in 2001 in a former George Webb's and Annie's Corner Kitchen location under the watchful eyes of partners and friends Cameryn Roberts and Sarah Jonas. The Slim McGinn's alumni have honed their craft here, turning out some of the best sandwiches in Milwaukee, their famous house sangria (with just a hint of Grand Marnier to make it hum) and daily fresh baked pie that tastes just like mom's.
Café Lulu has a straightforward menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and soups, and they also feature daily specials, written on a chalkboard for all to see. Patrons can eat in the original location, a nonsmoking diner-like nook on the south end of the building, or belly up to the bar or at a retro looking table in the northern Bar Lulu dining area.
On recent visits to Café Lulu, we tried the Mediterranean steak pita ($7), tender flank steak marinated, topped with a kalamata olive and tomato relish and feta cheese layered atop warm pita bread. The sandwich was delicious and simple, and we ordered it with a side of the Asian slaw, a side dish my dining companion admits to craving for days after a Lulu meal.
The Lulu burger ($6.75) comes grilled medium rare to order with a toasted Kaiser roll. It is so juicy it merits cutting at least in half, if not in quarters to minimize a luncheon mess. The mooney tuna ($7.50), a house favorite and one of the items that put Café Lulu on the map, showcases grilled yellow fin tuna on a Kaiser roll with a side of bleu cheese sauce that also does double duty as a great dip for a side of the house chips.
Brunch options at Café Lulu are limited, but tasty, and Sunday morning diners can also choose from the regular menu to fill their stomachs. We found both the Florentine scramble (scrambled eggs with spinach, garlic, blue cheese and tomatoes) and the garden scramble (scrambled eggs with roasted vegetables and goat cheese) to be a Sunday steal at only $6.50.
Table service is intermittently slow depending on how busy Café Lulu is, and be forewarned, it gets very busy. Bar service is always impeccable, as they have some of the best mixologists in the city behind the bar, and on weekend nights, Lulu often features local live musicians or hosts other events. Wednesday nights it offers Wino Wednesdays, with wine specials, that to-die-for sangria and a special Lulu cheese plate offering.
Whether you're looking for a quiet nook for a salad, a place to snack and drink while catching some local music, or some down home pie and hospitality, Café Lulu can fit the bill for all of it. As for the chips or Asian slaw, well, that's up to you.
Café Lulu is open from dining Monday through Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11a.m. to 11p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The bar is open Sunday through Thursday until 2 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. There are Smoking and nonsmoking areas. Vegetarian options are available. Lulu's Web site is lulubayview.com.
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.