For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
Though I used to dine frequently at 1230 E. Brady St. that was back when the name above the door read, "Oriental Coast." I have fond memories of meals there with my wife and our friends.
But, I admit, I had never dined at Mai Thai, which currently inhabits the location, until this week, under its new ownership. I stopped in for lunch, where I had a great meal at a good price – $8.95 for appetizer, soup and an entree until 3 p.m. – and chatted with co-owner Eric Grethe.
Despite being a senior-year mechanical engineering student at Milwaukee School of Engineering, Grethe apparently had so much free time (!) that he decided to take over a restaurant. He has no previous restaurant experience, but his mother is Thai and has been known to commandeer the kitchen, he says.
Because the new owners have opened up the facade with more windows, the space is brighter than ever and very cleanly decorated. There is a bar on one side of the restaurant, which inhabits two storefronts, and outside a string of tables lines the sidewalk.
The lunch menu is extensive enough to satisfy a variety of Thai tastes and the layout makes ordering a breeze.
Choose an appetizer – either crab rangoon or a summer roll of chopped veg and cellophane noodles wrapped in rice paper and deep fried crisp – choose a soup, either tom yum, with chicken or tofu and straw mushrooms with lemongrass and lime juice, or, tom kha, with the same base of chicken or tofu and straw mushrooms, but with coconut milk and galangal.
I had the latter and it was perhaps the best tom kha I’ve had in town – silky smooth with fresh mushrooms and just enough chicken, with a touch of spice but not too much heat.
There are 14 entrees from which to choose at lunch. Pick your protein/base – chicken, pork, beef, tofu, mixed vegetables or, for $1 extra, shrimp – and then select from noodle dishes like pud see euw, pad Thai or basil noodles, a range of curries, stir fry and fried rice.
I tried the peanut sauce stir fry with beef and the portion was perfect for lunch and the sauce was thicker than a typical thai peanut sauce. Grethe says he’s adapted the original to what he thinks will better please American palates.
The broccoli, carrots and other vegetables were crisp and could have used a couple more minutes on the heat, but better this way than soggy and overdone.
Mai Thai can, of course, adjust heat levels in any dish, so be sure to make your pleasure known to your server when ordering. That’s what I’ll do when I return. And I will return.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.