It’s been almost nine months since Angie Wierzbinski and Amy Plennes took ownership of The National Cafe, 839 W. National Ave.
And, over the course of the last few months, regular customers have likely noted a number of subtle changes to the cafe itself, from new chairs to the addition of decor elements like the welcoming repurposed gable which has replaced the menu boards above the cafe’s retro cooler.
But Wierzbinski and Plennes have also taken a long hard look at the menu, rounding it out with a variety of new vegan options, comfort food offerings and a small cadre of items that meet the demands of regular customers.
Burritos, Toasties & vegan options
Among the new offerings is a brand new "Toasties" menu, featuring sandwich variations built for guests who are looking for a snack or something delicious for their kiddos. Options include shareable French Toastie sticks served with maple syrup; English baked beans on toast with tomato slices and parmesan; Avocado Toastie with hummus, sliced radishes, cilantro, arugula and olive oil; Goat Cheese Toastie with candied walnuts, thyme and honey; and a Grilled Cheese Toastie with cheddar, provolone, garden Jack and a side of apple slices. Each are $8.
There are also new specialty items including a smothered potato and chorizo burrito featuring pork or soy chorizo, potatoes, onions, black bean dip and cheddar cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla and smothered in housemade salsa verde and sour cream. It’s topped with two sunny-side-up eggs and pico de gallo ($12). A vegan version with soy chorizo and avocado (sans egg, sour cream and cheese) is also available.
Guests can also upgrade their classic rosemary breakfast potatoes with a topping of cheddar, goat cheese, caramelized onions and jalapenos for just $2.75 more.
There’s also a muffaletta sandwich featuring salami, ham and provolone with pickled vegetables and olive spread on a pressed roll ($10); and the Vegan Chorizo Joe featuring soy chorizo, peppers and onions bathed in a smoky chipotle sauce with vegan garlic mayo, avocado and pico de gallo ($9).
On the salad menu, guests will find classic offerings including a garden salad with balsamic dressing ($7), a cobb salad with all the fixin’s plus blue cheese and red wine vinaigrette ($11); the Ahi tuna salad featuring a sesame crusted ahi tuna steak, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, red onion and goat cheese with lemon caper dressing ($12); and a brand new vegan chopped salad with spinach, radishes, cucumbers, tahini dressing, roasted chickpeas, kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes ($10).
Meanwhile, guests will find a surprise every day of the week with new chefs’ choice soup of the day offerings that will range from Thai coconut carrot to potato leek, chicken couscous and chili ($4 per cup and $6 per bowl). Even better, all soup options are gluten-free. Wierzbinski notes that tomato basil makes frequent appearances on Fridays when it’s a favorite paired with the Grilled Cheese Toastie.
Thanks to the acquisition of a full liquor license, The National has also introduced a menu of cocktails including three new offerings including Irish Coffee; the Apple Cider Splash (apple cider, whiskey and a splash of lemon, pictured); and two bloody marys: The National (spicy and tangy with traditional garnishes, pictured) and the Ooooooo Mommy (an Asian inspired bloody garnished with marinated mushrooms, house pickles and nori) for $9 each. Mimosas ($7) and beermosas ($6) are also available.
Fan favorites remain
Amid all the changes, Wierzbinski says that cafe classics including the Ultimate Breakfast Sandwich, huevos rancheros and the Full English Breakfast, plus lunch favorites like the turkey bacon and brie and pesto artichoke panini will remain on the menu. The same is true for the deliciously warming Nell's Tonkotsu Ramen, which is available for dine-in only.
That includes the deliciously indulgent Hot Mess (featuring rosemary potatoes topped with sauteed peppers, caramelized onions, grilled tomatoes, sunny-side-up eggs, cheddar, hollandaise and a choice of bacon or ham) which has been eliminated from weekday offerings; but can be ordered for brunch on both Saturday and Sunday.
The National Cafe is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.