After a 14-month, $34 million renovation and reinstallation, the Milwaukee Art Museum announced that it will reopen its collection galleries to the public on Nov. 24.
But, the galleries aren’t the only thing that has changed. Cafe Calatrava – the full service restaurant on the museum’s lower level – has also undergone a redux thanks to new Executive Chef Jason Gorman, who joined the museum in October after working for a number of years with Tony Mantuano at Kenosha’s Mangia Wine Bar.
"Mr. Calatrava is Spanish, and I’ve been tapping into my Italian heritage," Gorman notes as we discuss the brand new menu, which features a range of fresh, yet comforting Mediterranean inspired fare.
Gorman says he’ll capitalize on local purveyors including Pinehold Gardens in Oak Creek, Maple Creek Farms, Pin Oak Farms, Jen Ehr Family Farm and Sassy Cow Creamery to enhance menu offerings and give them a local flair. The cafe will also make its own foccaccia, flatbreads and fresh pasta.
"We’re always working to strike a balance between things that appeal to more of a foodie type person as well as people who appreciate simple, meat and potatoes fare," he notes.
On the appetizer side, the cafe features items like sweet potato hummus ($7), butternut squash soup with sage and smoked paprika ($6) and roasted mushrooms served over polenta with hazelnut gremolata ($11).
The warm bread cheese appetizer might just be one of the best I’ve had in quite some time, featuring salty, squeaky grilled Finnish juustoleipä cheese topped with honey butter and crisped n’duja sausage for $11.
There are also Catalonia style garlic shrimp ($12) with crisped slices of Rocket Baby baguette that are just begging to sop up every last bit of the delicious smoked paprika based sauce. Be sure to squeeze a bit of the grilled lemon over the top of the dish before eating.
Salads feature a romaine salad with blue cheese, dates, walnuts and a Calabrian chili honey vinaigrette ($12), chicken confit salad with flowering kale, garlic croutons and Caesar vinaigrette ($14) or beet salad with a creama kasa crostata, arugula and balsamic dressing ($14).
Entrees include two flatbreads – a pomodoro with fior di late mozzarella and basil ($12) and another featuring sopressata, sweet onion, pomodoro sauce and fior di late mozzarella ($15) – along with Rushing Waters Trout served alongside smashed German butterball potatoes with charred carrots and salmoriglio, an Italian lemon based sauce ($16) and a sandwich with milk braised pork shoulder and provolone with pickled mustard seeds and fennel slaw ($12).
Meanwhile, Strauss veal meatballs come atop creamy polenta with wild mushrooms and gravy ($15). "It’s elegant," says Gorman, "But it speaks to that comfort craving that people have this time of the year."
Lamb lovers will love the Pin Oak lamb burger, which is served on housemade foccaccia with black garlic aioli, pickled red onions, feta, mint and tomato with housemade seasoned potato chips ($12). It’s tender, juicy and flavorful and so chock-full of goodness it’s best eaten with a fork and knife.
Desserts are also delightful and feature options like dark chocolate espresso mousse pie with Purple Door espresso ice cream, graham cracker crust and sea salt caramel ($8).
"One of the things people will fall in love with is a warm Nutella and banana sandwich on brioche – sauteed with butter," says Gorman. And he’s right. The sweet dessert sandwich is topped with candied hazelnuts and huckleberry sauce for $7.
Along with the cafe, the coffee shop, located in the southeast corner of Windhover Hall overlooking Lake Michigan, is also getting a revamp. Pre-made sandwiches are now made to order, and the bread and bakery products are coming from Rocket Baby Bakery. Fresh salads are also available.
Cafe Calatrava is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with a special brunch menu on Sundays.
Looking for an excuse to visit?
Join the museum for a very special holiday brunch in Windhover Hall on Dec. 13 with seatings at 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Cost is $55 per person and $40 for museum members; kids age 7-12 eat for $15 and children 6 years of age and under are free.
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.