Since opening in 2002, Palomino has been the place the punk rock cowboy goes to drown his sorrows and fill his belly.
Taking cues from the success of their first two establishments, Fuel in Riverwest and Comet Café on the East Side, Scott Johnson and Leslie Montemurro modeled their Bay View restaurant's menu around Southern-fried cooking with a modern, vegan-friendly twist.
Saddled up at the corner of Superior Street and Russell Avenue, Palomino has maintained popularity as a PBR-slinging saloon for the last six years. The food, however, hasn't been as consistent. Johnson admits that the kitchen went through a bit of an "off period" when the food and service didn't measure up to customer expectations.
Recipes changed, signature items morphed or disappeared completely and the brunch menu was so inconsistent that most customers gave up on it.
"The story of the brunch being on, then off, and then on again is in the nature of chefs that we had there," says Johnson. "Some tried but just couldn't pull it off and the food wasn't great. No one came in for brunch, with good reason, so we shelved it."
Fortunately, Johnson and Montemurro made some staff changes, a move that not only revived Palomino's brunch permanently, but also made it a hell of a lot better than it ever was in the past.
"These days we have a pretty fantastic staff," Johnson says. "We have a great GM in Tim Farley, a Katrina refugee, and Tim Krause, who is at the helm in the kitchen."
Krause's been a part of the Palomino family for a year and a half and trained under Johnson's business partner and Comet's executive chef, Adam Lucks.
"As you know, Comet puts out a great product and also has a great staff in the kitchen. Adam really knows how to train his guys and gives them a lot of freedom to get creative and push boundaries with 'traditional, American-style diner food' over there, and Tim came from that school. He knows fine dining and he knows the 'vernacular' cooking that Palomino specializes in and he mixes in his own influences."
When Krause wanted to tackle the elusive Palomino brunch, Johnson gave him the green light to create the ultimate "hangover brunch."
Split 50/50 between traditional egg-centric breakfast items and brunch sandwiches, the new menu poses some difficult decisions in its 14 offerings. As is customary at Palomino, over half of the items are available in vegan form by substituting a tofu scramble for the eggs.
On the entrée side there are eggs any way you want them, served with heaping piles of hash browns and toast, homemade biscuits and gravy (available vegan) and stuffed French toast. Portions are huge, although nothing -- even the steak lemmy, a homemade biscuit topped with two eggs, grilled steak and cheese -- is more than $9.
The hangover brunch sandwiches include the egg-wich (or tofu-wich), the brunch burger, the famous Velvet Elvis and the BLT or TLT, made with breaded tempeh. Again, nothing is priced over $8 and each comes with a choice of fries, tots, hushpuppies or poppers.
Basically, Krause has created a Sunday morning savior for the Bay View neighborhood.
"It's just a good, simple, stuffed-belly hangover brunch," says Johnson. "Strong coffee, a beer-mosa and eggs smothered in hash browns, cheese and gravy. "(We are) trying to get your hazy hinder as close to nirvana as we can at 11:46 on a Sunday morning."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”