If Byron Kilbourn is going to watch me eat lunch, I wish he'd at least try to look a little happier.
Amid the maritime decor adorning the interior of Port of Call Bistro and Beer Garden, 106 W. Wells St., hangs a stern portrait of Kilbourn, who founded his Kilbourntown west of the river.
His face reminds us we're in HIS Milwaukee and the menu at Port of Call keeps reminding diners they're in Brew City, too. While the menu draws from a variety of cuisines, from the deep fried cheese curds and the Wisconsin cheese plate to the bratwurst reuben and beer cheese soup, Port of Call is rooted in its hometown.
I visited for the first time this week as part of my ongoing rediscovery of Downtown lunch spots. I took my co-worker Andy Tarnoff along on a dreary day, when the empty riverwalk patio was wet and chilly.
The dining room, with its portholes on one wall, and big windows out to the river, a giant mirror and lake-faring memorabilia, was warm and welcoming enough, despite the fireplace sitting idle.
I ordered that bratwurst reuben with onion rings, Andy got an avocado burger and we decided to share a plate of those cheese curds.
The reuben, at $10, has two Usinger's brats on pretzel rolls, topped with thousand island dressing, sauerkraut and melted cheese. Pure Milwaukee and really good. I might've preferred one brat for $6, but, hey, now I have tomorrow's lunch here in the work fridge.
The onion rings were of the giant variety, with generous slabs of onion inside. They weren't too greasy, though I can't say the same for the cheese curds, which came with two dipping sauces – ranch and marinara. They were tasty, but I'd prefer them with considerably less oil and wouldn't likely order them again.
"The avocado burger was really, really good," says Andy. "I found it a touch greasy, but the pretzel bun more than saved it. I was pleasantly surprised to find yet another great burger in Milwaukee."
Not sure if it was the weather or the fact that we arrived at about 1 p.m., but Port of Call wasn't doing much lunch business the day we dined. There was just one other two-top.
Hopefully that'll change, because there are good options on the menu, which also includes a handful of salads ($9-13), sandwiches and wraps ($8-12), burgers ($10) and a range of starters ($9-12).
Dinner entrees are not available at lunch. There's a kid menu priced at $5 and Sunday brunch is served, too.
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.