In one of Milwaukee's most well-hidden nooks on Bartlett, between Thomas and Bradford, some of Milwaukee's favorite neighborhood restaurants and a tiny pub have been the happy home to those faithful frequenters who know their existence: Champion's Pub, one of the oldest family-owned Irish pubs in the city, Joe Volpe's Tess (a food connoisseur's dream), and a new addition, the Red Dot, effectively take over the ghosts of what were once Miro's Serbian Café (a famous Serbian staple of long ago) and Calderone Club (affectionately called "Mama's").
In this evolution, the Red Dot, 2498 N. Bartlett St., was given a dramatic scarlet face lift by owner Martin Beaudoin, and little remains of Mama's, save the crew of neighborhood regulars who gather at the now shiny and new, and very cool, retro red lit bar. Red Dot features a small and spendthrift-friendly menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. Red Dot also offers kids' menus, but the small space readily retains cigarette smoke, and we would think twice before bringing children along here for dinner.
Service at Red Dot is friendly and laid back and the dining room is casual; in the summer times, there is still the classic covered outdoor patio many will remember from the Calderone days.
On a recent visit to Red Dot, we sampled the wonton mozzarella sticks ($5.95) and the haystack onion strings ($4.25). The mozzarella sticks were a little soggy, which usually indicates the frying oil was not quite hot enough, but they were palatable, and came with a spicy tomato sauce. The haystack onion rings were crisp, not at all greasy, and drizzled with a delicious garlic aioli; my dining companions labeled them as the perfect late night treat to complement one of Red Dot's great boutique beers.
The sandwiches and pizzas at Red Dot are average, but they have a glimmer of something much more that they just have not nailed yet. Half of the steak sandwich ($9.95) was exceptional, with a perfectly grilled 8-oz. rib eye smothered in onions and mushrooms, while the other half was improperly trimmed, which made the meat grisly and less than satisfactory.
A Cajun chicken breast sandwich came on a tasty buttered Asiago cheese bun that was wonderful and the center bites of the sandwich were really quite good, but the chicken was just a tad overdone on the outer edges, making the majority of the sandwich a bit dry. Each of the sandwiches comes with a side, and while you should steer clear of the "Asian slaw" which is actually just a plastic ramekin of shredded red cabbage, the french fries and steak fries were very good. The stunner was the steak fries, which were breaded and tasted surprisingly like fried chicken.
We really enjoyed the pizza crust and the sauce on our Hawaiian special pizza (small is $7, medium $11 and large is $12) but the toppings were somewhat skimpy, and comprised shredded Canadian bacon and canned pineapple chunks, which made the pizza less flavorful than we hoped. But, the crust and the sauce were enough to make us want to try the pizza again with a different combination of toppings.
We did not get to try the burger ($6.95), which is a 1/3-lb. grilled Angus build-your-own version, or the garden variety ($6.95), but Red Dot struck us as the kind of place that would have a great burger you would want to try with another order of those haystack onion strings and an ice cold beer on a sunny day.
Red Dot is open Sunday through Thursday 4-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4-11 p.m., and for Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Red Dot offers a good vegetarian selection and they will make any brunch item vegetarian upon request. They have dine-in and carryout options. Red Dot's phone number is (414) 964-5720 and the Web site is reddotmilwaukee.com.
Amy L. Schubert is a 15-year veteran of the hospitality industry and has worked in every aspect of bar and restaurant operations. A graduate of Marquette University (B.A.-Writing Intensive English, 1997) and UW-Milwaukee (M.A.-Rhetoric, Composition, and Professional Writing, 2001), Amy still occasionally moonlights as a guest bartender and she mixes a mean martini.
The restaurant business seems to be in Amy’s blood, and she prides herself in researching and experimenting with culinary combinations and cooking techniques in her own kitchen as well as in friends’ restaurants. Both she and her husband, Scott, are avid cooks and “wine heads,” and love to entertain friends, family and neighbors as frequently as possible.
Amy and Scott live with their boys, Alex and Nick, in Bay View, where they are all very active in the community. Amy finds great pleasure in sharing her knowledge and passions for food and writing in her contributions to OnMilwaukee.com.