On the Monday before Thanksgiving, Simmer Café opened in the space at 718 N. Water St., a long dormant spot that most recently housed a corned beef joint and formerly an Arby's.
The interior, designed by LP/w Design Studios, who also completed the design for the Stone Creek Factory as well as c.1880 in Walker’s Point, provides a modern café-style atmosphere with clean, contemporary detail and seating for about 50 customers.
And despite the fact that Simmer began as a food truck – which was introduced to the Milwaukee market in May 2013 – the original intent for owners Steve Perlstein and Jennifer Block was to establish a brick and mortar.
"Our original thought was start a restaurant and then follow it with a food truck," says Perlstein. "And then it just kind of occurred to us – why don’t we just do the food truck and put a hold on the restaurant?"
But, after a very successful year of running the Simmer Truck – as well as offering catering services and a variety of concessions options for Levy restaurants – the two revisited the idea, coming to the realization that they really wanted to own their own space for a commercial kitchen to support the truck, as well as provide a means increase and even out the cash flow.
"Last year when the polar vortex hit, those were some very lean months," says Perlstein. "So we were looking for a way to run things more effectively all year round. So, when the space on Water Street became available, things just started to fall into place."
For the past few months, the space has been used as the central kitchen for the soup and panini offered by Simmer Truck. But, starting this past week, the 1800 square foot café has begun to offer fast, casual counter service.
The menu, which is an expansion of the food truck offerings, includes lunch items including soup (including gluten-free and vegetarian options), panini and hearty "meals in a bowl," heartier fare like shepherd’s pie, cabbage and red lentil dal with rice, and chicken and sausage gumbo.
Entrée-style salads – which were impractical to offer on the food truck – will also be offered.
But, potentially the most exciting addition for the restaurant, which is part of the 100 East Complex, are its breakfast offerings.
Items like breakfast panini, hashbrowns, yogurt parfaits and pastries are on the menu, as well as panini press omelets, which provide a healthful protein-packed offering for busy downtown employees.
"Panini omelets are super good, super cool and super fast," says Perlstein. "We take the omelet mixture – one with shallot, spinach and tomato, Panini it, sprinkle with cheese, then fold it three times.’
The café will also offer a selection of coffee offerings, including lattes, cappuccinos and espresso made with coffee from Stone Creek Coffee Roasters.
"Coffee service is an aspect of the new space we’re really excited about," Perlstein explains. "Our partnership with Stone Creek has been really satisfying. Their product is great and they’re very serious about it."
Perlstein says that, although the Simmer Truck is likely to be on hiatus for the next month or two, it will definitely be back.
"It’s not gone and not forgotten," he says. "But our first priority is really getting the restaurant going."
And, even though opening the restaurant sounds like enough to keep the partners busy for a while, Perlstein and Block are also busy working on preparing a line of "boil in bag" soups, which they’re planning to introduce through area supermarkets in late summer or early fall of next year.
"It’s an exciting and busy time for us," Perlstein notes with a smile.
Simmer Café is open for breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Carryout is available.
Lori Fredrich (Lo) is an eater, writer, wonderer, bon vivante, traveler, cook, gardener and girlwonder. Born and raised in the Milwaukee area, she has tried to leave many times, but seems to be drawn to this quirky city that smells of beer and alewives.
Some might say that she is a little obsessed with food. Lo would say she is A LOT obsessed with food. After all, she has been cooking, eating and enjoying food for decades and has no plans to retire anytime soon.
Lo's recipes and writing have been featured in a variety of publications including GO: Airtran Inflight Magazine, Cheese Connoisseur, Cooking Light, Edible Milwaukee, Milwaukee Magazine and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, as well as on the blog Go Bold with Butter, the web site Wisconsin Cheese Talk, and in the quarterly online magazine Grate. Pair. Share.