Earlier this summer, after months of anticipation, a new Tulip, 117 N. Jefferson St., began to bloom in the Third Ward. The Mediterranean and Turkish restaurant joins the stretch of Jefferson and Erie that once was desolate riverside and is now a condominium and entertainment lover’s dream.
Tulip’s interior is warm and muted with eye-catching artwork and beautifully intricate hanging light fixtures over the bar. The outside terrace features small tables with umbrellas and a fairly significant parking lot, which makes Tulip one of the easier restaurants to visit in this part of town.
Atmosphere and menu items here have great potential to take Mediterranean style cuisine to a higher level, but if there is one restaurant in Milwaukee that is most likely to falter due to service problems, it is Tulip.
Tulip’s menu contains a fairly substantial appetizer selection which seems to be the kitchen’s biggest strength as well. Hummus, red pepper dip and haydari (a Turkish yogurt dip with cucumbers, seasonings and feta) were coupled with grape leaves in a customized cold appetizer for $16 (items can be ordered individually for $4-$6 each). The grape leaves are exquisite, stuffed with currants, pine nuts and just a hint of cinnamon and drizzled with olive oil.
Hummus, too, shone as a light and creamy version; delightful when served on split slices of the pide (Turkish flatbread) that arrive upon seating. Red pepper dip was a spicy combination of red peppers, red pepper pastes and other seasonings, and also was very good with the breads. The haydari was creamy and somewhat pungent, and very unique in its flavor composition.
Calamari ($7) from the hot appetizer menu, was light golden brown and cooked tender crisp, but was seasoned with far too much salt. I couldn’t surmise if the salt came from the breading or was added after frying, but either way, it ruined the dish, which came with an otherwise beautiful presentation and a delicious tarator, a Turkish spread or dip with walnuts, garlic and tahini.
Entrees of iskender (thin slices of lamb and beef in tomato sauce over chopped bread-$16) was similar to gyro meat in a tomato paste based sauce. A yogurt sauce that accompanied it helped cure the somewhat dry texture of the meat.
Doner, similar to a gyro, again with thin slices of lamb and beef over thin pita breads ($14) was again a bit dry. Grilled meatballs ($12) were beef and lamb combined again, and were juicy and tender, but tasted mostly of the ground beef and were almost like tiny, juicy little gourmet hamburgers.
Our favorite entrée, the lamb shoulder, featured tender lamb stuffed with spinach and ground lamb and topped with a rich gravy with mushrooms. Other dishes were served stuffed with apricots or pistachios, two items that are fairly prominent in Turkish cuisine, and make for interesting and unique flavor combinations. And the side dishes at Tulip were also very unique, with options for a white rice mixed with vermicelli, a lovely bulgur mixture and a rice spiced with cinnamon that was wonderful.
Service at Tulip, however, is abysmal. We waited on one occasion for 20 minutes to get our check so we could leave, and on another visit for 15 minutes before our waitress even arrived to greet us. We asked if our calamari was supposed to be so salty and our server said she would take it off of our bill for us, but when the check arrived, the calamari was still there.
And around us we saw patrons at other tables trying to flag down waitresses or standing up to go to the bar to get service. With all the great things Tulip has going for it: great atmosphere, a unique menu and a niche as the only Turkish restaurant in the city, it needs to quickly and deftly correct service problems so it can truly blossom.
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.