Two years have passed since we announced the news that Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern would be moving into the former tied house at 234 E. Vine St. in Brewers Hill. And now, after a great deal of effort, the project is finally zeroing in on the end of its journey to fruition.
"It’s been almost 40 years since there was an operational bar here," says Wolfgang Schaefer, who will own and operate the restaurant with his wife, Whitney. "A lot has changed over the years and there have been so many things that we’ve needed to address to bring the building back into code. But our timetable has gotten more clear now that construction has begun."
In fact, Schaefer anticipates that the restaurant will be ready for its first patrons sometime this fall. "Our opening is going to happen while we can still drink outside on the patio," he says.
In the meantime, the Schaefers are offering curious guests the opportunity to get a taste of the new restaurant, one pop-up at a time.
Only a few pop-ups until opening
"There’s an aspect of us that’s just eggs and bacon," notes Schaefer. "Another is beer and coffee … and yet another is all about burgers. So, stylistically, we want each event to be very different. We want people to see all the different sides of us."
Uncle Wolfie’s first pop-up preview took place this weekend at Amilinda. And we had the good fortune of sampling some of the creatively executed brunch fare envisioned by the Schaefers in collaboration with Chef Joe Singer, whose resume includes Bass Bay Brewhouse and restaurants including Blue’s Egg and Maxie’s.
Most dishes served are likely to appear on the menu at Uncle Wolfie’s. That includes baked goods, prepared for the pop-up by industry veteran Aaron Cleavland, like bacon and cheese curd buttermilk biscuits and bagel bombs, little pudgy bagel rolls filled with cream cheese, lox and sundried tomatoes.
The savory treats were accompanied by a deliciously different non-alcoholic bloody mary made with dark roasted Anodyne coffee, Uncle Wolfie’s bloody mary mix and rimmed with honey and jerk seasoning. Garnishes included toppers like string cheese and a meat stick, along with citrus fruits and fennel fronds, an element that mimicked some of the subtle flavors in the drink itself.
Many of the offerings were a product of what Schaefer calls "R&D Tuesdays," weekly cooking jams during which Whitney, Wolfgang and Joe [Singer] would brainstorm, collaborate and tweak recipes for the restaurant.
"We goofed off and we made food," says Schaefer. "It was fun. But it also allowed us to hone in on the visual, tactile and taste elements that we were going for with individual dishes. Some things were calculated, but there was also a lot of dart throwing. Nothing is off the table for us."
Take for instance the sweet potato and chorizo omelette, which began as a way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers and evolved into a dish where mashed sweet potatoes are incorporated into the whipped eggs of the omelette, providing both unique flavor and texture to a traditional breakfast offering. From there, the omelette was stuffed with avocado and chorizo and topped with sweet chopped mango, raspberries and a smattering of cilantro.
It was accompanied by a riff on the negroni incorporating Niuka hibiscus tea and a garnish of puckery red veined sorrel.
Schaefer says that, for the pop-up, he concentrated on showcasing cocktails that encapsulated the imagination behind the overall concept.
"Beer is still our favorite," he says. "And it will play a starring role at the restaurant. But we really wanted to showcase thing that we made. I wanted to have my hands on all of the ingredients and really give people a taste of the sorts of things we could do."
Those things include some of the best French toast I’ve had in a while. It was "peanut butter and jelly stuffed," filled with cream cheese and peanut butter and topped with blackberry gastrique.
The accompanying cocktail combined Niuka chai tea and spiced rum with a multi-sensory vanilla bean rimmed glass and whimsical hand-cut animal cracker garnishes.
And when it came to egg dishes, tequila-glazed ham was the star of a riff on huevos rancheros featuring expertly fried eggs, tavern potatoes, cotija cheese and fire-roasted tomatillo sauce. It was served with a light, refreshing candied lemon, fennel and sweet-gin mimosa.
Even the final course, a yogurt parfait, featured layers of complexity. Caramelized bacon granola offered rich smokiness without going over-the-top. And thick Greek yogurt found a foil in moderately sweet cinnamon apples and a rich brown sugar bourbon sauce that made this parfait as brunchy as it could get.
Of course, it was accompanied by another quaff: a delightfully bright and dangerously smooth limoncello creme created from a family recipe gleaned from friends in Italy that’s become a traditional tipple at Schaefer family gatherings.
More to come
The Schaefers purchased the historic Brewers Hill property in autumn of 2015; their first goal was the conversion of the building’s second floor into a residence for their family. From there, they focused on the retail aspect of the business, opening Orange and Blue Co., a boutique home decor outlet that offers a curated mix of vintage and modern home goods and accessories. The shop will eventually become a synergistic aspect of Uncle Wolfie’s, which will showcase many of the shop’s offerings in its decor.
Orange and Blue Co. opened last June. In celebration of the milestone, the shop will host an anniversary shindig that will feature coffee from Pilcrow Coffee Roasting, beer from Warpigs Brewing and a very special appearance by the Uncle Wolfie’s breakfast burrito cart, a former hot dog cart which has been transformed into a joyfully tasty breakfast and brunch-giving affair.
You can watch for additional details on the Orange and Blue Co. Facebook page. You can also chart the restaurant’s progress by following Uncle Wolfie’s Breakfast Tavern's Facebook and Instagram feeds.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.