I've had less than impressive results dining at Milwaukee restaurants that offer prime rib as an everyday special. A cut of meat that is too often cooked incorrectly, dried out, and/or poorly seasoned, prime rib is one of those dishes you either love or hate. When done well, it's exceptional, but when it misses the mark it could turn you off forever.
Because of that, my venture into Ward's House of Prime, the 9-month-old steak house in the former Yanni's location at 540 E. Mason St., was done with some trepidation.
But my fears were unwarranted, because Ward's delivered an above-the-mark dining experience on all counts, including a medium rare 16-ounce prime rib, served with just the right amount of au jus and a side of biting yet smooth horseradish cream sauce and a dreamy bacon and cheddar twice-baked potato half.
Ward's interior doesn't look terribly different from Yanni's, which was just fine with me. The space remains upscale, slightly masculine and just plain lovely. Flat screen televisions line the walls in the separate bar area, creating a completely different ambience than the dining room, and the bar even offers a separate menu that continues into the wee hours of the morning (1 a.m.) with sandwiches, fries and chili.
Ward's provides a nice, upscale spin on a classic steakhouse meets supper club menu. Crab cakes ($13.25), shrimp cocktail ($14.50) and a seafood platter including scallops, a 12-ounce lobster tail and two crab cakes for $83, appear alongside shrimp ceviche ($10.95) and seared sesame crusted ahi tuna ($16.95), the latter of which made for a good appetizer with just a touch of wasabi for some extra pop.
Ward's entrées come priced to include choice of potato and soup or salad, which makes it one of the more reasonable options for steaks Downtown, and for a slight upcharge, you can upgrade to a chopped salad or lobster bisque.
The house salads held their own with baby greens and fresh tomato slices, but the chopped salad was superior, and the lobster bisque was one of the better versions I've tasted; rich and creamy with just enough tomato and cream to give the bisque punch without overshadowing the lobster, I would contemplate a return winter visit for the bisque alone.
Prime rib lovers will find great joy in the variety of portions, and even more joy in that the portions are remarkably served with little or no fat, while still maintaining the prime rib flavor.
Starting at eight ounces and going upwards, diners can order as much as 88 ounces of prime rib, also known as The Mighty Lind, for $99.95 a plate (plus a $10 split plate charge). I happily made my way through the 16-ounce ($27.95) and found it more than enough for one.
Other dishes at Ward's also made the grade, with veal Marsala ($26.95) served in two-inch thick medallions rather than thin cutlets, and with a rich Marsala that was even better when mopped up with garlicky mashed potatoes.
Pan-seared sea bass ($33.95) was flaky and well-seasoned beneath a white wine and dill sauce that brought out the flavors of the fish without being too overpowering.
Service at Ward's was paced slightly slow, but it wasn't enough to mar the evening.
Overall, Ward's offers a well-balanced, fairly priced option for Downtown steakhouse dining, and my experience definitely merits a return visit.
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.