Cruising for a restaurant: Port of Call Bistro & Beer Garden
Those sleek Edelweiss river cruise boats that slide beneath Downtown bridges during the summer have an onshore year-round sibling. The boats and the Port of Call Bistro & Beer Garden, appropriately located along the Milwaukee River at Wells Street, share the same owners, Robert Carr and Dan Jorgenson.
Carr was captain of the two Edelweiss vessels when they were owned by Hans Weissgerber III's Waterfront Entertainment Group, and Jorgenson was involved with the Washington Island Ferry Line. They bought the river boats in 2007 and opened Port of Call last St. Patrick's Day.
Besides giving the business a 12-month a year presence, the Port of Call kitchen and staff provide the food and beverage service aboard the boats. That gives the Edelweiss operation flexibility with such things as adding last minute customers, according to Port of Call general manager Mat Grasseschi.
But the restaurant and bar also stands on its own two sea legs, drawing distinctly different sets of customers at different times of the year. Port of Call's spacious outdoor patio on the river attracts warm weather diners and drinkers spending lazy afternoons and evenings watching boat traffic pass by.
When temperatures cool and days shorten, Port of Call feeds audiences on their way to shows at the nearby Pabst Theater, Off the Wall Theatre, Marcus Center and Milwaukee Rep. The restaurant's rhythm completely changes as the staff puts the pedal to the metal to get its customers in their theater seats on time.
Grasseschi studies the calendars of all the show venues each week to have his kitchen, bar and servers ready for the pre-curtain tsunami. "We have it down. We can push out a lot of food at a high quality," he says, adding that diners on a deadline can figure on getting in and out of the restaurant in less than an hour.
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I loved Port of Call (past tense). This entire article affirms my current aversion to the restaurant. When Port of Call opened last March, the menu was remarkable. I used to go there because there were items on the menu that couldn't be found at any other restaurant in Milwaukee. After the original head chef left, the culinary innovation followed. The menu was reduced to mirror the numerous mid-grade menus found at other restaurants within the city. According to the new head chef, "People don't go out anymore to try things. They go out to get a version of what they know they will like." Really? Define "people", as I completely disagree. In response, why go out for something you could make for yourself? Port. Of. Borrrring. The current menu is dominated by steaks and burgers. I applaud you for sticking to the nautical theme, Port of Call. One more thing, if you are looking for a great steak or burger, there are plenty of other Milwaukee spots to find one. This boat has a hole in it, and it's taking in water.
What the chef had to say about people not going out to try new things dissapointed me. The first time I went to POC this past summer, I order guacamole off the app menu. It was excellent and the perfect thing to go with our drinks as we took in the sun on the outdoor patio. A few weeks later (still summer) I decided to go back there for the guacamole, and it was no longer on the menu. (guacamole isn't even that 'out there' of a food, imo) I was very dissapointed. I never remember seeing the Napa Thai Salad on the menu, but that is exactely the type of thing I would order. I understand that they are trying to run a business, and therefore have to put all the standard burgers and fries on the menu, but that still doesn't mean that if they have a few unique dishes that they do well, that they shouldn't include a few of them on the menu. I guess that I am one of the rare ones that still go out to eat to try something different. Looking at their menu right now, nothing stands out from any other restaurant around the area. I could get anything on their menu anywhere else. I'd go back for drinks on the patio, but on the 1-2 occasions I choose to go out to eat each month, I wouldn't pick it.
I love Port of Call.......I know I can come there for a good bite or can rely on it as a place to go for watching sports games...It has a comfortable feel to it that I just can't really describe. Good eats, good peeps, good times..
Chef, little depressing isn't it? Every chef grapples with the same thing. What he wants to do vs what the customers want him to do. Compromise, invest in the future and dream of doing it your way some day.
I agree with Not a Wine Snob. Waitresses at a downtown restaurant, even a "meat and potatoes" place, should know how to serve wine.
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