Ryan Braun – baseball star, clothing line creator, and now restaurateur.
Ryan Braun’s Waterfront, the Third Ward spot named for the Milwaukee Brewers’ left fielder, isn’t a stereotyped celebrity restaurant.
You won’t see an homage to No. 8. No displays of bats or autographed jerseys. No arcade games or “Braun burger” on the menu. Instead, it’s stark, white walls, modern floor lamps and colorful (for-sale) art, and a lounge that smacks of “Miami Vice” and frat boys watching ESPN.
Braun’s runs the length of a brick building at Water and Erie (the former Fratellos), the wooden deck overlooking the Milwaukee River. It has one of the best views in the Third Ward.
The restaurant “says something about the man,” enthuses Patrick Sweeney, who leads the group of investors that approached Braun with this concept. “Braun is a reader, a moviegoer, an art-lover, a renaissance man. The kind of guy who’d make our favorite son,” even though he’s a California native.
Our city already knows Braun as a pro athlete, argues Sweeney, so the group wanted to show his clearly prodigious other interests.
The Madison attorney danced around the question of Braun’s official involvement (as partner or simply namesake), but insists the 26-year-old ballplayer is “very involved. He had input on the design and a lot of commentary as to the menu.”
On the gastronomic end, the approach apparently was to appeal to all manner of Miller Park spectators. There’s a little of a lot – appetizers, salads, pizzas, pasta, steaks, prime rib and seafood. Sandwiches (breaded pork, salmon BLT) and burgers join the lunch roster.
Service, on early visits, didn’t prove to be an asset. And the food needs fine-tuning. The complimentary focaccia with herbed butter and a veggie relish offers a nice beginning. But the bruschetta appetizer with olive oil-tomato topping ($11) was another story. The soggy bread suggested it was made in advance. The deep-fried Brie it was served with seemed a peculiar addition. Another example: I don’t mind the inclusion of rock shrimp to crab in the seafood cakes ($13), but the kitchen was a little heavy-handed with mayo and Old Bay seasoning.
Similarly, the blackened tilapia, seared scallops, and shrimp/crab cake ($22) were smothered in brandy cream sauce. This succeeded in smothering the keen flavors of the fish and seafood. A 10-ounce rib-eye, cooked to a juicy medium, was more marbled than it should have been, and the mashed potatoes, on the salty side ($21).
Braun has said he plans to drop in on his eponymous eatery when the team’s in town, the promise of which will probably lure in some of his 62,000-plus Facebook followers.
Sweeney’s group studied the market for restaurants with athlete-lent names – Pete Rose’s Ballpark Café in Boca Raton, Fla., to the old Brett Favre’s Steakhouse in Milwaukee. The name attracted first-time visitors, he says, but food and service was what brought them back. Months from now, in the throes of winter, that will be the restaurant’s challenge.
Ryan Braun’s Waterfront: 102 N. Water St., 414-727-2888. Hours: Sun 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri-Sat 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Prices: appetizers $8-$18; pizzas $8-$10; pastas $10-$18; entrées $15-$29. Service: young, inexperienced. Dress: Brewers fan-garb appropriate. Credit cards: M V A DS. Smoke-free. Reservations: accepted. Handicap access: yes.