Downer Avenue – the commercial area between Webster and Park Place – is starved for some snappy nightlife. In my head, the long-deceased Coffee Trader has become something better than it was. To me, that place was all about atmosphere, seeing and being seen. The Trader also had nachos I was pretty crazy about. Now on Downer, a few storefronts are empty and the old Gil’s Cafe space (2608 N.) has a new tenant. Cafe Hollander is the Great White Hope for Downer Avenue. The cafe is another project brought to us by Diablos Rojos, whose other businesses include Trocadero and Balzac. Hollander, which is inspired by a country in the Netherlands (hint, hint), should be open as you’re reading this, although finishing touches on the space will continue to happen next week.
The hours are easy to remember: Mon-Sat 7 a.m.-2 a.m. In the morning, you can drop in for a coffee and pastry. At noon, it’s lunch. Evening? Dinner. Late night? More food and drink. The menu has an interesting section devoted to the fried potato – in Holland, fried spuds are referred to as “patat.” And instead of ketchup, in Holland, people eat fries smothered in mayonnaise. At Hollander, you have a lot of smothering options – six kinds of mayo, a spicy Thai peanut sauce, honey mustard, curry ketchup, blue cheese, ranch dressing and several more, including plain old ketchup. Also among the Hollander fry specialties is poutine, a Quebecois creation of fries topped with gravy and melted cheese. Look away from the fries and you’ll see diversity on this menu – fried calamari, chicken saté, pizza Margherita, Hollander burger, Downer Ave. BLT, tuna confit salad, Flemish beef stew, wild mushroom pappardelle, white chocolate crème brûlée and plenty more ($3.50-$24). 2608 N. Downer Ave., 963-6366.
Pfister’s New A-Lister?
This must be the week of restaurant openings because we’ve got another one – Mason Street Grill at the Pfister Hotel (425 E. Mason St., 298-3131). If you look at the address, you should notice something different. It’s not in the basement, where Celia used to be. It’s ground level, facing the corner of Mason and Jefferson. Some official opening dates to remember: On Friday December 1, the grill will serve its first dinner. On Monday January 15, lunch service starts. Among those who had a hand in this new business are Mark Weber, the former chef/owner of Watermark who’s now the hotel’s director of food and beverage, and Peter Donahue, best known for his gig as wine director of Bartolotta Restaurant Group. Donahue is managing the new Pfister restaurant. I’m looking at the dinner menu right now and it appears you could either go light (with a grilled chicken Caesar salad) or heavy (a 12-ounce filet mignon with Bearnaise sauce). There are various wood-grilled skewers (kebabs, in other words), steaks and chops, fish and seafood. I’d expect that at a grill. What I wouldn’t expect: chicken pot pie; veal stroganoff; liver, bacon and onions; and a Maine lobster roll. I hear comfort food talking to me. In the side dish category, there are also deeply soothing names – mac and cheese, spaghetti squash, Delmonico potatoes, and spinach and water chestnuts. Sandwiches and salads $9.75-$18.50. Entrées $14.50-$48.50.
As long as we’re on the topic of openings, Bay View is sporting something new on the east side of South KK. The fellas who ran Xel-ha on the corner of Howell and Lincoln are a little over a week into their new venture, Riviera Maya (2258 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 294-4848). It’s festive, with warm colors and lighting – very different from when this storefront hosted the sterile looking Q Real American Food. Part of it is the bar, which Gilbert Botello and his partners added to the space. Xel-ha fans will be relieved that the menu hasn’t changed too much. But in addition to the moles (Pipian, chile verde), tacos, chiles rellenos and other Mexican basics that continue to populate the menu, Riviera has three new vegetarian entrées – breaded plantain patties filled with Chihuahua cheese, a layered eggplant creation and cabbage rolls stuffed with zucchini, corn and others ($10.95 each). Every entree comes with a complimentary bowl of tortilla soup, a nice touch that remains from the old restaurant. Hours: Tues-Sat 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun-Mon 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Are visions of holiday baking dancing in your head? Frankly, I’m still recovering from pumpkin pie. Years ago, we gave a Best of Milwaukee award to West Allis’ Cook’s Cake Decorating & Candy Supplies. The place is a haven of gadgetry. I stumbled onto Cook’s Web site the other day and wow, I learned a few things about 3D cakes and hard candy. If the 73rd and Greenfield store location isn’t convenient, you can order from their online store. Pans, cake kits, edible decorations, cookie cutters, candy molds. I’m stopping, but the list doesn’t end there. Check it out: www.cookscakeandcandy.com.
Can’t get enough dining? I chat about restaurants every Friday with Jane Matenaer and Kidd O’Shea on “The Mix.” Listen between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on December 8. That’s 99.1 WMYX-FM.