Uncle Wolfie's Breakfast Tavern sends out an irresistible call for daytime noshing.
The building dates to 1902. If you spent time at Roots, which became Wolf Peach and is now View MKE, you likely are familiar with the two-story Cream City brick beauty across the street. It just looked like it hadn’t been given any attention since, well, forever. Its sinking (read affordable) state made it appealing to Wolfgang and Whitney Schaefer, who bought it in late 2015 and started the painstaking process of turning it into a home, a boutique focusing on goods from women makers, and finally – because it was the last piece to open – a restaurant.
And what a restaurant it is. Lines form on the weekends, when an hour or more wait is common. I’ve shopped in Orange & Blue Co. and skirted around mimosa-drinking patrons biding their time for a table amidst the displays of earrings and body lotion.
Waiting to be seated raises expectations to a heightened level. And the food is good, but chart-topping? Maybe. Everything I’ve ordered has been well-executed and satisfying, and the warm, wood-adorned Wolfie’s decor is comfortable. The bar/lunch counter is the centerpiece of this sunny room, and the banquette-style seating on the perimeter is lined with plush, pretty cushions. And the Schaefers hired an enthusiastic staff of servers and baristas who know how to make espresso drinks. Anodyne is the featured roaster here.
Head chef Joe Singer was about to drop some menu changes at press time, but expect the terrific BELTCH sandwich to stay ($15). This filling, super-tasty breakfast sandwich layered with bacon, cheddar cheese, sambal (chile) aioli, leaf lettuce and a fried egg on toasted sourdough comes with tavern potatoes, which are nicely browned, oven-roasted wedges.
234 E. Vine St.
HOURS: Daily breakfast and lunch
SERVICE: Friendly; expect delays when very busy
RESERVATIONS: Not taken
Wolfie’s will also continue to do burgers, with smash patties joining the menu this summer and burger-and-beer specials on Tuesday and Wednesdays. Singer’s tender, moist beet-cured salmon has been available on a sandwich (an everything bagel with bacon and smashed avocado, $16) and as a protein added to a salad, like the Orange & Blue (as in cheese, $11).
The pulled pork tostada, one of my favorites from the opening menu, doesn’t overwhelm the tortilla with toppings, but it balances quantity with plenty of flavor from the shredded, braised pork, grilled veggies, black bean pico, cotija cheese and guac. ($12). The Millee cheese steak sandwich – with coffee-rubbed beef chuck, pickled jalapeños, onions, beer-cheese sauce and mayo on a hoagie bun – is a hefty handheld creation ($14). It’s more carefully prepared the second time I order it, the meat at its most tender.
In spring, Wolfie’s tested out specials for the next menu. Licking my fingers after digging into the honey-dipped fried chicken (served with bacon braised collards, two fried eggs and a tender, flaky biscuit), I would relish a second meeting with that soul-warming plate ($14). “We’re not using tweezers and James Beard-ing it,” says Uncle Wolfie. “This is approachable food that makes sense when you eat it.” It does indeed.
Still, it’s hard to justify waiting an hour for breakfast. But if you haven’t been to Uncle Wolfie’s, you gotta go. The mystique may lure you in, but the food will keep you coming back.
Three questions with Wolfgang
MilMag: What’s the secret to creating a place that generates so much buzz?
WOLFGANG SCHAEFER: We knew that philosophically we all lined up. You worry about the look, the food and the diners. And we hired really good people who care about the people coming in, and Joe [Singer]’s menu is incredible. Whitney and I were talking about [opening a restaurant] as long as we’ve known each other. I guess it’s all the love we put into it.
MM: When you and Whitney bought the building, people started getting really psyched – and impatient – for something to open in it. What was that period of time like?
WS: We did everything in sections. We did the apartment first, then the brick-and-mortar incarnation of Orange & Blue, where there was no roof or ceiling or floors. We would flip burgers and smoke cigars down in the basement. It was a big endeavor to take all that on. [Laughing] We booted out generations of raccoons from their place.
MM: What’s your philosophy on the menu?
WS: Be malleable. Sometimes you have to “kill your darlings” [a journalism phrase for trimming good content to keep a story short] and do something new! And you gotta pivot for what’s available seasonally.