The chrome swivel stool supports the weight of an adult male. Mid-30s, let’s say. A slight paunch under his golf shirt. Doesn’t seem to register the ESPN on the flat-screen behind the bar. Shows mild interest in the bottled wines and craft beers in the cooler, but it’s a bit early in the day for him, so he refrains.
Where the guy’s gaze is fixed, moth to a flame, is his plate, a mass of Benedict-style eggs with pulled ham. His face is now lost in a sea of poached egg, Hollandaise and meat.
“I didn’t think there’d be this much meat,” he says finally, surrendering his cleaned plate to the bartender/counter server, who looks back sympathetically.
It’s a Monday at Blue’s Egg, the restaurant that picks up where the old 76th Street Heinemann’s left off. Instead of serving baked oatmeal and grilled coffeecake, Blue’s is doing it on its own terms. “Blue” as in Bluemound Road, the cross street for this breakfast-and-lunch joint. And there is perhaps no more crucial component to this menu than the egg.
Milwaukee is a lot of things, but it’s not a breakfast town. A brunch town, yes. But finding a weekday breakfast outside the greasy mold of Webb’s and Ma Fischer’s is a tough task. Yet there is a need. It’s clear from the business types to retirees to young families flocking to this deco dining room.
Dan Sidner and partner Joe Muench (proprietors of nearby Maxie’s Southern Comfort) have built a different breakfast/lunch model. It’s comfort food dipping into Milwaukee’s ethnic past (German, Polish, Irish) and veering into vegetarian (a Benedict with curried tofu) and health-conscious (egg whites available upon request). And the veering won’t end there. By the time you’re reading this, Blue’s should be serving the Sunday staple of hot ham and rolls, and offering a grab-and-go menu.
To those keepers of the Heinemann’s flame, I tell you change can be good. Well-considered change. I won’t say tweaks wouldn’t benefit the model, but Blue’s is off to a good start.
Visually, much has changed since the Heinemann’s days. The Blue’s crew put in a handsome lunch counter (which doubles as a well-stocked bar). The front and back dining rooms in this long space are defined by the lines – square tables, patterned carpet, deco pendant lamps and brushes of color (cream, silver, bronze). The servers, dressed in striped aprons, get to make a statement with their choice of wing-tip shoes.
The menu rolls out classics reinterpreted by chef Muench (who ran the kitchens at Eddie Martini’s and the former Sticks & Stones). The omelets, Benedicts, hash browns and items like the corned beef hash appear on both the breakfast and lunch menus. French toast, pancakes, stratas, and steak and eggs are reserved for breakfast (served till 11 a.m.). Lunch ventures into fried skate wing, veal meatloaf, and chicken and spinach mac and cheese.
What I’ve noticed time and again is that simple dishes – hash browns are seemingly simple – are often a mockery. Blue’s does itself proud with its “browns” – which come plain, with cheese or several additions. The chicken chorizo, spinach and paprika aïoli version is savory, creamy (from the sauce) and crisp, from the well-fried shredded potatoes ($5.95). Underfrying the potatoes left another version (with goat cheese and green olive relish) a little anemic and soft ($5.95).
Though it looked like a small piece, the square of strata (a savory bread pudding) had a fluffy, sturdy texture and hidden chunks of pork sausage and shredded potato. It was far from bland, infused throughout with fresh sage and topped with puréed tomato sauce ($7.95).
Copious pulled pork steals the thunder from the jiggly poached egg and lemony Hollandaise on the classic Benedict ($10.95). Quantity wins. The radical “roti” Benedict ($10.95) left me conflicted. I liked the Indian flatbread instead of an English muffin (and Blue’s homemade English muffins are nice – dense and chewy). I also liked the tofu cutlets lightly seasoned with curry, and the frisée topped with mint yogurt and slivered almonds. But the fried banana (warm, with a quasi-glazed exterior) seemed out of place. As did the poached egg served in another crock.
Dishes like the omelets and Benes come with a side – anything from a petite fruit smoothie (good when it thawed) to a buttermilk pancake to thick bacon to Yukon fries. There’s ring-shaped monkey bread, too ($3.25) – a sticky cinnamon pastry – but I’m a sucker for the dense, streusel-topped coffeecake ($2.95, and look for pecan).
What’s a scrambled egg to do when it shares the pan with calamari, bay scallops and shrimp ($9.95)? Deal with it. It’s a cozy combo. The seafood’s crispy exterior, tossed in clumps of egg, was softened and mellowed by tomato sauce and the paprika aïoli that’s used plentifully here.
I’ve never met a breakfast food that didn’t translate to an anytime meal. Not the same with lunch foods. I wouldn’t crave chicken paillards with polenta ($12.95) for breakfast, but lunch is another thing. The fork-tender sautéed chicken cutlets drink in the light, fresh lemon sauce. The menu promises a “creamy” polenta that’s actually thick and delectably lumpy – much like the mashed potatoes served with a fan-shaped filet of pan-fried skate wing, a menu standout, topped with creamy caper relish ($12.95).
Sidner and Muench are intentional about every decision they make. You may look at the bar, loaded up with booze, and wonder if they’re expecting a run on martini lunches. Midday drinkers aside, Blue’s is prepared to handle private parties afterhours (which is any time after 2 p.m.). I’m just happy to see the breakfast mold broken. It’s more than time.
Blue’s Egg: 317 N. 76th St., 414-299-3180. Hours: daily 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Prices: breakfast and lunch entrées $5.50-$12.95; soups and salads (lunch menu) $3.50-$7.95; “browns” and side dishes $2.50-$5.95. Service: efficient, friendly, working on “polished.” Dress:Just arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Credit cards: M V A DS. Handicap access: yes. Reservations: accepted for parties of eight or more Mon-Fri only.