Comet Cafe Makes a Triumphant Return

The East Side landmark and hipster diner is fulfilling comfort food dreams once again.

Seeing restaurants go to the great beyond is not something I relish. I’ve got a mental list of places I wish would come back, most of them unlikely, but a girl can dream. But the recent resurrection of the cult favorite Comet Cafe, which had closed in 2020 after a not-too-shabby 25 years in business, is pretty remarkable. It’s not easy to open a restaurant, let alone pick up the pieces of one that broke apart, in these post-pandemic times. 

The 2022 take on the East Side hipster hangout once featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” feels like the best sort of rerun – with many of the most-yearned-for dishes back, along with the energetic staff and new owners at the helm. By the time Comet shut down, it may have been a blessing. For a few years prior, it just felt like the restaurant was losing steam. This new ownership – the team behind Bay View’s Honeypie Cafe (who were part of the Comet magic for 10 years during its previous run) – gets a big thumbs up. 

Meatloaf with beer gravy from Comet Cafe; Photo by Chris Kessler

 

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Their keep-what-works approach is right on. The menu got a bit of a refresh, but there are plenty of old favorites here – like the poutine, tofu wings, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, “compact” turkey dinner, breakfast served all day (bacon pancakes!), the Buttafuoco sandwich (if you don’t need to Google it, you’re of a certain age) and lots of sweet, gooey pie. And the space – chrome counter stools, vinyl booths, mural art – feels like time stopped at the height of the good-Comet era. 

And the food, well, it’s nostalgic-delish. The best of Comet is for treating yourself – though you can get a good salad here, like the wedge with fried chickpeas, pickled red onion and avocado ranch ($15), or sprouted lentils with goat cheese, cucumber and hydroponic greens in tomato vinaigrette ($15). But why not embrace gluttony by ordering the poutine – Wisco cheese curds, fries and pulled pork smothered in beer gravy ($16)? You’ll also find it in the spinach artichoke dip with plenty of cream cheese and parm served scoopably tasty with toast ($14). And the cheesy double-baked potatoes with curds and cheddar ($10), the dreamy bacon-wrapped meatloaf with salted rye beer gravy ($17), and the compact turkey dinner of beer-battered, deep-fried balls of turkey, sage stuffing and cheesy mashed potatoes, served with country gravy ($17). I’d gladly eat any of them again, if I could get past the grilled three-cheese sandwich with creamy tomato soup ($14). I love to dunk my sandwich in the smooth, just-rich-enough soup and think about grade school days when I went home for lunch – for a much less luxe interpretation, I might add. Yep, here I am firmly in the camp of welcome-back. The Comet Reboot Club, as it were. 

Pie from Comet Cafe; Photo by Chris Kessler

Comet Cafe

1947 N. FARWELL AVE. | 414-509-6028

Hours: Kitchen Wed-Sun 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Prices: Sandwiches $12-$16; entrées $16-$18

Service: Very friendly, knows the ropes

Reservations: No


Make a Comet Classic:

Creamy Tomato Soup

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper (or store-bought roasted)

2 tbsp. minced garlic 

1/2 medium Spanish onion, diced 

¼ cup olive oil 

Salt and pepper, pinch of each

1 28-oz. can San Marzano whole tomatoes 

1 bay leaf 

2 tbsp. vegan sour cream 

Method

1. Roast red bell pepper in oven until charred. Peel off charred skin and de-seed.

2. In medium pot, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil on medium-low heat until onions are translucent. Season mixture with a pinch of salt and pepper. 

3. Add tomatoes, red pepper and bay leaf to the pot. Simmer on low for 45 minutes to an hour. It will reduce by one-quarter. Remove from heat, and carefully purée with an immersion blender or a food processor. Stir in sour cream and season with salt and pepper.


 

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s October issue.

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Ann Christenson has covered dining for Milwaukee Magazine since 1997. She was raised on a diet of casseroles that started with a pound of ground beef and a can of Campbell's soup. Feel free to share any casserole recipes with her.