In the last half-dozen years or so, competition between coffee shops in Milwaukee has become a nuanced game of branding, with an emphasis on local sourcing of everything but beans and coffees with flavors as complex as wines (and beers!). Creating a unique and appealing ambiance plays a big role. There has to be a mystique that makes this cafe a mecca to which caffeine-coveting customers want to return again and again. Stone Creek Coffee has been all about shaping that mood, and the new Downer Cafe and Kitchen, inside a redeveloped bank building, is its most sophisticated attempt at that.
Downer integrates the industrial features that make Stone Creek’s factory location and cafe at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee feel edgy and modern, yet it’s warmed by touches that capture more of the spirit of home. For instance, there’s a playful nook-like seating area under exposed pipes but with warm lighting and a bulletin board of graphic prints about water, coffee and our fair city. Diners sipping and working on the south side of the cafe do so under wooden shelves topped with whimsical knickknacks. The strategic design of seating and green space off a bright, welcoming anchor to the block. Another feature here is getting your cup of Joe – and anything else on the menu – at a walk-up window. The cafe feels more personal because there is more of founder/co-owner Eric Resch in it than any other location. Downer is the only location so far to serve the Project EAT menu of Liège-style waffles, egg sandwiches and yogurt bowls – inspired by Resch’s ritual of fixing hot breakfasts for his family and making his own yogurt.
[alert type=white ]COFFEE TO GO
In a rush? Place your order – from a pound of beans to your commuter breakfast – at the convenient (and dog-friendly) walk-up window.[/alert]
Project EAT is an easy concept to like, and besties have quickly risen to the top, for me at least. The Liège waffles, sweeter than typical Belgian waffles ($6-$8.50), have a crispness from the pearl sugar balls in the dough, caramelizing as the waffle bakes in the iron. My favorite ($7.50) comes with roasty Stone Creek coffee-infused butter, crisp Nueske’s bacon and a smidge of maple syrup. A great balance of sweet and salty. The egg sandwiches ($6.50-$7.50), piled into delicate, eggy homemade brioche rolls, are delicious – topped with a crispy or over-easy egg and toppings such as avocado, roasted relish, asadero cheese and sriracha mayo. I love the richness, but (napkin alert) they are messy! Resch’s yogurt fascination pushed the creative line from homemade honey yogurt with fruit and granola to the standout rosewater yogurt with candied lemon, lemon curd, toasted pistachio and pistachio oil ($7). It’s lemony light yet rich enough to be a dessert. That is a duality that Stone Creek is specializing in. The modern coffee experience is playful and serious, jolting and comforting. In a strip of mom-and-pop shops that has struggled to stay relevant, this is a boon to the East Side.
What and When
“Coffee Cachet” appears in the August 2018 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.
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.
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