9.28.11 Dinner. Rustico Pizzeria (Third Ward. Milwaukee, WI)

Bar Side of Restaurant.
Toward Rear of Restaurant.
So, it was a Wednesday night and Jamie and I were due for a dinner out.  We both are obsessed with Groupon and I had one for Rustico Pizzeria so we decided that it would be the night to use it.  Both of us had been there before and enjoyed it.  It was an earlier time for dinner, 6pm, and a Wednesday night so of course we didn't have a problem with being seated.  There were many tables open.  It was so early that I think that the after work "happy hour" crowd was still at the bar.  We're getting old... our stomachs demand early bird dinners.

The space itself was the typical Third Ward Milwaukee feel.  Cream city brick walls, long and narrow building and exposed pipes and beams.   It provided a darker ambiance.  The bar is immediately to the right when you enter and there are some high top tables across from it.  Along the rest of the restaurant are low top tables. Old photographs adorn the walls that are painted a nice earthy color.  Despite the brick and exposed beans and pipes, the restaurant provides a warm and homey vibe.

When we were at the table, we must have not hung out in a while because we were a pair of chatty Cathy's.  It took us forever to decide on what we wanted to drink and eat.  Our server was nice and patient with us as we often apologized for not knowing what we wanted time after time that she stopped to check in.  We finally decided on some beverages.  I hoped for an Oktoberfest brew, which they didn't have, but she did offer me a seasonal that they had on tap, Birra Moretti's La Rossa, a doppelbock.  Jamie chose Schlitz, she would.  Side note, Jamie calls me a hipster for drinking PBR while she often drinks Schlitz.  Same thing right? I think it is.  Hypocrite...just saying.  Her Schlitz was a Schlitz.  Not much to say about it but it was nice and cold.  Nobody likes a luke warm and flat lager.  My doppelbock was delicious.  Doppelbock is a darker malty beer.  It was a very smooth beer but of course, since it's dark, it's something I would only have one of.   To me, it had chocolate and coffee tinges to it but on websites, some would describe it as a smokey and oak type of flavor.  Try it out for yourself.

La Rossa and Schlitz.
After more chit chat, we finally started to decide what we wanted to eat.  The menu had lots of pizza options.  We went into this knowing we wanted pizza.  Of course, they had other Italian options.  Since this was a pizzeria, I obviously won't break it up into what we individually ordered as we just shared. We are good sharers.  Although, I'm not the best sharer/split'er unless we each split our own meals and half'sies.  I can eat quite a lot and I like me some food fo' sho'.  Let's get into the goodness then, shall we?
Grandma's Meatballs Served with Bread.

App details:
Grandma's Meatballs.  Three hearty sized meatballs served within their tomato sauce and served with warm bread.  $6.95 

Our Thoughts:
Let me tell ya, my grandma doesn't make meatballs...or at least I don't think she does... But, if she did, I would hope they would taste like these.  These were amazing.  Who knows if it was because I was hungry but Jamie agreed with me.  These meatballs were so flavorful and tender.  It may be the best meatball I've had in a long time (sorry Mom, yours are delicious but these were a party in my mouth).  The meatballs were garnished with some Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs.  The blend of italian spices was perfect.  I'm a marinara snob and their sauce passed my inspection.  It wasn't too acidic like some marinara and tomato sauces can be.  Of course, the soft bread is a nice addition to mop up any left over sauce on our plates or the bowls.  If it weren't frowned upon, I would have licked the bowl and my plate clean.  But, of course I didn't.  Jamie would probably just shake her head at me.

Toscana Pizza.
Pizza Details:
12" Toscana Pizza.  Sausage, porcini mushroom, tomato sauce, mozzarella, and asiago. $13.95

Our Thoughts:
The sausage came in slices of sausage.  Jamie didn't like the fact that it was in slices.  I myself, don't mind the slices but the sausage is somewhat off.  We both agreed that it didn't taste like the typical Italian sausage that we're used to.  But, who knows, we're not Italian sausage specialists.  I couldn't pin point the typical spice I taste in Italian sausage but with some research I found that it was the fennel seed that I didn't notice.  But, who knows, it could have been ground in.  Then, I wondered if it was too porky... couldn't pin point it.  Loved the sauce.  Not sure if it was the same as the one on the meatballs but either way, Rustico knows how to work their tomatoes.  The crust was on the thinner side.  Cheese was good.  Mushrooms were barely noticeable.  So, if you're a mushroom hater, you may be able to slide by with this one.  Overall, the pizza was good but it was a hard act to follow after the meatballs.

Other things to keep in mind:
-Menu included Italian inspired sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes along with pizza's.
-They do have a brunch menu.
-They may be the same owner as Zarletti and Stubby's (noted that they advertise these locations on their website) so if you like those places, you might like this place. 
-Street parking only so you have to consider this.  But, there is a parking structure just down the block and East of their location. 

I really really enjoyed the appetizer in case you already didn't know.  I do enjoy the crust of their pizza's.  They do have desserts and other dishes that I may try another time.  The restaurant set up itself is typical third ward which I do enjoy.  Obviously, I'll come again since I've enjoyed my visits.  If there is another Groupon, I'll definitely get it.  Go and try their food.  If you go, and try out the sausage, let me know what your thoughts are in regard to the slice factor and the flavor flav.

Rustico Pizzeria
223 N Water St 
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 220-9933
Lunch: Monday - Friday 11am
Brunch: Saturday/Sunday 11am
Kitchen open late: Monday - Thursday 12am, Friday/Saturday 1:30am

10.21.11 Dinner. Centro Cafe (Riverwest. Milwaukee, WI)

It was a nice Fall evening.  Christina and I had plans for dinner.  Her choice.  We ended up a Centro Cafe in Riverwest.  This place is a hidden gem!  Definitely has a quaint feel to it.  This was my first time here and I was surprised to see how the inside looked compared to the exterior.  It was a late dinner on a Friday night and you can definitely tell that it was a Friday by how busy it was.  There was quite a bit of wait which allowed us to work up an appetite.

Pasta Line Viewed from Bar.
Bar in the back.
When you first walk in, you notice that it's a skinny and long space.  What appears to be a bar but is really dining that looks upon a chef/cook whipin' up some pasta dishes, runs along the right side of the restaurant. Pretty sweet to be in on the action.  You can see a row of white bowls ready to be filled with some pasta goodness.  A bench lines the left side of the room with close set tables and chairs on the opposite side.  Another row of tables resides between the bar and the tables along the wall.  As you go further back, you take a couple steps to a back bar and a couple low tables with ottoman type seats further back.  It's busy throughout the entire place and it is buzzing with conversation and music that is playing.  If you want to hear your guests, the close seating is necessary due the constant noise.  Overall, the ambiance is of a low lit lounge/cafe.  Christina commented that it reminder her of a space that you would find in Europe.

Tables Set up by the Bar.
We sat in the back waiting for our names to come up on the list.  We didn't order any beverages while we waited.  I, myself, was super hungry and didn't want to get tipsy on an empty stomach.   The wait actually got long enough that we started to get up to check with the hostess and of course, as we did so, the hostess was walking back and calling our name... always happens.  Should have gotten up sooner, right?  The hostess sat us at a table along the bench.  I guess a small container of olive oil broke close to or at our table because you can feel how slick the floor was and someone was just finishing up the wipe down right before we got there.  If it weren't so cramped there, I could have rocked a sweet moonwalk along the floor since it was so slick. Maybe next time...  I would recommend that you take caution when going to sit on the bench as there are low hanging lights that many a restaurant go'er hit their head on.  It was entertaining to watch... of course, that's only if you weren't one of the patrons that did so.

Pinot Grigio.
Our server was quite nice.  She asked us if we wanted to beverage to start and provided us with the specials for the evening.  I ordered a pinot grigio, not quite sure on what kind it was, they only had one option and Christina ordered a seltzer water, her drink of choice.   Always nice to have a DD (designated driver) right?  Right.  As always, I was hassled for my ID.  Let's get real, I've been carded twice to go shopping at the mall after a certain time (at the malls in the Milwaukee area, you need to be 18 years old to shop after 3pm on the weekends unless you have parental guidance).    With our beverages, we were served some warm bread to dip in some olive oil.

There is quite an assortment of Italian dishes on the menu.  The menu is primarily pasta dishes which includes those that are traditional, special to the restaurant or a "pick your own" type of set up where you can choose the pasta, sauce and mix ins.  There are also a list of various sandwiches, antipastos (appetizers) and salads.    On the menu, they boast using locally grown and raised ingredients.  Enough about what's on the menu, let's get to the goodness... the food of course.

Caprese salad.  Bread with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar.
Christina's Choices
Details: Starter (which I of course dove into as well) Caprese salad.  Roma tomatoes, fresh Wisconsin mozarella, basil with a olive oil and balsamic reduction. $7.00
Entree Spaghetti di Fruit di Mare. Calamari,scallops and shrimp in a tomato white wine sauce finished with cream.  $14.00

Spaghetti di Fruit di Mare.
Her thoughts:  The salad brought her past when growing up because she ate it all the time.  It was a nice ratio of tomato, cheese and greens.  The basil was interlaced with some arugula which cut down on the strong basil flavor.  We both agreed that we liked this little touch.  I myself can find that one of the two happens... one, there is too much basil that it overpowers the soft flavor of fresh mozzarella or, two, it ends up being just a tomato and cheese "salad."  When I have a salad, I want me some greens.  Unless, of course, it's a egg, tuna or chicken salad... now that's another story when it's for a sandwich, ya dig?  She enjoyed her pasta dish.  The calamari was a little much for her because of the quantity that was present and also the tentacles.  I've gotten over the tentacle fear and ate them right up.  Can't let good seafood go to waste.  I was struggling toward the end though because I was stuffed.

My Eats
Details: Ravioli.  Lobster ravioli in a garlic cream sauce.  $14.00

My thoughts:  I'm typically not a ravioli person. I often deter from ordering this as sometimes I feel unsatisfied.  It might be the idea that everything is wrapped up in one thing and put together for me.  I think I like the act of eating various things on a plate and being able to mix and match bites and combine at my own will.... Who knows, might be the science side of me?  For the same reason, I usually will not order lasagna.  Although, I do like eating both, I rarely order them at a restaurant.  I'm sooooo glad I went against this.  The lobster ravioli was oh so tasty.  The cream sauce wasn't too heavy or overly garlic that I would be sweating garlic from my pores.  The ravioli were large and filling.  Presentation wasn't the best.  It was all globed in a bowl.  A green garnish perhaps?  But, the flavor outweighs the lack of visual appeal.  There was something in the ravioli that provided some texture.  I couldn't quite pin point it.  Was it a nut?  If so, it was softer.  A walnut perhaps? Or some short of veggie?  No idea.  But, overall, very satisfied with my choice.

Other things to consider:
-Street parking only but even on a Friday night, we were able to get a spot pretty darn close to the front door.  VIP status, even.
-Menu had vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options.  Quite an equal opportunity restaurant.
-Service was nice but there was a bit of a wait which was expected for a Friday night but I wouldn't recommend coming here if you're already super hungry.
Ad on Back Tables.
-Tight set up.  Wouldn't be wheelchair or walker friendly but I'm thinking if it weren't so busy, they'd be able to shimmy some tables here and there.
-They offer their space for private parties or gatherings.  

This was an awesome first experience.  The wait to be seated was worth it.  I would probably go back and try out sitting at the bar so that I could watch the cook/chef make all the delicious dishes.  That may have to be something I do with someone who is in the mood to do the same as I'm sure I wouldn't be paying much attention to the conversion.  And, if I was, it most likely be conversation that goes in the lines of "What was that? How'd they do that? How long did they cook that for? etc."

Centro Cafe
808 E Center St
Milwaukee, WI 53212
(414) 455-3751
Monday - Thursday 5-9pm
Friday/Saturday 5-10pm
Sunday: closed "for football"
Sunday available for rental.