02.03.13 Brunch. Simple Cafe (Lower East Side. Milwaukee, WI)

Last week, we were walking home from Landmark Lanes after a riveting bout of bowling and saw the Simple Cafe.  This was the first I heard about the new restaurants that opened up in the old Crank Daddy's location Farwell Avenue.  One of them was Simple Cafe, a brunch joint.  So, Christina and I decided to try it out for Sunday brunch.  Christina thought this was a great location for a brunch place to pop up because this block of the lower east side was lacking solid restaurant to pull people in. 

From the back of the restaurant.
It was a Saturday, around 1:00pm.  Upon looking into the store front, it looked empty but when you walk in, you realize that it's such a long space that you almost can't seen the whole place at a quick glance.  The building is long and the space has larger rectangle tables at the front and smaller square tables seated along both sides of the restaurant in the back.  When you first walk in, there is a counter with registers and happy people greeting you and waiting to seat you.  In the back, there is a coffee bar and benches along each wall that seat small square tables.  The restaurant is full of fun bright colors.  When you look around you notice small details that they have put into the space that include different light fixtures that include recycled pots and pans painted white hanging from the ceiling as light fixtures and all different types of bulbs above the tables.  The tables are a wood butcher block'ish style with brightly colored chairs... red along the walls and orange straight down the middle to pull your eye along the length of the restaurant.  The decor is very similar to their first location in Lake Geneva, per their website.  There is a good mix of the people that the restaurant have pulled in, middle aged couples, younger pairs of friends and smaller groups of people.
Coffee bar and the pot and pan lights.

There was immediate seating and when we first arrived the restaurant was about a third full but before we left, it was filling up nicely and bustling.  They sat us at a table in the back.  It was only a few minutes before a server took our beverage order and with coffee cups pre-set at the tables, how could you say no? I took the bait and had coffee especially since they support local and brew Alterra coffee... yum.   Christina, of course, was happy to find out they serve Coke.  It was out of the can, but a safe bet, especially when, per Christina, out of the gun Coke, is sub par.   First glance at the menu is overwhelming.  Not a good menu for the indecisive ones out there.  They may have a mini panic attack (not really).  The menu includes breakfast dishes, lunch dishes, soups, salads and a kid menu.  You definitely want to look at it all because it's not your usual breakfast menu.  Of course they have the simple egg dishes... the two egg, meat and bread... but then they have omelets, frittatas and hashes but with unique options and farm to table flare.  What's also unique to most brunch places is that they have Korean inspired dishes.  They have a Korean breakfast bowl that looks strikingly similar to bibimbap.  I noticed this immediately and got a little excited since I love me some bibimbap and made a mental note of it in case I didn't get it this round.  This would be a good moment to take an aside and fill you in on the 411 of the restaurant itself.

The original restaurant is located in Lake Geneva and per a blog on onmilwaukee.com, the restaurant owners were searching far and wide, from coast to coast to find the best location.  Lucky for us, they decided on Milwaukee.  The restaurant boasts its commitment to supporting local by being farm to table and having a commitment to sustainability through recycling and composting.  Christina had done some background reading on the establishment and informed me that, they are still currently using Lake Geneva for their source of food until they develop relationships with local Milwaukee area farmers.  Also, you will notice the Korean flare to the menu as she read that one of the owners brings their cultural cuisine to the menu. 

Now back to the important stuff, the food.  It was terribly difficult to decide on what to eat and our server was very patient with us and she actually complimented us on being very polite diners which was sweet of her to say. But, we finally decided and here's what we thought.  

Christina's pick
Details: The Simple Club.  House roasted pesto marinated turkey breast, fruitwood smoke bacon, lettuce, tomato, overnight oven roasted tomato mayo served on a toasted whole wheat bread with a side of Simple potatoes.  $9.25  She asked for the bacon on the side because doesn't really like bacon on a cold sandwich... to each their own, right?  I myself would want double the bacon on each side of the sandwich... it makes everything better. 

Blurry pic of the Simple club with side of Simple potatoes.
What she thought:  The sandwich was stacked 4 layers high which is always an impressive presentation.   Everything tasted very fresh.  She thought the pesto was a nice addition to the sandwich.   This was a nice accent because sometimes she feels that if it says it's marinated, you don't always taste it.  But, with this sandwich, she didn't.  She really enjoyed the bread that it was served on.  It was toasted but still soft.  It was a more dense bread versus an airy Wonder bread'ish slice (you know what I mean).  Lettuce was fresh and crisp which added nicely to the texture of the sandwich.   Between bites, she said that "this is definitely something she can't make at home."  She often rates things on if it is reproduce-able at home or not.  I think it could be, but as I always say, everything tastes better when someone else makes it for you, even a simple PB&J.  The hearty side of potatoes were simple, no pun intended, yet good.  They were a lightly seasoned roasted potato with the perfect crisp on the outside and a green onion confetti on top. 

My pick
Details:  Turkey, Bacon, Brussels Sprouts Hash.  House roasted turkey, shredded brussels sprouts, bacon, gruyere cheese, caramelized onion, potato and two eggs any style (I chose over easy).    $9.95 I chose to substitute a short stack of their buttermilk pancakes instead of bread. $2.50

Turkey, Bacon, Brussels Sprouts Hash with a short stack.
What I thought:   Love at first glance.  The presentation is great.  Love the large white plates (mind you... everything matches from the plates to the salt and pepper shaker).  Quite a large serving.  The eggs were prepared just right.  Any time there is a hash, I prefer a runny egg to use the yolk as something to give the hash a sauce.  Nobody wants a dry hash and when I mean nobody, I mean me.  But, with this hash, it was moist enough without the yolk running over it.  I've had a new found love for brussels sprouts lately so I loved this.   You'd think that the usual slightly bitter flavor of them might be overwhelming in this dish especially with the light flavor of turkey but it wasn't.  This was most likely due to them being shredded (for the most part, as there were some larger bites so if you're a anti-brussels don't get this), the creaminess of the gruyere and the sweetness of the caramelized onions.  This hash was nicely distributed and evenly balanced each ingredient so you got a little in each bite.  Of course, I may be biased, but the bacon made it just lovely.  It added that salt kick that most egg dishes need.  I'm typically a salter and a hot saucer, I know, I know, it's rude to do so... but, this one didn't need either of the two since it had good flavor.  This dish made me think of a Thanksgiving turkey dinner in one dish.  Would be a great idea for turkey day leftovers.  Definitely beware of how well the cheese is melted... not a first date dish as you do need to watch out for the long cheese strands that can be hanging from your mouth.  Don't pretend like you don't know what I mean.  The pancakes were cooked well... fluffy yet not overcooked and dry.  It had a nice moisture to it and didn't need a lot of syrup.

Other things to consider:
- Free, off-street parking available which is always nice for east side locations.  But, some of this may be removed as they do plan on expanding to outdoor seating
- Kid friendly as they do provide a kid menu
- Gluten free and vegetarian friendly
- Thorough with quality checks, refills on coffee and water
- No alcohol... so if you're in the bloody mary or mimosa mood, either pick somewhere else, plan to go to two places (one for food and one for brunch spirits) or make you're own at home.
- Changing seasonal menu since it is farm to table
- Christina commented that the bathroom was awesome and recommends checking it out
- They offer to give you a cup of coffee in a to-go mug on your way out

This was a great first experience.  I will definitely add it to my "bring people from out of town for brunch," list.  It's fresh, supports local and has a unique flare to the traditional brunch menu.  The size and appeal of the menu pulls me into wanting to go back again and again.   Plus, the nice server said we were the most polite she had all day and who doesn't like a compliment?   I know I do.  Check it out and feed your belly with some tasty, fresh, local food.  Cheers!

Simple Cafe
2124 N Farwell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53202
  (414) 271-2124
simplecafelakegeneva.com  (on their flier they have simplecafemilwaukee.com but it's not up and running yet as of 2/9/13)
Monday - Friday 6am - 3pm
Saturday 7am - 3pm
Sunday 8am - 3pm

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