El Canaveral’s Mexican Charm
Authentic food in a warm, friendly setting
Located in a corner
tavern once called the Coventry
and later Benjamin Brigg’s, El Canaveral’s building is a classic. On the
outside is a rare Schlitz advertising blue-and-white mosaic dating back to the
1890s. The interior has had a post-Prohibition update with a newer bar, leaded-glass
windows and wood wainscoting. A cabinet in the bar holds vintage Schlitz
The current owners
have managed to merge Mexican touches with the vintage pub. Bold colors cover
the plaster walls and paper streamers brighten the rear dining room. An outdoor
patio offers additional tables and another small bar.
The touches that
make El Canaveral special are seen immediately. Tortilla chips arrive with no
fewer than four salsas. The mildest has a tomato base with cilantro and a hint
of hot pepper. The spice levels crank up with the creamy purees, one a verdant
green and another—the hottest—with an orange hue.
In addition to basic
Mexican fare, the menu also covers some unique items. Sopes ($3), thick corn
cakes served with a choice of toppings, are not overly common in Milwaukee. The tinga is
pulled chicken meat with a gentle jolt of chile pepper. Ensalada de nopales
($6.95) is also rare in this city. Nopales, or opuntia cactus paddles, have a
slightly tart flavor and make for a fine salad. In this case they are
accompanied by avocado, onion, tomato, cilantro, white cheese and dried chiles
de arbol. The tomato is the more flavorful Roma variety—a touch rarely found at
When it comes to
quesadillas ($3.95), optional fillings include flor de calabaza (squash
blossom) and huitlacoche (corn fungus). Admittedly, corn fungus doesn’t sound
appetizing; instead, think of it as a variety of mushroom with a nutty flavor.
It is served chopped in a large homemade tortilla, with the tortilla folded in
half to look like an oversized taco. Fillings include lettuce, tomato and sour
codorniz a la plancha ($12.95), a Cornish hen coated in a paste of mild
guajillo chile peppers and served split. The tender meat falls from the bone.
The accompanying refried beans are nothing special, but the white rice has a
few pieces of potato in it and the pico de gallo is terrific. The pico is made
with tomato, onion, cilantro and fresh lime juice—again, superior tomatoes make
a big difference.
When serving birria,
most local Mexican restaurants use goat meat. El Canaveral offers birria de
borrego ($8.95), which is made with lamb. The boneless meat is a tad fatty, and
the broth has a rich mahogany color due to chile peppers. A small plate of
chopped onion, cilantro, lime wedges and dried chiles comes on the side. This
is a very good birria.
The more common
items also show fine touches. The tortilla soup ($4.50), one of the city’s
better ones, adds avocado to the chile-infused broth. The camarones a la diabla
($13.95) includes many jumbo shrimp. The diabla sauce, made with dried chiles
and in the medium spice range of this sauce, is well worth ordering. Tilapia is
hardly a favorite fish, but the mojarra al gusto ($10.95) is a whole fish prepared
in a variety of ways. It also is offered “a la diabla,” but the “mojo de ajo”
will appeal to milder palates.
El Canaveral has hit
its stride. It serves unpretentious Mexican fare in a charming, casual setting.
The service is warm and friendly. And in a nod to Milwaukee tradition, the bar continues to
serve Schlitz on tap.
2501 W. Greenfield Ave.
Credit Cards: MC, VS