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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Butch's Old Casino's Unique Dining Experience

Quality steak, fair prices in one-of-a-kind setting

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Typically, a building without windows is not overly inviting. But Butch's Old Casino defies expectations. In fact, the interior is very inviting. In the bar area, one may observe the chefs in the open-air kitchen. A mezzanine circles the main dining room, which features Victorian décor along with fireplace mantels, leaded-glass lamps and the occasional vintage slot machine. This is a little like dining in grandma's attic.

Over the years chef/owner Butch Schettle has earned a reputation for quality steaks. The trick is the use of cast-iron skillets to cook the steaks. Most of the entrees are prepared this way.

The first page of the menu is devoted to appetizers and steaks; the second page turns to seafood, other meats and combination plates. After the menus are delivered, diners receive a complimentary relish tray with radishes, scallions, carrots, celery and pepperoncini. Some very good Italian bread also arrives on the scene—this is a sign that you will not be nickel-and-dimed here, in contrast to many upscale steakhouses. Entrees also include a choice of soup or salad and potato. The steaks are topped with whole mushrooms. All of this makes the prices ($22.95-$41.95) seem more than fair.

The serviceable soups include a chicken dumpling prepared with carrot, celery and parsley. Decent croutons accompany the house salad, and, in a nod to supper clubs of the past, French Roquefort dressing is still served here. Serious meat eaters may want to try the appetizer of barbecue ribs ($9.95), six ribs with meat that falls off the bone (in other words, not wood-smoked). The sauce is sweet and a bit tangy, but not especially spicy. The escargot ($8.95) offers a serving of six snails, not particularly large, served in melted butter. Good garlic toast accompanies.

Steaks range in price from $22.95 for an 8-ounce filet to $41.95 for a 12-ounce steer filet. You will find New York strip, T-bone, rib-eye and Sicilian steaks priced in between. The chefs are generally on the mark and cook the steaks as ordered.

The New York strip is lean, maybe too lean, and a bit short on flavor. The 20-ounce rib-eye is a better bet, and the steer filets seem to merit the higher prices.

Choice of potato comes down to baked or cottage fries. The accompanying dish of sour cream is nearly as large as the baked potato.

Another house specialty is chicken casino ($21.95), which takes some time to prepare. The pieces of chicken are partially deboned and served with small mushrooms that have been cooked with the chicken in abundant butter. This dish is sinfully rich and delicious.

The giant Guaymas shrimp ($25.95) also live up to their description. This is a serving of four, with each one weighing in at 3 ounces. They have a dusting of seasoned bread crumbs and are served with melted butter and slices of lemon. Size is not necessarily a sign of good quality in shrimp and prawns, but these are mighty fine. Sautéed sea scallops ($25.95) seem like an afterthought—more plentiful than large.

There is a wine list, but with $8 prices for a very ordinary glass of wine, you may prefer to order beer.

The service is pleasant and the food plentiful. It is not uncommon to see half of a rib-eye or steer tenderloin being boxed up for diners to take home. Nobody leaves hungry here. And the eclectic interior makes Butch's one of Milwaukee's most interesting restaurant experiences.

Butch's Old Casino Steak House

555 N. James Lovell St.

(414) 271-8111

$$$-$$$$

butchssteakhouse.com

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