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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Riverwest Co-op: Good Things Come in Small Packages

Café offers vegan- and vegetarian-friendly breakfast, lunch and dinner

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A decade ago the Riverwest Co-op opened its doors in a classic Milwaukee setting. Located in the heart of Riverwest, you will find the co-op on a quiet street a block from the spires of St. Casimir's church and across the street from the Polish Falcon Bowl.

The front area features a small market with organic goodies of all kinds. Diners walk through the market on their way to the café, which opened in 2004. There are just six tables, but Riverwest Co-op proves that small can be good.

The open-air kitchen sits behind a deli case filled with salads. Pick up a menu and place your order there. Daily soups, listed on a chalkboard, tend to be very good.

In addition to a breakfast menu, you will find a menu for lunch and dinner. Items are offered in vegetarian and vegan form. Vegan items offer substitutes for eggs; use Teese instead of cheese; and replace mayonnaise with Vegenaise. Many of the items replicate meat dishes. The co-op's version of the Southern classic biscuits and gravy ($5.95) uses soy sausage and vegan biscuits to make a tasty dish without any meat.

The lunch and dinner menu is all about sandwiches, and there are many worthy options. The “phamous Philly” ($7.95) offers a good meat-free cheese steak. It is made with seitan (better known as wheat gluten), onions, peppers, Vegenaise and a choice of dairy cheese or Teese. The tempeh Reuben ($6.95) is made with soybeans in place of corned beef. The flavor isn't the same as a typical Reuben, but this sandwich is still a winner. In addition to the expected Teese, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and grilled caraway rye bread, pine nuts make for a welcome surprise. Another good item is the port o' milly ($7.95), which offers onions, bell peppers and marinated portobello mushrooms with Teese or cheese.

The barbecue tofu ($6.95) does not imitate anything—and it does not need to, either. The tangy, spicy barbecue sauce would be great on anything.

Bi bim bop ($6.95), a pleasant Korean dish of rice and vegetables typically topped with a fried egg, is served all day. Here tofu is offered as a substitute. This version of kimchee is made with red cabbage; though it is not spicy, that fine barbecue sauce does the trick.

A half-sandwich with a cup of soup ($6.95) makes for a good lunch, as the sandwiches are large. Among the daily soups you will find a curry sweet potato that lives up to its name—a purée with gentle, soothing spices. The flavorful tomato vegetable soup features celery, onion, carrot and bell pepper. Garbanzo and spinach soup is another winner.

The salads in the deli case are sold by the pound, but they also may be added as a side for any order. The Southern chipotle sweet potato salad offers a hint of the hot peppers. The Mexican slaw, made of red cabbage with fresh corn kernels, is dressed with cumin-lime vinaigrette and chopped cilantro—a perfect side for summer.

This is the best time of year to visit the café. The garage-door-like window is opened and outdoor seating doubles the capacity. When your meal is finished, head to the cashier in the adjacent market to pay the bill. A tip jar is located next to the register—and the chefs at Riverwest Co-op deserve it.

Riverwest Co-op & Café

733 E. Clarke St.

(414) 264-7933

$

Credit Cards: MC, VS

Handicap Accessible

riverwestcoop.org