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Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011

Rumpus Room Fits Well in Milwaukee

Bartolotta scores again with Water Street gastropub

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The Bartolotta restaurant empire continues to expand. In 2010, it was the Harbor House, a joint venture with local philanthropist Michael Cudahy. This October, it was the Rumpus Room, located on Water Street in Milwaukee's Downtown.

“Rumpus Room” may seem like a curious name for a restaurant group that prides itself on fine dining and wine lists. And, indeed, the Rumpus Room is intended to be different from the others. Its gastropub theme means plenty of beer, not so much wine, and plates on the smallish side. It also means lower, more affordable prices.

The décor itself is worth a visit. About all that remains of the former Eagan's is the long bar. Now the place is a dark dining hall filled with European flavor—this place would be at home in a city like Vienna or Budapest. Along with floors of reclaimed wood are bronze and glass chandeliers from a Chicago church.

Still, this is intended to be a casual place, and the staff dresses accordingly—weekends feature a pajama brunch at which the wait staffed is dressed in pajamas and customers are encouraged to do the same. The restaurant is open for weekday lunches, but the ideal time for the gastropub experience is at dinnertime.

Be sure to start with some cured meats and cheese. The five meats and 10 cheeses ($3 each) may be ordered separately. The slices of cured duck breast are sublime, and the La Quercia “Rossa” prosciutto makes for a close runner-up. The cheese focuses on Wisconsin artisanal producers, with a thoughtful list that includes Widmer's six-year cheddar, Dunbarton Blue and Marieke Gouda. The cheese includes rounds of baguettes and a sprinkling of crushed walnuts.

The Rumpus house salad ($6) presents a nice mixture of fresh greens and pickled crunchy vegetables. The vegetables, in the shape of threads, are good with the cherry vinaigrette. There is also Carr Valley beer cheese soup ($6), topped with crumbs of pork belly. On the side is a small bowl of spiced popcorn that may be added to the soup.

An appetizer that is a must is the duck confit ($10) with buckwheat crepe, a few walnuts and a sweet/sour cherry port gastrique. This is a delight at a modest price. There is also a daily flatbread special. The crust is thin and a little bit puffy—a soft crust. One day the toppings were bacon, leek, Gruyere cheese and crème fraiche.

All of the entrees have been expertly prepared. On the pub side of gastropub, the bangers and mash ($16) offers Usinger's pork kielbasa, garlic mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage. The fried chicken ($16) here is not your ordinary fried chicken. Featuring a thin batter coating, it is served over sautéed escarole with slices of wild mushrooms. Underneath is ham hock brodo that manages to unify the disparate flavors. Braised pork shoulder ($16) provides comfort food with sides of brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and apples. Among the other entrees are fish & chips, a bone-in ribeye, pork schnitzel and veal meatloaf.

Judging by the amount of business, the Rumpus Room is already a great success. The beer list is extensive and includes a delightful rye beer from Michigan. The back bar offers plentiful options—this is a hot spot for the whiskey connoisseur. The Rumpus Room feels like a very good fit for Milwaukee.

Rumpus Room

1030 N. Water St.

(414) 292-0100

$$-$$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Handicap accessible

rumpusroommke.com