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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012

Buckley's Growing in Stature

Chef Thi Cao adds impressive touch

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A “Chinese New Year” menu featuring Vietnamese food was spotted at a most unusual place this year—Buckley's, that charming bar and restaurant at the corner of Cass and Wells. The menu was courtesy of chef Thi Cao, who has been at Buckley's since October. Cao's distinguished résumé includes top positions at Café Calatrava and the now-closed Osteria del Mondo.

The regular menu at Buckley's is beginning to show some of Cao's touches. While Kobe beef sliders and a corned beef sandwich remain on the menu, now they are served alongside items like pumpkin-amaretto pasta and gnocchi with chicken liver. Daily specials are also available—one recent, very tempting option was amberjack with fettuccine. Buckley's is now a restaurant to be reckoned with.

The relaxing setting features an impressive carved wooden bar. The décor is simple, with an attractive archway at the entrance, teal-green walls and tables featuring contrasting black and white linens. Another entrance leads to a carryout counter.

With this menu, Buckley's definitely qualifies as a gastropub. A pint of Guinness is the ideal companion for an order of bacon bleu fries ($6). The fries themselves are perfect, not dried out. There is plenty of melted bleu cheese and the pieces of bacon are cooked long enough to remove any traces of fat. The crab cake ($13) is a big offering, meaty and topped with a round pancetta crisp. The chipotle aioli is similar to a remoulade.

The best starter, listed as a salad, is smoked beef with sun-dried tomatoes ($12). Topped with arugula and tossed in a fragrant rosemary and tomato vinaigrette, the salad looks a lot like a presentation of carpaccio. The beef is rare in the middle. This dish is a reminder of the excellent food Cao prepared at Osteria.

The simpler house salad ($5) offers assorted greens with marinated red onions, ricotta salata cheese and spiced walnuts. Roasted red pepper vinaigrette completes this satisfying composition.

Sandwiches are the people's choice at lunch (and are also offered at dinnertime). You will find a burger, corned beef, pulled pork and chicken panini, among others. A vegetarian option is the La Frere brie and tomato melt ($9). The brie is produced in Waterloo, Wis. The Maine lobster roll ($14) is a rightfully simple creation, with tarragon aioli, celery, scallions and a generous quantity of lobster meat.

The entrees include steak au poivre, roasted chicken and plump pork chop. For vegetarians, there is risotto with roasted pumpkin. One dish that stands out from the pack is strozzapreti with wild boar ($21), handmade pasta with burgundy-braised wild boar ragu and grated Parmesan. This palate-pleaser is so very good.

Buckley's has been open for nearly five years. The menu has continued to improve over that time, while still catering to the burger and corned beef sandwich crowd. There is a reason the place fills up quickly, especially for weekday lunches.

Buckley's Restaurant & Bar

801 N. Cass St.

(414) 277-1111

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buckleysmilwaukee.com