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Monday, Feb. 17, 2014

Allium Serves Wisconsin with a European Accent

Great café in a historic spot

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The lovely building is an architectural gem from Milwaukee’s days as an outpost of European culture in the era of Cream City brick and beer barons. During the 1960s this discrete, East Side landmark housed the Avant-Garde Coffeehouse, which brought folk and blues to the stage and served espresso in a decidedly Left Bank setting. Later on, the spot slumbered, if only a little, as a German bakery. In the past decade it became Café Brucke, German for bridge, referring to the short span on Prospect just before the avenue reaches the building. More recently, the restaurant reopened under new owners and a new name, Allium, an appellation for one of the lesser-known cousins of the onion.

Allium has preserved and perhaps enhanced the location’s charming café Europe ambience. The space is intimate and the lighting low, with deep shadows cast after sundown. There is a small bar and a homey mix of wooden tables and chairs, window seats with cushions, ledges for a proliferation of potted plants and room on the walls for etchings. The menu suggests what might have happened if Wisconsin had been a province of Italy rather than a state in the Upper Midwest. The “Duckshroom” pizza ($9) combines shitake and cremini mushrooms with Neuske’s smoked duck breast. The Wisconsin cheese plate ($12) pairs four Badger cheeses with bread from Amaranth Bakery. The cheese & charcuterie ($24) brings the Wisconsin cheese plate together with smoked and cured meats from Neuske’s, La Quercia and Underground Meats. Soups ($4/$6) are “made with local and organic ingredients whenever possible.”

The extensive beer menu includes many small and craft brews from around the U.S. (Milwaukee’s Lakefront Riverwest Stein among them) along with excellent choices from Great Britain and Belgium (a half dozen Trappist ales included). The wine list (by the glass or bottle) covers a crowded page with entries from Italy, France, Germany, California and South Africa, as well as Argentina and Lebanon. The full bar list is supplemented by less common options such as clove-spiced hot cider, Fernet-Branca, absinthe, ginger beer and bitters.

Most of the dishes could be defined as small plate, with the hefty serving of vegetarian lasagna counting as the one full entrée. It’s a wonderfully unpretentious spot to spend an evening with food, drink and friends. Allium opens Tuesday through Sunday at 5 p.m., closing at 9 p.m. but staying open Friday and Saturday until 11 p.m.

 

Allium

2101 N. Prospect Ave.

414-287-2053

$$

alliummilwaukee.com

Handicap access: Yes