Dining at the Harley-Davidson Museum
The Harley-Davidson Museum’s recent opening comes just a few weeks before the corporation’s 105th anniversary, and it’s already attracting tourists for the splendid collection of motorcycles. Naturally there is a gift shop and, for those who have time to stay longer, a cafe and restaurant. The first is named Cafe Racer, and is geared to casual sandwiches, soups and salads. Everything is priced under $10.
The entrance to the restaurant, called Motor, is past the horseshoe-shaped bar. The dining room is separated from the bar by a metal grill that cleverly incorporates wrenches in its design. The sparsely furnished room, which features tables that have a simple metallic finish, shows off soaring ceilings and walls of glass. The windows reveal surprisingly good views of the Menomonee River and landscaping along the Hank Aaron State Trail. An outdoor terrace has orange-and-black chairs to match the company’s colors.
The menu is as all-American as a Harley-Davidson, with a few local touches. This is the right place if you’re in the mood for jumbo burgers, steaks, brats, apple pie or a banana split. For an interesting starter, try the Reuben “potato, potato, potato” pancakes ($10.95). Three decent potato pancakes are topped with thin slices of corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. It’s a novel combination that works well.
Then there is booyah soup ($5.95), said to have originated in Green Bay more than a century ago in the earliest days of Harley-Davidson. Booyah is nearly as thick as stew, and is prepared with an anything-goes attitude. This version has chicken, beef and assorted veggies such as carrot, potato, celery and peas. This is almost an entire meal in itself.
Spokes ($8.95) are skewers of chicken or beef that are char-grilled. Unfortunately, this is the menu’s weakest item. Though tender, the beef flavor loses out to the overabundance of marinade. The red pepper peanut sauce is creamy and all about peanut.
Though Motors’ decor features steel and glass, the menu adds homey touches. For exam ple, Ma’s meatloaf ($14.95) is a thick slab of meat with a tangy tomato sauce served over slightly lumpy mashed potatoes and gravy with a rich onion flavor. It’s modest fare that packs a punch. The skirt steak wheel ($14.95) is a piece of steak with an entree-sized salad. Skirt steak tends to be a chewy cut, and this is no exception. At least it features less marinade. The chopped salad comes to the rescue with lettuce, some radicchio, red onion, grape tomatoes, bacon and abundant crumbles of blue cheese. A few strips of roasted and peeled red pepper garnish the top, and buttermilk dressing completes this fine salad.
Lake Superior walleye ($14.95) is on the lighter side of the entrees. The fish is prepared oven-poached and arrives with a heap of french fries, a nice slaw of celery and mint, and sweet homemade tartar sauce. Walleye seems better with a beer batter—luckily, the menu offers a sandwich that does just that ($9.95).
Motor does a fine job of showcasing the fare of Midwestern America. But don’t think of Motor as simply a tourist attraction. The dining room setting is one of the best in the city, and the food holds its own appeal. The efficient kitchen and plenty of free parking make this a lunch spot destina tion for Downtown workers. The Harley-Davidson Museum and Motor are much-needed signs of vitality in this once-industrial district.
MOTOR 401 W. Canal St. (Enter from Sixth Street) (877) 436-8738 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Handicap Access: Yes
Motor | Photos by Tate Bunker