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Thursday, Nov. 22, 2007

Tropical Fantasy

Calypso dining on Water Street

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The colorful sign on Water Street is just a hint of what to expect at Edgar’s Calypso, the newest Caribbean-themed eatery in Milwaukee. Upon entering, you’ll find a colorful fantasy of the tropical islands with a village of wooden buildings depicted on the walls, the sort you find in abundance in Barbados and St. Lucia. The bar has a thatch canopy and bar stools painted in vivid colors. And the infectious rhythm of reggae will immediately put you in the mood for a Red Stripe beer.



Calypso’s, whose layout looks nothing like the former occupant of this place, Swank, is the creation of Michael Dillon. Edgar is the name of his grandfather, and his portrait is hung near the bar. Dillon is a veteran of many trips to the Caribbean, and the menu, as well as the dcor, reflects the diversity of his travels.


The British islands bring back memories of conch fritters. Calypso’s fritters ($7.95) combine conch with shrimp and crab. Though the rubbery texture of conch is absent, the flavor is quite similar, making for good finger food. There is a side of freshly made pink-hued tartar sauce and slices of fresh pineapple and watermelon. The watermelon is good even at this time of year. From the Spanish Caribbean come tostones ($5.95), slices of deep fried plantain that resemble a large banana, though not as sweet. These are perfectly prepared (often they can be flavorless). A creamy Puerto Rican garlic sauce helps moisten the dry tostones.


The sole salad is a chop variety ($4.50-$7.95), an interesting blend of romaine lettuce with diced celery, radish, turnip and jicama. The tart lemon-basil dressing is best ordered on the side, as it can overpower the other ingredients. The lone soup, roasted red pepper ($3.50-$5.50), has a red hue from the peppers and tomatoes. The vibrant flavor is cooled with a dollop of sour cream. This is a must-order!


At the moment, the list of entrees is limited, but there are plans to add several more items to the menu. Fortunately, the current offerings are tasty. Ropa vieja ($10.95) is a Cuban classic of shredded skirt steak in a sauce. This version is sweet with a flavor almost like a barbecue sauce. It’s also served as a sandwich ($8.50), which is probably the best way to order the dish. Pollo Carlos ($9.95) layers chicken, cheese and mild green chiles with flour tortillas to form something resembling Mexican lasagna. The flavors are mild, punctuated with a spoonful of green chile salsa with the tartness of tomatillos.


Finding a good Jamaican jerk can be problematic in Milwaukee because most restaurant kitchens simply aren’t equipped to cook meats over a fire of tropical woods. Many chefs simply substitute bottled jerk sauce and pour it over cooked meat, but a proper jerk should be a paste of herbs. While the tender slices of meat in Calypso’s jerk pork tenderloin ($14.95) have been nowhere near a wood fire, the meat is topped with jerk paste, not sauce. The paste is mild by Jamaican standards, but this is a step in the right direction.


Entrees include one side item, a dish originating in the French half of St. Martin. Pommes Annas are thin slices of layered potato with Swiss cheese served slightly chilled. The sweet potato fries have a dusting of cinnamon, making them seem like candy.


Edgar’s Calypso is a welcome addition to the increasingly crowded downtown Milwaukee dining scene. The prices are right and the setting is a surefire cure for a gray winter day. Though some compromises are made, this is enjoyable food that will please all. Be sure to return when the menu is expanded, as Dillon promises more treats from the islands.


Edgar's Calypso
628 N. Water St.
(414) 220-9252

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