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Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2008

Bring on the Beer

Third Ward’s Ale House

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The Third Ward has changed a great deal since the Milwaukee Ale House opened its doors 11 years ago. The Ale House was one of the first ventures to renovate a vintage building and take advantage of views of the Milwaukee River. A decade later the “renovated loft” look, with hardwood floors and exposed brick, remains an attractive setting. In addition to an outdoor balcony with tables, there is a large front bar and a dining room lined with windows. Not surprisingly, business has been good. A new brewing facility, named the Milwaukee Brewing Co., began production last July, and a second Ale House opened in Grafton in May.

Given the setting and large selection of beer, it’s fitting that the menu offers a casual theme. You will find pastas, pizzas, salads, sandwiches and a section of “craft foods” with seafood, ribs, a potpie and pot roast. Although there is a wine list, it seems wiser to order a pint of beer. There are 10 to choose from, in addition to seasonal products. Louie’s Demise, an amber ale, is a reliable veteran on the list. The alcoholic contents are listed for each beer, some noticeably stronger than others.

Many customers never make it beyond the appetizers. Most options are standard fare like jumbo pretzels, chicken wings, nachos and a quesadilla, but there are also pot-stickers ($8.25) that seem alien to the idea of “beer food.” This is a real test for the kitchen, and it passes with flying colors. Potstickers at non-Chinese restaurants usually aren’t worth ordering, but these are actually quite good. The dough wrapper is done just right, and it comes filled with minced pork and scallion. However, a dipping of soy sauce and rice vinegar would be preferable to the sweet chili sauce that comes with the dish.

The house salad ($3.50) consists of leaf lettuce with slices of Roma tomato, cucumber, red onion and grated carrot. The dressing, of which there are 10 varieties, comes in a plastic container. The ginger sesame dressing sneaks in another Asian touch with the nutty flavor of sesame paste.

The steak chili ($4.99) is currently in season. It combines good-sized chunks of beef with kidney beans and onion in a version that is spicier than most, with a strong dash of cumin.

For something more substantial, try the stout pot roast ($13.99). This is a big plate of tender beef slices served over mashed potatoes and a great deal of sliced zucchini. A whole carrot adds garnish. The pot roast is decent, but the potatoes seem too smooth in texture and the zucchini overabundant. A winner, however, is the Friday fish special. Hope that the walleye fish fry ($10) is available. It has firm flesh and a really good beer batter. Instead of fries, there is a wild rice blend and steamed broccoli.

Pizza is a popular item at pubs and this menu offers five varieties. The crust is better than normal for this type of restaurant, thin and crisp. A good pick is the white pizza ($12.50-$19.50), which strikes a nice balance of Alfredo sauce, creamy goat cheese, mozzarella and smoked Gouda. There are also sweet red onions, whole cloves of roasted garlic and artichoke hearts. These ingredients would be just right, but the kitchen goes a step further and adds broccoli. However, it can easily be removed. Think of it as a garnish.

All in all, the menu offers good food at affordable prices. Eleven years after opening, there is a lot more nearby competition, but the Milwaukee Ale House continues to be one of the Third Ward’s most popular attractions. Bring on the beer!


Milwaukee ale House233 N. Water St. (414) 226-2337 $$ Credit Cards: All major Handicap Access: Yes

Photos by Tate Bunker