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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hearty Pub Fare

Here's to the friendly Franciscan

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St. Francis, most noted for its Roman Catholic seminary, is one of the quieter suburbs. In recent years, however, it has shown signs of vitality. Newly built condominiums and apartments take advantage of sweeping views of Lake Michigan and offer a convenient commute to Milwaukee. New residents need new places to eat, of course, and among these latest additions is the St. Francis Brewery & Restaurant.

Built along the southern edge of St. Francis, it is an ambitious project that has proven to be extremely popular. In other words: Build it and they will come. The corner of the building facing the intersection of Kinnickinnic and Howard is glassed in and houses stainless-steel brewing vats. A long, arced bar faces another expanse of windows to the east. There are two dining rooms: One is carpeted and offers booths and regular tables; the other is used only for peak periods or private parties. The best seats are found at the row of high-top tables separating the bar from the dining room. A rustic, almost alpine feel prevails, with wooden arches and stonework. All that’s missing is a fireplace. In addition to beer steins and glassware, a logo of a friendly St. Francis holding a beer graces some walls.

The new brewery produces five types of alcoholic beer, as well as a root beer. The KK Weiss seems to be the most popular, with its original introduction having sold out in a few days. While an initial sip found a proper weiss beer flavor, the finish was a tad flat. But the flavors improve as the beer warms. There are also 25 bottled beers, as well as a small wine list that covers the basics.

The menu is geared toward pub fare at moderate prices. Sandwiches are all less than $10 and the entrees hover in the low teens. The exception is a bone-in ribeye steak at $24.95. Appetizers are aimed at the beer drinker, with the expected chicken wings, nachos, pretzels and onion rings. One entree should perhaps be added to this list: the mussels & frites ($10.95). This is a large bowl of green-lip mussels on the half-shell served in an herbed cream sauce with basil leaves added for garnish. Fries arrive on a separate plate with two small sides of ketchup (not very Belgian!) and a more suitable basil aioli. While I prefer blue mussels to green-lip, the latter are meatier and taste fine in this sauce. A few slices of bread would be appreciated to soak up every last bit of the sauce.

The hearty fare of the entrees suits the decor. A classic, and one of the best items, is the beer-braised beef ($10.95). The slices of beef are prepared with house ale and are so tender that the provided knife is not even needed—this is what pub fare should be. The beerbraised beef is served with garlic mashed potatoes and some compelling tart Flemish red cabbage, which could just as easily pass for German.

The cabbage and potatoes also accompany the bangers & mash ($10.95), along with some thin-sliced caramelized onions. The bangers are a pair of firm bratwurst with tough skin, almost to the point of being rubbery. If only they were as good as the onions.

While the menu has its ups and downs, there are occasional winners. The brewhouse salad ($4.50) consists of leafy greens with grape tomatoes and plenty of black olives and carrot. The dressings are made in-house. One that stands out is the spicy peanut, which isn’t all that spicy but has nice Thai flavors—an inspired fusion of East and West. The pub burgers are prone to overcooking and would be better with a thicker patty (and perhaps less diameter).

The youthful staff tries hard but is sometimes lacking in the details. A side plate for finished mussel shells would help, the salad should not arrive one minute before the entree, and the weiss beer should not be served in a pint glass (there are at least 50 proper weiss beer glasses behind the bar). Some background music would help to drown out the chatter of customers and the occasional clank of pots and pans in the kitchen. Nevertheless, the brewery/restaurant is an impressive and popular facility—and with a little tweaking, it could become a prime destination.

St. Francis Brewery & Restaurant 3825 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. (414) 744-4448 $$-$$$ Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Don Rask

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