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Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

Cafe Hollander Finds Success in Wauwatosa

Second location mixes Belgian ale with river views

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The old heart of Wauwatosa, also known as Tosa Village, continues to grow as a dining destination. The main intersection, at State and Harwood, features a vintage Cream City brick building with a large neon sign announcing the presence of Cafe Hollander. The restaurant is located in the former home of Zimmerman Design Group, but it’s a lot more exciting than an office building.

The name Cafe Hollander will be familiar to those on Milwaukee’s East Side, as there is another location on Downer Avenue. The Tosa location is run by the same owners, Diablos Rojos—despite the name, this group owns a number of restaurants with French and Low Countries themes.

Cafe Hollander continues that trend with tables made of sturdy wood and plenty of bar stools (no two of which are alike) in a two-story restaurant with a large bar. The many windows offer views of State Street or the Menomonee River. Views of the river include some greenery, and in summertime the main action is outdoors—there are even tables on the pedestrian bridge that extends over the river. This bucolic setting, only occasionally interrupted by a passing freight train, is a great spot to relax and sip from a Belgian ale.

The menu is nearly a carbon copy of the Downer Avenue location. You’ll find appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches and a weekend brunch. There are occasional Dutch and Belgian touches, and beers are sometimes used for cooking. An example is a Belgian waffle that incorporates Guinness. The larger of the two menus is mostly devoted to Belgian beers, with everything from lambics to white ales. There are specialty drinks as well, but wine seems to be an afterthought.

The house specialty continues to be the frites cone ($4.95), excellent fries served with ketchup and your choice of a dozen different dipping sauces. Mayonnaise is very Belgian, while sriracha mayonnaise and Indonesian peanut sauce are far more exotic. A sweet potato version of frites costs $5.95.

The menu appropriately begins with mussels prepared two ways, one with a cream sauce and the other steamed with abbey ale. Servings are 1 pound ($11.95) or 2 pounds ($19.95). A single pound is approximately 20 fresh blue mussels. The abbey ale adds an interesting hint of flavor accompanied by minced shallots, celery and carrot. A piece of baguette is used to sop up any remaining liquid—the abbey ale is good to the last drop.

Split pea soup ($3.95-$5.95) shows us the Dutch side of the menu. This is a puree of peas, other vegetables and ham with a satisfying flavor made for a winter day. A slice of bread is included and the soup is topped with croutons. Breads are one of Cafe Hollander’s best features.

Salads seem to be very popular with the outdoor dining crowd. The most basic is the Benelux salad ($7.95), mostly leaf lettuces with tomato, walnut, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is delicate in flavor and the salad is properly tossed—and dressing is not served in a cup! The salad is a bit small for an entree, but the optional addition of grilled chicken ($2.95) does help.

For those who enjoy Mediterranean items, the spicy calamari ($9.95) is a large plate of lightly breaded squid with additions of slivered carrots and slices of jalapeno and sweet cherry peppers. The veggies add some variety. The squid is perfectly prepared and the sriracha mayonnaise is appropriate. Remoulade is also available.

The four entrees seem too few in number, and the ones they offer are not very inspiring: blackened salmon, meatloaf, mac & cheese and a sausage plate.

The sausage plate ($10.95) features two links split, grilled and served over a heap of mashed potatoes. The thin sausage halves are not particularly flavorful, and the potatoes, which have their skins on, are oddly creamy in texture. Sweet and sour red cabbage is sprinkled over everything like a garnish of chopped parsley. More of this and less potato would be appreciated.

If you’re in the mood for lighter fare, Cafe Hollander will be a pleasant experience. The servers are accommodating and there’s a popular weekend brunch (expect to wait for an outdoor table when the weather is nice). The brunch menu is served until 3 p.m. on weekends, which means pancakes, waffles and egg dishes. But this also means no steamed mussels, burgers or even salads. A compromise would be welcome.

Overall, however, Cafe Hollander is a definite success and a welcome addition to the charming restaurants of Tosa Village.

Cafe Hollander 7677 State St. (414) 475-6771 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: All major Smoke-Free Handicap Access: Yes

Photo by Amelia Coffaro

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