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Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010

Red Accordion Wins Fans With Tapas, Sliders and Brews

Enjoyable sports bar replaces Café Vecchio Mondo

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Sports, anyone? After more than a decade in business, the restaurant that first opened as Café Vecchio Mondo received a major makeover and transformed into a sports bar. The café’s menu had evolved over the years, but this time owner Russ Davis opted for a complete change—including the name of the restaurant, which is now the Red Accordion.

As it is very close to the Bradley Center, a sports bar makes sense. In keeping with the new name, a few accordions are included in the décor, but the emphasis is on flat-screen TVs—in fact, every booth has one. The long, narrow building seemed perfect for a bistro format. The new décor has boxed-in booths that separate the bar from the front windows. The color scheme is a rich bawdy red with black. There are framed quotes from famous personalities such as Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and even Homer Simpson.

The menu has changed as much as the décor, and now focuses on tapas and sliders. Sliders are the perfect option for sports bars. This menu offers six varieties. The lunch serving ($5) provides two sliders and the dinner ($8) three. All include thick-cut fries that are best eaten when warm. The varieties are a diverse group, with Cajun chicken, spicy bean and brat patty among the options. The three-cheese classic slider is ground beef with blended Swiss, cheddar and provolone. The meat is cooked well-done and the mini-burgers are topped with Thousand Island dressing. For a change of pace, there are ground lamb sliders topped with mint yogurt sauce and crumbled feta cheese. This combination works well, but again the meat is thoroughly cooked—and why is there pico de gallo on these sandwiches?

The international tapas menu is where chef Mike Ruess gets creative. Two offerings give a nod to Milwaukee’s German heritage with novel twists. Spicy vegetable spring rolls ($6) seem unlikely, but they are filled with red cabbage that has a jolt of ground hot pepper. Dip them into a sweet ginger apple sauce. The combination sounds odd, but it works well. Brat stuffed mushroom caps ($6) are served over a bed of sauerkraut with caramelized onions and pungent mustard vinaigrette—true flavors of Germanic Milwaukee.

The other tapas diverge widely. Ahi tuna poke ($9) is Hawaiian-style raw fish. The Japanese touch of wasabi aioli is perfectly appropriate here and plantain chips complete the theme of Polynesian ceviche. Buttermilk-battered calamari ($7) is another hit, with squid rings as tender as they get and a perky chipotle aioli. Crab tarts ($7) served with roasted poblano aioli and a good, if mild, pico de gallo are merely adequate.

The star of the menu is the braised short ribs ($8), which arrive in a rich, decadent East Side Dark barbecue sauce. The meat serving is not large, but the dish comes with tortellini in beer cheese sauce. Tortellini so often disappoints, but these are perfectly prepared.

The lunch menu features all of the same options for sliders; though the tapas selection is greatly reduced, the short ribs make the list. A hit-and-miss soup selection changes daily ($4). The New England clam chowder is properly creamy and the Greek chili is creative with ground lamb, white beans and herbs, but corned beef soup is off the mark, with the meat losing its flavor in the broth.

The beer list is appropriate for a sports bar, with microbrews that are strong on ales. The Red Accordion Ale is specially brewed for this bar by Lakefront Brewery. The wine list is as big as the beer selection, and prices are moderate (glasses $4.50-$8, bottles $21-$57). The color scheme makes the Red Accordion feel cozy on winter days and the booths offer privacy. This is not a loud, raucous bar. The food is just as important as the beverage at the Red Accordion. It is an interesting and enjoyable concept.

The Red Accordion

1137 N. Old World Third St.

(414) 273-5700

$$

Credit Cards: All Major

Smoke-Free

Handicap Access: Yes