Balzac Restaurant On Brady Gets It Right
Not your average name, not your average place.
Cuisine Type: worldly - tapas inspired
Price per entrée: $5-$16
Attire: Casual - Business Casual
Payment: Credit Cards Accepted
Internet Service: Free Wi-Fi
1716 N Arlington Pl
Milwaukee, WI 53202-1619
M-F 3:00 pm- 2:30am
Sat & Sun 2:00 pm- 2:30am
Maybe my friends are just immature, but tell your friends you want to go here and see if you get a snicker out them. Balzac, as it initially sounds, is not a play on the male body part, but the last name of a French novelist and playwright – Honore de Balzac.
Right off Brady on Arlington, tucked across from its sister company Hi Hat Garage, Balzac Food x Wine offers a chic dining experience influenced by its owners’ worldly travels. Balzac believes in the motto “sharing is caring” and offers tapas inspired twists on classic dishes.
Leslie Montemurro and Scott Johnson were apart of the ever-popular Milwaukee restaurant owners, the Diablos Rios, who own Trocadero and Café Hollander among other restaurants, when they opened Balzac four years ago. The owners split the business shortly after Balzac got on it feet. Balzac continues to thrive with its ever-changing décor and new menu, which debuted only a few weeks ago.
Balzac is, without a doubt, perfect for dinner with a group of friends or family, drinks at the bar, or a bottle of wine with a special someone. Deer heads and antlers anchored to the walls throw you for a loop, but that’s the whole point. Nude statues, strange chicken figures, and a collage of miscellaneous pictures add the perfect amount of spunk to veer this place away from feeling uppity. The dark-candlelit atmosphere is ideal for a first date or a night out on the town.
Its appeal to an eclectic crowd is one of the things that make Balzac unique. Older business class men and women are sure to love the elegance, and young party goers get down with the funky music, energetic staff, and of course, the happy hour (M-F 3-7pm). I’d put myself right in between. I am not a partier per se, but I enjoy good food and wine (or beer), and a bar where I can actually hear myself think. Balzac encompasses all those qualities and much more - I haven’t even gotten to food yet!
I arrive at Balzac on a Tuesday night, an hour before my two girlfriends. Balzac’s cool staff and inviting atmosphere encourage me to sit with my computer and a beer in a dark corner. I’m more than pleased to be able to sit by myself, at a restaurant, and feel perfectly comfortable, thank you Balzac!
My friends arrive, I pack my things, and we move to the back patio. Thick vines enclose and seclude the outdoor seating, while white Christmas lights bring it to life with vibrancy. I feel like I’m not in the city anymore, but in some quaint village abroad.
Balzac has an extensive wine list of international selections ranging from $20 bottles to $302 bottles. Don’t worry if you don’t want a whole bottle; Balzac offers glass pours as well as tastes and splits. If you’re like me and you love wine, but most of the time you just want a good beer, or if wine just isn’t your thing once again, don’t worry. There’s a plethora of beer and cocktail choices, again keeping the place attractive to a diverse crowd.
The three of us start with a Tamarack Cellars bottle of Chardonnay ($38). Happy hour ended fifteen minutes ago, but our server has no problem giving us the half-price discount on our bottle without us even asking. Are you kidding me? That kind of service goes way beyond my expectations for servers, who make their money off up-selling, not giving discounts away willy-nilly. Nevertheless, if he’s offering, we’ll take it.
We jump right into our entrees, although the appetizers look delicious (cheese plates and dips). The Firecracker Shrimp ($11) comes as a recommendation from the server and what a recommendation. Panko, a Japanese word for breadcrumbs, is the perfect light and airy batter for jumbo shrimp.
The smoked chili sauce hits you right after you swallow – zing! Aha, that’s why they call it Firecracker Shrimp. The cilantro pesto smoothes the spice, and to my surprise my mouth is not on fire. This dish is small, but when it comes to Balzac size doesn’t matter. No pun intended. Well maybe it was. All jokes aside, this dish is amazing and well worth the price.
My vegetarian friend has no trouble picking out an entrée that suits her needs. I take that back. She may have more trouble than usual because there are so many vegetarian dishes to choose from. She goes with the Pine Nut Crusted Portabella and Spinach Napoleon ($9). It’s all in the name for this one.
Pine nuts and seasoned breading swathe the jumbo portabella. Sautéed spinach topped with fresh-melted mozzarella rests on top to the portabella. Another piece of pine nut crusted portabella tops this dish off, making it into a mini sandwich. A small side salad adds color to the dish and a little something extra to snack on. This plate looks small, but is the perfect amount of food. You won’t need a crane to lift you out of your seat and you won’t be craving Jimmy Johns in an hour. The Napoleon (as the server shortened) is a must at Balzac.
I took the advice of the menu, “Sharing is caring” and chose the Sac Mac ($8), something a little more filling. This entrée is perfect to share and to act as filler to the small dishes, if you decide to pass those around. The cavatappi pasta is al dente, which is exactly what I was looking for. Mushy pasta just isn’t what you want with this cheesy dish.
The smoked Gouda blends flawlessly with the béchamel sauce, a cream based sauce sometimes referred to as the mother sauce. Don’t let the blue cheese scare you away. There’s just enough to give you a hint of it, but in no way does it overwhelm the dish. To perfect this dish, the Sac Mac is sprinkled with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs, baked just long enough to brown. Like I said, classic dishes with a twist. The Sac Mac is the ideal twist to old-fashioned mac and cheese and definitely a worthwhile indulgence.
Whether it’s summer and you can’t get enough of Milwaukee’s outdoor seating or it’s the dead of winter and you need something dark and cozy, Balzac is the place to go. Balzac’s wine list is up to par for any sommelier, but approachable to the novice wine drinker. The food is delicious whether it be for snacking or an all-out meal. Whichever way you want your evening to go, Balzac can more than accommodate your desires. Oh, and yes, by the end of the night your friends will be tired of making fun of the name, hopefully.