RESTAURANT REVIEW: Cafe Hollander take two

How I learned to love food in Milwaukee


How I Learned to Love Food in Milwaukee: My Visit to Cafe Hollander

By Lara Bonsett-Veal



Ratings (out of 5 stars)

Service:                       *****

Setting:                        ****

Food:                           *****

Value:                          *****

Overall:                       *****


Cuisine Type:              American

Price per Entree:          $6.95-19.95

Attire:                          Casual

Reservations:               Yes

Payment:                     Credit Cards Accepted, No Checks


Cafe Hollander

Address:                      2608 N Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53211

Phone Number:           414.963.6366

Hours:                         Opens at 8am everyday;

                                    Sunday-Thursday closes at 1am; Friday-Saturday closes at 2am



There is a great love in my life.  Its’ name, brunch.  As a late riser I embrace the not quite breakfast not yet lunch meal.  I moved to Milwaukee last year and saw Cafe Hollander located on the East Side on North Downer Avenue.  After looking over pictures and menus for the restaurant online, I wondered if the American cuisine that had a Belgian influence served there tasted as good as it looked.


Cafe Hollander, co-owned by Mike Eitel part of Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group, has been in business since 2006.  They have several restaurants in the Milwaukee area including another location in Tosa Village, Trocadero Gastro Bar and Grand Cafe Centraal in Bayview.  This particular restaurant had a more down to earth vibe and embraced an easy to relax in bicycle-friendly atmosphere and was worth the wait.


Although I eat with my eyes before I taste my food, the colorful pictures on the internet did not convince me to venture out to the corner restaurant with the brown and tan awning.  I waited until my family who are more adventurous than I came for a visit before trying Cafe Hollander’s brunch.


What I love about eating out with family is that all have different tastes and during mealtime, sharing food and drink is tradition.  If I see several dishes that look tempting on a menu, I know I will have the opportunity to try them since my love for breakfast food spans every item from bacon to pancake and someone in my family always orders the dish I did not pick.


I have a rule I follow, if I can make the dish at home in less than 45 minutes then I cannot order it at a restaurant.  When I go out I want to enjoy myself but also try food that I otherwise would be unable to prepare.  Good coffee needs to be offered as well because I drink mine black and find it goes with every breakfast I have consumed in the past five years.


My father looks for comfort when he eats, not “fancy-ass” as he calls them, restaurants that make you feel awkward the minute you step through the doors and I have grown to feel the same way.  I want to judge the restaurant not have the restaurant judge me.


We all breathed a sigh of relief as we made our way to the front of the house.  It was not the typical looking chain restaurant, it had charm and character and was clean, no traces of food on table or floor.  My family and I were greeted by the warm atmosphere with sunshine streaming through the giant windows onto the sturdy looking wooden tables, that wicker-backed chairs sat under.  On the right hand side was a picture of bicycle races that spanned the wall, giving the restaurant credibility with the local racers.  Even better was the non-existent smokers since my asthmatic mother has often had to leave a restaurant mid meal to take a fresh air break.  My only complaint was the crowded floor that was packed with loyal customers, which made maneuvering around chairs difficult.


The cheerful staff was quick to seat us since I called ahead for a reservation.  I do not say friendly easily because having worked at a restaurant in high school I know when a server is hiding contempt behind their smile and the people working here seemed genuinely happy to see us.  The chatter around us did not interfere with our conversation about items on the menu, always a plus and our water glasses were filled quickly by our server, plus number two.


The first item on the menu that caught my eye was The Southern Gentleman.  This Belgian waffle was topped with Applewood smoked bacon, white cheddar cheese sauce, ale braised onions, candied pecans and maple syrup ($8.95).  It was what I looked for in a great brunch, sweet, salty, savory, fluffy, and crunchy.  The waffle was not delicately covered with a light sprinkling of toppings, it looked hearty and filling.  Each pocket in the waffle contained sauce and syrup with just the right amount of onion, not too overpowering, and candied pecans which complemented the chewiness of the bacon, making it easy to finish the waffle in ten minutes flat, including breaks for the Alterra coffee I ordered.


Next on my list to try was their Hot Mess.  My brother did not feel compelled to read further when he spotted this option.  It was the combination of three scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, shredded cheddar cheese and tomatoes all served over the signature Hollander potatoes, topped with Belgian cheese sauce and fresh basil.  It was reminiscent of a holiday meal where every food you love is piled on a plate and consumed with utter glee and admiration for not only the meal but the chef.


Never easily impressed, I was surprised to find my brother complementing our waiter on his meal.  He thought it was perfect and despite the enormity of the plate and the presentation true to its’ name, easily a two-person breakfast for the average eater, he found himself easily stuffed since he could not stop himself from eating every last bite.


I had to agree with him, I took a glorious fork-full and savored the rich flavor of the cheeses mixing with the crisp potatoes, yolk from the egg and a bit of sausage.  It was breakfast heaven.  And for the price ($12.95), it was a steal for the amount of food on that plate.  It was a hill of food, a fragrant, exquisitely tasting, hill.


My mother, true to form, ordered the Florentine Benedict ($8.95).  The toasted English muffin was topped with sauteed spinach, tomatoes and poached eggs smothered in a homemade hollandaise sauce came with Hollander potatoes and the smoked salmon (an additional $4.00) was requested, and worth it.


This plate looked more like a work of art with the layers of food placed nicely on top of each other but it did not look so perfect to stop us from slicing into the meal, fork first.  The tomatoes were perfectly cooked, not overly soggy like when they are left sitting under a heat lamp.  Since the hollandaise sauce had time to soak into the English muffin, my only bite of the Florentine Benedict was marvelous.  I am a fan of fresh spinach, not cooked, just the way it feels in my mouth makes me a bit nauseous but Cafe Hollander preformed a miracle.  The bite I had was crispy and salty while tasting fresh from the in season tomatoes, and even now thinking about it makes my mouth water.


All the food fit the atmosphere, comfortable and classic, homey and hearty.  These were not meager portions and this was not a prissy restaurant.  It was the place I hoped it would be unlike Ma Fishers which let me down on my first day in Milwaukee whose idea of family style food was soaked in grease and nearly tasteless, and the cloud of smoke coming from one side of the restaurant made it almost impossible to truly enjoy my food.


I could tell the people working at Cafe Hollander cared, my entire family could taste it in the food.  We got more than we paid for with a meal that was memorable, in a great way, and servers who stopped to talk to us about our morning.  I recommend this restaurant to everyone, all ages, because it exceeded my expectations and having grown up around home cooked food from a highly trained mother, that is a hard feat to accomplish.  I will return and next time have a larger party so I can try the entire menu.

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