Satisfies lust for summer dining



Cafe Hollander

2608 N. Downer Ave, Milwaukee


Hrs: Sun-Thurs 8am-1am

Fri/Say 8am-2am



Overall - 4.5/5 Smiling Borats

Service – 4/5

Setting – 5/5

Food – 5/5

Value 4/5

-       American/European Food & Drink

-       $7.95-18.95

-       Attire: Casual Dress

-       Reservations: yes but not usually necessary

-       Cash/Credit



The Epitome of Summer Dining?


            I love Milwaukee in the summer.  We are a city of festivals, and increasingly, a city full of good restaurants.  I expect Milwaukee to show me a good time during the summer; I want my precious free time to be well spent.  Personally, there are few better options than a good outdoor meal. I'm talking good food, good beer, and a nice patio to sit, chat, and people watch.  This is what summer dining is all about. 

            Since 2006, Cafe Hollander on Milwaukee's east side has been a hotspot for the bike riding beer connoisseur crowd, as well those who just admire a good home cooked-style meal.  Hollander serves American favorites with a distinct Belgian and Dutch influence.  The menu is backed by an extensive, very extensive, beer menu.   

            Restaurant group Diablos Rojos and owner Mike Eitel have turned Cafe Hollander into one of Milwaukee's most beloved new restaurants.  Occupying the former home of Downer Avenue staple Gil's Cafe, Hollander has proven itself worthy of filling the void left by Gil's departure in 2006.  With its amazing outdoor seating and collection of crisp cold brews, it just may be exactly the summer food spot I've been looking for. 

            Cafe Hollander is part of a new trend of chic, affordable Milwaukee restaurants.  They rely not so much on an innovative menu, but instead on the flat out quality of ingredients and preparation.  Restaurants such as Comet Cafe, also on the east side, and Cafe Lulu in Bayview have taken a similar approach to quality food and drink, but neither can match the ambiance of Hollanders European flare and great outdoor seating.

            Early afternoon, early July, a typical muggy summer day, and I want a hearty sandwich and some good beer.  Me and two of my buddies decide to head the Cafe Hollander to discuss plans for an upcoming road trip over lunch. 

            We ask to be seated outside, in the huge triangular area straddled by Downer and Hackett.  The sun is hot, but the large, decorated oak tree provides welcome shade for most of the patrons.  We take a seat near the fountain at the center of the yard, the old brick contrasted by floating rubber ducks.  We are surrounded classic cream city brick buildings, and the sounds of conversation and passing buses.  We ordered our beer, a delicious amber ale brewed a few miles away at Lakefront, and staked out our trip.  The chaotic nature of planning what was sure to be a chaotic trip was contrasted by the mood of the patio.  Cafe Hollander is easily the most relaxing restaurant I have been to in the city.  A cross section of Milwaukee residesnts provided plenty of people watching as we waited to be served.  People watching, after all, is the greatest thing about summer dining.

            Going with the laid back nature of the setting, the service was spot on.  Often times when restaurants are slow, servers are too pushy, too clingy, and ultimately irritating.  After giving us a few minutes to mull over our thoughts and our drinks, our server appeared on cue.  Dressed in the Cafe Hollander garb now seen throughout the city, he was polite and straight to the point.  About 10 minutes later, just before the arrival of our food, we were asked if we would like our drinks topped off.  We accepted, the Lakefront Fixed Gear was just too good, and he returned with our drinks and food.  Cafe Hollander is the kind of place you want to take your time and eat.  Maybe the European ambiance slowed our internal American clocks down just enough to truly get the full experience.  After 20 or so minutes he took our plates and returned with the bill.  The service seemed to understand that people like to take their time here, especially on such a beautiful day.  Overall the staff was very good.

            However, its the food that keeps people coming back.  I order the triple chili-aioli chicken sandwich.  Fried chicken drizzled in a mildly spicy chili sauce topped with greens, tomato, peppers and cucumber sat on a buttery baguette.  The aioli really set the dish off, but it seemed like it was missing something, maybe a sweet note.  Though very good, it was not on par with the other sandwiches I had eaten here in the past.  First and foremost is the Grand Cafe Club.  Roasted turkey and thick-cut bacon with white cheddar, onion, and even green apple sits on perfectly crisp french bread.  Garlic aioli and sweet chili sauce add a perfect accent to the sandwich, a winner every time.  Besides great sandwiches, Hollander has other entrees that are more than worth trying.  Enter the Steak & Frites, 12 ounces of tender hanger steak in a South American-esque chimichurri sauce.  The steak, cooked medium rare, cut like butter, and was complimented by mashed potatoes in, what else, ale gravy.  All of this is complemented and enhanced by their amazing beer selection.  Did I mention the beer selection.  Man, the beer...

            So Cafe Hollander did it for me, satisfied my lust for summer dining.  With the wonderful outdoor setting, you feel the urge to take it easy and really enjoy the food that you are served.  This is quite easy considering the quality of the menu.  Good restaurants should not have to have a hugely extensive menu (unless of course its Hollanders beer selection), but instead should do what they do the right way.  Cafe Hollander makes good food, plain and simple.  Quality vs. quantity at its finest.  So grab some friends and go have a pint while watching the happy people of Milwaukee's summer mull around while enjoying some of the best food in the city.  After all, winter is only a few short months away.


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