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The dish/What's new in city dining
Cafe Centraal


February 2009

Café Centraal dominates the intersection of KK, Howell and Lincoln avenues in Bay View. On an icy winter afternoon sunshine flooded the restaurant, adding an extra warm glow to hardwood floors brought from a tavern in northern Wisconsin. Everything else is local — from the Cream City brick bar to Sendik’s fresh orange juice on weekends, local bread and, of course, the café’s own Alterra coffee blend. The bar stools look more like an exercise in contemporary design or an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum than a line of seats waiting for customers to order steins of draft beer. Our server was quick to point out the "King’s Chair" — a fully upholstered stool appropriately fit for royalty — that was unfortunately occupied both times I visited. "All the chairs are new," he says. "We keep the weird ones in the basement."

With soft rock background music, the combo of contemporary and classic décor and comfy chairs for customers, the café will satisfy the "let’s hang" impulse for anyone of any age.

We enjoyed excellent service and a server willing to answer dumb questions such as, "What’s Benelux?" and "Sriracha?" The former is a region in Europe; the latter, an Asian orange flavor added to the mayo. That led to a Benelux Meatloaf Sammy Sandwich and a Tulip Turkey Burger with the aforementioned mayo. I had to open wide to bite into the meatloaf hiding under lettuce, tomato and Swiss cheese, all together making a mountain of flavors merging on toasted French bread. On my second visit, my friend bit into my Blackberry Sandwich and said, "This is the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted." I liked it, too. The chef piled roasted turkey, Swiss cheese and caramelized red onions on a toasted baguette, then threw in pieces of hot giardineira that woke up my mouth, then cooled it down with blackberry jam. We shared giant Seared Scallops set on curried butternut squash and yes, they were exceptionally large and sweet. All the sandwiches come with frites cooked in trans-fat-free oil, delicious and addictive, and for another $1 customers can request sweet potato frites.

The café also serves dinner entrées, desserts, soups, salads and, in addition to three all-day breakfast choices, an extensive weekend brunch menu. Not to be overlooked is the list of Belgium beers because, after all, Café Centraal is modeled after a Belgian bar and named for the train station in Amsterdam.

»Café Centraal
2306 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Bay View 
(414) 755-0378


This story ran in the February 2009 issue of: