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The dish on dining
French food, wine, coffee and sausage are favorite themes of new restaurants that have recently opened in the Milwaukee area.

Photos by Matt Haas

March 2015

Pleasant Kafe

This East Side coffee house and wine bar, which is kitty-corner from Sanford Restaurant, serves up delicious breakfast burritos and homemade quiches.

But eggs aren’t the focus — though breakfast is available all day. The focus is on coffee and wine. "It’s all the things I like," says Lorna Stone, who manages the Pleasant Kafe for her son, Geoff Stone, who owns the café with his business partner, Eric Seegers.

The new café, which boasts heated floors so the cold doesn’t creep in, is located in what was once the Dentice Bros. Famous Italian Sausage Shop. The shop’s original scale is displayed in the upstairs lounge seating, and the doors to the original cooler have been converted into mirrors in the bathrooms. The building had sat empty for 12 years until Geoff Stone and Seegers rescued it.

Black chairs, light wood tables and red accents — including throw blankets on chairs for those really cold winter days — create a warm yet completely modern ambiance, and it’s the perfect place to linger over a cup of Valentine coffee or a glass of cabernet sauvignon.

The menu is limited, with a soup and sandwich of the day. The soups include Italian wedding soup, chili and other heartier fare, and sandwiches include a popular veggie panini, Polish sausages (for game day), a BLT with avocado and a cubano. There are also plenty of decadent sweets, from cannoli and tiramisu to chocolate fondue and cookies. But perhaps the most sumptuous dessert is the chocolate cup filled with mascarpone cheese and fresh berries and drizzled with honey. There’s also a worthy cheese and sausage platter, which changes its artisan offerings depending on what is best available. The wine list is carefully curated, and many times, patrons of Sanford start or finish their evening at the Kafe, which expects to do some wine tastings and events later in the year. The sidewalk patio should also be a draw.

1600 N. Jackson St., (414) 364-8128,

The Vanguard

Gourmet sausages have been a growing trend nationally, so it’s not surprising that Milwaukee has its first sausage-centric restaurant, The Vanguard. Opened in what was once the Home Bar in Bay View, The Vanguard is nothing like the former dive bar — except for the floor and part of the bar, owners Chris Schulist and Jim McCann took it down to the studs. The new restaurant has clean gray walls, a white subway tile backsplash behind the bar and light wood tables.

The old building required so much work that it took them almost a year to open, but the results are well worth it. The menu, created and frequently changed by chef Shay Linkus, focuses on the homemade sausages. Linkus grinds his own meat and stuffs his own links using his own recipes. The only exception are the smoked sausages, which are made by Underground Meats in Madison.

When they first opened, Schulist and McCann expected brats, Polish sausage and the like to be the most popular items on the menu. Instead, it’s the duck BLT sausage, the Jamaican currywurst and others that are top sellers. Every few months, Linkus mixes things up and adds new items. Recently, he added a sausage that tastes like braised short ribs. The delicate sausage is served on a chewy bun with a wine and herb laden gravy, specks of blue cheese and tiny, fried slivers of red onion. McCann perfectly pairs that sausage with a Lo Nuevo 2010 Spanish Garnacha wine.

The carefully chosen wine menu accentuates the sausages, but the bar is also well-stocked with craft beers and cocktails on draft. The Vanguard always serves up Manhattans and old-fashioneds, but new drinks include a house mai tai.

Besides sausages, Linkus makes fried pork belly bites and some of the most fantastic fries in town. He makes his fries out of Yukon gold potatoes, and despite what some customers think, he doesn’t use duck fat — they’re vegetarian. Especially good are his poutines, which can come with a topping of foie gras. He also makes an amazing deviled egg of the day.

2659 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 539-3593,,

Le Rendez-Vous

Another winner when it comes to alfresco dining come warmer weather will be the new French bistro and wine bar on Okauchee Lake, Le Rendez-Vous. The patio is especially spectacular, as it looks out onto Okauchee Lake.

The menu matches the view, with French favorites like duck confit, crepes and steamed mussels with Pernod. Owner Maxime Weltser grew up in Paris yet vacationed on Okauchee Lake and in Oconomowoc since he was a boy.

Though Weltser clearly knows his way around a French restaurant, at the helm in the kitchen is chef Joseph Volpe, co-owner of Tess and owner of the late Holiday House. Volpe’s cuisine remains as inventive as ever, with items like scallops and sweet potatoes with a ginger-orange beurre blanc sauce.

Volpe recently switched over to heartier winter fare, featuring the aforementioned duck confit and dishes like braised lamb shanks. French onion soup is made from scratch, as are all the desserts, which include chocolate mousse and creme brulee. On Tuesdays, the restaurant offers a mussels special, and on Wednesdays, half-priced bottles of wine are the feature. The wine menu is, of course, French-centric and artfully curated.

N52 W35002 Lake Drive, Okauchee Lake, (262) 468-4038,


This story ran in the March 2015 issue of: