It's really breathtaking how time gets away from us these days. It feels like only yesterday that summer was beginning to bloom, and we had all the time in the world. Now it's cold, it's been two weeks since we ate at The Eatery, and I'm sitting on a sunny Saturday afternoon looking out the window at bare trees and watching my very angry cat pace back and forth in front of his empty food dish. I'm hungry too, jerkface. We'll both eat when the blog gets done.
We were introduced to The Eatery, at least formally, at Burp!'s Gumbo Gitdown at the onset of October. We were a little surprised, but in a pleasant way, that the folks at The Eatery brought their andouille chicken chili, as opposed to gumbo, to the event, but I was happy to find out it was, at least, a regular menu item.
At GGD, we really enjoyed the chili, with one little gripe... the beans were crunchy. We weren't the only ones who observed this, so I'm fairly confident in saying it wasn't just my imagination. The flavors were great, the chive cream topping, despite its frightening institution-green color, was delightful, and they certainly brought enough -- ten full trays! -- but the beans were undercooked. I chalked it up to cooking a massive batch of something they probably normally did pot-by-pot. But more on that later.
The Eatery is located in a funky old brick building on Farwell which has housed a number of businesses over the past few years. Rumor has it that the location is cursed -- restrictions from the neighboring condo developments limit hours on the patio during the summer, thus stunting the potential of the location from becoming a high-class hangout. I'm not completely sold on this -- there's plenty of successful businesses on the East Side (and elsewhere) that don't have any patios at all and still are able to maintain a vibrant following... but a late-night patio certainly doesn't hurt, either...
Inside, the décor is spartan and a little disjointed. Walls of pumpkin and sage are dotted with black and white prints of vintage photos, and faux oiled-brass caged workshop lights hang next to dainty chandeliers.
It's not that the design is bad... far from it. I guess I just couldn't help feeling a bit at sea about the whole thing. Is it supposed to feel a bit post-industrial loft-ish? That would explain the old work lights and the dark wood and ceiling. But what about the chandeliers and the conflicting color palette? (oh, I know. I'm getting a little detailed here. But really... I pulled out my color wheel! Sage and pumpkin are incompatible hues!). The bathrooms are lush, with floating glass-basin sinks with overflow fixtures, but the grout work is a little rough. So, what message do we take away?
The bar area makes up the vast majority of the floor space of the restaurant,
and well stocked it is, including The Eatery's own Frankenstein monster, an in-house infused vodka used for their generously garnished Bloody Marys:
and, of course, a smiling face serving it all up: (sorry, couldn't resist!)
We started our meal off with the "Tootsie Rolls" (please, Tootsie Roll Industries, don't sue us!), wonton wrappers filled with cream cheese, red peppers, shrimp, and spring onions:
My God, these were amazing. Perfectly creamy, cheesy, and with the distinct flavor of shrimp that I don't mind one bit. The wonton wrappers weren't fried to a crunchy crisp, but were left a little flaccid, which I actually liked here... sometimes, we get overzealous with these things, and when you bite into them, shards of hard-fried wonton wrapper rip into your soft tissue like shrapnel. Nope, no mouth-ripping here. Only creamy, rich shrimpy goodness. Oh, and the honey dijon dipping sauce? The sweet was a fun contrast with the fatty cheese, but we all agreed they were splendid on their own. I understand the unwashed masses clamor for a dipping sauce. That's fine. But don't feel obligated to have to dip... these gigantic shrimp rangoons stood on their own.
We also ordered the Andouille Pepper Jack Dip:
Which left us all incredible confused. Were the deep fried bread chunks garnish? Was that what we dipped? The GBD bread was oily, what being little sponges dunked in the Frialator for a few minutes. Remember our discussion about Mouth Shrapnel? There ya go.
There was too much dip in the sourdough bread bowl to start by tearing off pieces, it would have been like the Boston Molasses Disaster except with searing culinary-napalm molten cheese. So, we used the cubes until things cooled down a bit.
The dip was nice, but lacked a "killer app" for me. It was a bit gritty, and while spicy with the pepper jack and andouille, didn't have any bright or truly salty notes for me. A good outing, but needs a bit of tweaking.
Andy ordered the "Turn Up the Heat" burger:
While Lauren ordered the Mac and Cheese:
Adam ordered the Pecan Chicken:
and I, the "Pig in a Pot":
Andy's burger had amazing flavor, and despite the name, wasn't painfully hot. The combination of mozzarella, jalapeño, cilantro, and onion in the patty, along with chipotle mayo, pico, and pepper jack was tasty hot harmony. Certainly not as spicy as it sounds.
Lauren's Mac and Cheese was mild and well executed. The noodles were plentiful and well cooked, and the cheese sauce was demure and present in a quantity perfectly proportioned to pasta. Lauren also ordered a small crock of French Onion Soup:
The thick, rich soup was topped by the usual croutons and mozzarella and swiss cheese... sorry, purists, no Gruyère or even Provolone here. Lauren noted that the soup had an off note: I tasted it, and knew exactly what she was talking about: wine.
Okay, villagers, put down your pitchforks and douse those torches, I'm not going to get into an argument here. I know wine is an essential part of French onion soup. Every recipe I've ever seen calls for it -- either red, white, vermouth, or cooking sherry -- it's always there. Alton Brown, whom I'm apt to follow, uses white in his version. So what's with the "off note" comment, you ask?
It was too forward. The onions were singing back-up to the wine's James "Thunder" Early. And as you already know, Effie does not sing back-up. Neither should onions.
Adam's chicken was delightful, with a sweet champagne sauce and creamy risotto. The chicken was cooked perfectly, tender and juicy and not the least bit dry.
My Pig in a Pot was an interesting animal indeed... and I immediately got the punch line: it's much less about the pork in a terra cotta flower pot, and much more about the flavors all being "earthy": baked potato, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and pork loin. I get it.
The potato, while cooked through, was dry without toppings. I have a deep-seeded aversion to baked potatoes stemming from them being on nearly every dinner menu served at our kitchen table as a child, so there is some bias there. But even with my dislike of roasted spuds, don't baked potatoes need something on them? I asked for a side of butter, which helped. But it was still, er, kinda blah.
The 'sprouts were delightful and hearty, but when they cooled down (and they did...), that stinky jock-strap smell of cabbage starts to creep up on you. This isn't the Eatery's fault: this is the veggie being true to what it is: tiny little jock-strap smelling cabbages. I still liked 'em, and the fragrance only became noticeable late in the meal, once they had cooled to room temp.
My pork loin was planted in the midst of sautéed mushrooms in a rich, wine (or was it cognac? I can never tell...) based pan sauce. Topped with muenster cheese, then with the Eatery's version of a duxelles, and then adorned with an edible flower. Awww...
The pork loin was like butter. The pan sauce was Holy. My conflict arose with the duxelles, which was drier and coarser than I've ever encountered. For those of you unfamiliar with a duxelles, please be sure to study before coming to class. Run along to the Principal's office.
It just was a bit too much. A little dry, but well flavored, the duxelles became the star of the dish. The whole point of duxelles in French cuisine is that it serves as a foundation to flavor. As AB says, "I'm pretty sure there are whole buildings in France that are mortared together with this stuff." Eatery Guys: I really liked it. I really really did. But consider making the duxelles a bit finer, a bit more most, and a bit less... I felt like Zahi Hawass trying to unearth the long-lost remains of Pharaoh Tut Ahnk-Porkman.
So, where does that leave us?
The Eatery is new, and still growing into their britches. If a restaurant makes it through their first year of trial-and-error (and sadly, 75% don't), they're usually in good shape. The Eatery has some really brilliant flashes, some genuinely good ideas and a really solid foundation to build upon: I think there's just a bit of fine tuning to be done. This is fine, as long as The Eatery stays an organic, malleable restaurant.
And as for the case of the chili with crunchy beans? Well, we wanted to see if it was a fluke, so we all had a little taste of the day's batch. And the beans? Crunchy. Crunchy? Is this a new food trend? I always hate to critique something I don't understand, which is why I don't watch golf. Maybe undercooked legumes are the new hip thing, like skinny jeans and fixed-gear bicycles?
On the whole, we liked The Eatery, and it's the sort of place we look forward to revisiting, and watching grow. After all, a truly successful restaurant isn't one created with fancy marketing campaigns and focus groups -- it grows out of experience and change, adjusting to the time and preferences of its customers. I'll be interested to see exactly where The Eatery is one year from now -- I certainly hope that by then it has become an East Side fixture.
An odd mix of industrial and Home Depot chíc. I'm not quite sure what to make of it. Maybe the vibe would be different on any other night than Sunday.
Very, very fair. Portion sizes were comfortable without being overwhelming, but the food by and large is rich and heavy, so you end up feeling like you ate a lot more than you actually did. Which I guess is a mixed blessing. Either way, the quality of the food belies the price.
We were among two other tables occupied the night we visited, so wait staff didn't really have a huge challenge on their hands. Nonetheless, everything went smoothly and our food arrived quickly.
The Food: B
I see great things on the horizon. As it stands now, The Eatery provides an above-average dining experience at prices I'm still a little surprised at, but is a bit hit-and-miss with the details. We all enjoyed our meals, and that's the important thing. I look forward to seeing how the menu evolves, and watching The Eatery shocks the pants off of everyone.
The Eatery on Farwell
2014 N. Farwell Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Website with menu available here (Danger! The website is Flash-based, thusly is not iPhone friendly)