For the past month I have been perusing on Brady Street on Milwaukee's East side for good eats, as this is one neighborhood where I haven't fully ventured into as much as other unique spots and have been pressed with time. Luckily, I have gotten around to some more Brady street spots because of work and have found some time to visit La Masa (third time), Hi Hat and Garage (second time) and Apollo Cafe for the first time.
La Masa, right on the corner of Arlington and Brady, is a Latin-inspired empanada bar that serves up sweet and savory empanadas along with a host of other eats and drinks. I had been here once already with my friend Morgan and have consumed their eats at work because of catering and decided to try their vegetarian options once more to see if their food was consistently good, as I expected it to be.
Upon arrival I realized that my friend Morgan and I sat in the same spot that we did the last time we ate at La Masa, a harbinger that luck was on our side and that we were unintentionally superstitious. When you walk into La Masa, the vibe is mixed with some geometric wallpaper with wooden structures holding wine glasses with modern and clean lines. (black walls, black lamps with red cords)
I think sleek is the best way to describe La Masa with a touch of a retro feel, but ever so slightly. When we sat and looked at our menus in greater detail, one thing I thought was unique was the fact that they were plastered to clipboards. I asked the waitress about why this was, and she told me that they thought it would be a much more simple way (and in my eyes, more cost effective) to present food and drink options to customers. It might sound like a cheap idea and one that might lower the more upscale feel of La Masa, but it actually differentiates itself from other restaurants and allowed me to loosen my collar even more and relax.
My friend Morgan opted to go with their aja chicken option, which comes with fresh shaved asparagus, cotija cheese and aji amarillo on a fresh Ciabatta square. She was disappointed with her option, as she said the bread was too hard and the chicken was dry. When a place distinguishes itself as an Empandada Bar, I sometimes worry that any dish that is not an empanada may not be as spectacular. Anywho, she decided that she will just stick with empanadas, and that is something I recommend as well.
I decided to go with three empanadas, as you get a side of jicama slaw when doing so. I opted for two of the Wisco corn option, which is creamy corn and potato, my favorite option at this spot, and a spicy potato and peanut option that comes with serrano chile, leek and roasted red peppers. Both were savory and the creamy texture with the chunks of potatoes complemented each other very well. The crunch of the peanuts paired with the softness of the potatoes and spiciness was also delicious. The spicy option had a nice kick to it, but not too much for anyone like myself who has a pretty low tolerance for spicy eats.
For meat eaters there is an Argentine beef empanada that is fantastic as well as a pulled chicken tinga option that is well received. There is also a daily special empanada that is offered as well, and those with a sweet tooth should definitely get the nutella, banana and ice cream empanada for dessert as well! I should also mention that La Masa now serves brunch on the weekends, (at this point, who doesn't?) They serve up omelettes, salads and the same empanadas during the weekend as well! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed another trip to La Masa and hope you do the same at this empanada bar on the corner of Arlington and Brady!
hi hat and garage
I have been to Hi Hat but not their brother Garage, which is located on the opposite end of the more upscale and posh Hi-Hat. This spot is directly across from La Masa, the previous spot I wrote about. Garage seems to take up way more space than the smaller downstairs area that Hi Hat encompasses and is better-equipped for sports viewing, lunch time eats (the reason co-workers and I went) and a more casual dining experience.
There is a neat orange neon sign that says Garage, so you know exactly where you are at when you arrive in this part of the restaurant. For those wondering, the garage doors come up during the nicer weather (see above for both pictures) and adds a nice touch to this wide open layout. There is a bar in the midst of this space, and the weekends are a great time to check out this spot if you are searching for another place to experience nightlife on Brady Street.
There was a party of maybe 12 people when I visited this spot for lunch recently, and it was brought to our attention their signature burgers (1/3 lb) are all priced at $5 dollars on Mondays. (take note of that) From 9 p.m. until close on Tuesdays most of their drinks are also half-off, and for other deals see here. That said, on this visit I opted for their falafel option, as no substitutions are allowed for their specials. The pocket includes fried chickpeas, onions, peppers and tahini mayo and hummus in a pita pocket.
My party and I waited at least 45 minutes for our food, which seems kind of ridiculous even with a larger than usual party. There were not that many people inside of the restaurant so this was a tad bit strange and annoying. This service was average, at best, and some people told me that they have had a particular waiter before and that the service simply was not that good. However, the tots at Hi Hat and Brady were delicious, fried perfectly and certainly brightened up everyone's day, as well as the cheese curds with ranch and garlic crostini served with cheese and spinach artichoke dip.
When our food came, I was not blown away with my option. While the falafel and tahini mayo were spectacular, the hummus was just average and the pita bread was burnt and also a little tough to bite because of it being burned. Another person who got the pocket option said their pita bread was not burnt, which annoyed me because pita bread should not be burnt and two the lack of consistency between the same dish. The food was seasoned well, but there could have been some minor adjustments. Also, the food was not piping hot, but instead somewhat warm, but considering we waited for so long it kind of makes sense. People did enjoy their burger options, some paired with bacon and cheese and caramelized onions to name a few.
The last time I visited I opted to eat the bravacdo, which comes with avocado goat cheese and mixed greens on toasted sourdough, and I might opt to eat that option again considering I was not 100% satisfied with my falafel. I also wish there was some variation to their Hi Hat Menu versus Garage, as most of the items seem to run pretty similar. Overall my visit to this spot was simply decent, nothing more and nothing less, and I might have to check out what wine specials they have next time before trying out their food again.
Apollo Cafe is a greek spot that serves up mediterranean eats including falafel, gyros and other traditional options including Pastitsio and Avgolemono soup. When I am looking for hearty mediterranean eats I also look to Greek spots to fill my taste buds and decided to visit this spot with my boss, which is next to La Masa and near Hi Hat and Garage. (This Brady Street feature is coming together nicely.)
Once you come into Apollo it feels like you have been thrown into a typical cafe except when you look up and see the sky with these squiggly white lines piercing through the calm blue paint. I thought this interior was unique and made it feel more relaxing and inviting. The menu at apollo is extensive, and it seems like a great place to grab lunch, especially since they have outside seating. (We took advantage of this spot during lunchtime if you were wondering.)
I decided to go with their falafel pita option, as most Greek places specialize in this type of dish and my boss went with their gyro option. Both dishes were paired with fries, as you might have guessed, and we both chose to try this dish with carbonated lemonade as our choice of beverage. (I copied my boss after seeing the lemon-shaped packaging.) We waited about 15 minutes for our food, a normal wait time if you want fresh food (We could see an Apollo cafe employee slicing the meat off the rack fresh for my boss and my falafel being fried.) Although my boss wasn't necessarily thrilled about seeing her gyro being cut from the rack, (can't really avoid this) she was ultimately happy about her gyro and meal in general. My falafel pita was seasoned extremely well, and my food was extremely fresh, as I mentioned and was decently priced, coming in at eight dollars.
Once you get your food, getting other items including knives and napkins is self-serve and is relatively easy to find inside of the cafe. You can easily drop your food and garbage off out side of the restaurant and be on your way. On a nice day, I'd recommend parking somewhere close on Farwell or a side street like Arlington and Cass and taking a stroll. (The parking might be limited anyway on Brady). My visit to Apollo Cafe for the first time was extremely pleasant, and I think I am going to have to visit this spot a few more times to try out their other flavorful and hearty options.