I typically am within city limits when I am trying out new restaurants. A bus would take entirely too long and a Lyft would cost too much money. As a result, I don't get to try many restaurants in the suburbs like The Cheel or Cafe Manna, until recently. Luckily, my friend Danielle was running some errands out in Brookfield and I was able to check out this vegetarian spot, Cafe Manna, and experience plant-based food outside of city limits.
When stepping foot in Cafe Manna, it is kind of hard to describe the environment. It's not super upscale but there are candles on each table. Hardwood floors are beneath you as you dine with cloth napkins and two forks. (a sign of upscale eating) The lighting is dim, yet there is a lot of sunlight peering through the other side of the restaurant through the larger windows. (see below) One word that did come to mind before leaving was clean. Another was simple. The aesthetics of this place were not too much or underwhelming, but fit just right, like the photos of potatoes, vegetables and other clean eats that come to mind when thinking about vegetarian food, leading me to the menu and the vast amount of options and surprises.
First off, everything on their menu is made in house except the bread and pasta. This was a pleasant surprise as most of the dishes that you and i eat are probably prepared beforehand or bought from a vendor in some way, shape or form. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it was nice to know that mostly everything I was going to eat was prepared fresh. Speaking of fresh, I tried their Limonade drink, which was gluten-free and vegan and was prepared with fresh limes, kale, swiss chard, ginger, raw sugar and purified water. I do wish it was a bit more chilled or served with ice, but that was not a huge issue. Regardless, the drink was spectacular. It was pretty sweet but not too much if consumed in small doses. It tasted extremely ripe, as you could really taste the ginger and limes without it being bitter. It was a great choice. They also have teas, soups and sides like garlic brussels sprouts, a house salad and quinoa or brown basmati rice, all different and fresh options to consume as a side. I'm almost certain that nothing is fried at this restaurant, as there was nothing on their menu that screamed "dunk me in oil." Cafe Manna also does not use plastic or styrofoam products, which might explain the reusable products and juice in a wine glass.
Danielle and I sifted through this menu, and we had a lot of questions and options to consider since neither of us had been here before. The coconut cashew spread with crackers they provided us were on the house and delicious. It was creamy and paired well with the cracker which was more of a multi-grain kind of option. Ultimately, I chose their black bean and mushroom burger with oven roasted sweet potato wedges (a simple, yet safe choice) while Danielle opted for their Mushroom Basil Radiatori which came with sauteed shallots and mushrooms tossed in a cashew cauliflower basil sauce (essentially an Alfredo sauce) with a vegan walnut parmesan, among other things. I have been on a burger kick lately and want to try to perfect my own burger at home. I think it is always helpful to try restaurants' version of a favorite dish.
We both loved our food. My bean burger was seasoned with a southwestern spice (I assume that is a combination of paprika, chili powder and maybe cumin.) and it hit the spot. This vegan option came with a fresh cilantro aioli that was much cleaner than mayo and did not overpower the taste of the burger. I added avocado for $1.50 and was also happy about the fresh greens that came on the burger. I sometimes don't care for lettuce or tomatoes when I am eating a veggie or black bean burger because it typically spills out along with the rest of the burger crumbles, but this burger stayed strong and did not break. That made me happy. The sweet potato wedges not so much. I feel like they could have baked them a little longer to make them crispy, as they were extremely soft. There was some flavor to them, but a little paprika, salt or even cinnamon would have been a nice touch. My burger and wedges came to $15, and I think the portion size and amount of ingredients warranted this price. Although I can get a black bean burger and tots for say, $10, at A.J Bombers, I end up adding toppings which get me to the same $15.
My friend Danielle loved the Radiatori dish. I also loved it, and I was MORE than happy to have a few bites. This dish was $18, which might seem like a lot, but the portion size was large. As we both discussed while dining, pasta at Calderone Club or somewhere in downtown Milwaukee averages at $20 or higher so it did not seem too crazy, especially considering it was made with some vegan premium ingredients. Interested in other options? Cafe Manna serves a stir fry, vegan pizza, a tuno-belt and a tempeh reuben. All of these dishes are $15 and below so the prices seem to be reasonable for a gamut of options. Their dessert runs a little high, including raw cheesecake that is $10 and carrot cake for the same price. That said, these desserts seem more like shareables, and sharing is exactly what we did with the chocolate chip cookie torte that was $9.
We were both crazy about the cookie dough and raspberry flavoring beneath and around this main dessert dish, but the cake itself had almost a pound cake-like density. I expected a fluffier option, but this denser cake probably should have been expected with it being vegan. The richness of the icing compared to the freshness of the raspberry and strawberries was astounding. This place understands its flavors and how they should exude themselves in the dishes that are created. This dessert was not bad, but I probably would not get it again. The cake was too dense for me, and I would be more open to trying their raw vegan cheesecake option of the day or chocolados which are to chocolate avocado truffles. That said, this experience was not only fun from start to, but satisfying. You feel like you get your money's worth and fill your stomach at the same time. Strange Town on Prospect is good, but you can definitely leave that place wanting more. The service was great, and I do not have any major critiques about this place.
When I go out to eat, I don't want to be hungry when I leave. That's the whole purpose of eating out. I should add that this waiter did not come visit our table a lot but instead checked on us a few times and answered all of our questions to a manner which I thought was excellent. I have gotten very particular about my food and restaurants as I become more seasoned in the food review/blogging game, and Cafe Manna clearly has done their homework on how to create the best vegan and vegetarian eats for customers. Their chefs, waiters and ambiance scream veteran, and to that, I salute them and give them a lot of praise. Job well done my good and faithful restaurant. Job well done.