Milwaukee is starting to have more vegan places pop up, something that excites me as someone who has adopted a mainly plant-based diet for the past year. More restaurants to try is always a good thing for me, and Strange Town, (opens at 4 p.m. daily) located on a tight corner along Prospect Avenue on Milwaukee's east side, has joined the plant-based party and offers some unique green decor and music played through a vinyl, to name a few unique aspects of this spot.
I typically try to stay away from restaurants when they are relatively new, as I tried to do with On the Bus, but it's hard not to get excited when there is a new vegan spot in Milwaukee. Likewise, this spot is extremely close to work and it was a logical spot for Danielle and I to visit in this city that is filling up with plant-based eateries.
Upon walking inside of this establishment you will find that the lighting is not your friend. There are no televisions inside of this restaurant, and this decision to omit these large screens from the environment was smart and allows you to feel like you are living in an era where newspapers are the preferred media choice. Sure, people have phones, but this digital distraction lies more on a person than on the restaurant itself. Plants inside white colored vases sit atop the door on a low ceiling while red lights come from the bar area. Dark colored wooden seats and tables add to an antique vibe while still providing a clean look for this restaurant. I should note that this place is pretty small, maybe fitting 55 people or so at maximum capacity if everyone were to be standing. Maybe 25-30 people max can be at the bar and seated, but I'd definitely try and get there at around 6 p.m. or so if you are hungry from sitting at work and want food and drinks pronto.
There are also a few circular lighting fixtures but there won't be much room for Instagram-worthy photos unless you have some sort of app that can help your camera adjust to this dim lighting. I think the lack of bright lights and neon fixtures including on the front of the restaurant make for an almost eery vibe when you first walk in or are walking past this spot. If not for the smooth tunes and tabletop candles, you might mistake this place for a grunge tattoo spot, vape pen retailer, or Sid's room in Toy Story. To be fair, this visit to Strange Town comes after daylight savings, which certainly does not help with lighting. Also, it certainly does not seem like a spot that serves more upscale vegan food either, but once you get inside and take a seat that all changes pretty quickly.
Strange Town operates on large and small plate options. This is obviously fine for parties that generally enjoy vegan/vegetarian eats, but those looking to satisfy their meat fix might be a little disappointed that they can't order a dish that they could eat separately while their plant-based friend chows down on some sicilian pizza with artichokes, tomatoes and other vegetables. (That's what me and Danielle ordered.) Most options don't go over $12 and small plate options hang around $4 or $5. It was nice to see that these prices weren't much higher considering some vegan and vegetarian prices can sit at higher prices because of the types of ingredients needed to make something with alternative fixings.
As noted above, my party's choice was the sicilian pizza that included a flaky and dense crust with artichokes, tomatoes and other seasoned vegetables. I was very pleased because it was cooked well, the white sauce was a nice addition and not too overpowering the way regular cheese pizza can be and was fresh, a key for pizza ingredients. I do think maybe one more piece would have been nice for $10, but it still tasted delicious. Danielle and I also chose to get a mushroom tartine option that had a cashew ricotta, diced mushrooms and beets as a garnish. For those meat eaters out there, this dish will definitely satisfy your texture requirement and flavor as well. The portion size of this tartine option was a bit more generous but maybe one more smaller piece could have made this price point of $9 more worth it. There are also other dishes including a root vegetable option, a roasted fingerling potatoes topped with heart of palm spread, capers and dill; a crudite platter served with pipian mole and hibiscus salt for dipping; and sweet roasted butternut squash with a picante poblano coulis, coconut yogurt and pepita. (whatever that last word means) Gluten-free options also run rampant, with over half of the menu accommodating these folks.
As for drinks, Strange Town hangs their hat on eclectic cocktails, wines and a wide array of drinks. They have beer (three options) for those just looking for a cold one but certainly have more exquisite drinks for those looking to get fancy. I opted for "the magic touch," an aperitif cocktail with lower alcohol content (they have about 6 of those) that included a small amount of wine, lemon and kombucha, and it was PHENOMENAL. Alcohol does not do much for me so this unique drink gave me a chance to enjoy some of Strange Town's flavor without missing out by getting a simple non-alcoholic beverage. Gladly, it was not overpowering or watered down, and it was sweet, fresh and will have me back for more experimentation with other drinks. The waitress was super helpful when I did mention I wanted something lower in alcohol content and it definitely got the job done. (because who wants water, lemonade or ginger beer all the time?)
As for dessert, we chose a creme brulee that was good in taste (coffee flavored) but a little odd in texture, as it tasted like pudding or jello that had been frozen for ten minutes or so. Truth be told I have not eaten this kind of dessert before. (at least that I can remember) but I think next time opting for the vanilla sponge cake will be the better choice. Danielle is more of an expert in creme brulee so you'd have to check in with her about ways to make it better. (temperature was one thing that she mentioned)
In regards to our service, our waitress was extremely friendly, helpful and elevated our dining experience. She checked on us numerous times within ten minutes after getting our food, did not rush us at any point, and seemed to genuinely enjoy our presence. She was very helpful when we had a few questions and was candid about the flickering lights that caught me and Danielle's attention from the start of our visit. (electricity issue, not a part of the Strange theme) The service is one part of your dining experience that sometimes only gets mentioned when a bad experience comes about, but I have all good things to say in regards to service and hospitality. Even as Danielle and I talked well past the time we received our bill, our waitress did not come to pester us and act passive aggressive about wanting us to leave. Overall, this first visit to Strange Town was an extremely pleasant experience, and I hope me and this restaurant can become more and more acquainted as time moves along. I'll try my best not to be a stranger, ok?