Millioke delivers on promise of “meat, cheese, beer,” but for a price
That slogan again: “Meat. Cheese. Beer.”
“Meat. Cheese. Beer.” A simple, heartening promise. But in the land where Johnsonvilles stuffed with cheddar-ish goo are devoured like another white meat, Miller products are swilled next to Bloody’s for breakfast, and every other new food pub offers a take on charcuterie, it’s about as underwhelming a restaurant statement as “we have food.” Millioke enters the ’Sconnie-centric-fare fray regardless, sporting fancy next-to-Marriot digs, an Algonquin name direct from Wayne’s World, and large-fonted signage. We gave the Wisconsin Ave. joint a recent empty-stomached shot, because, hey, they have meat, cheese, and beer.
The space: Aside from meth and big league sluggers, probably no commodity on earth is more overpriced than a hotel room. This same economic absurdism almost always stretches over to hotel bars and restaurants. Sprawling, hip-striving, wood-hued sterile, modern-ish, and 11-buck-nothing-on-it burger-slinging Millioke is certainly leaning toward the per-diem-ers and “fuck-it-we’re-on-vacation” sect. There are fancy light fixtures, Ikea-esque bar stools, a blinking buffet of flat TVs, and buttoned-up travelers pounding out emails on Macbooks.
The service: Friendly, bubbly, eager, and happy to be helping us. Our girl seemed peppy and precocious and unfazed by being forced to wear a silly plaid shirt uniform. Rarely before has an employee seemed so genuine and unaffected that we feared what might become of her in the real world. Like concerned parents, we noted how her pleasant naiveté was a far cry from the room-working, suited glad-hander who wanted to know which was our favorite hunk of charcuterie.
The A.V. Club’s food: If nothing else, Millioke deserves credit for getting into bed with Usinger’s. There’s plenty of known and accomplished sausage-slingers listed as partners here, but the downtown packers bring a variety, timelessness, and claim to authority not met by anything artisanal or new.
And as long as there’s a promise of good animal protein, we’ll start the pre-wash cycle with suds. Here, the bar men have banked on the newly opened Midwest location of Lagunitas, citing it as Chicago brew and willfully neglecting the company’s California roots. But we’re on board with the misdirection, as knowing hopheads largely agree that the left coast is where it’s at, as their bold, bitter IPA ($5) proves. Especially when chased by the too-sweet Lake Louie Kiss the Lips ($5).
After any such substantial whetting of the whistle, mere mention of Beer Cheese Fondue ($9) sounds like something you’d be an idiot not to order. But the side pretzel bites felt soft, lacking, and with a fancy toothpick, plainly not that fun to chow. Sure, beer and cheese in tandem will always get the job done, but it felt like a salty Campbell’s copy of Water Street Brewery’s soup version.
Not able to get on board with paying $16 for a cheddar bacon burger, we pushed on with the Prosciutto arugula flatbread ($11). Offering a considerable mountain of our new favorite pizza topping, the long pie was salty, crisped, and saucily satisfying. We’re not sure what we expected, but it showed there was little need to go with the wallet-cracking “Something Special” section and its list of over-priced grilled cuts. Actually, the meat and cheese special menu could easily fill in for entrees. At $5 each, and sided with the requisite whole seed mustard, house pickles, pitted olives, and French-ish bread, this is what we sampled: Le Cabrie (soft ripened goat brie from Belmont); Laclare Farm Ziege Zack Blue (cow and goat milk with a wave of blue mold from Chilton); Underground Meats’ Goat Salami (75% goat, 25% pork from Madison); and the highlight, Usinger’s Linguica (portugese-style, smoked with garlic, and served grilled). All for the same price as a slab of baby backs.
The verdict: If you’re baller enough to stay next door, you probably have an expense account, so why not? And if you’re wandering hungry through downtown, you have Milwaukee Street, Water Street, and a smorgasbord of affordable pub grubbery, so why here? While meat, cheese, and beer are scientifically proven to be the top triumvirate of great things in the world, and Usinger’s is a golden god of cased animal proteins, at Millioke we mostly felt struck by another dose of the upscale, urban tavern mehs.