Riverwest Filling Station
In spite of The A.V. Club’s semi-regular visits to Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood for things like Riverwest Fest, Locust Street Days, and other great events, it appears as though we usually skip dining there. No matter the cause of our lapse in culinary coverage, we jumped at the idea of visiting Riverwest Filling Station, Milwaukee’s newest growler bar and restaurant.
The space: While the restaurant is new, the edifice at the corner of Keefe and Pierce dates back to the early ’20s, when the blueprints of architect Charles Koch (who also designed The Pfister) were brought to life. From 1941 through early 2009, the building housed Albanese’s, an Italian restaurant. However, any thoughts of a stuffy 90-year-old building or outdated pasta joint are immediately dispelled upon entering the renovated space, which is elegantly outfitted with still-fragrant wood-slat tables, new light fixtures, winding ironwork, and commissioned paintings dotting each available wall vacancy. Speaking of the walls, huge sections of the imposing brick façade have been knocked down in favor of massive windows. However, some pre-Albanese’s relics remain, most notably the metallic ceiling and (re-finished) maple flooring.
The service: Sometimes the best indication of a restaurant’s service is the way it handles the hiccups. As we entered, we stood at the vacant host station beside the bustling bar for a couple of minutes before seating ourselves near the restaurant’s southern wall. Once there, Nate, the server who inherited our self-assigned seating, made up for the rocky start with polite, prompt, all-around professional handling. Even when a mistake in the kitchen resulted in a guest of ours receiving a chicken sandwich instead of a portabella sandwich, Nate was apologetic and insisted on paying for her sandwich, after offering to replace it. The month-old eatery is rough around the edges, but it seems to already have a sturdy server foundation.
The A.V. Club’s food: Though we opted to forego the station’s unique growler offering, we made sure to take advantage of the restaurant’s stacked selection of draft beer. Of the 30-plus options (and 45 bottled), we landed on one of the local and limited variety, a pint of Lakefront Brewery’s 25th Anniversary Imperial Stout ($5). The chocolate-tinged, bitter stout paired well with the smoky overtones of our entrée, The Meatwad ($12), a charbroiled, Aqua Teen Hunger Force-inspired—judging by the presence of “The Frylock” in the appetizer section—hunk of beef, shaved strip steak, grilled mushrooms, and onion, with tomato, pickle, and lettuce garnish jammed into a Wildflour Bakery bun. A generous bed of sweet-potato fries vied for our attention between juicy burger bites.
In addition to the Filling Station’s three burgers, seafood sandwiches (shrimp and catfish), chicken, shellfish dishes, and New York strip steak, a respectable portion of the menu is devoted to vegan and vegetarian fare. Chicken-fried chicken is listed seamlessly beside Kari’s Vegetarian Sloppy, a lentil-based sloppy Joe. Prices run the gamut from a $7 hamburger to the $18 Shitake Encrusted Ahi Tuna, with most nestled between $8 and $12.
The verdict: Come for the historic architecture, stunning artwork, and impressive array of growler-fillings, stay for the scattered selection of both meaty and meatless menu items.