The old-school charm (and killer grub) of Christie’s Pub And Grill
More Our First Time
Since 1954, Christie’s Pub And Grill has been your run-of-the mill, south side, Polish-family-run, beer-and-old-fashioned neighborhood joint. But five years ago, when Christie’s decided to toss a grill in the back, things got “weird.” In a simple, noble effort to help everyone get home without a DUI, family cooking brought Yelpers, suburban foodies, Sanford comparisons, and something of an identity crisis. But the son-mom-grandma trio—bar, kitchen, dishes, respectively—keeps pushing on, scratching their heads over glowing reviews, wondering how to get the bar taken off of Yelp, and hoping to maintain their staunch allegiance of regulars.
The space: It’s the typical dime-a-dozen neon-lit bar you drive past a million times and wonder about—or don’t wonder about. It’s cavernously dark and low-ceilinged, with spinning Pabst lanterns hanging seductively in the corners, and a communal dinner table feel about the original U-shaped bar. Pennants, family photos, Bud Selig photos, a random drum kit, and the requisite Brewers viewers spruce up walls that could certainly tell some stories. With perfect, fit-for-a-Milwaukee-ass extra-girth bar stools, the only things missing are ashtrays and your drunken uncle. Essentially, it’s what every new bar owner wants, but this has Grandma’s house wood-paneling without any irony.
The service: Handshakes, first name exchanges, and an introduction to mom—brandishing a colossal burger around the room toward a hungry patron—met us within 15 seconds. The disarming sociability wasn’t just from Jason, the owner, but extended down the bar: Leather-jacketed Harley riders sipped French-press coffee and planned their next stop. Mom planted on a stool and busted some balls about not holding a sandwich properly, and subsequently schooled said finger-licker on what to do with an overgrown basil plant. Jason paused from a Vietnamese food rant to get bear hugs from a friend who was either over-served or appropriately happy to be there.
The A.V. Club’s food: Somewhere between the lengthy, loving litany of the day’s specials presented by the man with the bar rag, and the arrival of the prosciutto-wrapped scallops ($13), you realize you’re a long way from Leff’s. Or Hollander. Or wherever you chowed your last pub burger.
So maybe the pears, below the smartly wrapped scallops, aren’t necessary with the already brimming sweetness of the honey and balsamic syrup. But the thick sauce was easily repurposed as goopy gravy for the forthcoming fries. It was another in a string of wise foresights by the man in charge, loosely hovering over every bite, doting, as if to caringly say, “Ehh?”
Contrary to Test Kitchen-worthy starters, the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich ($12) was an exercise in elegant simplicity. Don’t fuck with the singular tangy brilliance of Frank’s Red Hot, use booming chunks of top-notch bleu cheese, throw on some additional dressing for slickness, add onions and tomato for crunch, encapsulate with a thick, sturdy, barely toasted bun, and it hardly even matters that the chicken is flawlessly cooked. It’s a near perfect sandwich, even while (or maybe because) it was soundtracked by Jason and mom bickering about which one invented it.
Likewise with the Chuy Burger ($12), which, based on the bun alone, is striving toward Sobelmanity. But with something called “Texas Caviar,” it graduates to its own grown-ass manhood. Add just enough fried onions, salsa, and avocado, and there’s thorough and appropriate Mexican muscle, enough to honor its namesake bartender over at Café Lulu. It’s also as juicy, big, and well constructed a home you’ll find for a half-pound patty. Added insurance that the bounteously frosted Carrot Cake ($7) would be safe from consumption until much later—at home, while still in a contented daze.
Our only regret was that we had but one appetite to give Christie’s. There’s a chicken special with dried cherries, mango, currants and cranberries, apples, oranges, peaches, goat cheese, and possibly the kitchen sink. There’s a Wellington Burger ($11) topped with chicken liver pâté and Swiss cheese. You know the Fish Fry ($15)—fried then baked, for optimum moisture—is going to be worth a spin. Hell, we’d even give a salad a go.
The verdict: A phenomenon: foodist piety and down home beer-and-Brewers watering hole in perfect harmony. Just don’t confuse it with a place for reservations, and enjoy it for what it is: a quintessential old-school Milwaukee hangout with killer grub to boot.