Waking up with the Mad Rooster Cafe
Breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. The hoary notion that states otherwise stems from a wobbly scientific framework, farmer propaganda, and a centuries-old prejudice against night people who think that mornings should be slept through. But, if done well, it can still be good. And apparently enough people are into placating their mother’s meal truisms for it to be a solid moneymaker in the restaurant biz. Following the example of successful egg-and-bacon focusers like Blue’s Egg and Simple Café comes West Milwaukee’s Mad Rooster Cafe. Intrigued by the trend, we recently got up early, muscled through the cobwebs and yawns, and headed to Greenfield Avenue for a rare shot of first meal.
The space: It’s home-style, sunny-side-up kitsch. Inside the hulking barn-like structure set in the middle of a sprawling parking lot, there’s a glut of vintage red velvet booths, a burnt-toast smell of Grandma’s house, and a garish motif of farm bric-a-brac. There are paintings of roosters dressed in revolutionary war garb, roosters playing guitar, and plenty of other rooster clutter. It’s a little bit country, and it’s a lot like Cracker Barrel and Apple Holler merged to cater to the Miller Park-bound brunch set. But there’s also a custom Anodyne brew on hand, so it’s not too out there.
The service: Everyone on the headset-wearing waitstaff seemed new—both to the restaurant force and the workforce. But we got friendly refills on the great local joe ($2.50), the control of our own water supply with a table carafe, and, thankfully, not enough chitchat to exacerbate a hangover. Really, when we’re eating at a pseudo greasy spoon and leaning towards omelets and bloody marys, all we need is to not be forgotten and a non-fuck-up of our preferred egg-cooking method. Done and over-easily done.
The A.V. Club’s food: If every A.M. started with a bloody mary we’d certainly be into mornings. And if each one started with a Mad Mary ($9), we’d go full Don Draper and happily let the spice and liquid sustenance woozily take the lead on all forthcoming productivity and personality. With a lovingly deviled egg, blue cheese-stuffed olive, and mini High Life bottle chaser, we weren’t exactly saying we were over our bed and a Sunday sleep-off, but we were warming up to the idea.
Prior to the egg revolution, the thought of a breakfast burger ($10.50) was widely thought ridiculous; now, at a brunch joint, they feel obligatory. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, or offering yet another one up to a barren stomach. But here, a nicely cooked egg, jack and cheddar cheese, and a pretzel bun couldn’t really make up for the fact that the patty was plain, ordinary, and cooked toward the Sahara-ish side. The kitchen, maybe feeling the trend fatigue of the dish themselves, seemed to have phoned this one in.
Not so, though, with the Mad Tacos ($8.50). Overstuffed with fluffy scrambled eggs, a bit hard to handle, and pleasantly greasy for chicken chorizo, our tortilla-folding skills were put to the test. But don’t worry: If you’ve wisely peppered the side dish with slices of fried jalapeños ($1.50), and many generous ejaculations of the already-on-the-table Cholula, the runoff and droppings will culminate in much spicy, starchy bliss meant for a fork. Salty, peppery, greasy, the tacos and spud combo added up to a surprisingly authentic, filling dose of soulful Tex-Mex—one that was actually more of a nap precursor than a day-starter.
And while the Rooster also does lunch, something about it reeks of grandma’s house—she’ll make you whatever you want, she even has a can of tuna somewhere to slap on a croissant that we can pretend wasn’t meant for eggs. But, what with the signature coffee, fresh squeezed juice, and obvious madness it takes to exist as a morning person, you know, here, breakfast is the thing.
The verdict: Even the best brunches are almost never worth setting an alarm, and lunch can’t help but exist as merely a placeholder. But, those unlucky enough to be members of daytime-calorie-and-caffeine necessitating nine-to-five society, or others looking for an excuse to drink vodka before noon, could do worse than Mad Rooster. And maybe not much better than a new, lesser-known maxim: the early bird gets the breakfast chorizo.