Saturday, September 11, 2010

Comet Cafe Restaurant Review

So I'm back in NJ and delighting in cooking my own food again.  As you already know, the husband and I spent the last few days in Wisconsin with his family and that means cheese, beer, brats, and a general distaste for vegetables.  Yuck.  Conveniently, my sister-in-law Saralyn is a vegetarian (one of the few I know), meaning that she knows all the good places to go in downtown Milwaukee for a yummy meat-free meal.  Now I know what your thinking: Veggie restaurants?  In the midwest?  Yeah, right.  And while I can't seem to identify many all-vegetarian (or, cheesehead forbid, vegan) restaurants in the city, there are a number of veg-friendly establishments.

Enter Comet Cafe.  Comet Cafe, located on the East Side of Milwaukee, specializes in using fresh, local ingredients to make veg-friendly food from scratch.  They serve meat, but most of the meat options are veganizable and there are even vegan options that don't have a meat counterpart!  Suck it, carnivores.  They also pride themselves on serving locally crafted beers.  In fact, their booze menu (that link is to a partial menu) is exponentially longer than the regular menu, comprised of more beers, wines, and liquors than it seems possible for their small establishment to hold, many with a notably Wisconsin-ian flair like the Wisconsin cow bomb (a pint of beer, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and a shot of Jameson).

Comet Cafe doesn't seem like much from the outside.  There's a mural painted on the side of the building and the inside seems a bit seedy.  From the inside however, it really appeals to me and everything I like in a restaurant hang-out.  Part cafe, part diner, and part bar, it refuses to choose a niche and refuses to be snooty.  It's very down-to-Earth which matches perfectly its comfort food-oriented menu.  The walls are interesting, with large paintings and exposed pipes.  It's very much the kind of place you could imagine a student going to sit at a counter to do work while sipping a latte or a drunken writer going to throw back an exploding cow and theorize loudly on Nietzsche.  Of course, you pay for the ambiance - not in money (it's reasonably priced) but in the fact that it's small and thus doesn't have many tables, and there's no designated place to wait which can cause a lot of awkwardness for those standing around for forty-five minutes and the people whose table they're inevitably blocking.

Anywho, on to the important stuff - the food.  I had pretty much already decided what to have before we left the house due to my obsession with perusing menus online.  The husband and I started out the meal out with an appetizer of vegan riblets with hot sauce.  These were pretty much Satan balls seitan chunks that had been battered and fried.  These were yummy!  They kind of freaked my out because they were made to look and feel like the real thing, a sensation that always skeeves me out, but I got past it and enjoyed myself.  Oh, and if you were wondering, yes the riblets were on the appetizer menu and yes I thought it was strange that an appetizer comes with fries.  Must be a midwest thing.  But the fries were really delicious so I got over it.

The riblets were followed by a cup of creamy tomato soup (free with my meal!) which was not vegan (the waitress was kind enough to warn me!)  but also delicious and I never even thought about taking a picture of.  Imagine a cup of creamy tomato soup and you're there.

Finally, we got to the main attraction.  I ordered the vegan salisbury steak which is topped with a porcini mushroom gravy and served with mashed potatoes and the daily vegetable (corn-on-the-cob).  Salisbury steak is actually a meaty meal that I remember fondly from my childhood which my mother stopped making long before I would have stopped eating it.  That is until tonight, when she'll be making it for my vegetarian birthday party.  Go figure.  Her dish is pretty much baked hamburgers covered in canned mushrooms and gravy.  I never liked her actual hamburgers so I'm assuming there's more to the patties than that but I don't know.  I'm not sure if that's anything like what salisbury steak traditionally is but what I had at Comet Cafe was completely different.  It was patties (made from a hazelnut base) that were breaded and fried and covered in a really excellent gravy.  The patties looked, felt, and tasted more like what I remember a chicken-fried steak to be.  I never liked chicken-fried steak but this stuff was goooood.  My socks remained on but this is comfort food.  It's not meant to blow you away; it's meant to fill you up and make you feel good.  And it worked.  The mashed potatoes were also really good.  The corn however, was underwhelming.  And I'm not saying that from the perspective of a Jersey girl who is spoiled with weekly local farmer's market corn but from the perspective of somebody who knows what good things taste like.  Ah well, I wasn't there for the corn.  Happily, I had leftovers of the steak and potatoes (such an odd thing for me to say) which meant a nice lunch the next day.

Sadly, there was no dessert.  Literally.  They advertise an amazing-sound chocolate cake, carrot cake, a variety of pies, and a daily assortment of vegan treats but by the time I finished dinner they were completely out.  Of everything.  The waitress teased me with the possibility of there being some carrot cake hiding in the back but alas, it was not to be.  That's okay though as I had three cocktails and that's enough naughtiness for one evening.

To sum up: Comet Cafe is awesome!  I will definitely be returning on future pilgrimages to the husband's homeland.  Hopefully for brunch because I have been desperately desiring vegan brunch in a restaurant and their brunch menu looks scrumptious!  To all the vegans and vegetarians in Milwaukee: GO HERE!

In case you're interested, every moment not spent
consuming yummy vegan food my husband spent
building this.  I married a three-year old.


  1. Reading your restaurant/food reviews always make me hungry. Even if I've just eaten. Good work.

    Also, did your mom actually make vegetarian salisbury steaks for your birthday party or was that statement a poke at her ignorance of your vegetarian habits?

  2. No, she just made regular old salisbury steaks. It wasn't ignorance so much as "We eat meat, deal with it." Which is their prerogative, but she shouldn't have agreed to a veg meal.

    Also, I'm glad to hear that my food writing is effective!

  3. Ditto to Kelly, now I really want french fries. Also: LEGOS!! I was never great at just building whatever out of legos, but I liked building little mini sets.