Catering to the nostalgia of the Low Countries, a region of Western Europe made up of Belgium, Luxemburg, and the Netherlands, Café Hollander is Milwaukee’s premier Belgian-American experience. Food, authentic European beer, and a convenient location, what more could UWM students and faculty ask for?
Located at the corner of Downer and Hackett just south of the UWM campus, Café Hollander is a prominent feature on Historic Downer Avenue. Built to resemble a cross between a Belgian beer hall and an East Side café with brick walls, wood furniture, bicycles hanging from the ceiling, and daily specials handwritten on a chalkboard, Hollander has the spirit of two worlds.
Featuring an impressively large beer menu, as well as wine and soft drinks, Hollander is proud to offer a variety of rare and common beers from around the world, many of which come straight from Belgium; a few of which are brewed by Belgian monks. As well as native Belgian beer, a variety of American beers are available including a few choice selections from Milwaukee’s own microbreweries, Lakefront and Milwaukee Brewing Company. Unfortunately, one of Lakefront’s finest products, their take on Belgian White style, is absent from the menu. Though the absence of the beer on Lakefront’s official website may mean the beer has been retired. Regardless, one missing local Belgian style beer makes little difference in the presence of so many fine imported beers offered at Café Hollander.
As well as a large and varied beer menu, Café Hollander has a large food menu. Much of the ingredients are locally produced earning Café Hollander good remarks in that aspect, especially since each item is paired with a beer for optimal enjoyment. However, the prices are rather steep. A few choice items include $11.95 for a Turkey Wrap with fries, $14.95 for a Belgian dip sandwich, $13.95 for pan roasted chicken breast, $11.95 for a Beet and Avocado salad, and $9.95 for an order of cheese curds. This is not to say that the food isn’t worth the price. In fact, the prices are what they are because of an insistence on using premium ingredients such as organic vegetables, prime-grade beef, free ranged chickens, and local bakery. Regardless, a $15 burger, no matter the quality, is going to make an average broke college student shudder a bit. So the question remains; what’s good on the menu?
A notable inclusion to the menu is the use of Weyawega cheese products. While few know of the tiny central Wisconsin township, after spending close to twenty years visiting the town for their cheese while on camping trips to Waupaca this writer can attest that the town produces some of the best cheese available. A prime example of Café Hollander’s expert use of Weyawega cheese are the house made cheese curds and the Kulminator sandwich, the latter of which features four distinct cheeses, smoked bacon, and oven-roasted tomatoes making for a complex but tasty sandwich. Though the recommended beer pairings suggest otherwise, both items are great with a fine dark lager, for the dark chocolate and caramel notes of the beer complement the flavor and saltiness of the cheese quite well. A fine choice is Lakefront’s East Side Dark. As for dessert, the perfect send off to a cheese-heavy meal coupled with a fine dark beer is the Belgian chocolate crème brulee. Crispy caramel on top, creamy custard in the middle, and delectably bittersweet, this is a delightful take on the classic French dessert. The only drawback is that you won’t want to share.
In all, Café Hollander is a fine addition to our city. With more beer than one could possibly need and a menu made up of fresh, locally grown and raised ingredients, Hollander does well to entice citizens of all backgrounds. And though the menu may be a bit pricey for the average college student, the quality of the ingredients and the atmosphere makes the difference. Few places in Milwaukee outside of the finest restaurants offer grass-fed, prime quality beef and free ranged chickens, or feature a large selection of beers from around the world, especially on draught. So for those looking for a nearby café that not only works with the community but offers the very best products available, Café Hollander should be on your list of destinations.