During Downtown Dining Week in Milwaukee, select restaurants put together special menus where patrons get to sample meals that embody the restaurant at a discounted price.
It’s a fantastic way for restaurants to attract new customers and a great way for people to try new foods without spending too much money. Last week marked the third annual Downtown Dining Week and this year I was determined to finally partake.
Thirty of downtown’s hottest eateries created a three course meal with several options for lunch ($10) and dinner ($20). Last Monday, I decided to check out the new Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant located in the historic Third Ward district right along the Milwaukee River. Fratellos is owned by an Oshkosh-based restaurant group, Supple Restaurant Group, which also owns eight other restaurants – Fox River Brewing Company, Golden Corral Buffet and Grill franchises and The Melting Pot, in addition to three other Fratellos in Appleton, Oshkosh and Ashwaubenon.
Because Fratellos is a chain restaurant, I wasn’t expecting anything too elaborate or extraordinary, but upon entering I was pleasantly surprised. The fresh, urban feel of the Third Ward carries over into the restaurants’ décor, which at a glance makes the place seems much more upscale although the menu is definitely more casual and simple.
Eric, Kevin (Kevin is Eric’s Singapore high school friend who was visiting from North Carolina for the week) and I sat at the large bar for about a half hour, unwinding and sampling some of the Fox River Brewing Company craft brews on tap like the Caber Tossing Scottish Ale and the Buzzin’ Honey Ale, which are brewed at this Fratellos’ sister hubs in Appleton and Oshkosh and are excellent.
Due to the unappetizing fish smell wafting off the river, we decided to take a seat inside the chic dining room. Besides, no matter which table you’re sitting at, you have a good view of the river. Regardless of the stench, there were several couples taking advantage of the bowing riverfront patio that allows more than 100 patrons to dine outside within mere feet of the Milwaukee River. The vast amount of frontage that overlooks the water is amazing as it provides probably one of the best patios in Milwaukee, which is at least one reason to revisit.
We slid into our seats at a table for four near one of the many large windows. All of the tables were pre-set with wine glasses, which subtly coaxed us into a bottle to split between the three of us. The wine list is better than what I had expected – far superior than what you’d normally find at a chain restaurant like this at least. So, we ordered up a Pinot noir that was quickly brought to our table and formally presented to us.
While swirling our wine in our stemware, we talked about the day, joked around, colored with crayons on the paper table cloth, and scanned the rest of the menu. The chain restaurant’s menu is filled with basic dishes consisting of seafood, steaks, pastas and sandwiches, as well as, some “signature” dishes that sound a little more interesting and are generally priced between $10 and $20. Just like this review suggests, the fare is similar to what you’d find at a high-end Applebee’s, only slightly better, and the menu is the same as those found at each Fratellos in Wisconsin.
The Downtown Dining Week menu was, however, surprisingly extravagant. Guests have the option of participating in the event by selecting from a condensed list of plates or picking off the regular, extended menu.
Eric and I opted to try the $20 Downtown Dining dinner since it’s a great way to taste what the restaurant has to offer, plus I enjoy selecting from a planned menu since I’m typically indecisive. Kevin, on the other hand, chose off the standard menu and decided on a salad – I guess the hot dogs and burgers and beers from earlier in the week were finally catching up to him. Meanwhile, Eric and I made sure to pick different dishes from the three course selections so that we could share and sample a variety of foods.
To begin, Eric and I were served our first course. I started with the sweet potato pomme frites – French fried sweet potatoes garnished with melted mini marshmallows – and Eric had the seafood selection, which consisted of a tuna lollipop, mini crab cake, and cooked lobster, shrimp and vegetable sushi.
My appetizer was subpar and uninspired; however, Eric’s was even more disappointing. The crab cake was not only bland, but soggy and the sushi was primarily composed of rice, which was tasteless. Both items seemed like they had been made that morning and left sitting out all day. The only saving grace was the tuna lollipop that actually was quite good. Still, I feared that both insipid appetizers may presage the rest of our meal...
Moments after we gave up on our starter plates, our entrees arrived. Unfortunately, Kevin’s salad had to be returned because the thick ranch dressing had submerged the veggies – he asked for it on the side. Apparently, Fratellos is still working out their kinks, but flawless service only comes with time, if ever at all.
I took the first bite of my dish – tender glazed pork served with butternut squash raviolis in an apricot brandy cream sauce. While the pork was scrumptious and perfectly cooked, the butternut raviolis and apricot sauce was so grossly sweet that I was buzzing from a sugar high.
After the initial bite, I switched dishes with Eric to avoid tooth decay, which he apparently didn’t mind. The bruschetta chicken was the better of the two dishes in my opinion. It was a hearty portion of tender, juicy seared chicken breast over pesto infused risotto, topped with Roma tomatoes, basil, balsamic vinegar and mozzarella. The mix of balsamic vinegar and pesto risotto was interesting and offered a profusion of unusual flavor combinations. Sure enough, I couldn’t restrain myself from wolfing down the entire thing.
As we finished licking our dinner plates, our desserts were served. Eric and I both chose the cannoli Neapolitan trio over the chocolate torte brûlée. The cannoli filling was rich and creamy and divine, but three cannolis were overwhelming after a bountiful meal, so I boxed up two of mine and took them home for later.
Overall, our dinner was okay, mediocre if anything, but some dishes definitely stood out more than others. Had I known prior to my visit that Fratellos was in fact a chain restaurant, I probably wouldn’t have had such high expectations.
On a whole, Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant needs to work out several kinks, but the new eatery is a nice addition to Milwaukee's dining scene. The new eatery offers a pleasant environment and affordable dining that will be a destination for anyone looking for a nice downtown spot to grab a satisfying lunch with coworkers or a casual place to fraternize with a bunch of friends over dinner.
Fratellos Waterfront Restaurant
104 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday