1007 N. Cass Street
The official name of this restaurant is "Cafe at the Plaza" but I think that sounds dumb, so I call it the Plaza Cafe, or simply The Plaza. It's open every day for breakfast and lunch. It's the cafe in the lobby of the Plaza Hotel, one of Milwaukee's few apartment/hotels, built in the Thirties, kept up pretty well, but not overly fancy. It's an inspiring place, which feels somewhat like it's from an earlier time. The apartments, hotel rooms, breakfasts, and lunches are all affordable, so you tend to have a fairly interesting clientele. A lot of theatre people seem to go there.
The heart of the place is a large room with a horseshoe shaped counter, a couple of small tables, food prep areas, and the grill. There is also a large dining room, connected to hallways and stairways leading off into the hotel. In warmer weather, you can eat outside in a really nice, enclosed courtyard that is situated between two wings of the hotel.
My favorite breakfast is the artichoke omelette, because it contains artichokes, or the ultimate omelette, because it has the name "ultimate." There are cheaper options, however, with daily breakfast specials. I have eaten a pretty good chef salad at lunch, though it's not inspiring. The menu contains average lunch fare. The coffee is always strong, but not great. At least it's not diner-weak, but it's so strong it's like kick-you-in-the-head strong, and coming from me, that can be problematic.
Sometimes the place can get crowded, particularly on weekend mornings, and at those times the atmosphere isn't as relaxing. Also, at some point they put a TV in the main room, which is always tragic, but at least the sound is never turned up. The food is generally a little overpriced-- not terribly, considering restaurants in general in Milwaukee are overpriced-- but enough to be a bit of a drawback, considering the food is fairly average, particularly the hash browns and "cafe" potatoes (a much better name than "American fries, at least) that come with breakfasts.
This was the first restaurant I ate at in Milwaukee, years ago, before moving here, and it hasn't changed all that much. It is consistent and durable. I like to imagine living in The Plaza, in an apartment, and then being able to come down to breakfast wearing slippers and a robe. That sounds like my idea of success.
One really nice thing about the Plaza Cafe is that to enter, you come through the lobby of the hotel. And the men's room is off the lobby. This small restrooms is, in my experience, the best restroom in a public space in Milwaukee. Though small, it is warm, old, and comfortable. There is one old porcelain sink, and a beautiful, old built-into-the-floor urinal. Then, the best part, there is one toilet stall, but it is its own separate room, with a full door, so there is complete privacy. You can sit there and relax and examine the old wallpaper, and the spectacular floor, which is a combination of ceramic tile and terrazzo. And there is a standing ashtray!-- not a fancy one, but still, a standing ashtray. It's almost enough to make me buy cigarettes for that occasion alone.
** (two stars)