Maxie’s Southern Comfort – Milwaukee

May 26, 2007

Short Take: Nice place, but too spicy for our wussy mid-western taste-buds.

Long Take: Higgins was in charge of planning this week’s outing and chose Maxie’s as the middle part of long evening on the town. Maxie’s just recently opened in Milwaukee (they appear to have a location in New York, as well.) When Willamina and Higgins arrived at the restaurant, they were in a good mood– and the mood continued upon our seeing the establishment. It was 9:00 on a Friday evening and the place was still hopping. The hostesses at the door were friendly and said we would have a table in fifteen minutes (it was closer to 5.) Maxie’s has a downstairs and an upstairs– with a full bar on both levels. We chose the upstairs as it was quieter. The decor and atmosphere was quite pleasant.

Maxie’s serves Southern style food (think Missippi delta) with an upscale twist. Our server, Jessie, was very prompt and helpful. He wasn’t overly friendly, but he was attentive, polite, and very informative. After a number of questions and some deliberation, Higgins and Willamina ordered a cup of Crab and Corn Chowder, a Pulled Pork Sandwhich, and the Pan-Roasted Carolina Grouper.

Crab and Corn Chowder – Willamina and Higgins LOVE corn chowder. Crab and corn chowder, even moreso. Unfortunately, we were not impressed with this version. To its credit, it was full of crab and corn. No skimping there. To its detriment, it was full of lots of other things as well. It was a mish-mash of tastes and textures, including some spices we couldn’t identify and didn’t particularly care for. Willamina ate a couple of spoonfuls. Higgins finished it, but wouldn’t order it again. Jessie told us that many people react to the chowder by calling it very “Unusual and Interesting.” Willamina and Higgins do not believe that should be considered a compliment with chowder.

Corn Bread – Each meal is served with a basket of corn bread and a special orange infused butter. Higgins loves cornbread. This cornbread was… OK. It was extremely crumbly and not too sweet. It also didn’t have the rich corn flavor one hopes for. The orange infused butter was… very orangey. (Is that a word?) Normally, cornbread is served with a maple or honey blended butter. Orange infused butter is slightly sweet, but Higgins wasn’t a fan of it. Again, interesting– but not something to repeat.

Pulled Pork Sandwhich – The pulled pork was wonderfully cooked. It was so tender it literally melted in your mouth. It wasn’t too vinegarry, which Willamina appreciated. Unfortunately, while its heat-level was low-to-moderate, it proved to be too much for our intrepid heroes. The sandwhich comes with a large side of creamy cole-slaw. The cole-slaw was lacking in flavor– not bad, just not great. The plate also contained a large serving of BBQ Beans. If the pork was a little too hot, the BBQ Beans were unpleasantly, deceptively spicy. They also contained green peppers. Willamina and Higgins do not believe green peppers belong in BBQ Beans– or many items intended for consumption. We didn’t finish anything on this plate.

Pan-Roasted Carolina Grouper – Higgins would like to confess that he had never had grouper before and was really ordering this entree for its side-dishes, Maple-braised Collard Greens and Hushpuppies. (You may remember that Higgins has a thing for hushpuppies.) Higgins now knows that he is not terribly fond of Grouper. It is a whitefish, and fairly tasteless. The charred tomato-corn relish served over the grouper was intended to address this lack of flavor, unfortunately, it appears they had replaced the charred tomatoes with charred onions. This was not a successful substitution. Once the relish and the charred fish-skin had been removed, the Grouper was naked and exceedingly bland. The Collard Greens, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were cooked just right. Not over-cooked, as they can be sometimes. Not too sweet. Not too earthy. Layers of flavor and delicious. The hushpuppies were a little dry and not very tasty.

Beverages – Willamina had a glass of riesling, though the name escapes her and we forgot to write it down. Higgins had a bottle of Sprecher Root Beer served with a frosted glass. (The way root beer should be served.) To combat the cumulative heat of the pulled pork, Willamina also ordered a diet-cola. Maxie’s serves Black Bear soda– a small regionally-bottled brand. Willamina was not impressed.

Maxie’s had a lot of options for carnivores and vegetarians. They were friendly and the food was prepared well. If friends from the south came for a visit, we’d take them to Maxie’s. Otherwise, I’m afraid it is just more than we can handle.


Mitchell’s Fish Market – Brookfield

May 19, 2007

Short Review: Excellent service. Well prepared, flavorful seafood. Great experience.

Long Review:
For this week’s Epicurean Encounter, Willowmina suggested a recently opened restaurant, Mitchell’s Fish Market. Higgins was suspicious– what with Mitchell’s being a part of a large chain of restaurants and being located at–gasp–the mall. But, MFM did have a well designed website and a very interesting menu, so off we went.

We went on a Friday afternoon, about 5:30 or so, without reservations. We were seated immediately. (When we left an hour or so later, the waiting line was out the door.) The atomosphere of the restaurant is wide open, with booths and tables, though there is an upper scale feel to it. Lots of dark woods. The kitchen is open to viewing through large windows, as is their “cutting room”. They proudly state that the fish is delivered every day and cut in the cutting room. (We did not go look in the cutting room–though it appeared to be empty from where we were sitting.)

Service was quick, professional, friendly, and well-informed. The server had tried everything on the menu and was able to answer every one of the questions we fired his way. At the same time, he wasn’t pushy or pretentious. Willowmina ordered a drink, the Sun Splash (Grey Goose L’Orange Vodka, Grand Marnier, fresh OJ, and club soda.) It looked like pink lemonade but she quite enjoyed the taste. Higgins tried it, noting that it had multiple layers of flavor.

As we were not too hungry, we skipped over the appetizers–though many items looked good. We did order a cup of Main Lobster Bisque. (We LOVE Lobster Bisque.) This was an exceptionally good bisque. The aroma was enticing and promised a rich, earthy flavor. The taste delivered on that promise. While it was not the best Lobster Bisque we have had, it was certainly one of the better ones. There wasn’t as much lobster in it as we expected, but the taste was so good–we didn’t mind. The soup came with a mini-loaf of a light sourdough bread–served warm with a whipped butter. It was a delicious bread. Lightly crusty on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. The mini-loaf disappeared quickly, and was just as quickly replaced with another one.

In order to try as many things as possible, we each ordered a combination platter. Willowmina ordered the MFM Fried Combo Platter and Higgins ordered the Fish Market Trio. Normally, when ordering combo platters, you are faced with two problems. One, they always contain something you don’t like and rarely are substitutions welcome. Two, the portions of each item is so small, sharing is harder to accomplish. Neither of these were the case at Mitchells. When we asked if we could substitute a different preparation for items in the platters, we were told, “Of course. What would you like?” That was refreshing. Willowmina switched our her fried scallops for grilled scallops. Higgins asked for his blackened swordfish to be grilled.

Beer Battered Gulf Shrimp – The batter was very tasty, having a tangy flavor (probably from the beer) that really highlighted the taste of the three very large shrimp. They were not too greasy and were quite yummy.

Grilled Scallops – Again, three very large scallops. Perfectly cooked. It is hard to cookd a scallop, especialy the larger ones, correctly. You have to make sure the inside is fully cooked (we do not like scallop sushi) but if you over cook it the outside becomes rubbery and/or chewy. These were creamy, melt-on-your tongue done. And the flavors! They were almost too rich for our midwestern sensibilities.

Battered Pacific Cod – A different batter, with a little less flavor. Again, not too greasy. The cod inside was tender and flaky, and flavorful.

Sea Salt French Fries – the only thing on the plate that underwhelmed us. Small, narrow french fries. Not too greasy, not too soggy, not too crispy. Not too anything.

Hush Puppies – Some of the best Higgins has had. They were perfectly cooked. Slightly crisp on the outside, soft and pillowy tender on the inside. Very tasty–but spicier than hush puppies usually are. They seemed to have an unfamiliar spice in them–one that made them way to spicy for Willowmina and uncomfortable for Higgins.

Creamy Cabbage Coleslaw – Wonderful. Creamy. Sweet. With small carrot pieces. It was a very good coleslaw.

Grilled Swordfish – The swordfish was good, though hard to taste. It has been grilled as requested, but was served atop the jambalaya rice (probably where the blackened swordfish would have been served). As such, the jambalaya spices got onto the swordfish and overwhelmed the natural flavor. No real complaints, but can’t speak to the fish itself.

Grilled Atlantic Salmon – Both the swordfish and the salmon pieces were small squares–but more than enough to eat and share. The salmon was a wonderful explosion of natural flavor. We haven’t tasted salmon that good since we were visiting Seattle. The fish was cooked perfectly and had a creamy texture and flavor to it. It was an absolute joy. Again, its richness was almost more than we could handle.

Shan Hai Sea Scallops – Three scallops, the same size as the ones on Willowmina’s plate, sitting in a small bowl of ginger, scallion, soy sauce. They were more gummy than the grilled scallops, though still tasty. The sauce did accent them nicely.

Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya Rice – Had a nice, flavorful heat to it. More than Willowmina could handle, but within Higgin’s safe tolerance zone. The andouille sausage was cut in tiny pieces and flavored the rice nicely. The shrimp was either non-existent or hidden exceptionally well.

Asparagus – The only bad thing on the plate. Three spears (they like the number three, don’t they?) of very large, mature asparagus. They were actually too large, too mature. They weren’t at the woody stage, but they were more bitter and grainy than good asparagus should be. They were left unfinished on the plate.

We were both rather full from the entrees, but wanted to try something on the dessert menu. We were torn between the Sharkfin Pie and the Seven Layer Carrot Cake. We were told that the Carrot Cake did not include raisins (we can not abide raisins in our desserts), but ultimately chose to split the Sharkfin Pie (butterfudge ice cream, honey roasted peanuts, fudge, peanut butter, an oreo cookie crust, and, of course, whip cream). The server came back with two plates, a large slice of ice cream pie on each one! Higgins looked at him and said, “We wanted to split a piece.” To which our server replied, “I did split it.” We looked at our plates with amazed concern. One piece of Sharkfin Pie could serve as a dessert for four people, it seems. In addition to being plentiful, it was also delicious. The ice cream was from Homer’s and the pie is assembled fresh every day. We would be inclined to question the practice of importing ice cream from Illinois to the Dairy State–but we can’t argue with the results. That was a really good ice cream. The pie was a mess on the plate, with all of the ingredients, but it was a delicous combination.

As we were finishing the pie (or not finishing– we were pretty full), the assistant manager came to our table and spoke with us for a few minutes. It was more than the perfunctory “hi folks, how is everything”. It was a very pleasant visit and made us feel welcome. Another level of service.

At the end of the meal, 1 soup, 2 entrees, 1 drink, 1 beverage, and 1 drink came to $67 (not including the tip.) We tipped high and thought it was well deserved.

We WILL be returning to Mitchell’s. Probably soon.

[In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Higgins did suffer a slight upset stomach later in the evening– we do not believe this is the fault of the restaurant, the quality of the food, or the means of preparation. Rather, the fresh seafood was rather rich. Also, there is a possibility that a spice he is allergic to was present in the hush puppies or the jambalaya. He knew this, knew it might mean an upset stomach, and ate both of them anyway– finishing both. They tasted that good. As such, any problems he had are purely on his head. Willomina was fine.]