The new menu at Cafe at the Plaza, 1007 N. Cass St., bears the imprint of chef Matt Miller in its scratch cooking, from the Italian and chorizo sausages to the chile powder blend to the sauerkraut for the reuben sandwich.
The new menu, debuting Wednesday, brings back a longstanding cafe favorite — lemon poppyseed pancakes. Miller, who estimated he received 10 customer requests a week for the pancakes while they were off the menu, added almond for crunch and upgraded the syrup, making it with blueberry, ginger and lemon juice.
Corned beef hash returns, too. The meat is brined for 14 days, and the dish also gets a boost with the subtle addition of soy sauce. “I’m a big believer in umami,” said Miller, who’s planning his second trip to Japan in October. Miller also worked in New York at Jean-Georges, the fine-dining restaurant noted for its meeting of French, Asian and American cuisines.
Miller, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., also worked in New York for chef Floyd Cardoz at the late Tabla, the contemporary Indian fine dining restaurant. That influence pops up in the crab cake Benedict with brown butter hollandaise, served on the weekends; the crab cakes, a la Cardoz, are held together with a bit of shrimp mousse instead of the usual breadcrumbs. Panko crumbs on the exterior make the cakes crisp.
Miller’s background primarily has been in fine dining; he most recently was the sous chef at c.1880 in Walker’s Point before joining Cafe at the Plaza last year. (The baba ganouj from c.1880 was modified and added to a falafel plate along with a Mediterranean salad with harissa dressing.)
But that’s not to say the cafe menu items have been reinterpreted in fine-dining ways; the reuben sandwich is a reuben sandwich, albeit with house sauerkraut, sauce and corned beef. “We’re not messing with a classic, just making it as good as we can,” Miller said.
Dishes were tested as specials before being added to the menu. One that’s been popular, Miller said, is the chicken and bacon-chive waffles, served with pepper honey and Wow-Wow gravy, from a 19th-century British recipe that includes cider vinegar for tang; another is the Italian biscuits and gravy. The Italian sausage for the gravy is made at the cafe, and the biscuits with rosemary are by the restaurant’s sous chef, Anthony Janssen.
Some standing dishes that were updated include avocado toast, prepared weekdays as well as weekends. It’s now served with salsa Loida — salsa verde with avocado, named for the kitchen staff member whose recipe it is.
Miller has switched to all Wisconsin cheeses on the menu, and uses products from local vendors, including Iron Grate BBQ Co.’s sauce on a burger, made with drippings from smoked meats.
Prices range mostly from $7 to $14; the crab cake Benedict is $16.
The cafe has expanded its tea offerings, and it has a longer cocktail and Wisconsin beer list now, as well. “I wanted them to be easy drinking,” Miller said of the cocktails, “so you can quench your thirst and not worry you’re going to be wasted by 10:30.”
One is the Courtyard Cooler, gin, berry-hibiscus iced tea, lemonade, raspberry and orange bitters; another is The Richard, aka Old Dick — on the stronger side, with whiskey, orange liqueur, orange and cranberry juices, bitters and absinthe. It’s named for “our best customer,” a resident of the hotel who has breakfast and lunch at the cafe every day, Miller said.
Cafe at the Plaza serves weekday breakfast and lunch with an abbreviated brunch menu, and weekend brunch. Hours are 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily.