For those who can’t handle the responsibility of perfectly catering to the differentiating palates of a group of people, choosing a restaurant can be a crippling experience. Many times in life, when faced with choosing the night’s dining establishment, I’ve found myself melting into a pool of indecision until a more levelheaded member of my dining party, exasperated, suggests just going to get wings or something, God. But it’s a decision that can make or break a night. I mean, I’ve seen relationships end over arguing about picking a restaurant. It’s some messy shit.
Enter Yelp Roulette, a website that scours nearby restaurants in Yelp’s database, spins a virtual wheel and does the choosing for you. (You’re off the hook!) After being presented with your dining choice, you have three options: Spin again, check out the Yelp reviews of the establishment to help with your decision, or say “Fuck it,” and go to the damn place, completely blind.
I’m choosing Option C in my first Yelp Roulette experiment, giving into indecision and trusting it fully to steer me in the direction of the correct place to dine. Maybe I have previous experience with the restaurant, maybe I’ve only heard its name on a segment of “Dirty Dining.” It’s a gamble I’m taking for you, and in my first attempt, I’m happy to report, this gamble paid off in my favor.
Restaurant visited: Prodigal Gastropub (240 E. Pittsburgh Ave., 414-223-3030)
Average Yelp rating: 3.5 stars (52 reviews)
My experience: After bending the rules in favor of local eateries when my first two spins fell on Chipotle’s 27th Street location and the Hooters in Brookfield (seriously), I was relieved when my third spin revealed Walker’s Point’s Prodigal Gastropub, an establishment I’d been meaning to visit since its opening last summer. On a chilly Saturday evening, my dining companion and I entered through one of the restaurant’s four garage doors lining the front of the space. It was the only open door of the four, though the promise of a semi-open-air dining experience on warmer days entices me to return when temperatures are more seasonable. The space, like many other Walker’s Point/Third Ward eateries, is dressed in the typical “rustic-industrial” uniform: wooden tables, concrete floors, open ductwork winding through the restaurant’s high ceilings, and walls lined with reclaimed wood. It’s a space that says “upscale burgers” more so than “fine dining,” which sets the tone for the restaurant’s menu: sorta-fancy fare that won’t scare off the plebes among the more refined foodies.
Focusing on the “pub” side of this self-proclaimed gastropub, Prodigal should more than satisfy whiskey aficionados, offering 28 varieties of the spirit on its four-page drink menu. Uneducated as I am in the ways of whiskey, I passed to check out the craft cocktails, though eventually balked at the overly wordy descriptions, which were a little too fancypants for my taste. (However, the menu serves up plenty “classic cocktail” offerings to please Sidecar and Old Fashioned enthusiasts.) Instead, I flipped to the beer menu, which featured a well-rounded variety of drafts and bottles from a handful of breweries across the States and Canada. I ended up choosing a Unibroue Raftman amber ale, while my dining companion selected a Boulder Mojo IPA on nitro.
To kick things off, we asked our server—who made himself just present enough during our meal—to recommend a few of his favorite appetizers. He graciously spouted off three top choices: Clock Shadow Creamery Ricotta, Panzanella, and Flatbread. We opted for the Ricotta ($10) and, when it arrived at our table a short time later, we were wholly impressed by the artful presentation. But more importantly, it was damn delicious. Flaky strips of baked phyllo sectioned off a sampler of orange marmalade, minced Kalamata olives, and chiffonade spinach, flanked by two helpings of sweet, creamy ricotta—one of the best ricotta cheeses I’ve ever tasted. It was a great sign of things to come.
The seasonal menu makes no distinctions between appetizers, small plates, or entrees, but it’s easily deduced by a glance at the prices and descriptions of each dish. Appetizers range between $5 and $16, while entrees are anywhere between $12 and $26. I’m a sucker for scallops on any restaurant’s menu, so my mind was made up as soon as I noticed Prodigal’s scallop entree ($20), which was accompanied by fresh pasta, asparagus, prosciutto jus, preserved lemon, and sorrel. When brought to the table, I realized the bed of “fresh pasta” that lay beneath four perfectly tender seared scallops was likely the same noodles used in the restaurant’s touted “$10 Ramen Bowl,” special hosted every Wednesday. I actually loved the idea, as the delicate noodles were unassuming enough in a simple broth to make the scallops the star or the show (with a welcome enhancement by bright shavings of preserved lemon peel).
My dining companion opted for the night’s special: roasted pork tenderloin with apple crisps, Pomme Anna, and whole-seed mustard jus, atop deviled egg yolk ($18). While the pork medallions were just a little on the cold side, the complex flavor of the sum of the dish’s parts more than made up for it.
We ended our meal with dessert: Carrot Spoon Cake ($6)—two sweet, dense cakelets with a scoop of (absolutely delicious)cream-cheese ice cream, atop walnut streusel, drizzled molasses, and chervil. Our inner fatties appreciated that the dessert was big enough to share while wholly satisfying our collective sweet tooth, though we wouldn’t have minded another (oh…six or seven) scoops of that irresistibly rich cream-cheese ice cream.
Prodigal hosts a menu that is creative and artful, but without pretense. Offering a balance between dishes like veal tartare and duck confit poutine, with pulled pork sandwiches and Andouille sausage, it’s welcoming to foodie snobs or the unassuming diner who will undoubtedly stumble in after a visit to the nearby Summerfest grounds. The entree portions are respectable for the price, the presentation is thoughtful, and the food is elegant without taking itself too seriously.
My rating: 4 stars