Cindi described her aspirations for Meritage, and expensive meals in general, in what will heretofore be known as “The Cindi Principle”:
When I spend a lot of money at a restaurant, I want to feel like I would be satisfied if it were my last meal. It’s dramatic but its the truth.
It’s a tremendous point and, as I reviewed the online menu for Meritage (Cindi’s pick), I hoped it would live up to The Cindi Principle. The girls decided that we would dress up for our dinner at this American fine-dining establishment.
Meritage is in an interesting Washington Heights neighborhood that I haven’t spent any time in, but seems worthy of exploration, in fact, none of us had been there. Upon entering, the haphazard floor plan is immediately apparent. The restaurant is nearly all tables rather than booths. The décor was artsy.
Anticipating a large Friday evening crowd, I made a reservation for 8. Adam said:
We were told it would be a few minutes upon arriving. That’s not an issue at all, but we ended up waiting for over 20 minutes to sit down. We ordered drinks at the bar and waited for a table to clear. Meritage is fairly small, so I felt like I was constantly in the servers’ way while we stood waiting at the bar. I don’t mind waiting for a table, but it seems like they shouldn’t take reservations on Friday nights. It doesn’t appear like making one matters, so I would recommend just showing up.
My first observation of Meritage was how small it was. Since it was so small, the aroma from the fish special filled the room.
TJ and I ordered Southern Tier 2X IPA, which I’ve had before and was better than I remembered, but it was Cindi’s drink that was passed around and discussed. She said:
I started the night with a drink called the “Campfire.” I was intrigued by their smoked bourbon which they advertised doing in-house. I should’ve known that a drink called the Campfire would taste like just that. I was not a fan but thankfully have a very good friend, Michlle, who was willing to switch drinks with me.
As Michelle finished her “memorable” Campfire, we were finally seated at our table.
Our server was helpful, guiding us to the appetizers that would be big enough for each person in our group to have a taste. We chose two.
The warm goat cheese spread was served with some warm pita bread. People seemed to like it well enough, but no one thought it was special.
I had studied the menu carefully before arriving and I couldn’t decide between the crawfish pancake and the scallop cake. We chose the pancake because it was bigger. It was incredible, covered with a rich, savory sauce.
Everyone seemed to like that appetizer a great deal. I am really curious as to how it is made. Adam said:
I really liked the crawfish pancake appetizer, it was probably my favorite thing of the night.
In addition to the menu’s eight standard entrees, there were a number of interesting specials to chose from. We put in our order and, shortly before our food arrived, we were surprised with a little warm roll and butter, which was delicious.
Shannon and Adam ordered the same dish off the standard menu, Bison stuffed chile. She said:
It was spicier and gamier than I thought. Good but not spectacular. I’ve been wanting to try something like this at home and I think this persuaded me. It was served with a really strange cheese/cinnamon tortilla strip mixture. The cheese was tough so it was actually hard to eat–pass.
Adam was similarly perplexed by the dish. He said:
There was a lot of different flavors going on. I wasn’t sure if the tortilla crisp/cinnamon/cheese mixture at the end of the chile was meant to be eaten on it’s own or with everything else.
Michelle ordered a vegetarian entree again, butternut squash ravioli. She said:
I had faith that it would taste good and was very disappointed because the cranberry taste was overwhelming–it was like eating cranberry sauce.
My meal, a shrimp dish, was good, though rather expensive at $19 for only five shrimp. The shrimp were grilled just right. The coconut-lemon rice and lime-cilantro salsa proved excellent accompaniment, but there was just nothing remarkable or memorable about the dish.
I was forlorn that my dish wasn’t better, almost all of us were a little underwhelmed by the things we chose, however, just based on the excellence of the crawfish pancake alone, I know this place can make a tremendous dish.
I almost followed TJ and got the special he did. Our waiter had strongly recommended it and mentioned that it would soon be added to the regular menu. TJ said:
It was kind of bland.
I tried the turkey and I would concur, it was rather bland, I was glad I didn’t choose it for my entree.
Cindi’s dish was my favorite, a feeling shared by a number of us. She said:
The fish, a special, was on a bed of polenta and leeks and a marmalade sauce. I really enjoyed my meal and thought the flavors in this dish were well-balanced. I asked the waiter to recommend a wine to go along with the meal. He was happy to do so and I was happy with the result.
The fish was succulent and really fresh, something I would never order just based off the description or even viewing the item, but it was truly special, or at least the little bite I had was. I wish I had ordered it, but maybe this little prompt will prove eye-opening and change my perspective. We’ll see.
We decided to get dessert and all agreed prettily easily on the chocolate cake. Shannon said:
If a piece of vanilla cake is put in front of me, I’ll debate eating it. If a piece of chocolate cake is put in front of me, I’ll have two pieces. I love chocolate cake/cupcakes and this flourless option was no exception. It was very rich and I loved it.
The cake was so rich that two forkfuls were more than enough for me.
Clearly, Meritage takes pride in their food, and they should, the presentation is excellent and some of what we ate was exceptional, and, for the prices, it should be. It reminded several of us of Hinterland; similar food stylings, same artisanal feel.
So even though our meal was enjoyable, we wanted it to be something more. Meritage, on our visit, did not live up to The Cindi Principle.
Ratings for Meritage were, as follows:
Meritage cumulative rating: 6.5
Nightcap: Old German Beer Hall
Following dinner, we went to a Milwaukee staple that I don’t recall ever being in, the Old German Beer Hall on Third Street. The place was packed, but our friend Ryan found us and we enjoy liter steins of some fine Hofbräu. The atmosphere was jovial and friendly, with assorted groups sharing long tables in a room the approximated a beirgarten.
As a two-man band played loudly, Cindi prompted us to play a game of hammerschlagen. For those who haven’t played, hammerschlagen is a game where each player is given a nail with the objective of trying to drive it all the way into a massive stump. Once the nails are set, a hammer is passed around and each player has a turn to tap the stump and hit their nail as hard as possible. It typically takes more than a dozen turns to drive the nail clear into the stump. Our round was won by TJ. (EDIT: Or Adam won … or they tied … or something.) The person in last place was Michelle. It is a fun time.
There would be another stop before the night was through, at The Newport in Bay View, but I’d rather bask in those fleeting moments at the Old German Beer Hall.
We could have been anywhere, but we were in Milwaukee, together. The music played on–one of the band members started blowing an epically long horn–and we didn’t need refills, a liter is a lot of beer. We grabbed our own spot at one of the long tables, as people have done there for years, and we talked and laughed, and, sincerely, there was nowhere I’d have rather been.
Though our dinner didn’t live up to The Cindi Principle, our night certainly did.
Visit Meritage online here.
Visit The Old German Beer Hall here.
Photos courtesy of TJ UTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Losing nominations for ‘M’ were Maxie’s Southern Comfort (Nick and Adam), Miss Katie’s Diner (Michelle and Shannon) and Motor (TJ).
Introduction to the ABCs of Milwaukee Dining
AJ Bombers: 6.8
Beta by Sabor: 7.9
Comet Cafe: 7
Eatery on Farwell: 6.2
Fajitas Grill: 5.3
Hinterland Erie Street Gastropub: 7.5
Irie Palace: 6.2
Jow Nai Fouquet: 6.9
Louise’s Trattoria: 5.2
WHERE ARE WE EATING NEXT?
We are halfway though our quest. One of these restaurants was selected for our next dinner … Which is it?