This winter has been pretty rough on Wisconsin. Frigid temperatures and mountains of snow make it easier to stay home, underneath the covers with wine and Netflix.
But on a Friday in early January, we found many similar souls braving the weather for pizza and drinks at VIA Downer on Milwaukee’s Eastside, which was chosen by Adam, Cindi, Michelle, Mike and TJ (Michelle’s entry was selected).
I walked in, kicked the snow from my shoes and when the fog cleared from my glasses, I was in a large dining room with a modernist, industrial feel featuring high ceilings, artwork on the walls, exposed beams, wires and pipes. To my right was a hostess stand, to my left was a large, crowded bar and beyond were tables full of people.
VIA, the sister restaurant of Transfer (near the Allen Bradley Clock Tower AKA “The Polish Moon”), was crowded and our reservations, with a group our size, came in handy. Mike said:
The atmosphere was cool. You can tell they were busy but you could also hear everything any of us were saying and sometimes that doesn’t happen with seven people at a table.
We were seated near the middle of the room at large table. It seemed like a good mix of people on dates and large groups of friends. The beer list was good, with a nice mix of Wisconsin breweries–I enjoyed a couple from O’so, including one of my favorites, the Lupulin Maximus Imperial IPA.
After our drinks arrived, we opted for two appetizers.
The appetizers came out quickly, which was perfect, because it was after eight and I think we were all pretty hungry.
I ordered eggplant fritto with marinara. It was pretty good, but I was surprised they served it without lemon wedges, which is the perfect sour compliment to this dish. I guess I just assumed that was standard. Alas, we finished all of these and our other appetizer.
VIA offered traditional bruschetta for $7 or bruschetta salami for $8. Adam pushed for the latter because he had enjoyed it before. He said:
The bruschetta salami is one of my favorite appetizers in the entire city. I could probably just eat an entire plate of that as a meal.
This was TJ’s first time having this appetizer. He said:
The bruschetta appetizer was awesome. Regular bruschetta just won’t cut it anymore.
Our food came out maybe 15 minutes after our appetizer. I was the only one to order something besides pizza.
For my dinner, I selected the Sea Scallops with polenta. The scallops were a nice size, but were a little too salty. The sauce was good. The dish looked amazing. The price was in line with what I would expect to pay for a dish like this.
Shannon and TJ went off menu. Shannon said:
Next to Tenutas, this and Transfer are my favorite pizzas in the city. The pizzas at VIA have a lot of flavor. I do wish they had a variety of crust thickness. I like very thin crust, which isn’t an option. TJ and I ordered a custom pizza with chicken, green peppers and mushrooms. We typically like black olives, too, but they only offered green and kalamata. No big deal … the pizza was really tasty.
TJ also loves VIA’s pizza pies, especially those with tomato-based sauces. He said:
It’s up there for my favorite pizza in the city. The other pizzas we ordered had the garlic sauce and pesto sauce, two things I’m not crazy about, but they were both still pretty good.
Michelle had just been to VIA the week before and was excited to return. She said:
Going out for pizza with a group is ideal because you get to try a few different kinds. I enjoyed that I got to try the pesto, tomato, and garlic sauces. The roasted chicken potato pizza was definitely my favorite.
Mike couldn’t find anything else that he wanted on the menu and opted for pizza. He said:
I thought the Da Vinci had the most flavor but I preferred the roasted chicken potato.
Adam skipped the beer and went straight for the booze. He said:
VIA makes a pretty good pizza and a pretty good glass of Maker’s Mark. My favorite pizza was the roasted chicken potato … I usually order it at Transfer as well. The custom pizza TJ and Shannon got, as well as the pesto, were also pretty good pizzas.
The pizza was pretty good! I like their roasted chicken potato pizza. Knowing this is on the menu at Transfer is what would prevent me from driving to VIA.
We were pretty full and opted to skip dessert. The price and timing of the meal were pretty much on point. I think we all enjoyed VIA Downer, some more than others.
Michelle offers this tip:
The ambiance is definitely right for a night out with friends or a place to eat before seeing a movie at The Downer. You can buy your movie tickets at VIA and get a discount.
Ratings for VIA Downer were, as follows:
VIA Downer cumulative rating: 6.8
Nightcap: Camp Bar
We drove from the Eastside, up Oakland, until we arrived at Shorewood’s newish Camp Bar, which is right out of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Old school camping supplies and decorations cover every wood wall. It is the kind of place my brother would say is crawling with hipsters, but actually hosts mostly modern yuppies (I guess us included, though when I suggested this, Adam said he hates to be labeled).
We don’t mind paying a couple bucks more for a bottle of craft beer and Camp Bar has a nice list. A few minutes after arriving, despite a wall-to-wall crowd, we found seating. The place was so packed, there was even a dog, which appeared to be a standard poodle, mingling with guests at a table.
Next time you are in Shorewood, stop at Camp Bar for a beer and the kitschy, quirky “Up North” atmosphere. Bring your beard and flannel, you’ll fit right in.
Visit VIA Downer online here.
Visit Camp online here.
Photos courtesy of TJ UTTKE PHOTOGRAPHY
Losing nominations for ‘V’ were: Village Pub (Nick and Shannon).
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
Newsroom Pub: 5.4
Odd Duck: 8.2
Pizza Shuttle: 5.2
Quivey’s Grove: 6.9
Rumpus Room: 7.2
Seoul Korean Restaurant: 4.7
Tenuta’s Italian Restaurant: 7.9
Union House: 8.1
VIA Downer: 6.8
WHERE ARE WE EATING NEXT?