1901 East North Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53202
QISA (4.5,4,4,4); $7-11; Vegetarian-Friendly
Milwaukee, all is forgiven. I forgive your poor signage, your crazy left side of the road on-ramps, your urban sprawl, and your ubiquitous road construction. I even forgive you for Miller beer, possibly the leading counter argument against American exceptionalism. I forgive it all because you have the East Side, the cultural trend-setting neighborhood north of downtown. And not only do you have the East Side, you have Beans and Barley. And not only do you have Beans and Barley, you have Beans and Barley’s key lime pie. But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.
Beans and Barley started as a neighborhood health food store and has built itself up to a moderate-sized specialty store and an exceptional vegetarian-friendly restaurant. The food is excellent, and the atmosphere is comfortable, contemporary without feeling pretentious. The clientele trended toward the twenty-something set, but the ages ranged up to fifties and sixties, making me feel less conspicuous, and less like I was crashing a college hangout.
I started my meal with a bowl of vegetarian chili, a spicy, hearty mix of red beans, bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, celery, and peppers. If you will excuse the hyperbole, it was the best chili I’ve had in a long time, and that includes my own. For my entrée, I ordered the portabella enchilada from the specials menu. The enchilada itself was stuffed with portabella mushrooms, beans, and spinach, and it was served in a small casserole on the plate. The sides to the meal were elegantly rendered. The long-grain rice was cooked with cilantro and peppers to give it a tiny hint of heat, and the corn and cooked carrots were cooked to perfection, letting their natural flavors come through. Beans and Barley serves many Wisconsin microbrewery beers, and I opted for the New Glarus Two Women, an incredibly well balanced beer that complemented the meal.
Too often, natural food restaurants excel when it comes to savory dishes, and tank when it comes to desserts. So, naturally I had to test this theory with a piece of key lime pie. Full disclosure, I LOVE key lime pie. Therefore, I take it personally when key lime pie is not done well.
This was done well. This was pure decadence, a heavenly balance of sweet and tart wrapped in a blanket of comfort and love. And yes, to answer your snarky questions, I DID need to take a moment.
I definitely plan to come back to Beans and Barley the next time I pass through Milwaukee. Maybe next time I will try the tofu burger instead of the spicy enchilada. Maybe instead of the chili, I’ll try out the artichoke parmesan dip with French bread. Maybe instead of a beer, I’ll order the jasmine pearl tea. But chances are pretty good that I’ll order the key lime pie again. Because, yeah.