Get them While You Can: Summer Menu Items at Cafe Pfister

Sure, summer is coming to an end, but while they’re available, you can still enjoy the delicious tastes of summer that Chef Brian has put together for the Cafe Pfister’s menu. Including two of Chef Brian’s favorites, the WELLspa Caprese Salad and the incredible Floribbean Panini.

WELLspa Caprese Salad

featuring: fresh burrata, heirloom tomatoes, torn basil, cracked pepper, Skyhawk cold pressed olive oil & herb grilled bread

Floribbean Panini

featuring: Sofrito roasted pork, sliced ham, melted swiss, sliced pickle, mango mustard

A Knock at the Door

Knocking once, Blake calmly sings out, “Rooooom ser-vice.”

Silence.  Through the door, we can hear the sound of a television.  Blake raises his hand slightly, the one that isn’t balancing a tray, considers knocking again when a voice comes from within, “Just a minute.”

The door opens.  “Evening Ms. ——, how are you?”

One hand on the door handle, the other removing an earring, she replies, “tired, and very hungry.  I’m so happy to see you,” moving aside to allow entrance.

A moment later, he reappears, backing up and closing the door behind him as he grants the guest a good stay.  We step back onto the service elevator, the colorful halls and warm lighting giving way to the humming machines, humid corridors, back halls and fluorescent lights that make up the halls below ground.

We make our way past the tables draped in white cloth, hiding warmers underneath while prepped on top with small bud vases and tiny salt and pepper shakers.  Blake removes his jacket, hanging it on a doorknob in order to keep it clean, and turns in his tip.  Tips are split among all the servers working a particular shift.  Deanna, parked on a stool in front of the phone and computer where orders come in, waves a slip of paper in the air, indicating another order has just come through.  Blake immediately begins setting up a tray for the delivery, snatching miniature jars of ketchup and mustard from the small shelves where they reside next to other, equally miniature, jellies, jams and A-1 Sauce.

“I started out waiting tables at the Radisson,” he tells me as he arranges silverware, “I like this better than waiting tables, it streamlines the service work.”  He picks up a dish from Freddy, the chef currently on duty.  “I like to cook, so watching the chefs down here has been great.  If you observe and study, you can catch on and learn.  I’ve learned a lot about reduction sauces, how to use butter and wine for fish – stuff like that.”

You can’t pass through the halls of the Pfister’s lower levels without coming across Freddy.  Born in Belize, he lived in Louisiana for two years at age 11, before his family moved on to Chicago.  Through helping his family of nine siblings, and on to five years in the Navy, he always loved cooking for people. After signing up to work for the U.S. Post Office, a chance encounter in the halls of a community college made him drop everything and go to culinary school.  “I followed a pretty girl in a culinary uniform who said to me, ‘What do you got to lose?’ and so I signed up right away.”  He proudly shows off his red pepper coulis, chorizo and gives me a sample of creme brulee.  “I have fun doing this,” he says, gesturing over his entire work area, his domain for the last 15 years.

We walk up a ramp and into a different elevator to make a stop on the historic side, delivering a meal to a businessman on his first visit from Charlotte, NC.  As we walk, Blake explains the basic order of operations: first, a call comes in to the order taker.  A time quote is offered, based on the order, though the average time is 30 minutes.

Next, the order goes to one of six chefs who work in the department.  In addition to Freddy, there’s also Darin, a quiet chef who is doing mostly prep work during these third shift hours.  And Zachary, a line cook for the last year and a half, who came over from Fratello’s.  Originally he was hoping to learn pastry work, but the only opening was in room service dining.  “My mom was a stay-at-home, I cooked for friends in college, eventually going to work at a friend’s restaurant.  I worked at Bartolotta’s for awhile and loved learning how to make gnocchi pasta.” I ask for a hint.  “If you mash the potatoes too much, it makes it glue-y.”

In between orders, the servers chat while cleaning and organizing supplies, pre-setting trays and carts.  I meet Miguel who transferred from Lake Geneva, where he did “a little bit of everything – bakery, banquets, coffee service, everything.”  Originally from Guanajuato, he loves Wisconsin, especially its seasons.  Fall is his favorite, but he’s partial to the beauty of the snowy days and nights, and enjoyed helping decorate the resort every year for Christmas.  Now in Milwaukee for two years, he’s found he likes doing room service for its consistent schedule and personal, face-to-face interactions with guests.  He smiles big, his eyes crinkly a little around the edges, when he says, “I really love serving people.”  I believe him.

So, what happens when they receive a strange or unexpected request?  The information is noted by the order taker, who politely responds with something along the lines of, “XYZ department usually takes care of that, but I’ll be sure to pass it on for you.”  This achieves a two-fold purpose — the guest now knows who to contact the next time that particular request needs to be made and service is also provided right away.  It’s very rare for even the most unusual requests to go unfulfilled, as proven by Chef Concierge Peter Mortenson when he once had to track down a sugar maple sapling for a Russian ambassador.

Deanna, who has worked in restaurants since she was 16, spending 7 years at one family restaurant where she still works part-time, said her strangest request so far was the call she got where the guest said, frantically, “I don’t have a microwave in my room!”  Deanna calmly replied, “I’m not sure why that is, but I’ll take care of it for you,” and within ten minutes, the guest had a microwave.  And you thought all room service did was bring you food.

YOUR TURN:  Do you order food to your room when you travel?  What’s your favorite thing to have arrive at your door?

History in the Air (Pt. 2)

<continued from Part 1>

“Every Sunday – it was a must – they’d take walks together, down to the lake.  There wasn’t a house or building there, it was all grass.  Just imagine how beautiful that was.  One time they were walking through an alley together, as a group, joking and having fun – and my mother said, ‘Oh, look at the red light there, isn’t that pretty?’  It was kind of high up on the building and one of the guys laughed and laughed and said, ‘Don’t you know what’s that for?’ and my mother said ‘No, no, it’s so pretty up there.’ Of course, they were talking about the red light district.  I’ve often gone down there, walking around, looking at the buildings and wondering which one it was.

“One day Teddy Roosevelt was in town, having lunch there, and he asked the waitress, ‘who made this beautiful, this wonderful salad?’  He said ‘I’m a salad person and this is the best salad I ever had, I have to meet whoever made it.’  So my mom came out of the kitchen to meet him.  They shook hands; he gave her a kiss and congratulated her on her salad.”

The photo, with Blanche's handkerchief and gold bracelet stamped with her initials

“She went on to be a nanny for a Doctor’s family before getting married and starting her family.  She was always a good cook – her food was delicious, very delicate – she would bake cookies for us to take to school.  Then people in the neighborhood started getting laid off – during the Depression.  I remember so many sad people. My folks’ nature was: ‘We have to feed these people.’ And so my mother was cooking day and night, making meals for so and so and so and so, and my sister and I would deliver on the coaster just like the snowstorms. But, that’s how we were brought up and it’s still that way in the family. You got to take care of people.”

I stayed for two more hours while El told me more stories about her life in Bay View – working for Bucyrus during WWII and waiting for the bus in the snow when her shift ended after Midnight; about marrying her childhood sweetheart (Dan, the butcher’s son with whom she attended elementary school and “did everything together – played together, fought together); all the garden clubs she worked with; going on a fishing trip to Canada for her 25th wedding anniversary; her kids and grand-kids and five great grand-kids (“One is going to be a writer!”).

We wandered around her yard, as she gathered dirt and a spare pot to send me home with wild onion bulbs to grow in my apartment.  She showed me the banners hanging in her yard, which lie in the flight path of the airport, honoring the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the 440th Airlift Wing – her husband, Dan, served in the war with the signal corps – and every time the signature sound of those military planes is heard, El rushes out to her backyard to salute them.

So this weekend, as jets and bombers buzz the shores of Lake Michigan for the Milwaukee Air Show, I’ll be thinking about Eleanore Hinich and her husband Dan’s service during WWII, as well as her mother’s kindness and generosity and how El so warmly embodies that nature and spirit.

I’m certain Teddy Roosevelt would have been pleased to find out that years later, Blanche was still making delicious food, only this time to feed the hungry mouths of families in Bay View who were forging through the Great Depression.

As for that onion bulb in the little ceramic pot?  It’s already sprouted up, getting ready to be chopped up and added to a delicious meal which I’ll be sure to make for a friend.

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

 

History in the Air (Pt. 1)

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

I park in front of the Bay View home of Eleanore Hinich, admiring her vast garden of butterfly plants and wildflowers as I approach to ring the doorbell.  She’s expecting me, because she has a story to tell me.  I’m meeting her at her home because, at 93-years-old, she doesn’t drive anymore.  The door opens and a very slight woman greets me in khaki shorts, tennies and a Bucyrus Museum shirt with “Eleanor” stitched on it.  Her shirt is tucked into her shorts, and a brown leather belt is cinched tight to the last possible hole.  She blinks at me through her dainty metal-rimmed glasses, runs a hand through her cropped hair and, upon my introducing myself, flings wide her door, “Come in!  Come in!”

She apologizes for her attire, as she’s been working on her garden.  We talk briefly about how hot it’s been, and then she says, “So, you’re here to ask me about my mother?” as she escorts me into the kitchen, offering me a seat at her table where a milk jar holds an array of wildflowers from her yard.  The walls are painted a sunny yellow, and the window is framed by white eyelet lace curtains, overlooking the backyard where there’s a pool and some banners hung on the fence.  I nod, explaining that one of the security managers at the Pfister had told me about meeting Eleanore (‘El’) some time ago when she came in with some family members and an old photograph.

Blanche

El jumps up.  “I’ll get the photo.”  She zips out of the room, reappears within moments, a folder in her hand.  She places a photograph on the table.  It’s 8.5 x 11, glossy, and black & white capturing three lines of people in kitchen whites and serving aprons.  Printed at the bottom are the words “Pfister Hotel” and the year – 1914.  Seated in the front row is a woman whose face is circled.  Her ankles are crossed, her hands clasped in her lap.

“She’s so beautiful,” I say.

El nods, “she was a beauty – auburn hair, more chestnut than auburn.  She was very fussy about everything.”  She pauses.  “So, what do you want to know?”

I pull out my notebook and pen, ask, “What was her name?”  And so we begin.

Blanche Mrowinski (nee Rykowski) was born around 1892.  For a brief time she worked as a salad girl for the Pfister Hotel.  As El told me stories, she rarely sat still, getting up to make coffee, set out chocolate chip cookies, and work at getting the ground out from under her fingernails (“not coffee grounds, real earth, from outside!”).

“I think she stayed at the Pfister when she first started – they had rooms – instead of walking or taking the streetcar, because she lived on the South Side.  One of those ladies [in the photo] was her best friend. She talked about this friend of hers a lot. They were very close.  They were all like sisters and brothers –a big family, there. They were kind of nice to each other, setting each other up on dates. She had boyfriends from there – she’d tell us about the dates, and where he lived – this one and that one… They had so much fun together.

“Some of the girls who worked in the dining room would come home with blue ribbons, from the beers, and one girl would collect the blue ribbons and make pretty little things out of them.”

(Me:”Actual blue ribbons came with the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer?”  El: “Yes!  Do we still have a Pabst Blue Ribbon?”  Me: “Yes, they still make it, but I don’t think they’ve actually won a blue ribbon in a long time.  I think the first one was the only one.”  We both burst out in laughter over this bit.)

<to be continued…>

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two…

 

Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie: Mochaccino Thins

Congratulations to Mary Lamb, prescription for winning the 2010 Cookie Crown! Milwaukee’s favorite cookie is Mochaccino Thins.

Chef Ash and Chef David stopped by Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin on December 23 to drop off 500 Mochaccino Thins.

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Stop by Mason Street Grill, search  Kil@wat or Milwaukee ChopHouse during the month of January to give the winning cookie a try.*

Make sure to get your cookie recipes ready for the 2011 Cookie Contest! Check back for more information.

The winning baker was chosen by culinary experts from Marcus Restaurants and received a special overnight stay and dinner for two at The Pfister, InterContinental Milwaukee or Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Plus, the winning cookie was donated to Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin.

*Complimentary cookies served when check is presented.