One of my dealers in Milwaukee, Ultra Fidelis, moved out to Wauwatosa on North Avenue a little over a year ago. North Avenue is sort of a mish-mash of funky stores, little restaurants and blue-collar bars. One of the guys at Ultra Fidelis was telling me that there was this great little neighborhood bar on North Avenue a couple miles away from their store - McBob's Pub and Grill - that had one of the best corned beef sandwiches in Milwaukee. "Maybe even the world," he exclaimed. "It's a great sandwich." One evening with nothing to do in Milwaukee, I decided to seek out McBob's and give their sandwich a try.
McBob's is one of those old time neighborhood taps that permeate the Beer City. It has more of an Irish theme to the place, one a number of Irish pubs in Milwaukee. (For a city that is heavy in German heritage, they have an awful lot of Irish-style pubs in Milwaukee.) Of course, St. Patrick's Day is huge at McBob's with corned beef and cabbage, Guinness and bag pipes all mixed in.
McBob's is the nickname for the McRoberts family who started McBob's a number of years ago. However, for the 20 or so years, the place was run by Bob Rubner (pictured right, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel), and his wife, Christine McRoberts (the daughter of the previous owner). In 1995, Brian Hunter came to work for Rubner and McRoberts and later became a partner in the place.
This is where the back story about McBob's turns a little strange.
In 1988, Bob Rubner was living in Vienna, Austria and he happened to come back to a family gathering at McBob's. There, he "re-met" his first cousin, Christine McRoberts, who was seven years younger than Rubner. According to McRoberts, it was love at first sight and two years later they were married in California - a state where it is legal for first cousins to marry. They came back to work at McBob's, eventually taking it over.
Rubner was instrumental in turning the place into a nearly authentic Irish/Scottish pub. He began to cook and came up with their famous corned beef sandwich. He also came up with a number of soups and the McBob's Chili which, I understand, is some of the best in the city of Milwaukee. Rubner also started making Irish breakfasts at McBob's. His "McRobert's Plaid" entree is pretty unique for breakfast - it's 3 eggs topped with peppers and onions, then topped with Swiss and American cheese in sort of a plaid pattern.
Rubner had a great sense of humor and told many stories about a mischievous fictional character "Seamus". Nearly every day, Rubner would come up with a new story regarding the exploits of Seamus. And he was a treasure trove of jokes that he would share with his customers.
Unfortunately, Bob Rubner was also an alcoholic which led to many physical issues. In March of this year, just before his beloved St. Patrick's Day, Rubner couldn't take it any longer and committed suicide. He was 58 years old. McRoberts and Hunter continue to run McBob's, but it's apparent that Bob Rubner is missed by all.
I found a parking space just across the street on busy North Ave. (see map) Like the neighborhood surrounding McBob's, the clientele is a diversified group of ethnic and socio-culture individuals. Young families, older families, young guys and girls with piercings and tattoos, yuppie couples enjoying a beer - McBob's was a literal melting pot of people from all walks of life. I immediately liked the place.
Like most Irish-style pubs I've been to, McBob's has a plethora of signage - both lighted and unlighted - and other paraphernalia on the walls. The lighting is subdued, but still good enough to allow me to read a copy of the Journal-Sentinel in the dining area. The bar took up the east wall of McBob's and it was evident that a number of the regulars were holding those places that evening.
Taking a table along the back wall of the place, a waiter came over to drop off a menu and to take my drink order. I ordered up a Smithwick's and looked over the menu. McBob's is also somewhat famous for their homemade tacos - made with beef or chicken in a 10" soft flour shell, then topped with cheese, onion, sour cream, lettuce, tomato and your choice of three different temperatures of salsa. It sounded tempting, as did the hot roast beef sandwich - comfort food on a chilly and rainy Milwaukee evening.
But I decided to get what I went there for - the corned beef sandwich. Actually, McBob's reuben sandwich isn't much different as they add Swiss cheese and sauerkraut to the corned beef. I had my choice of either marble rye or light rye bread. I took the marble rye. And since it was a Wednesday night, I could get a "deluxe" corned beef sandwich. That meant that I could get a side of french fries with a pickle spear, and a cup of soup. (They have their "deluxe" sandwiches on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's at McBob's.) The featured soup that evening, in addition to their chili, was a creamy chicken and rice - one of the soups that Bob Rubner came up with years ago. While I decided against getting fries, I did order up a cup of the soup.
The soup came out first and it was very good. It had large chunks of chicken and the creamy broth was very tasty. It was a nice start up to the meal.
Not long after I finished my soup, my waiter came out with my sandwich and fries. A generous amount of horseradish mustard was on top of the corned beef which was slow roasted, overly moist and literally falling apart on my sandwich.
The marble rye bread was a little dried out and it didn't take long for the juices from the corned beef to get sopped up in the bread. Because of that, the sandwich suddenly became a mess of soggy bread that was falling apart, large chunks of corned beef that dropped into the basket on top of the chips, and horseradish mustard oozing onto my fingers. I looked for my waiter to get a fork, but he sort of forgot about me. I did my best to not look like a medieval barbarian as I picked up chunk after chunk of corned beef by my fingers and put it in my mouth. By the time I was finished, the waiter finally came around. He asked if I needed anything else and I said, "Yeah! Napkins!"
But the corned beef was simply out of this world. I like a good corned beef sandwich from time to time and this was one of the best I had, exploding bread notwithstanding. The beef was succulent and flavorful. What ever they do to their corned beef at McBob's, I wish I could do with corned beef at home.
With a couple beers, tax and tip, my meal came to just over $22 bucks at McBob's that evening. The corned beef was as good as advertised, the soup was delicious, and while the service (I thought) was a little sub par, it was fully understandable as the waiter was a busy guy with a lot of people coming into McBob's to get food. As a place to hang out and have a beer with friends, McBob's would be a great place to do so. But the food is what makes the place unique. And even though he is no longer with us, the spirit of Bob Rubner lives on at McBob's.