For the last nearly 12 years of traveling with my company, my defacto "home-away-from-home" in Milwaukee has been the Hilton Milwaukee River on N. Port Washington in Glendale near Interstate 43 and - of course - next to the meandering Milwaukee River on Milwaukee's north side. (see map) I like staying there - even though it's out of the way from most of my dealers in the Milwaukee area - because it's cheaper than the other Hilton properties in the Milwaukee area (especially downtown), and because I'm a Hilton HHonors Diamond member, I get a couple free drinks at the bar which is part of the Anchorage restaurant at the Hilton Milwaukee River. I've eaten breakfast at the Anchorage a couple times in the past, but never dinner. I got into the hotel after 8 p.m. one night and decided not to venture out to find a place for dinner in the area. I ended up walking down the hall to the Anchorage for dinner.
Since 1973 when the hotel first opened, the Anchorage has hosted families and travelers serving seafood, steaks and pasta dishes. Long time executive chef Jerry Taylor - who has been with the Anchorage for nearly 30 years - oversees the menu. But like many older hotels, the Anchorage had grown a little shabby in appearance and corporate edicts cut back the menu. In 2010, hospitality industry veteran Michael Dietrich - whose father, Axel, was the executive chef at a handful of restaurants including the former English Room at the venerable Pfister Hotel and the upscale Harold's - came to the Hilton Milwaukee River to become its General Manager. The first thing Michael Dietrich did was to refurbish the tired old Anchorage. Sprucing up the decor, adding an outdoor patio and redubbing the bar area as the River's Edge Pub, Dietrich went against corporate philosophy allowing Jerry Taylor to broaden the menu at the Anchorage to go from simple dishes back to the exciting and interesting menu entrees that once made the Anchorage a popular culinary destination. People who hadn't been to the Anchorage in years came back to the restaurant after a glowing review in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after the "re-opening" of the restaurant in 2011.
From the times I'd stayed there, I knew the restaurant was a little tired. I think I'd had a couple meals at the bar and - as I said - breakfast (from the buffet) a couple times. It was your typical cookie-cutter hotel restaurant. But I had been hearing that after the shake up the food had gotten pretty good again. I walked to the hostess stand around 8:30 and was greeted by a very friendly lady who showed me to a table next to a window looking out onto the Milwaukee River. It was a nice evening and watching the nearby river flow by was very relaxing.
She dropped off a menu for me and I was soon greeted by my server for the evening, a younger guy by the name of Kyle. I had some free drink tickets and I ordered up a beer for my first beverage of the evening. But I figured that I'd be getting some wine with the meal.
Fresh water fish and seafood entrees dominate the menu at the Anchorage. They also have steaks, veal dishes, pasta entrees, herb-crusted chicken breast and braised short ribs on the menu. Seafood appetizers including oysters on the half-shell, steamed mussels, shrimp cocktail, and crab cakes, as well as nightly specials are also on the menu.
I was thinking of getting some seafood that evening - I almost went out to a sushi restaurant - so fish was on my mind. One of their signature dishes - bacon-wrapped scallops topped with a Hollandaise sauce - sounded very good. The char-grilled salmon served with a lemon butter and white asparagus was also appealing. And a true Spanish paella - shrimp, clams, mussels, chicken, peas, onions and roasted red peppers served with a saffron rice - sounded damned good, too.
In the end, I narrowed my choices down to two dishes both with pasta - the Sole Provost featured a filet of Sole fish wrapped in Maryland crab meat, topped with a shrimp sauce and mussels, all served on a bed of angel hair pasta. And the seared scallops with a creamy risotto, chopped portabella mushrooms, seared cauliflower, asparagus spears, and roasted red peppers topped with asiago cheese and a white truffle oil was my other finalist. In the end, I ordered the seared scallops with the risotto. I also ordered a wedge salad with both the creamy blue cheese dressing and blue cheese crumbles.
The wedge salad came out first. Along with it came a basket of housemade raisin pumpernickel bread. The wedge salad was large with chopped tomatoes on one side, chopped real bacon on the other, blue cheese crumbles on top of the salad and the blue cheese dressing was in a small lamp server. The salad was good - the lettuce wedge was cold and fresh. The blue cheese crumbles were pungent and flavorful, as was the creamy blue cheese dressing. The raisin pumpernickel bread was also a pleasant surprise. It tasted great when dipped in the dressing.
Before my meal came out, I was ready to switch from beer to wine. I had found a Malbec by-the-glass on the wine list and I ordered one of those. I had used one of my free drink tickets on the wine, and I had a "buy-one/get-one-free" ticket for the wine, one of the great perks the Hilton Milwaukee River gives me for being a Hilton Diamond member. And I knew I would be having a couple glasses of wine. I ordered a glass of the Malbec from Kyle when he picked up my salad dish.
Not long after, he brought out the seared scallops and risotto. There were five large bay scallops on a bed of the creamy risotto. A single seared cauliflower was underneath some parsley greens, a nice sized strip of roasted red pepper also rested underneath a leaf of something that was purple, asparagus and, surprisingly, cut carrots came on the side. A few chopped portabella mushrooms rounded out the dish.
The scallops were fresh and very good. They had that nice butter/flat-grilled char to the top and bottom. The risotto was very good with a nice creamy sauce and a hint of truffle oil. The whole meal was very good.
The only problem is that Kyle forgot about my wine. He was busy - it was still pretty busy after 9 p.m. in the Anchorage - but he just plain forgot about getting me a glass of wine. Getting it out to me, he apologized. It was far from a deal breaker. I did end up finishing that glass and getting a second one to sit and savor the very good dinner I just had.
For the past year, rumors had been going around Milwaukee that the Hilton Milwaukee River was on the verge of being bought by a local college to house Asian students. That deal fell through, but I heard on my visit this time that the hotel had lost its lease with Hilton Hotels and would become a Holiday Inn property sometime this summer. When I stay in hotels on the road, Hilton properties are my foremost choice with Marriott properties a distant second and Holiday Inn's coming in a close third. I felt bad that this would possibly be the last time I was going to stay at the Hilton Milwaukee River, but I may go back and stay at some point just to be able to have another fine meal from the Anchorage. Too bad I didn't take it seriously enough until it's no longer a Hilton hotel. (Photo courtesy OnMilwaukee.com)