During a visit with one of my dealers in Milwaukee recently, we decided to go out to dinner. Always coming up with great places to eat, he asked me what I was in the mood for that evening. I told him anything was fine and he asked if I was up for a bit of a drive. "There's a place in Bay View called the Palamino Bar that my girlfriend and I really like." I remember trying to go to the Palamino Bar for a burger for lunch one time, but found that the place doesn't open until 4 p.m. I eagerly took him up on his suggestion and we ventured off to the Palamino Bar for dinner.
The Palamino Bar is sort of an upscale neighborhood corner bar. In fact, when it opened in November of 2002, it took the place of Nellie's, one of the many names that adorned the sign out front since the building became a tavern in the 1950's. When Leslie Montemurro and Scott Johnson - the people behind other Milwaukee establishments such as Milwaukee Fuel, Comet Cafe and the Hi-Hat Lounge on Milwaukee's east side - bought Nellie's, they didn't do much to the place before they opened up as the Palamino Bar. They added some booths, put in a fake fireplace and changed some lighting, but that was it. They selected the name Palamino because, well, they thought it was a cool name.
About three years ago, the Palamino Bar closed for a few weeks for some updating in the dining area and kitchen. It reopened with two new partners added to the ownership group to run the place, the brother and sister team of Adam and Valerie Lucks. Adam Lucks had been associated with Montemurro and Johnson's MojoFuco Restaurant Group for a number of years and Valerie Lucks joined the team about 10 years ago to help run the Comet Cafe. The Lucks also owned the Honeypie Cafe that featured made from scratch Midwestern-style foods.
Palamino Bar is on the corner of S. Superior and E. Russell streets in Bay View, a couple blocks from Lake Michigan. (see map) My dealer and I drove separately and I found some parking just down the street while my dealer was lucky to find a spot in front of the restaurant.
The interior of the Palamino Bar is a throwback to the old time neighborhood taverns that populate the greater Milwaukee area. Low-ceilinged, soft lighting, a classic bar - there's even an old juke box with pool tables in the back. A large portrait of a horse head hangs on the back wall. (Photo courtesy On Milwaukee.com)
My dealer is one of those guys who likes to belly up to the bar and I had no problem with that. We were greeted by an urban hipster bartender who handed us a couple of menus. I ordered up a Ballast Point Sculpin beer to go along with the vodka tonic my dealer ordered.
The food at Palamino Bar could be categorized as Americana with a flair for Southern-style cooking. My dealer couldn't quit raving about how great their fried chicken is. "I don't eat a lot of fried chicken," he told me. "But theirs is the best I've ever had. In fact, we were here just the other night eating the fried chicken. My girlfriend loves it, too."
I had been told a few years back that the burger at Palamino Bar was definitely worth the stop and I had my sights set on that. But some other things caught my eye - the Cheddy Shredder sandwich featured pulled braised beef short ribs topped with a red onion jam, cheddar cheese and pickled chilies and served on a housemade pretzel roll. And Palamino's take on a Cuban sandwich - the Ropa Vieja - featured Cuban-style pulled beef brisket topped with mayo, Swiss cheese, fried onions and served on a hoagie roll. (Palomino Bar also has a vegan friendly menu and is highly regarded among the vegan community.)
But I went anti-vegan and ended up getting the Burger Deluxe featuring locally-raised grass-fed beef topped with bacon made in-house, American cheese, diced onions, tomatoes, lettuce, and a secret burger sauce and served on a brioche bun.
The burger was fat and juicy, sitting on a bed of veggies with two pieces of thick-sliced housemade bacon on top. I normally don't care for grass-fed beef as much as corn-fed beef, but the burger patty was extremely flavorful. The brioche bun held together very well - the mark of a truly good burger. I also got a side of the sweet corn with bacon that was sort of "meh!" I had higher expectations for the sweet corn with bacon bits.
My dealer got the fried chicken - again. He truly loves the fried chicken at the Palamino Bar and he got the two piece dinner with a biscuit and a side - he picked the mashed potatoes topped with the sausage gravy. He offered me a bite of the mashed potatoes and I immediately realized that I should have gotten that instead of the sweet corn and bacon bits. My dealer also insisted that we get an extra side of the cabbage slaw to share. It was also sort of "blah!" to me, but better than the sweet corn and bacon.
But the burger was very good at the Palamino Bar. I'll have to come back at some point and give the fried chicken a try upon the wholehearted recommendation of my dealer. I liked the retro atmosphere of the place and the service was fine for sitting at the bar. Yes, it looks like a typical corner bar on the outside and it looks like a typical corner bar on the inside. But the very good food and excellent selection of beer and whiskey makes the Palamino Bar something special. (Photo courtesy On Milwaukee.com)