Article from Isthmus BY LINDA FALKENSTEIN
There’s no shortage of coffee shops on University Avenue near Hilldale. Unlike most of them, Ancora’s new branch across from Whole Foods boasts a full kitchen. Chef Evan Braun has created a thoughtful and at times indulgent breakfast/brunch menu that’s served until 3 p.m. There are also lunchtime sandwiches and three salads.
The interior, done in a HGTV-friendly style of reclaimed gray wood paneling and fanciful Mediterranean-influenced tile, is warm and pleasant. Park in a small lot at the rear of the shopping strip (where there’s also outdoor seating for the warmer months). Enter on this side and order at the counter. Then there’s a long, narrow hallway lined with tables for two before the space opens up again on the University Avenue side with big windows and a variety of tables. Still, seating is squeezed and you’re likely to be making friends with, or trying to ignore, your immediate neighbors.
The larger brunch entrees are the stars here. I loved the harvest bowl, a vegetarian option that’s based on well-cooked quinoa (there’s nothing worse than underdone quinoa), cubes of roasted sweet potato and cannellini beans and topped with a sunny-side-up egg and crispy pumpkin seeds. This dish is easily made vegan by subbing tofu for the egg, which the kitchen will do. While I did love this, the cashew cream (which is piped on cool, in rosettes) isn’t the best sauce, and the dish could use something to round out the flavors, too — maybe a little pickled vegetable. I know quinoa is expensive, and there’s plenty of it here, but this felt a little overpriced at $12. Still, this is the entree I would most likely order again. The bowl goes nicely with the cafe’s apple cider mimosa, served in a champagne flute with a margarita-like rim of cinnamon sugar. Touché.
The fluffy buttermilk pancakes come in a stack of three with apple crème fraîche and poached pears. Even better is the espresso-battered french toast, topped with crunchy sugar-glazed hazelnuts. If you want syrup besides of all that, Ancora serves real Wisconsin maple syrup. There is nothing worse than being forced to besmirch beautiful buttermilk pancakes with fake maple syrup — it is, in fact, worse than eating undercooked quinoa.
Other egg dishes like the sunrise omelet, eggs any style and two eggs benedicts, come with a choice of fruit or the breakfast potatoes. These tiny cubes of potatoes are fried up extra crunchy, and are excellent, if a bit too salty. Eat ‘em while they’re hot.
From the breakfast egg sandwich menu, I liked the honey bacon biscuit, with its very crispy, crumbly bacon, fried egg and melted white cheddar on a rich, tender housemade biscuit. The honey, spread on one side of the biscuit, soaks in so much you can’t tell it’s there. There is a honey pitcher at the coffee counter, so you can add more yourself. This one pairs well with a sweet latte, like the seasonal maple version.
Sandwiches may seem less enticing than the brunch entrees, but don’t overlook the egg salad. It comes on toasted sourdough, layered with more of that crispy bacon and an avocado and black bean spread, which doesn’t do the looks of this sandwich any favors but punches up the flavor in an unexpectedly great way.
The excellent house-roasted meat is the best part of the roast beef sandwich, but its baguette is overpowering. Switch to bread, skip the whipped-herb feta, and double the pickled seasonal vegetables. A chicken salad sandwich on toasted multigrain didn’t have much “salad” to it — I couldn’t taste any of the basil aioli. In fact the flavor was overwhelmingly of oregano on the day I tried this.
The cafe serves a daily soup, which I haven’t had much luck with so far. A black bean soup served with chopped tomatoes and bits of avocado had an odd texture and was too spicy to enjoy (and I generally like my soups spicy), as was a winter squash that was also more like a puree than a soup.
Still, in a brunch-crazed area of town, Ancora offers quality options. Good luck finding a parking space — and a table.