Tea and veggies in the Third Ward
Amid the slider mania and bacon bonanza sweeping through the Milwaukee restaurant industry stands a brave little eatery that opened for business a couple of weeks ago.
Verduras Tea House and Cafe occupies about 1,800 square feet of space at the front of the Artasia Gallery & Museum in the Historic Third Ward. More than 40 teas and a vegetarian menu of sandwiches, soups and salads sets it apart from the plethora of new restaurants that have appeared on the landscape this year.
Where else can you find an almond butter and banana sandwich ($4.95), a flour tortilla wrap stuffed with teriyaki-infused carrots, red peppers, zucchini, summer squash and rice ($8.95), or a grilled fontina, portobello mushroom and arugula sandwich ($8.95)? The first two are vegan.
Jennifer Nowicki chose to name her cafe Verduras because it means vegetables in Spanish and Italian and green in Portuguese. She knows a lot about green veggies.
For seven years she was heavily involved with the Eagle Heights Community Garden in Madison, serving as the organization's secretary for some of that time. Eagle Heights is one of the oldest and largest organic gardens in the country.
Nowicki's business experience includes being a co-founder of the Riverwest Co-op when it was a buying club and operating a vegetarian coffeehouse in her native Green Bay called Kavarna. She admits to being a former coffeehouse owner who greatly prefers tea.
"I actually had a decent selection of teas there," Nowicki said during an afternoon lull at Verduras. "It was 1999, and I wasn't sure a tea shop alone would go, so I opened a coffeehouse."
Verduras' tea selection is more than decent. Nowicki has a tea specialist certificate from the Specialty Tea Institute and she has assembled a substantial sampling of the world's teas, which are sold for $2 a cup and $4.75 a pot. Black, white, green, jasmine and oolong teas are joined by the earthier pu-erh tea, which undergoes a microbial fermentation after the leaves are dried and rolled.
Chai and herbal teas (Rooibos and Yerba Mate) are also available in a variety of flavors, as is ice tea.
"I really love tea," Nowicki says, noting that it has no calories and less caffeine than coffee. "I'm looking to become a master tea specialist."
Verduras offers seven sandwiches made on Wild Flour Bakery bread. The four gluten-free salads are a basic that includes olives and garbanzo beans ($7.25), spinach and beet with toasted sesame seeds ($7.50), spinach and grapefruit with roasted almonds ($7.95) and musculun with mixed greens, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives and a tangy Greek feta dressing ($7.95). All salads but the last are vegan, and all dressings are made from scratch.
Any salad can be wrapped in a tortilla or stuffed in a pita for an extra $1. An aromatic vegan and gluten-free "gypsy vegetable soup" containing sweet potatoes, red peppers and garbanzo beans ($3.50 and $4.50) is joined by weekly soup specials.
Assorted breads, sweet and savory muffins, cookies, bars, tarts and cakes are also offered.
Verduras, which features counter service, can currently seat about 50, and it has some room for expanding the capacity. Large windows look out onto Broadway, but the cafe does not have its own separate entry.
Nowicki subtly blended her new restaurant's minimalist look into Artasia's Asian aesthetic.
Here are some tips for drinking tea when you visit Verduras, courtesy of the owner. Don't wear perfume or cologne. It will interfere with the full sensory experience of the tea.
Don't eat strong tasting food for the same reason. Do slurp your tea and make loud noises when drinking. Your mother wouldn't approve but Nowicki does.
I love tea and will make an effort to stop and have a pot.
Ah! I am so excited to know there's vegan food nearby; can't wait to try it!
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