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Third Ward Swig

Small plate, big flavors

May. 7, 2008
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Swigfirst opened on Water Street in the spring of 2005. Owners Joe and Angie Sorge developed a concept of “small plate” dining—basically an international version of tapas. Since then they have opened the wildly successful Water Buffalo in the Third Ward. Soon after that, Swig closed its doors, but it recently reopened just two blocks from Water Buffalo in the space that formerly housed Sauce. Though the interior of the Third Ward restaurant has been updated, the street front looks the same except for new signage. The glass garage door is still opened on warm days and offers the best seating, and the small fireplace remains. The main changes are in the rear dining room. The opaque glass partition hiding the kitchen is now an artistic wall of wood. Bare bulbs, whose incandescent filaments bathe the room in a warm glow, create the elusive quality of light that flatters all diners. The bar remains intimate and comfortable.

Many of the items on the menu are already familiar. The major change is the addition of sandwiches served at lunch. Swig never served lunch at its old location. The “small plate” concept is ideally tailored to this time of the day.

The simplest salad is the house salad ($4.50), which is mostly iceberg lettuce with a few pricier greens thrown in, mainly for color. There are also slices of peeled cucumber, red onion, alfalfa sprouts, grape tomatoes and shaved Parmesan. The dressings tend to be vinaigrettes and the Parmesan has a rich, earthy flavor thanks to aging. The baked shrimp-stuffed mushrooms ($10.50) redefine salad, and are delicious by themselves. Three jumbo mushroom caps filled with a custardy filling with chopped shrimp and pine nuts are served over a bed of fresh spinach with a layer of olive oil below. The artichoke vinaigrette is simply chopped marinated artichoke hearts—it’s a bit spare, but the idea works.

The appearance of the “small plates” is carefully attended to. A classic example is the lobster-stuffed roasted poblano pepper ($12.50), a whole pepper, skinned and seeded, resting in a pool of seductive red pepper sauce. Roasting removes any trace of spiciness, yet the unique flavor of the poblano remains. The filling may be more creamy white cheese than lobster meat, but this is still one of the best items on the menu.

While much of the menu has the feel of the former Sauce, the entree prices are lower; all are $20 or less. The most inexpensive is chicken manicotti cacciatore ($10.50). Boneless chicken meat is wrapped in pasta sheets, baked with a rich marina sauce and topped with crumbled Gorgonzola. This is as affordable as it is good. Spinach gnocchi ($12.50) has a holiday look, as everything is red and green. The red is from sun-dried tomatoes, the green from the spinach gnocchi. The gnocchi are firm and durable, but are on the small side, looking a bit like jumbo, slightly wrinkled fava beans. Again the dish is topped with shaved Parmesan, sliced mushrooms and a touch of fennel.

Swig makes a fine replacement for Sauce. The menu is very good and although the wine list is not huge, it offers a thoughtful international list (glasses $8 to $10; bottles $28-$100). From the attentive service to the new setting, Swig is a choice Third Ward dining option.

217 N. Broadway (414) 431-7944 $$-$$$ Credit Cards: MC,VS, AX Smoke-free Handicap Access: Yes

Swig | Photos by Tate Bunker

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