La Masa Empanada Bar
Great addition to Brady Street Neighborhood
As neighborhood residents, we worried what might replace World of Beer on the corner of Brady Street and Arlington Place. Cheers to siblings Megan and Brad Todd for opening La Masa Empanada Bar, 1300 E. Brady St. Its simple sophistication and all-ages appeal enhances the eclecticism of our colorful main drag.
A respectable alternative to traditional dining, the menu is novel, flavors are interesting, textures are comforting, food arrives quickly and cost is modest. The interior is stylish with warm lighting and colorful tile work. Ample outdoor seating provides another happy taste of café life. The character is Latin American but the heart is local.
Empanadas, of course, are stuffed, oven-baked pastries. Ten dinner varieties (with one to two features), made fresh each morning, represent a mix of traditional Latin American and contemporary recipes with a focus on local ingredients. Most are $3; buy three and get a healthy side of jicama slaw gratis. This savory slaw of shredded jicama root, carrot, cumin, fresh apple, lime juice, pineapple juice and quicos (Spanish corn nuts) is $4 separately.
Three vegetarian empanadas—spicy potato and peanut; fresh spinach and cheese; and, best of all, Wisco corn with roasted creamed sweet corn, peppers and onions—are scrumptious. We can also recommend the jamón y queso empanada with pulled Wisconsin Berkshire ham, cream cheese, mozzarella, gruyere and white cheddar. The others are Argentine beef, Vietnamese beef, Wisconsin beer brat, Italian sausage, grilled chicken and chicken tinga. All come with an excellent chimicurri sauce, house-made daily from cilantro, parsley, garlic, red pepper and oil. Additional sauces are fifty cents; we liked the aji amarillo aioli.
An attractive peach caprese salad with grilled peaches, mozzarella, basil, chile and peach vinaigrette over mixed greens was fresh if a bit bland. The wonderful quinoa salad featured avocado slices on a mound of quinoa, yellow corn and black beans, surrounded by sliced grape tomatoes on mixed greens with tomatillo vinaigrette and quicos. Several interesting sandwiches are also offered. Our server recommended aji grilled chicken.
The piece de resistance is certainly the warm, chewy banana Nutella dessert empanada. Try it with heavenly Scratch Dulce de Leche ice cream, a house specialty made 100% from scratch by Becky and Scott Berger of Yo Mama Frozen Yogurt.
The thoughtful beer menu identifies alcohol content. From light German pilsner to potent Belgian quad and Wisconsin pear cider, 12 draught beers are offered. Twenty-one international bottled and canned beers include such unusual choices as Abita Purple Haze Raspberry Wheat from Louisiana and Harviestoun Engine Oil Porter from Scotland. There’s wine on tap, a long list of bottled wines, four handcrafted cocktails and two cocktails on tap: cherrybark vanilla limeade with vodka, and elderflower mojito. Drinks are priced from $5-$10.
Happy hour is 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday with $2 off all tap beers, tap wines and tap cocktails; also, select empanadas sell for $2. La Masa opens daily at 11 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Sundays-Wednesdays and 2 a.m. on other nights. Take-out and delivery service is available. Empanada delivery is new in town but, says Brad Todd, “They hold up better than pizza.”