Fox Point's Peking Chef is Worth the Drive
Judge a book by its cover, and you might miss out on some of the best dishes at Peking Chef. If you stick to the Chinese American food that the restaurant’s name implies, you’ll eschew the best section of the menu: Indonesian cuisine.
Indonesian food is hard to come by in Milwaukee. Unless there’s a daily special on a menu or an Indonesian-themed pop-up dinner, this small, family run spot in Fox Point is the only restaurant specializing in Indonesian cooking in the area. It’s well worth the trip up I-43 to experience food you’ve never had before—plus high-quality versions of some of your favorite Thai and Chinese American dishes.
8673 N. Port Washington Road
Handicap access: Yes
Tu-Th 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m., F-Sa 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Su 3-8:30 p.m.
Tucked away in the corner of a strip mall, the interior of Peking Chef is just about the same as every other Asian strip mall restaurant: It’s long and narrow, with a kitchen at the back—though this one is open, so you can see the cooks scurrying around—and with generic Asian décor. The only hints of distinction are the Indonesian puppets on one wall.
Seat yourself if you’re eating in and there’s no employee around; chances are everyone’s busy preparing food or packing up take-out orders. You’ll be greeted shortly by various family member employees who will undoubtedly be chatty and smiling. In all of my visits here—there have been many over the years—I have never encountered an employee who wasn’t in good spirits. (That congeniality often leads to complimentary wontons or sugar donuts, especially with large orders. You’ll feel like a guest in your server’s home.)
Start your exploration of the Indonesian portion of the menu with rendang beef ($13.25). It’s a stew of tender beef and potato chunks, slow cooked in a thick sauce of lemongrass, ginger, chiles, coconut milk and fragrant spices like cloves and cinnamon. It’s similar to some Indian curries, but with a Southeast Asian kick of citrus. Sambal udang ($12.95) is a stir fry of shrimp, green beans, slivered onions, bell peppers, tempeh and tofu. The green beans are flash fried for that familiar wrinkly skin. Shrimp is large and plump, while the tempeh—a soy product similar to tofu that originated in Indonesia—is earthy and even a little smoky. It’s all bathed in a small amount of flavorful brown sauce made with tamarind.
Fried chicken fans will love ayam goreng mentega ($13.25), or what’s known as butter-dipped chicken. Boneless pieces of chicken thigh are coated in a thick batter, deep fried and served covered in a sweet, dark sauce made with butter. It’s served with a few slices of cucumber and tomato, but it’s so rich that you should plan to order vegetables, like the Thai-style eggplant ($9) on the side.
Noodles make an appearance on the Indonesian menu as kweetiau goreng ($9.95). Wide rice noodles are stir fried with a combination of small shrimp, sliced beef and Chinese sausage. Singapore rice noodles ($9.95), which are often found on Chinese American menus, inhabit the Indonesian menu here. This version is made with shrimp and chicken with mild curry spices.
If you can convince yourself to try other portions of the menu, there are some gems waiting for you. Phat Thai ($9-$11) can be made with chicken, pork or shrimp. It’s made with thin noodles here, in a bright orange sauce with lots of fried egg and a thick wedge of lime on the side. Phat see eeu ($10-$12.50) is made with thick, supple fun noodles and full of fresh gai lan, otherwise known as Chinese broccoli. There’s also a good version of the Chinese American chicken in garlic sauce ($8.95) here, made with large, flat pieces of cloud ear mushroom, snow peas and bamboo shoots. Skip the orange chicken ($10) and, instead, opt for the spicy lemongrass chicken ($10) from the Thai menu. It’s not the most traditional dish on the menu, but it’s full of lemongrass aroma and mixed vegetables.
The best way to experience Peking Chef is with a group of people ordering numerous dishes and eating family style. If you’d like to try a dozen or so of their Indonesian dishes, then plan to attend their annual Mother’s Day buffet. We just missed it this year, so you better mark your calendar for 2018.