Brunch is the sexiest meal. The three squares simply can’t compete.
People who try to tell you how to live your life say breakfast is the “most important meal of the day.” Many of us eat lunch at a desk or with one hand on a steering wheel. Supper is for family arguments and church potlucks.
But brunch! Brunch sanctifies a day of leisure after a late night out. Brunch is for feeding scrambles and sandwiches to a body worn out from dancing. At brunch, we indulge in a little hair of the dog, or just satiate a 2 p.m. craving for eggs.
Ancora Coffee’s new University Avenue cafe celebrates the institution that is brunch daily until 3 p.m. This location has been open since July in the new mixed-use development The Boulevard where University intersects Shorewood, and the space is nearly triple the size of the old location a few blocks to the east.
The move allowed owner Tori Gerding to add a kitchen. That’s been a goal since 2013, when she bought Ancora’s two coffee shops, on University Avenue and King Street, from the couple that started the company in 1994, George and Sue Krug.
“I always felt like it needed brunch,” said Gerding, 28.
The brunch menu at the University Avenue cafe changes by the season and leans on vegetables and local ingredients, like eggs from Yuppie Hill Poultry in Burlington.
Of the 10 breakfast entrees the veggie benedict ($13) replaces Canadian bacon with a cauliflower steak covered in goat cheese and a roasted red pepper hollandaise.
“I’m a big fan of hollandaise sauce done right,” said Gerding.
Other savory dishes include lamb shank hash ($14) and a “sunrise” omelet with jalapeño, chihuahua cheese, salsa and avocado cream ($12).
The harvest bowl ($12) was a satisfying mix of fluffy tricolor quinoa, sweet potato, cannellini beans, pumpkin seeds and a pillowy-soft cashew cream, topped with a perfectly cooked over-medium egg. Diners can easily add Cholula hot sauce; there’s a bottle of it at every table.
Sweet breakfast entrees include pancakes ($11) and an oatmeal bowl ($9), both served with poached pears. Espresso French toast ($13) was a dry, less eggy version of French toast, dipped in an espresso batter and drizzled with espresso creme anglaise. Chef Evan Braun crushed a hazelnut brittle to sprinkle on top, like rock candy.
Among five egg sandwiches, the honey-bacon biscuit with white cheddar and sriracha honey ($9) is Gerding’s favorite. Braun makes the biscuits from scratch, using butter and a mix of baking powder and baking soda to make them “pop and rise” just right.
For a more lunch-oriented brunch, Ancora offers salads and sandwiches. What makes the egg salad sandwich ($10) is everything around the egg salad: crunchy strips of bacon, avocado slices, a mound of greens and layer of black bean puree.
Braun said he whips the bean puree with fresh thyme, lemon, cumin, garlic and paprika. I want it on all sandwiches forthwith.
No brunch menu is complete without booze. Ancora serves wine, beer and mimosas with fresh-squeezed orange juice, along with a peppery and citrusy bloody mary ($8) that’s topped with a skewer of Underground cured meat and a big square of Muenster.
Gerding’s brunch designs for this new Ancora began to fall into place after a serendipitous reunion with Braun, who’d been a childhood friend. Gerding, Braun and University Avenue general manager Dayna Riesterer grew up in small towns in Manitowoc County. They all attended tiny Valders High School (current enrollment: 345 students).
“We ran cross country and track together,” Braun said.
Braun, 27, has brunch cred. He worked for years at Kanela Breakfast Club, a brunching mainstay with six locations on the north side of Chicago, before Gerding convinced him to move back to Wisconsin to be executive chef at Ancora Coffee.
“Meat has been exciting sourcing for me,” Braun said. He worked at his hometown butcher, Whitelaw Sausage, through high school and later at Gene’s Sausage Shop & Delicatessen in Chicago.
Now, “we’re three kids trying to run a coffee shop,” joked Gerding, who started at Ancora right out of college and recently had a kid of her own. Opening the University Avenue cafe this summer coincided with the birth of her daughter, Evelyn, with husband Matt Gerding, who co-owns the Majestic Theater across the street from the King Street Ancora.
Gerding said she wants to bring brunch to the Ancora on King Street as well, likely after the lease is up in 2019. She is also looking to move to a nearby location, still on King Street, with a bigger kitchen.
Meanwhile, Gerding and Braun hope to host pop-up meals and beer and wine tastings at the cafe. No matter what, brunch stays.
“That will remain our focus: all day brunch, all week,” Braun said.