Two more reasons to love Waukesha, WI


Would that all houses were purple and sunflowered!

Would that all houses were purple and sunflowered!

I’ve always enjoyed living near the heart of downtown Waukesha, WI, particularly in the week and a half it’s not covered in snow. It’s just such a casual, charming, friendly little town, and for all the complaints I’ve heard- and uttered- about how confusing it can be to navigate when you’re not used to the area, I even love the streets.

I’m a big fan of the direction the town is taking as it cleans itself up, brushes the dust off its dancing shoes, gargles a little mouthwash. It just feels safer, cleaner, and fresher than it did before. I have to say, though, that the one thing I wonder about is how a town this size can support so many coffee shops and art galleries.

They’re all great, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t walk a block without tripping over some quaint little someplace or other where you can grab a cup of joe (delicious, accompanied by friendly service) or buy a local resident’s latest foray into abstract painting. Some places even let you do both. And every time I see one of these places I think: Who the heck is around to drink enough coffee to keep each cafe viable? Who the heck is around to buy enough art to keep each gallery viable? This is Waukesha for crying out loud, not the Third Ward or Cedarburg! I know it’s changing, but is it changing quickly enough for these places to make it when they’re competing in such close proximity?

And then? I heard another coffee shop was moving into town. I couldn’t believe it. Even more unbelievable was that it was to be set up in the purple flower house on St. Paul Ave. where another coffee shop had just gone out of business last year. As nice as it is as a consumer to have the extra variety, I just couldn’t imagine what this place could offer to make it worth walking a block off the main drag for, especially in the exact place another coffee shop had failed.

But folks, I’m here to tell ya’: It’s worth walking a block off the main drag for.

Cafe de Art

136 E. St. Paul Ave., Waukesha, WI 53186

The name of the place is Cafe De Arts and if you like coffee (or tea, or sandwiches, or salads, or desserts, or colors, or free wifi, or Turkish people) you are hereby assigned to check this place out. You owe it to yourselves. Really.

I stopped in this afternoon around 1 to see what the place was all about and was immediately struck by the warmth of the decor. The thickly painted wall art, the custom made doors and tables, the reds, oranges and yellows of the decorative fabrics, all set off by the natural beauty of sunshine and a fresh breeze, made the environment so welcoming I knew it was a place I could easily stay all afternoon.

While reading over the wall menu I was approached by the woman who would soon take my order. So charming, very pretty, all smiles. We met by the dessert case and I asked if the baked goods inside it were made there on site. She told me she makes them herself right there in the kitchen and then went over each one with me, giving me the names- none of which I could pronounce outside of “baklava“- and main ingredients.

I hadn’t been planning on ordering anything to eat, but the feta and parsley stuffed pogaca (pron. pogasha) on the top shelf looked too delicious to pass up so I ordered one to accompany my chocolate and vanilla blended mochaccino.

While waiting for my order I made myself comfortable on one of the leather couches by the flat screen TV which at the time was playing Turkish music videos, one of which was this video by the adorable Turkish pop star Yalin. Isn’t he cute?! The woman I’d spoken with before, who I later learned was Gulten Munzur, wife of owner Ayhan Munzur, soon brought out my pogaca and coffee and I was instantly in cafe heaven.

My drink was strong; very flavorful, very rich, very drinkable. It lacked the “coffee bitterness” I’m accustomed to, without tasting as though the bitterness was perhaps still there but masked by sugar and flavored syrups. As a testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the fact that they had no fancy additives to hide behind, I found myself having to swirl my cup once or twice to mix things back together a bit. And the pogaca, which I’d expected would be cold and flaky, was actually warm and quite soft much to my delight. It’s like a very moist roll that looks like dense bread but tastes like fresh feta cheese. And the glazed top was more than just a nice visual touch– it was delish.

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A commercial coffee roaster similar to the one at Cafe de Arts

As I was finishing up, Gulten came by to ask how everything was and I could only tell her it was wonderful. Ayhan soon came around to tidy up a table two other patrons had just vacated and also asked how I’d liked everything. We chatted a bit and he was just so personable and friendly it would’ve been impossible not to like him as instantly as I’d liked Gulten.

He asked if I had seen their roaster on my way in and when I said I hadn’t he brought me up to the front of the cafe and showed me a machine I’d’ve sworn was part of an old locomotive refurbished to decorate the living room of a steampunk afficionado. I don’t know how I managed to miss it when I first arrived. It was this enormous black and gold… thing which he was clearly quite proud of and which really was quite impressive.

He went through the process with me of how the roasting is done, showing me the small, green coffee beans as they appear before roasting, how the hopper is filled, how the temperature is controlled and varied to alter the strength of the roast, and a handful of the final product. Amazing. I told him if he ever decides to sell the beans dipped in chocolate I’d buy their first pound.

And in case you were wondering, you can purchase (non chocolate covered) pounds of their coffee beans for somewhere in the neighborhood of $9. (Don’t quote me. I’ll get the actual price and update here soon.) Another ‘variety is the spice of life” part of the whole gig is they import their beans hundreds of pounds at a time from all over the world, and roast them fresh every couple of days so you’re never drinking last week’s brew.

They’re celebrating their Grand Opening (link is to Facebook event page) this Tuesday, June 30th, from 6 – 9 pm and I am definitely going to be stopping in. If you live in the area this place absolutely must make it onto your “must visit” list; I cannot recommend it highly enough. And since they’ve just opened recently after moving here from Turkey-by-way-of-New-Hampshire I cannot recommend highly enough that you visit sooner rather than later to be part of jump starting this promising addition to the local small business community. I get the impression they already have a loyal customer base, which is not at all surprising, but they really deserve your patronage too. No foolin’.

******************************************

After my impromptu guided tour of Cafe de Arts I headed across the Waukesha State Bank parking lot to check out “The Cemetery Club” at Waukesha Civic Theatre for their 2pm pay-what-you-can performance. Sunset Playhouse put on this show last season and I heard it was wonderful but wasn’t able to make it, so I made sure not to let it pass me by again. Especially not on an afternoon when I could name my own ticket price!

The entire experience was absolutely engaging. Director Brian Zelisnki pulled together a remarkable cast of delightful and talented actors who connected so dearly with their characters it truly felt as though they were living out each moment for themselves on that stage.

G. Chmiel, F. Klumb, J. End

Chmiel as Ida, Klumb as Doris, End as Lucille

Joan End’s “Lucille” was loud and funny and wild, and just perfectly drunk enough in Act II that you had to wonder what was really in the tea props. One of her closing scenes had tears rolling down my cheeks it was so touchingly well played. I hate crying in public, but in that moment there was no stopping me. Thank you, Joan.

Fran Klumb’s “Doris” was  humanly solid, comedically smooth, and professionally real. She has this great way with a line where you’re so floored for a moment by her timing and delivery that you can’t even laugh right away because you’re too busy thinking “Wow!” She was perfectly cast in that role. Loved her.

Gladys Chmiel’s “Ida” was a particular treat for me as I am quite the Gladys Chmiel fan. It was all I could do, all anyone could really do, to keep from wanting to run up on stage and hug her throughout the show. Her performance was so tender, her focus so devoted, her dancing so cute, that I cheered for her all the way. Gladys never disappoints, and this show was no exception. Brava, friend.

Supporting this central threesome were Doug Smedbron as “Sam” and Rhonda Trickey as “Mildred.” I’d only ever seen Doug in “Social Security” and “Season’s Greetings” at Sunset Playhouse so I was excited to get to see him in something with a little more stage time. His portrayal of Sam was perfect. Just perfect. Cute as a button without being schmaltzy, cautiously dedicated without being detached, and believable believable believable. I can’t work with him soon enough.

Rhonda’s “Mildred” only appeared in one scene, but watch it and tell me you had any idea she hasn’t been playing roles like this for years. She balanced giggly, oblivious flirtatiousness with respectful stage sharing like a pro. This was her first play ever, but you’d never know it. No rookie hamminess, no “backting.” Good on ya’, Trickey. Keep acting.

Good on all of ’em, really. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next I was gasping in shock, leaning in for more, or brushing away enormous tears. I only wish I could’ve seen it sooner so I could’ve encouraged more people to check this show out for themselves. There are still two performances left, but one starts in 12 minutes so I’m thinkin’ this blog won’t be directing anyone out to Civic for that one. But if you’re free for their closing performance tomorrow, Sunday June 28th at 2 pm, do attend. It’s guaranteed to please.

And I’m guaranteed to be late if I don’t wrap this up and head out soon! Such is the life of a busy Waukesha socialite. ;)

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10 comments

  1. Ruth, I LOVED this blog. I would say you oughta write reviews, but you don’t want to get stuck in that rut! It was thoroughly enjoyable to read, and I know the cast and crew of the show and the owners of the cafe would be super-delighted to read your comments as well! Incidentally, my good friend Jeff Seymour painted the sunflower on that building and is responsible for a great deal of the art houses and cafes in town. He’s a very edgy, artsy guy (who sadly remains single despite all my best attempts – ha! -he’s just too darn busy!) and I appreciate all he has done to ‘perk up’ downtown Waukesha!

    Anyhow, again – nice blog! I enjoyed reading it and will check out that cafe!

  2. All I can say is I was truly blessed with a wonderful group of people that put passion into every minute of rehearsal and performance, and was a joy and honor to work with. Thanks for the thoughtful comments Ruth, I am glad it touched you. They are truly an amazing group of people.

  3. Oh, Ruth… dear Ruth. It was such a gift to have you there today… and now you give us this wonderful gift, also. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. This has been an incredible experience… one I’ve been blessed to be a part of. So glad you felt what has been in my heart, too. I love you, dear friend. I love you. XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

  4. @ Mark: I’ve met your friend Jeff– very cool guy. I looked into renting the purple house myself, actually, as a means of acquiring studio space alongside a new living space, but alas: it did not work out that way for me. This is so much better though. Wow. And don’t get me wrong– I love the coffee shops and galleries and all that! I just start to wonder how long they can survive when they’re all in relative competition with each other in the middle of a small downtown in a pretty blue collar area. I know it’s changing, but will it change soon enough for these places to survive? Or is it changing in time for the *next* generation of shops? Best of luck to all of ’em. I’d hate to see the ‘sha lose the Steaming Cup, Sprizzo’s, or any of the galleries. They really are cool places.

    @ Brian: You were hugely blessed. No doubt about it. I hope knowing that fact makes it that much *more* wonderful an experience for you. :)

    @ Gladys: You are so welcome. The show was just beautiful. Thank you so much for all you put into it. Sincerely. :)

  5. Ruthie – you’re a great writer! Go get yourself a job at the Freeman…but don’t stop acting. Loved your performance in “Noises Off”!

  6. I’m with Shawn. I love what and how you write. Makes me feel like I’m sitting next to you in a conversation. Am so glad you caught the show, it was one of the best of the season.

  7. It’s the purple sunflower house!!!!

    Do they want to purchase a copy of RedFence? We could ship some out to ya….

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