On the corner of Monroe and Glenway, a stone's throw from Lake Wingra, sits Gates & Brovi, and you could almost envision it as a lakeside or boardwalk concession stand. Driftwood, a touch of shabby chic, throwback beer paraphernalia - if this interior isn't directly inspired by the North Shore Chateau at Devil's Lake State Park, it's certainly a conceptual confrere.
Gates & Brovi is the latest from chef/owners and apparent gold-spinners Phillip Hurley and John Gadau, whose previous ventures, Marigold Kitchen and Sardine, have been bringing in the crowds since 2000 and 2006, respectively. Gates & Brovi seems poised to similarly own the Monroe-Dudgeon neighborhood.
Continuing a pattern set with Sardine, Hurley and Gadau put fruits of the sea in positions of prominence on this menu. A baked crab and artichoke dip comes with, among other things, carrots cut into planks; as you scoop, you'll wonder why everyone doesn't do it like this. But as at any good beach-food stand, fried foods like curds and matchstick fries dominate the starter menu.
Shrimp fritters are listed first, though, and they earn the position. Big chunks of tender shrimp are pattied with a lightly spiced batter; they don't really need the remoulade, but hey, it's tart and creamy. Why pass it up? These hefty fritters arrive six to a basket and rocket hot, so if nothing else, the sauce offers cool relief.
Traditional main courses are very nearly an afterthought, but they too focus on seafood. Beer-steamed Gulf shrimp and a whole Maine lobster are appealing but not exactly locavore. The Friday fish fry feels more like Wisconsin, and the fillets of cod are flaky, pure white and coated in a crisp, dark batter. The tartar sauce is dilly and light, and the omnipresent coleslaw (though not the same variety as at Marigold) has a good kick of black pepper.
Gates & Brovi is positioning itself as a beer-and-bite spot. It's also open late every night of the week. To that end, some work needs to be done on the slight tap list, but the bar pours a stiff Templeton Rye old fashioned, if you're into that.
A full half of the menu is devoted to the sandwich arts. Most are messy, like the shaved ham; gooey pimento cheese conspires with a muffuletta-esque olive relish to wreck the structural integrity of the sandwich, but finger-licking doesn't feel out of place here.
The meatless mushroom Havarti melt comes out looking nothing like what you'd expect. It's a vegetable-filled affair with a blanket of melted cheese atop the greenery. Pickled peppers appear here in awkwardly large pieces, but they're tender enough to bite through.
On one visit, the brown sugar roasted pork sandwich was overrun by braised greens that weren't braised nearly enough. They were tough and bitter, making the rest of the sandwich taste burnt. But in a subsequent encounter, the pork was sweeter, the greens were more tender, and the whole plate was much more satisfying - if, again, prone to messiness.
Nothing beats the mushroom blue cheese burger for sheer napkin volume. The patty is juicy, the onions are sweetly caramelized, and the bun is just the right kind of insubstantial. Think fast food, but a bit nicer.
Salads are ample. A wedge salad was enough for two to nibble on, and the roasted beet and white bean salad was a meal's worth. The tasty chile-chickpea tuna salad sandwich, a fun take on typical salad Nioise ingredients, falls apart just enough to partially eat with your fork; it's a multitasker! A squash soup du jour was texturally pleasant - not totally pureed - and a clam chowder is on offer daily.
In keeping with the concession-stand vibe, desserts are simple and ice cream-centric. Soda floats come in many colors, and the friendly staff will smile if you order a warm brownie sundae to share with your date across the table.
Evidence of the early popularity of Gates & Brovi is a 30-minute wait on Friday night, and lots of families in attendance. The menu doesn't take any major chances, which should allow for service to work into a good groove.
This is not a west-side version of either Marigold or Sardine, so adjust your expectations accordingly. That said, the same strengths - light, clean flavors - are on display, and the chefs' touch with seafood should be enough to reel in both neighbors and passers-by.