Restaurant name: Café Hollander, Brookfield
Restaurant address: Brookfield – Corners, 20150 Union Street, Brookfield, WI
Phone number of restaurant: 262-785-4490
- Cuisine type: Belgium/Netherlands/Luxembourg-style European cuisine
- Price per entrée: $9.95-$18.95
- Attire: Casual, laid-back atmosphere
- Reservations: Not required, but encouraged for large parties
- Payment: Cash/Credit Cards accepted
Business hours: see below
- Mon – Fri: Breakfast 8am – 11am
- Mon – Fri: Lunch & Dinner 11am – 12am
- Sat – Sun: Brunch 8am – 3pm
- Sat – Sun: Lunch & Dinner 3pm – 12am
When a restaurant opens in a new location, a few issues are expected. Maybe the food isn’t quite as fast since the cooks are still learning the menu, or the waitstaff is a bit slower due to being swamped by the high volumes of people and families eager to check out the new place. Opening an eatery, whether a brand new stand-alone restaurant or an add-on to a chain, is going to be chaotic.
I’ve worked in the service industry since I was 14, working at a plethora of bars and diners over the years. I am as easy-going as it gets because of my experience working in the industry. I know how hectic a busy night can get, I know how horrible it feels to have people shouting at you about late food (when it’s not your fault), and I also know how incredibly frustrating it is to wait on rude people. The service and/or food must be really terrible for me to write a bad review, since I’ve been in that position. I get it. Customers suck sometimes. So, I try not to be a crappy customer. However, my experience at Café Hollander definitely tested my “don’t be a crappy customer or too hard on the waitstaff” mentality.
When I heard that a brand-new Café Hollander was opening up down the road from my house in Brookfield, I was thrilled. I love the Mequon location and used to dine there frequently, and although the Wauwatosa location is a bit small for my taste, I still love visiting in the summer to sit outside over the river and eat while the sun sets. With great experiences from two of the other locations, I had similar expectations from the Brookfield location.
When I walked in to the multilevel restaurant, I was in awe. It was one of the most beautiful restaurants I had ever been to. It was stunning; all rustic, polished wood interior, with a winding set of steps that opens on to an outdoor rooftop dining area. There was ample seating both indoor and outside on both levels, one section even resembling a glass greenhouse so that guests could enjoy the sun without being bothered by the wind. It was incredibly beautiful, with clean booths and tables, friendly staff and an enormous, crowded central bar.
The restaurant chain has a European feel, with primarily Belgian and Netherland-style cuisine. Eric Wagner is the sole owner and CEO of ‘Lowlands Group,’ the company that runs the Café Hollander restaurants across Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and the German-themed Café Bavaria in Wauwatosa. The name refers to the region in Europe that inspired the company’s focus on Belgian and Dutch cafes. Wagner and his former partner Mike Eitel started the chain with the hope of creating an American “Gezellig,” which is a Dutch word that is the English equivalent of “a cozy, or nice atmosphere, but can also connote the feeling of seeing someone after a long absence, or the warm feeling you get when spending time with friends,” according to the Lowlands website.
The first time I visited the Brookfield restaurant, it had just opened about two weeks prior. I had taken my sister and her family out to eat before they left town, and we were seated in the glass greenhouse section. It was pleasant at first, but there were no shades to keep the sun from blinding us, so I ended up wearing my sunglasses for the entire meal, as there was no other seating open for our small party.
We got her two-year-old set up in the highchair and ordered drinks. The menu was small and a bit overpriced for the portion sizes, but they had a variety of teas, coffees and imported European “biers” that sounded excellent. My sister ordered a “Rishi Tea,” which is a mixture of Chamomile, Earl Grey, Blueberry Rooibos, Tangerine Ginger, and White Peony. Sounds good, right? We never got to find out, since our server negligently set the boiling hot tea kettle and cup in front of my two-year-old nephew, who promptly grabbed it and tipped it all over my sister’s lap.
Ignoring the fact that this tea could have badly burned my nephew had he dumped it on himself, I naturally jumped up to help my sister, and the waitress left. I had assumed she had run to get some towels and maybe some ice, never she never returned. A different server delivered our food, which turned out to be quite good. I ordered the Brewcity Benedict, which was an incredibly delicious twist on the regular Eggs Benedict breakfast dish. It consisted of cheddar-chive biscuits in place of the English muffin, breakfast sausage patties, and poached eggs, all smothered in house-made hollandaise sauce. It was well worth the $11.95 that I paid for it, although the serving size could have a bit bigger.
After we were done eating, we sat and waited for more than 30 minutes for our server to return so we could ask for a refill on drinks, but she never came back. I eventually had to get up and have another server find her so that we could get our checks. When she returned with our checks, she muttered a quick “thank you,” and walked away. No “sorry about your tea,” or “let me get the manager to take that off your bill.” Not one small attempt at an apology or a way to amend her mistake. This experience had me a bit weary about coming back, but I chalked it up to a new restaurant with inexperienced servers, paid our bill and left.
Last week Sunday, my husband and I decided to bring a friend who was visiting us out to eat. Since Café Hollander had been open now for almost six months, I figured they would probably have more qualified waitstaff and the experience would be better.
Boy was I wrong. The restaurant was a bigger, hotter mess than the first time I’d come. I was away from the table when the server took drink orders, so I figured I’d order when she delivered the other drinks. When she came back, she promptly dropped off the drinks and walked away, completely ignoring me.
When she finally did return, I ordered an Almond Joy coffee, a delicious espresso spiked with Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate vodka, amaretto, coconut Monin syrup, Dutch chocolate and steamed milk. She informed me that they were out of the chocolate vodka and asked what I would like instead. She gave me a few options to choose from, so I ordered a shot of Bailey’s, which sounded pretty good. The drink was delicious with Bailey’s – creamy, frothy goodness with just the right amount of alcohol to warm me up after a long day at the Oconomowoc German Christmas Market.
When it came time to order food, we tried to order cheese curds, but they were apparently also out of that. We ended up ordering the soy-ginger duck wings, smothered in a sweet soy ginger glaze and crushed red pepper. The wings were alright; for a $13 appetizer, I expected them to be a bit better than the hard, tendon-filled wings that were delivered. However, split between two people, the wings were filling and satisfying enough.
After the waitress dropped off our drinks and food, she didn’t return again until she brought our bills. In my experience, a server comes back to check on the table regularly during the visit to make sure the guests have everything they need, so I was confused as to why she never returned. We could have used a few drink refills and some more napkins.
Then, when the waitress brought our bill, she had overcharged for my drink. Since they were out of chocolate vodka, she asked what I wanted instead of the vodka. She charged me for an extra $5 shot of Bailey’s instead of including it in the drink price as a replacement. When I tried to get her attention to ask her about the charge, she walked over to my table, grabbed my friend’s bill and walked away, ignoring me again. I waited for another 10 minutes for her to come back and eventually just gave up, paid cash for the bill and left, circling the $5 shot with a question mark on my way out.
For a restaurant that has such wonderful service, food and experiences at their other locations, I was shocked to have had multiple bad experiences at this one. I understand that the location is new, but it was incredibly disappointing to come back six months after opening day to find it still in the same chaotic, unorganized and slow-serviced state that it had been in when it first opened.