Ohio Tavern (Formerly Genna’s Cocktail Lounge)

Tacos at Their Best – Who Knew?

It’s always a good thing when the occasion arises to meet someone for a business meeting in the Willy Street / Marquette area. We get to eat good food, try something new and maybe introduce someone to the great food joints that are in the area. But the best thing about it is, I get the chance to do some impromptu, under-the radar restaurant reviewing.

Such was the case the other day when I met a business contact, now friend, at the Ohio Tavern on…Ohio Street. I had heard some good things so I jumped at the opportunity when my friend suggested the place.

Walking in it looks a lot like so many neighborhood taverns for which Wisconsin is famous – or infamous. The neon Blatz sign above the door outside that just reads, “Drink Blatz Beer”, is reminiscent of a time past when I lived in Milwaukee. The woodwork behind the bar is home to an army of booze bottles standing at attention, quiet sentinels of history. The old wood bar is spectacular! I couldn’t help but think about everything it had seen over the 53 years it played host to the drinks of the bar’s patrons.

blatz sign

***The sound of a stylus across a vinyl record***

(Go ahead and try it)

I found out later that the new owners have been renovating for 6 – 7 months. I don’t know what has been retained from the past and what has not. I haven’t a clue.

I did sit at the closest end of the bar as my friend was there already and waiting with beer in hand. I asked if they had Jack Daniels Fire in stock. The bartender, over a few “boooos” from down the bar said, and I quote, “No flavored liquor here – college bars are downtown.” I replied in a loud voice as though it was coming from the locals, “Get outta here!” Everyone laughed and I quietly began a discussion about the beer they carried.

The house does, in fact, stock Blatz but has several New Glarus labels as well, so at the suggestion of the bartender, I got Totally Naked…ehem, err, … ”a” Totally Naked…you know – New Glarus? Drink indigenously?

So, as my friend and I are talking, I noticed that that end of the bar where we’re sitting is basically the kitchen. Much of the prep is apparently done in a real kitchen downstairs and food is just assemble there in the corner at the end of the bar. This also reminded me of many old tap rooms in the Milwaukee area where food is prepared elsewhere and served out of steam tables.

If that would bother you, banish those negative thoughts immediately. If you don’t, you’re going to miss out on something very special.

In the few minutes I had been sitting there, several taco orders went out and they were looking good so I asked for a menu. Ten different tacos are featured! That’s ridiculous…and all looked good.

Tacos are $4 each or three for $11. Before you say anything let me share something with you, this is NOT Taco Bell! These are TACOS like you may not have seen before. Check out the menu.

I just asked the cook, “May I mix and match to get three?” Absolutely I could, so I had him prepare one each of the top three most popular. What I got was nothing short of amazing. Three tacos presented themselves on the scene in front of me, nestled nicely in a basket. The cook must have seen the look on my face at that very moment, because he smiled big and made the introductions:

  • “This one is the Classic – marinated carnitas, white onion, radish, jalapeno and cilantro”
  • “This beauty is the p.b.r – chicken, bacon, arugula, pico and avocado ranch crema”
  • “And this guy is the Old Boy – carnitas, rice, kimchi, bacon and charred scallion dressing”

A set of five house made hot sauces were set next to the basket with a bit of a cautionary explanation, “These are our house-made hot sauces and they range from mild to pretty hot but all have a good flavor.” I was told that a good way to approach the hot sauce was to experiment beginning with the mild and moving up from there as far as I wanted to go.

I thanked the young lady and grabbed the hot one – Mango Reaper, made from the hybrid Carolina Reaper, reported to be the hottest pepper on the planet. I told her that we grow them in our balcony garden. It had some kick, to be sure, but my hot sauce loving comrades out there shouldn’t be warned off. (Do you here that Krystle?)

Knowing how hot the top was, I knew there was no need for me to walk too far down the mild side. I did try the Honey Thai Chili and the Pineapple Habanero. All three were very good, flavorful and had its share of kick, but not over the top.

My young lady friend who brought the hot sauce called out to the bartender, “Hey, Josh, you have a candidate for the ‘Jigsaw’”. The bartender walked over and placed a small, dark brown vial with an eye dropper in front of me. It had a homemade label on it that simply read, “Jigsaw”.

I know you’re going to be disappointed, but I didn’t go there. I’ll leave that for someone else. (I’m referring to you Krystle?) Don’t mind me.

Well, the tacos and hot sauce options completely hijacked my attention. I know the cooks prepare some excellent soup, there are tamales on the menu and three varieties of Mexican street corn. I am going to have to cover those items in another review visit.

I hate when that happens.

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