AVONDALE — It took a bit longer than anticipated, but the owners of Moonlight Vulture promise it was worth the wait.
The late-night diner opens Friday at 2889 N. Milwaukee Ave., bringing vegetarian friendly, casual food to an Avondale corridor in need of some new life.
It took almost a year to renovate the former mattress store and get it up to code for food service — longer than the eight months the owners anticipated.
"I thought that seemed completely reasonable," co-owner Alan Leeking said. "Then every time a problem came up, it would take at least a month for someone to correct that and then make sure it was OK."
The delays were frustrating, naturally, but Kickstarter backers were understanding, said Leeking's business partner, Adam Paul. The pair provided monthly updates, "even if it was just voicing frustrations and why we were behind," Paul said.
But the restaurant is almost ready for its Friday opening. Behind its unassuming storefront, Moonlight Vulture is bright and minimalist, with royal blue and lilac walls brightening up the sparse space.
Booths, tables and chairs from the demolished Ed Debevic's are in place, along with two large signs from the famously snarky spot.
Two weeks ago, about two dozen of the 100 people who helped raise $10,727 for the restaurant got to sample its wares at a reward dinner. Neighbors also got a sneak peek during A Day In Avondale Oct. 1, and Moonlight Vulture handed out coffee and samples of its bundt cake.
The bundt cakes will be the main dessert for now, wrapping up a condensed menu that Paul and Leeking hope to expand as business grows.
For now, the diner will serve up three veggie burgers — mushroom pecan walnut, curry potato and poblano black bean — and a salmon burger.
Leeking, the vegan of the pair, will make cold tofu-based sandwiches mimicking egg, chicken and tuna salad. Paul, who pushed for the menu to include fish, will serve up tuna melts, crab cake sandwiches and grilled cheese.
Leeking's oyster mushroom po'boy is a must-try, as is the salmon burger, Paul said.
"Those are two items people say they can't get enough of," Paul said.
Salads, soups and sides like baked macaroni and cheese (both classic and vegan styles) will round out the menu. Moonlight Vulture also has a carefully chosen stock of specialty sodas and a house blend of coffee from Luna Cafe, a small-batch roastery in De Pere, Wisconsin.
The diner opens on the stretch of Milwaukee near Diversey that makes up one of Avondale's more populated corridors. Moonlight Vulture is one block away from La Farine Bakery, Giordano's and Moe's Tavern, yet plenty of vacant storefronts remain.
Rumor has it a couple other new businesses are in the works, including a cafe, a condo building and possibly a Panera Bread, Paul said.
"Some people ask if that's worrisome, but I think in general in business, it's better to see an entire neighborhood growing," Paul said. "We're trying to have a specific type of food and customer, so we just get excited about seeing more things coming in and opening."
Moonlight Vulture will open Friday and Saturday from 4 p.m. until midnight for its soft opening. Starting Monday, it will be open 3 to 11 p.m. on weekdays and until midnight on weekends.
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