One of my all-time best meals was the dinner I had with some friends at Merchant during the 2013 Restaurant Week. I think it stands out to me because it was the first time I had mussels and now I love mussels! I also love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which doesn’t lose it’s appeal in broad daylight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been back since my first visit until the I went to Merchant during the 2014 Restaurant Week for lunch. Merchant serves up classic foodie food for dinner, but for lunch they mostly serve salads and sandwiches.
For restaurant week they offered a soup and three salads for appetizers. I ordered the buttermilk salad that came with golden beets, radish, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese so I ordered it with feta instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh. My friend Michelle ordered the Caesar salad, but it was too anchovy-y for her, so we switched. The Caesar salad was pretty simple (romaine hearts, creamy anchovy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese), but what made it memorable was the flavor of the dressing. What Michelle didn’t like about the salad ended up being my favorite part. The tangy, salty flavor was interesting and something I had never tasted before. It was very good.
For entrees Merchant was offering about a half dozen sandwiches, but it was a no brainer that we order the fried chicken sandwich. A couple weeks before our visit a local website did a poll for best sandwich in Madison and this sandwich was near the top. There were two options: classic or buffalo-style. Michelle and I decided to order one of each and split the sandwiches to see which one we liked better. The classic fried chicken sandwich came on a brioche bun with coleslaw. It was fresh, tasty and surprisingly not too heavy for a fried chicken sandwich. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, crispy and not greasy. The coleslaw was perfectly creamy and crunchy. But the one thing the classic sandwich was missing was the extra ingredient on the buffalo-style sandwich: buffalo sauce. That little bit of spice and vinegar added a great contrast to the creamy coleslaw and the savory fried chicken. If I were to order the sandwich again I would definitely go with the buffalo-style. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were good.
For dessert they were offering sorbet, gelato or a brownie sundae. Of course, I chose the brownie sundae with chocolate sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The brownie was not overly sweet — it tasted almost like dark chocolate. The entire sundae was a fancier version of a classic brownie sundae. It was super good! I also got a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly flavorful and smooth.
FOOD NOTES: Both meals I’ve had at Merchant exceeded expectations. Merchant will always be one of my top picks for places to visit during restaurant week because their food is so good and the price is so right. The Caesar salad was very unique and had a great flavor. The fried chicken sandwich lives up to the hype — especially the buffalo-style version, and the brownie sundae was a great upgraded version of a classic. The only complaint I have is that we had to sit at an awkward table attached to a pillar on high stools — kind of uncomfortable and kind of in the way.