Brewery surprises with unique, upscale menu

I haven’t had good luck when trying to eat at breweries. The food is usually sub-par and the only reason people keep going back is for the beer. I’m not a beer drinker, so it’s usually not as great of a visit for me as for others. But Karben4 off Stoughton Road by MATC is definitely different than other breweries I’ve been to. Their dining room is literally inches from their brewing and bottling space. And based on my super scientific calculations, their kitchen is about 1/4 the size of their brewing facilities, but it sure does churn out some fantastic dishes.

 

karben4Here’s how I would describe the options on the menu: take normal brewery or bar food — jack the flavor up on steroids, use local ingredients and toss some beer into most dishes for good measure.

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

When I went with Michelle we got to try a couple different options, but we started with the housemade pretzels and cheddar horseradish sauce. The pretzels were perfect — crusty, salty crust, and a fluffy, butter center. The cheese sauce was so good I wanted to lick the container clean.

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

karben4 portabella 2The portabella sandwich is one of the vegetarian options on the menu. It has a balsamic roasted portabella mushroom with mozzarella, basil aioli, spinach, tomato and onion between two pieces of panini-ed bread. The veggie option was good (and I would recommend it to my veggie friends), but I would not choose it over the other sandwich we got to try.

Karben4 ruben

Karben4 reuben

karben4 reubenThe summer sausage reuben just sounds ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anyone making a reuben with summer sausage, but Karben4 does it and they do it well. The sandwich comes out on a housemade pretzel roll (come on!! the sandwich is already winning with that) and has summer sausage, kraut made with their Lady Luck beer, housemade Russian dressing and aged whited cheddar cheese. I’m not quite sure how to explain this sandwich except to use these words: sinful, fantastic, decadent, unique, scrumptious and one more — perfect. The pretzel roll was super soft and moist. The kraut had a great earthy flavor without being too tart. The Russian dressing was smooth and tangy. The cheddar added a great Wisconsin feeling to the sandwich and the summer sausage was not nearly as intrusive or heavy as I was expecting it to be. I’m not sure what more I could ask for in the perfect sandwich.

Karben 4 chocolate tart

Karben 4 chocolate tart

We also go to try their chocolate tart made with one of their beers — I ate it so fast I didn’t get a chance to note which beer it was, but I don’t have to know which beer the tart is made with to know that it was tasty. It wasn’t too sweet and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The drizzle of raspberry was basically useless because I couldn’t taste it over the other strong flavors in the dessert.

FOOD NOTES: If you’re going to Karben4 for the beer, DO NOT skip ordering food. If you’re not a beer drinker…trust me, their menu has enough great things on it to satisfy. Another unique thing about Karven4 is that they don’t serve french fries…all of their sandwiches come with a small side salad, which made me feel better about eating a ruben made with summer sausage!

 

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Top-notch brunch features quality ingredients, great flavors

oliver's signMy favorite meal is breakfast. I love breakfast in the morning and breakfast for lunch and nothing beats breakfast for dinner. Then there’s brunch — brunch is basically an excuse to eat breakfast anytime before dinner on the weekends! There are a lot of places that do brunch well in Madison, but a newcomer on the near west side hit it out of the park. Oliver’s Public House opened on Old University Avenue a couple months ago and a friend and I decided to try out their brunch first.

Oliver’s Public House is in the ground-level commercial space of a newer apartment complex right at the start of Old University Avenue by the hospital. The space is a mix of rustic and industrial materials with dark wood and metal details, but the big windows keep it bright and sunny inside. The other notable thing was that there was a smokiness that kept wafting out of the kitchen every time someone went in or out, so it felt super homey inside.

Oliver's steak and eggs

Oliver’s steak and eggs

I got the steak and eggs that came with onions, mushrooms, two eggs, hollandaise sauce and rosti potatoes. There were a lot of good things about this dish so I’m going to post a list:

  • Perfect serving of steak (at least 4 oz)
  • Steak was crispy on the outside and medium rare on the inside
  • The rosti potatoes were crispy, salty and the perfect base for the eggs
  • The onions and mushrooms were crispy
  • The hollandaise sauce was rich and creamy, but not too heavy…it had a light citrusy flavor to it
Oliver's Willi's omelet

Oliver’s Willi’s omelet

My friend got the Willi’s omelet with caramelized shallots, bacon, spinach, apple, cheddar cheese and hollandaise sauce. The omelet also came with breakfast potatoes and a salad. She said the omelet was the best omelet she’s ever had. I tried the salad, which had a light, citrusy vinaigrette on it.

oliver'sFOOD NOTES: I was extremely happy with my breakfast at Oliver’s Public House. I was pleasantly surprised by the serving size, the quality of ingredients and the flavors in my simple steak and eggs dish. My steak was great, the rosti potatoes were fantastic and the hollandaise was perfect. I can’t wait to go back and try stuff on their promising dinner menu!

Bakery’s lunch just as impressive as sweet treats

Rolling Pin Bake Shop, Fitchburg

Rolling Pin Bake Shop, Fitchburg

Bakeries are great, but bakeries that also serve food are even better. I’ve never eaten lunch at my favorite bakery, Scott’s, so I don’t have much to compare it to, but Rolling Pin Bake Shop‘s lunch impressed me. Based on my first visit with a friend and her daughter, I would totally recommend this place for a casual lunch or some fun baked goodies.

cake and cupcake case

cake and cupcake case

decorated cookie case

decorated cookie case

cookie case

cookie case

The day we went they had three full bakery cases plus a rack of bread and a spinning case full of treats. They had four different types of quiche on special, plus a homemade soup on top of their regular menu. One case was full of different types of cookies, another one had cakes and cupcakes, and a third had decorated sugar cookies. The spinning case was filled with chocolate-dipped treats and other specialty items.

apple puff

apple pastry

It took me about 15 minutes to settle on the apple pastry and a molasses cookie. The apple pastry smelled so good I definitely didn’t wait until after my sandwich was even delivered to devour it. The flaky pastry crust was super buttery, and the filling was your basic apple pie filling. I liked that the filling wasn’t too sweet and had a good cinnamon flavor. Since I ate the pastry there, I would have liked it warmed up but I forgot to ask before I finished it off. The molasses cookie (sorry…I ate it before remembering to take a picture) was perfect, but only if you like your molasses cookies soft. Some people like them crispy, but I like them chewy in the middle and just slightly crispy on the edges. Rolling Pin’s version was just that, plus it was topped with granulated sugar that helped cut the slight bitterness of the molasses. It was definitely one of the best (still not better than grandma’s though!) molasses cookies I’ve had.

turkey club

turkey club

For lunch I went with what I thought was going to be a simple turkey club sandwich, but the sourdough bread, applewood smoked bacon and other fresh ingredients elevated the sandwich above what I was expecting. The sandwich was also surprisingly large for the price ($8).

FOOD NOTES: Don’t let the strip mall or facade of a bakery fool you — the lunch at Rolling Pin Bake Shop is super good. Don’t get me wrong — they’re baked goods were great (I will totally be back for a molasses cookie), but their lunch is what stood out as surprisingly tasty for a great price. Everyone working and eating there (including a pair of cops on their lunch break — I love it when you can tell they’re regulars!) were super nice. There aren’t a ton of good restaurant options in Fitchburg (there are a decent amount of chains, but not a lot of local places)…so if you’re in Fitchburg and in need a good lunch spot, I recommend Rolling Pin.