I think I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again — I’m all about the townie bar. I’ve found that you can usually find the best atmospheres, prices, food and people at townie bars. There’s a reason people keep going back to these places and the owners usually don’t make changes very often. The Village Bar, right where Mineral Point Road veers and changes into Speedway Road, is one of those places.
When you walk in you’ll notice there are only about a dozen tables and the same number of bar stools. The other thing you’ll notice is that even though they have a food menu there’s no kitchen — they have a small cook top and fryer at the front end of the bar that handles everything. Their menu is pretty simple – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a sausage and cheese plate (which is about as basic as it can be), fries and chips. The menu also listed steak, pork chops, brats and hotdogs, but I didn’t see anyone get any of those items. Oh yeah, one more thing — everything is served on styrofoam plates.
I got the cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese and an order of fries. The burger itself was decent — a good size, had a good char — but the bun was pathetic. They steam the bun on the cook top, but I would prefer it to be grilled or toasted or left alone, because what was left was a soggy hunk of bread that was too small and too mushy to do any good. The cheese was a completely different story. I’m not sure how many slices they use, but the cheese was almost as thick as the burger. I really enjoyed the cheese in the beginning – it was melty and thick – but by the end it had congealed a little and the amount seemed unnecessary. But that also could have been caused by the fact that I was chatting too much and not eating fast enough! The fries were decent, but nothing special.
FOOD NOTES: Honestly, I loved the atmosphere at the Village Bar. It was super chill and very Badgers sports focused (I was there to watch my Badgers men’s basketball team squash Coastal Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, so that was a plus!). Everything on the menu (including beer from what I remember) is under $5, so that’s also something to note. The next time I head to the Village Bar I will probably skip the cheese on my burger and I will definitely get a super old school cheese and sausage plate to enjoy during the game.
You’ll notice I use the term “townie” on my headline. Some people may take that negatively, but I mean that affectionately. There are a ton of amazing townie bars in Wisconsin, and I love visiting them!. What it basically means to me is that all of the locals go there, and they go there for a reason. Townie bars are usually a little off the beaten path, and typically don’t have amazing food. After looking at the menu at Club Tavern in Middleton my expectations were pretty low for their food because it seemed like a quintessential townie bar menu with generic appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and the token salad listings.
When we walked in to Club Tavern the expectations for the food went down even more. The door to the grungy storage room was open and 100 percent visible right when we walked in, we had to wait at the front door for a decent amount of time (as employees walked right by) to be told we could sit anywhere, the booth we chose to sit at was sticky and my seat was crooked, it was super dark inside and the decor was definitely odd. The highlights of the dining room were the tin ceilings, the exposed brick (except the brick right by my seat that had a bunch of garbage shoved in it) and the cool round booths in the front.
I decided to go with the Ragin’ Cajun burger that had “haystack onions,” bacon, pepper jack cheese and Bourbon Street mayo on top. Again, I wasn’t expecting much with this burger, but when the massive portion arrived my expectations got a little higher. The burger was massive with a great blackened, spicy, crispy outside. The downfall to the burger were the “haystack onions,” which was a pile of generic fried onions on top. The onions were not exceptionally good, and were completely unnecessary. Once they were removed, the burger was pretty fantastic. The bun was soft, the rest of the toppings were fresh and in good proportion with each other. The fries absolutely sucked. They were barely seasoned, not crispy and definitely came out of a box. The shining glory on the plate was a completely unexpected tomato and red onion relish with a housemade balsamic dressing on top. The chef who delivered our lunch seemed extra excited to explain it to me when I asked him what it was. The relish was a great compliment to the heavy burger.
The service was kind of 50/50. Our waitress didn’t seem to care at all that she had a table, and it really wasn’t busy. My water was only filled after it had been empty for quite a few minutes, and she was very absent between taking our order and bringing our bill. The other 50 percent of that equation were the two visits from what I can only assume was the chef and the owner. The guy who brought our food out was super nice and answered my questions about the relish with excitement. Another guy came to ask us how our food was and was also super nice. Our waitress could learn a thing or two from those two.
FOOD NOTES: Don’t discount this townie bar in the middle of Middleton. I can’t vouch for their entire menu, but based on the specks of glory in my meal, there are probably some pretty impressive things hiding amongst the traditional bar food. The fries were the most disappointing part of the meal. I am a french fry lover to the end, and it takes a truly special burger to overshadow poor fries. The Ragin’ Cajun barely makes up for the dumpy french fries I was served, but I would go back to try other options on the menu. Club Tavern needs to amp up it’s sides and appetizers to the level of their amazing burger and that unexpectedly amazing side of relish.
There are a bunch of restaurants on Willy Street that have been on my “places to visit” list for a long time. It takes time for me to get to these restaurants because I live so far away and there’s a population of “regulars” that clog up those restaurants everyday. I don’t mind fighting for a table, that’s usually a sign of a good restaurant, but sometimes it feels weird being the only one in the restaurant that isn’t on a first name basis with the bartender. A couple weeks ago a friend and I were planning on grabbing an earlier dinner and I thought that would be a good time to try and grab a table at a Willy Street restaurant. After considering all the options, my vegetarian friend and I decided to go to the Weary Traveler. They are known for their Bob’s Bad Breath Burger with garlic in every component, but they are also known for having a decent amount of vegetarian options.
When we got there we had a hard time getting in to the actual building. The first two doors we tried were locked, and we stood outside slightly confused for a couple seconds before a “local” walking past told us the door was around the corner. Once we finally got inside, we had no idea what to do. It wasn’t clear if we were supposed to wait to be seated or grab a table, so I held our spot at the entrance and my friend went to investigate. While she was gone the bartender randomly yelled that I should take a small table in the middle of the room. From what I could tell, there were two dining rooms divided by a wall covered in eclectic stuff (I have to use that word for lack of a better one, there were pictures, books, globes, metal signs, musical instruments, etc. all over the walls). The bar runs the entire width of the building, and the entire restaurant was a bit too dark for me (I felt like it was almost at the point where I would have to use my cellphone light to read the menu). The dining room we were in was extremely cramped. Multiple times servers had to swing dishes over our heads to get them to their destinations, and when our waiter was talking to us he inevitably ended up in the way of another server. They also didn’t mention they had specials. We figured that out by looking around at all the stuff on the wall and realized that one of them was an actual specials board.
My intent from the beginning was to get the Bob’s Bad Breath Burger for two reasons: 1. it’s what they are known for, and 2. I love garlic in any and every capacity. But for some reason that night I was not in the mood for a burger. So I asked about the Cioppino listed on the specials board. A Google search before the waiter came back told me a Cioppino is a seafood stew that can be cream or tomato based. Now seafood and cream sounds like an extremely disgusting combination to me so I was really hoping theirs was tomato based. The waiter told me it was indeed tomato based, came with mussels and salmon, and had a great flavor (he said he had the Cioppino instead of his normal choice for dinner). So I got the Cioppino with a heavy heart knowing that I had always wanted to try the Bad Breath Burger. But once the stew was set down in front of me I didn’t think about the burger anymore. It was steaming hot and a surprisingly large serving. The broth had a great earthy tomato and seafood flavor; something very hearty and homey. There were large, perfectly cooked chunks of salmon in it alongside corn, onions, and peppers. I was also very excited to find there were three mussels hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. Fish stew is not an appealing description but this was one of the best specials at a hipster pub I have ever had.
My friend couldn’t decide between two of the vegetarian options so she got a cup of the vegetarian chili and the grilled cheese. She enjoyed both, but my favorite of the two was the vegetarian chili. Vegetarian chili tends to be pretty flavorless (based on most of my experiences with veggie chili), but this one was pretty great. I’m not sure what was in it but the couple spoonfuls I had were great. The grilled cheese had cheddar and mozzarella on it, which were perfectly melty and stringy. The sandwich was a bit too heavy for my liking though because the bread tasted like two thick pieces of garlic bread made into a sandwich. Some people might really like that heaviness, but it was too greasy and heavy for me.
FOODNOTES: Don’t worry if you can’t figure out how to get in or how to get a table…they will even still serve you if they don’t know your name. To avoid the super hipster crowd try being there before 7pm. Make sure you look around for the specials board and consider what they have…mine turned out super well. The prices are on par with what you would expect for a hipster pub on Willy St. in Madison, but the food is a ton better than a generic pub. None of their desserts sounded worth it (they had ice cream and two random cakes listed), but I will definitely be back to try the Bad Breath Burger sometime!