Forequarter’s focus on mixing simple with spectacular lives up to hype

When my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I only asked for one thing — a dinner at Forequarter. When I was in college a friend and I got a chance to eat at Underground Kitchen, and when it had to close because of a fire in the apartments above it I was very sad. I loved their dishes full of fresh, unique ingredients cooked and served in a very simple way. When Underground Food Collective decided to open another restaurant under a different name I knew I would love it. Unfortunately, because of its location, prices, size and the fact that it doesn’t take reservations, it took me a while to get to Forequarter. (NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was very dark in the dining room)

Forequarter
Forequarter

I know other people don’t like the no-reservation policy because when we got out of our vehicle a 4:58 pm groups of people from two other vehicles followed suit. We were all seated promptly at 5 pm and the tiny dining room that seats less than 20 filled up within the hour. The menu changes regularly, but based on what we got I can only assume I’d love anything they’d offer. Their menu seems to be broken into three categories — appetizers, small plates and entrees.

Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich
Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich


We decided to go all out and get an appetizer, a small plate, two entrees and a dessert. For our appetizer we had to get the braunschweiger sandwich because both of us genuinely like braunschweiger. The open-faced sandwich comes on toast with caramelized onion jam, mustard and radish. Braunschweiger can be fatty, greasy and sometimes the flavor can be a little sour or oddly seasoned, but Underground Meats clearly knows what it’s doing. Their braunschweiger was creamy, and was seasoned perfectly (not too salty and just enough garlic). The radish added a nice crunch and the peppery flavor worked well with the extremely rich braunschweiger. The onion jam and mustard took the sandwich to another level. The onion jam was that perfect combination of sweet and savory, and the seedy stout mustard was perfection. I loved how truly Wisconsin the sandwich was.

Forequarter warm potato salad
Forequarter warm potato salad

For our small plate we got a warm potato salad with a fried egg vinaigrette, pea shoots and pickled mushrooms. The super simple fried potatoes were elevated by the toppings. The vinaigrette was rich, creamy and tangy. I’d love to learn how to make the dressing so I could have it on my salads at home. The pea shoots’ crunchiness and freshness went great with the warm potatoes and rich dressing. The last (but definitely not least) components of the dish were the tiny pickled mushrooms. The pickled, savory beech mushrooms helped to balance the warm potatoes and rich dressing to keep the salad lighter. It was the tastiest and most unique potato salad I’ve ever had.

Forequarter steelhead trout
Forequarter steelhead trout

The first entree we decided to try was the Steelhead trout with black lentils, radish, burnt orange and herb butter. This dish was still very good, but less successful than the first two. The trout was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the skin was crispy…which is the best way to eat fish! The black lentils were perfectly seasoned, but may have been slightly overcooked. The roasted radishes were an interesting touch and added a great pepper flavor to the rich dish, but the burnt orange and herb butter did not impress me. The butter was not only an unappealing color (black), but it tasted like rotten citrus and dirt…we avoided it. The random pieces of mandarin orange were also oddly out of place.

Forequarter hanger steak
Forequarter hanger steak

Our second entree was the hanger steak with parsnip puree, smoked carrots, soubise and beef tendon. This dish was pretty special. To start, the hanger steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and was very tender. Sometimes parsnips are prepared sweet, but this puree was perfectly savory. I’m not sure what the flavors were (nothing stood out to me), but it went very well with the steak. The other three components are what took this dish up 10 notches. The smoked carrots were an extremely unique flavor and I loved them. The soubise was fantastic – I had to look up what soubise was and it is described as an onion bechamel sauce. I’m not sure why an onion sauce was so good, but I wanted more of it to eat with the steak. And then the beef tendon — it was basically a pork rind. I don’t love pork rinds, but this crispy fried pork tendon was a surprising and decadent addition to the dish.

Forequarter cookie plate
Forequarter cookie plate

For dessert we had to get the cookie plate (seriously…everyone I had talked to about Forequarter said we needed to get the cookie plate). We got four items on our cookie plate. Two of them were cookies – a salted pecan macaroon and a ginger molasses cookie. Two of them were candies – pepita toffee and chocolate covered bourbon caramel. The salted pecan macaroon was as good as macaroons can get. The cookie had a crunchy shell but a soft inside and the filling was the perfect balance of salty and sweet. The ginger molasses cookie was pretty special — it tasted exactly like my grandma’s gingersnap cookies, which means it had her special ingredient in it: bacon grease. There’s nothing better than a gingersnap cookie, except a gingersnap cookie with bacon grease. I don’t usually like candies, ironically I don’t actually like toffee or caramels, but these two were fantastic. The pepita toffee was crunchy, salty and buttery. I’ve never had toffee I liked, but I loved this one. The chocolate covered bourbon caramel was the same. Caramels usually just taste like sugary, chewy messes to me, but this one was not too sweet and the chocolate and caramel had a melty consistency. I loved all four of them.

FOOD NOTES: I had extremely high hopes for Forequarter and they were all justified. The braunschweiger sandwich and warm potato salad were impeccable. The trout was perfectly cooked, but some of the components of the dish were not great. The hanger steak was great and the extra components were spectacular. The cookie plate lived up to all the hype. The prices are a tad higher than the average restaurant, but not out of the question for the quality of the food and the creativity of the dishes. I offer two suggestions when visiting Forequarter — go hungry and order small plates and appetizers over entrees.

Cookhouse offers takeout with local ingredients

cookhouse sign

cookhouse
front counter

Based on the size of the Jordandal Cookhouse this blog should be super short but I have a surprisingly large amount to say about this tiny take-out restaurant in Verona. Jordandal Farms is known in the Madison area for locally-raised meat that they sell at farmers’ markets. But last year they opened a takeout restaurant in Verona that I have been excited to try for a while. It is a small little entry-way  in a strip mall with a chalkboard menu, a front counter and two large coolers. The chalkboard menu lists a couple different options (mostly sandwiches) that all come with a side.

cookhouse menu
menu board

There were a couple intriguing options but I have a thing for braunschweiger, so I couldn’t pass up the braunschweiger sandwich. It comes on rye bread with red onion, cheese and sweet and spicy mustard! That’s the exact way I make my braunschweiger sandwiches except I add tomato. For those of you who don’t know what braunschweiger is – it is a type of liverwurst that definitely takes an open mind and requires an acquired taste to enjoy it, but for some reason I love it! Most store-bought braunschweiger is kind of greasy and doesn’t have a great flavor, but every once in a while I find a good one that is lean and has a good combination of spices. The braunschweiger at the cookhouse is just that – lean with a great flavor of spices! It was a great sandwich and the mustard was the perfect compliment for the strong braunschweiger flavor. I will definitely be back for this sandwich!

cookhouse braunschweiger
braunschweiger sandwich
cookhouse burger
patty melt

My mom got the patty melt that comes on rye bread with bacon, mayo, caramelized onions and cheddar cheese. The sandwich was a nice size and had a good amount of ingredients on it, but it was dripping in grease. They must butter both pieces of bread before they toast them, making it so greasy we couldn’t taste the onions, cheese, mayo or bacon over the dripping butter. After I got sick of eating butter slathered bread I took it apart and ate the pieces separately, and to my surprise the beef patty was very good. The burger was nice and juicy but not greasy itself, and had a great seasoned flavor. The patty melt could be a fantastic sandwich if they would reconsider the amount of butter used to toast the bread.

cookhouse sides
sweet potato salad, cheese and salami

For our sides we chose a cold sweet potato salad and salami/cheese. The cheese and salami were very fresh and as far as we could tell (and with some digging from the girl working at the time), the salami is nitrate free. The cheese was a sharp brick cheese that matched the dry salami perfectly. The sweet potato salad was interesting. It was slightly mashed sweet potatoes with onions and some small pieces of bacon with a slightly sweet flavor. I’m not sure what they use to flavor the salad but I really liked that it was doused in dressing.

cookhouse sandwiches
wrapped sandwiches

FOODNOTES: The biggest thing to remember is that this is a carry-out place. There are no tables inside, but if it is a nice day out/summer, there are some picnic tables outside you can use. The girl working said the cookhouse also sells packaged meat and serves as a pickup location for meat orders. If you go, avoid the patty melt because the amount of butter they use overwhelms all of the other flavors. If you’re up for it…try the traditional Wisconsin braunschweiger sandwich. Some of the dinner specials listed that day (we couldn’t get them because we were there at lunch) looked very good; they had house stew, Wisconsin mac and cheese, and brisket — all worthy of being ordered I’m sure! Another interesting thing about the menu are the different culinary influences present – they have Korean BBQ and pork tacos on the daily menu. I’m not sure you could go wrong with any of their sides, but they do offer a homemade butterscotch pudding I’d like try next time I’m there. Prices are slightly higher than average but remember, you are paying for locally-raised meat on your sandwiches or for your dinner. Also, this isn’t a very vegetarian-friendly place, but they do offer a grilled cheese and their mac and cheese without the sausage.