Joining a decent-sized list of restaurants on Monroe Street by Wingra Park, Freiburg Gastropub opened last year and is a good addition. The German-stye pub is dark and cozy even with the big windows at the front of the building. The bar takes up an entire wall, probably to accommodate the large beer menu they have.
I went with some friends and, after Googling half of the menu to make sure we knew what our options were, we got a pretzel with house mustard and cheese spread to start. The pretzel had a bit too much salt on top, but after scraping about half of it off it was perfect…dense and rich on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. The mustard had the perfect level of heat, but the cheese spread was hard to eat with the soft pretzel. I’d prefer the cheese to be dip-able, and this stuff was definitely not dip-able.
TIP: You also get pretzel rolls with your meal that are just as amazing, so ordering the pretzel probably isn’t necessary.
Since it was Friday, I decided to get the Freiburg fish fry — panko breaded rainbow trout, a potato pancake and coleslaw. I loved that the trout wasn’t heavily breaded…it was just enough to add a good crisp. The potato pancake was good, but was basically just a hash brown, and the coleslaw was good, but nothing special. All-in-all it was a very good meal.
My friends got the Schweinshaxen — beer braised pork shank with mashed potatoes and mustard — and Huhn — oven roasted half chicken, sauteed spaetzle, vegetables and riesling butter sauce. The most memorable thing about the Schweinshaxen was the size! It was probably one of the largest pieces of pork I’ve seen on a plate. I tried the spaetzle that came with the Huhn and it was what I was expecting — soft and buttery…like buttered noodles!
FOOD NOTES: If you’re willing to Google most of the items on the menu, you’ll get a great meal at Freiburg Gastropub. If you’re hungry for a good pretzel, pass on ordering one and wait for the pretzel rolls they’ll bring to your table. If you’re not super hungry, split a dish with someone because they’re huge servings. I want to go back and try their Reuben sandwich and the cheesy spaetzle with sausage. They also have a deli-style lunch menu and a brunch menu that both sound very promising.
Madison is definitely a food-lovers paradise but most restaurants don’t get featured in two local publications (Madison Magazine, Isthmus) before it even opens. I don’t remember why Dan Fox’s new restaurant Heritage Tavern got so much pre-opening attention, but I was definitely excited about going when some friends suggested it as our dinner stop for the night! Another reason I was excited about going to Heritage Tavern was because of the location. I went to Underground Kitchen before the apartment building above it caught fire and loved it. The atmosphere was awesome. The food was great. Needless to say, I was sad when Underground Kitchen decided not to reopen somewhere else (and yes, Forequarter, their new restaurant, is on my list!). So, I was also excited about getting to see how another restaurant would use the space.
The Heritage Tavern space is broken up into two dining rooms, mainly because of the large brick wall separating the two sides. I love that there are steps down into the dining room closest to the kitchen. I thought the bare brick wall, tile floors and wooden chairs with a fox cutout were perfectly industrial and homey at the same time. I also loved the little appetizer plates with the pink pigs on them!
I think the menu goes in two distinct directions: classic/savory and interesting/Asian. Those two flavor profiles also cross quite a bit on the menu. On my first visit my friends and I got the Tuna & Escolar Poke. I don’t usually do too well with raw fish but this was amazing. The tuna and escolar were not fishy at all, and they were a perfect marinated flakey texture. The marinade was not too salty but still had a great flavor. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicate the dish was considering the “tavern” in the name and my expectation of the restaurant to focus on meat, pork specifically. Along with our appetizer came a plate of bread, honey butter and house pickled vegetables. The bread and honey butter were not exceptional, but the house picked vegetables were fantastic! The pickle flavor was perfectly tart and had another level of flavor usually lacking in pickled things. I loved the pickle plate!
For my entree choice I decided to go with fish and got the Great Lakes Whitefish. The fish was cooked perfectly with crispy edges and a flakey center. The clams on top and creamy grits on the bottom added a richness that was perfectly cut by the vinaigrette. The spinach and haricots verts were good but nothing exceedingly special. I was very happy with my choice and felt everything on the plate complimented the entire dish very well.
One of my friends got the Sake Poached Mackerel. I didn’t try too much of it because it came with cilantro on it, but he loved it. My other friend got the Roasted Cauliflower Beer Cheese Soup (served, of course, with popcorn) and the Roasted Beet Salad. The soup was good but the standout, in my opinion, was the beet salad. It came with beets, pears, goat cheese, figs and dark chocolate. I was impressed by the size of this salad and how many of the premium toppings (beets, pears, figs) it had on top. I’m not usually a fan of sweet salads but this one was exceptional.
Time for dessert! They had three different options and of course the best one was the chocolate tart. It came with caramel sauce, a homemade chocolate nib and chocolate espresso ice cream. The amazingly buttery and flakey crust was filled with a fantastically smooth chocolate. The chocolate espresso ice cream had a fantastic flavor and actual ground espresso in it, which I loved! The little homemade cocoa nib was a great decorative addition but also stood out on its own with the unexpectedly crispy texture. I loved the dessert all together but the caramel sauce wouldn’t be missed if they took it off.
FOODNOTES: The prices are what you would expect from a restaurant that got the hype it did before it even opened its doors. I don’t think it will become one of my regular stops because of the prices, but I will definitely be back again! I love the Asian flare throughout the traditional high-end Wisconsin tavern food. I loved the Tuna and Escolar Poke, and was exceedingly impressed that they were able to keep it so delicate with all of that flavor. I have never had such a perfectly cooked piece of fish as the one in my entree, and loved that my dish was balanced with both heavy savory flavors and light fresh flavors. I’m not usually a sweets fan but that chocolate tart and chocolate espresso ice cream could convert me! I’m pretty sure I can speak for all three of us at the table and say we would all go back again (and probably will)!