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┬ánewer 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!

Sophia’s serves mediocre food in a cramped space

I put a lot of stock in restaurant reviews on Yelp. I feel that the masses will reflect the actual quality of a restaurant. Usually I read the first five reviews and then a couple of the really bad ones to have a good expectation of what I’m walking in to. The first time Yelp reviews have really led me in the wrong direction was for Sophia’s on Johnson Street. The reviews said Sophia’s has the best breakfast in town, and I couldn’t disagree more.

The first strike against Sophia’s happened when I picked a friend up for breakfast on a Friday and Sophia’s was closed. Apparently, Sophia’s is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. That does not seem like a good business plan to me.

A month later that same friend and I drove back over to Sophia’s on a Saturday for breakfast. Sophia’s is in a small building on Johnson Street that is so nondescript I have driven by it dozens of times and have never noticed it. When you walk in the first thing you will notice is that there are only five tables and a small counter by the front window. I’m not against small restaurants but this takes “small” to an extreme. To get to the only open table in the place (which I didn’t think there was going to be one for us when we first walked in) we had to awkwardly climb over two people sitting at the table in front of the empty table. You order at a counter and they bring your food out to you. But the weird part about Sophia’s is that once you’ve waited in line to order, then you have to wait in line again when you’re done eating to pay, because you pay after you’re done eating. Usually if you order at a counter you do the whole ordering and paying thing in one transaction. Having to wait in line once we were done eating just to pay was super inconvenient.

Sophia's cinnamon roll
Sophia’s cinnamon roll

I could be persuaded to forgive the cramped space and the odd payment system if the food had been great. But unfortunately it was not. The cinnamon roll we got was more like a cinnamony morning bun with an odd lemon glaze on top. I’m sorry but when I want a cinnamon roll I want it to be frosted or glazed with vanilla or cream cheese goodness…not an oddly tart lemon concoction.

Sophia's omelet
Sophia’s omelet

Their menu, not posted online anywhere, is written on a chalkboard, which I’m assuming means it changes. When we were there they were offering a couple different omelets and breakfast sandwiches, as well as pancakes. I’m a savory breakfast person so I got an omelet. It had cheese, ham and peppers in it. The peppers were tasteless and seemed like they may have come out of a can. The omelet itself was kind of watery and the cheese was sparse. I was thoroughly unimpressed, especially because the guy sitting behind me at a different table kept rocking his chair into mine the entire time. The omelet also came with breakfast potatoes that weren’t crunchy enough for my taste and were very bland.

Sophia's apple pancakes
Sophia’s apple pancakes

My friend got apple pancakes, which were the special that day (but she said the last time she was there the special was the same so my guess is it doesn’t change very often).

FOOD NOTES: My favorite restaurant in my hometown only has about a dozen tables, and I’m able to overlook the small space because the food is so good. The one thing that place does well is that even though they have 12 tables, there’s a reasonable amount of space between them so you don’t have to climb over people to get to a table. The food at Sophia’s is nowhere near good enough to make up for their annoying dining area. The lemon flavor on their cinnamon roll was not appreciated, and their omelets and breakfast potatoes were subpar. Their prices were also a bit high for the extremely cramped and rundown dining area we had to endure.