New Monroe St restaurant may have best cheese curds in town

Gates and Brovi
Gates and Brovi

There’s nothing more Wisconsin and more Madison than deep fried cheese curds. Most restaurants in the city and the state have them on their menus, and places that pull them frozen out of box should be ashamed. There’s something special about a good homemade fried cheese curd dipped in homemade ranch dressing. When talking about cheese curds in Madison most people talk about the curds at the Old Fashioned, Graze, The Tipsy Cow, the Avenue Bar or the curds served at local breweries. I’m a huge fan of all of these places, and when I visited Gates and Brovi on Monroe Street I was not expecting to find a frontrunner for the best cheese curds in Madison.

Gates and Brovi cheese curds
Gates and Brovi cheese curds

The restaurant opened about a year ago and hasn’t made too much noise in the food scene, but I was excited to try it because of some good things I had heard about the food. The menu seems a little confused and unfocused offering salads, clams, shrimp, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and pasta. I tend to go for something other than sandwiches or burgers unless they sound super original, so I went with the roasted beet and avocado salad. But first we decided to get the fried cheese curds. They came in a little red basket, and had extremely light batter that was not greasy. The white cheese curds were extremely fresh and perfectly melty. I’m not sure what type of batter they use, but it is definitely a lot lighter than the normal beer batter on Wisconsin cheese curds. They were fantastic! And the homemade ranch dressing was perfectly tangy and creamy.

Gates and Brovi beet salad
Gates and Brovi beet salad

The roasted beet and avocado salad also had red onions, carrots, radishes, arugula, queso fresco and a tangy orange dressing. I don’t like citrus dressings so I got a balsamic dressing instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh, but not extremely flavorful. The balsamic dressing was fine, but queso fresco is basically a useless cheese with no flavor. I wold prefer something with a little flavor like feta or an aged cheddar. There were a ton of beets, but they were nothing special. The salad as a whole was good, but I probably wouldn’t get it again.

Gates and Brovi
Gates and Brovi

FOOD NOTES: Gates and Brovi is a very casual place with the vibe of a southern shrimp place. The dining room has wood plank benches and white wood paneling, and is warm and inviting. The day we went there was only one waiter, but he kept everything moving fast and was super nice. The one downfall to Gates and Brovi is that there is extremely limited parking, especially during the day. I only had to park a block away, but I got super lucky with street parking. The cheese curds were amazing. They aren’t the same as Wisconsin beer battered cheese curds but they were definitely unique and just as good as their heavier beer-battered counterparts. The batter was lighter and the curds were extremely fresh. I would go back just for the cheese curds.

Good food, atmosphere on Merchant lunch menu

Merchant
Merchant

One of my all-time best meals was the dinner I had with some friends at Merchant during the 2013 Restaurant Week. I think it stands out to me because it was the first time I had mussels and now I love mussels! I also love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which doesn’t lose it’s appeal in broad daylight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been back since my first visit until the I went to Merchant during the 2014 Restaurant Week for lunch. Merchant serves up classic foodie food for dinner, but for lunch they mostly serve salads and sandwiches.

Merchant buttermilk salad
Merchant buttermilk salad

For restaurant week they offered a soup and three salads for appetizers. I ordered the buttermilk salad that came with golden beets, radish, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese so I ordered it with feta instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh. My friend Michelle ordered the Caesar salad, but it was too anchovy-y for her, so we switched. The Caesar salad was pretty simple (romaine hearts, creamy anchovy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese), but what made it memorable was the flavor of the dressing. What Michelle didn’t like about the salad ended up being my favorite part. The tangy, salty flavor was interesting and something I had never tasted before. It was very good.

Merchant fried chicken sandwich
Merchant fried chicken sandwich

For entrees Merchant was offering about a half dozen sandwiches, but it was a no brainer that we order the fried chicken sandwich. A couple weeks before our visit a local website did a poll for best sandwich in Madison and this sandwich was near the top. There were two options: classic or buffalo-style. Michelle and I decided to order one of each and split the sandwiches to see which one we liked better. The classic fried chicken sandwich came on a brioche bun with coleslaw. It was fresh, tasty and surprisingly not too heavy for a fried chicken sandwich. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, crispy and not greasy. The coleslaw was perfectly creamy and crunchy. But the one thing the classic sandwich was missing was the extra ingredient on the buffalo-style sandwich: buffalo sauce. That little bit of spice and vinegar added a great contrast to the creamy coleslaw and the savory fried chicken. If I were to order the sandwich again I would definitely go with the buffalo-style. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were good.

Merchant brownie sundae
Merchant brownie sundae
Merchant coffee
Merchant coffee

For dessert they were offering sorbet, gelato or a brownie sundae. Of course, I chose the brownie sundae with chocolate sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The brownie was not overly sweet — it tasted almost like dark chocolate. The entire sundae was a fancier version of a classic brownie sundae. It was super good! I also got a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly flavorful and smooth.

FOOD NOTES: Both meals I’ve had at Merchant exceeded expectations. Merchant will always be one of my top picks for places to visit during restaurant week because their food is so good and the price is so right. The Caesar salad was very unique and had a great flavor. The fried chicken sandwich lives up to the hype — especially the buffalo-style version, and the brownie sundae was a great upgraded version of a classic. The only complaint I have is that we had to sit at an awkward table attached to a pillar on high stools — kind of uncomfortable and kind of in the way.

Graze epitomizes Madison’s food scene

I’ve lived in Madison for more than six years and have been trying to hit all of the best restaurants, but for some reason I hadn’t been to Graze on the square yet. It had been on my list since moving here but it never worked out to go – there were always other options that worked better. So when my mom came in to town this fall I decided a Friday night dinner at Graze was in order. They don’t take reservations so we got there around 5 to make sure we got a table! It was already humming then and the best tables near the front windows were taken. We got a small table in the middle of the room pushed up against other tables for two, but the view is mostly the same from the entire dining room.

graze deviled eggs
Graze deviled eggs

There are a lot of things on the menu that Graze is known for, so going into the meal I had an idea what we’d be ordering. We ordered the deviled eggs and fried pickles for appetizers. I was hoping the deviled eggs would be something special or a spin on the traditional Wisconsin deviled eggs. The Graze deviled eggs were good but nothing special. The thing that would make them worth ordering again was the mustard sauce they were sitting on. It added a great flavor to the rich deviled eggs.

graze pickles
Graze fried pickles

Though the deviled eggs were less than spectacular, the fried pickles lived up to their hype and then some. The pickle chips were perfectly fried and came in a large serving. The batter was not too light or too heavy – it was perfectly salty and crispy. The dill ranch dressing was the perfect dipping sauce for the perfectly-greasy fried pickle chips! I love fried pickles and these are ones to keep going back for!

graze beet salad
Graze roasted beet salad

My mom and I like dessert a little less than the average person so we decided to split the roasted beet salad before our main meal instead of getting a dessert. The salad was a perfect choice! It comes with roasted pistachios, Sartori MontAmore cheese, roasted beets and mixed greens topped with a light vinaigrette. We both love beets so this salad was perfect. I was surprised at the large amount of the premium toppings – the beets, pistachios and Sartori cheese! I can’t say enough about this amazing salad – the pistachios added the perfect crunch to the soft roasted beets and the crunchy greens. The Sartori cheese was perfectly sharp and paired well with the light vinaigrette! I will probably be making return trips just for this salad!

graze mussels
Graze moules frites

I got the moules frites f0r my main course. The mussels were perfectly cooked with a great fennel and white wine sauce. The light sauce paired perfectly with the super salty and amazingly crispy fries. The fries were served with a garlic aioli and I absolutely loved them! It is a very simple dish but it was prepared perfectly!

graze sausages
Graze sausage, eggs, veggies

My mom got a dish with house-made sausage, sauteed kale, sweet potatoes and cauliflower, and a sunny-side up egg. The dish also came with hot mustard for the sausages. Everything was cooked perfectly and it got my mom to like sunny-side up eggs for the first. It wasn’t anything too special but it was very good.

FOODNOTES: The view alone sells Graze as the place to go when spotlighting Madison as a food-loving town, but some of our choices added to the great night. The deviled eggs and both of our entrees weren’t anything too spectacular but our fried pickles and roasted beet salad were top notch. The fried pickles top my list of best fried pickles I’ve ever tried and will definitely be ordered again! But what will bring me back, other than the view and tempting other dishes to order, is the roasted beet salad! It was simple but spectacular! Prices are what you’d expect for a funky bistro across the street from the Capitol. I would suggest getting there early unless you don’t mind waiting 40 minutes for a table.