In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.
The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.
The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.
FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!
Kabul has been a staple on State Street for years, serving up mediterranean and Aghani food with unique flavors and one- of-a-kind dishes. They had to move out of their old location last year because of a massive construction project, and their loyal following was a little nervous about whether or not they would reopen. Several months after their original location (which I thought was always a little loud, crowded and had too much stuff on the walls) was torn down, they opened up less than a block away in a second-floor space that used to be part of Gino’s.
The menu stayed mostly the same with some updates, but the dining room is much different. Kabul’s new second-floor location features a bar and great overlooking State Street. I know it’s harder to run a business on the second floor, but I have always loved them (think Sunroom Cafe and Wasabi!). They feel calmer and are great for people watching. Kabul’s new location is just that…calmer, less cluttered and has great people-watching windows.
Michelle Li and I got to try a bunch of different dishes featured on both their lunch and dinner menus. We started with the mashawa soup that has lamb, chicken, beans and dill in it. The tomato-based soup was hearty, flavorful and had just a tiny kick of spice. The flavors were rich and balanced — it tasted like a professional version of the lentil and bean soup I try to make at home!
The house salad was pretty typical, but the housemade cucumber, mint, apple yogurt dressing made it phenomenal. I’m not usually a yogurt dressing fan, but this one was light, refreshing and had a little sweetness. It was also really great with their Afghan bread. I don’t think I would have ever gotten that dressing if I had a choice, but I’m glad we got to try it because it was so tasty and unique. Ours came with some sauteed raisins and carrots on top. The dinning room manager told us the carrots and raisins are usually served on top of rice, but they wanted us to try them. They were perfectly cooked, but I don’t love raisins so I didn’t love them on top of my salad.
Along with the bread we got to try two chutneys. The cilantro, jalapeno one was not my favorite (the soap thing again), but if you like cilantro it would probably be a good choice. The tomato, pimento one tasted less tomatoey than I was expecting. It had a unique, tangy flavor that I enjoyed, but I preferred dipping the bread in the cucumber, yogurt dressing!
Our first dish, which is actually listed as an appetizer on the dinner menu, was ashak. It is a steamed dumpling filled with scallions and topped with a meat or veggie sauce and yogurt. We got a meat and veggie combo. I’m not sure what made this dish so special, but it was by far my favorite. The dumplings were flatter than what I was expecting and had an egg-noodle quality to them. They were the perfect base for the flavorful veggie and meat sauces. The dish isn’t initially spicy, but a great flavorful spice hits once you’ve had a couple bites. The yogurt on top adds a fresh, cool taste and texture to the dish. Ashak has the consistency of chili with noodles, but the flavors are so much more developed and savory…it felt like an Afghani comfort food!
We also got to try the owner’s lamb special. I don’t have much info on what was in the lamb special (you know…it’s secret!), but it was very tasty. I don’t love lamb, but this lamb was perfectly cooked and was smothered in this really flavorful sauce that I’m guessing was tomato based. There were a ton of spices in the sauce that blended well, but it wasn’t hot spicey.
We also got to try the two types of stuffed chicken they serve at Kabul. The first one was the stuffed chicken with cream sauce. The basil cream sauce with pepper and mushrooms had an unexpected, but extremely appreciated tang to it. Michelle and I could have licked the plate of this one clean. The sauce was just so unexpectedly light and flavorful for a mushroom cream sauce. The chicken was stuffed with spinach, feta cheese and mushrooms and was a perfect vessel for the amazing sauce.
The second one was stuffed with the same ingredients, but came with a raspberry burgundy reduction sauce on top. I don’t love sweet fruit sauces with my savory entrees, so this one was definitely not my favorite. But if you like sweeter sauces, you would probably love this lighter version of the stuffed chicken.
FOOD NOTES: Don’t forget about Kabul in it’s new second-floor location. The new location boasts a full bar, a simple, welcoming atmosphere, and great windows for people watching! The traditional soup, bread and chutneys are great ways to start the meal, but make sure your Kabul experience includes the extremely unique and hearty ashak dish. Ashak could be an appetizer split by the table or an entire entree for one person. The stuffed chicken topped with the best and most uniquely flavored cream sauce I’ve ever had is also a must.
One Madison restaurant that I took way too long to try out is Coopers Tavern. It’s near the top of State Street on the Capitol Square and has a super tiny dining room with a long bar on one side. It was busy the Friday night I went with a friend, and we had to wait basically inches from people already eating. Once we were seated the cramped dining room issues continued…I had to hook my purse on my knees and I was awkwardly bumped by two people who were hovering around the bar waiting for a table. Despite the super tight quarters the atmosphere at Coopers Tavern is rustic and welcoming.
I’m not a big drinker, but I do love a good gluten-free cider and Coopers Tavern has the largest selection of ciders I’ve seen. The Crispin blackberry and pear cider was light and refreshing. I could really taste the pear flavor, and even though the blackberry flavor was pretty much non-existent I still really liked it.
We started with Coopers Tavern’s version of a scotch egg, the Sconnie egg. The Sconnie egg is a hard boiled egg wrapped in a Knoche’s market brat patty and fried. It is served with pickled vegetables and stout mustard. The Sconnie egg looks a little odd, but it tastes great. The hard boiled egg and the brat taste like breakfast and then they fry it…frying makes everything better! It’s a pretty heavy flavor profile, so the spicy, seedy mustard really adds a much-needed tang. I was really excited about the pickled vegetables, but they ended up not being good. They were pickled with anise and other warm spices, and I really didn’t like those flavors.
I got the steak and frites as my entree. The marinated flank steak came served with blue cheese bone marrow butter, a homemade bourbon steak sauce, green beans and Belgian frites. The steak was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, but it was a pretty small portion for the price ($16.95). The bourbon steak sauce tasted pretty much like pre-packaged barbecue sauce, and even though it was good I was expecting it to be better. The fancy bone marrow butter didn’t taste as special as the description made it sound. The simple steamed green beans would have been better with some seasoning. The frites were classic frites — they were salted perfectly and fried to a crisp.
My friend got the pork belly mac. The dubliner cheddar mac and cheese comes topped with Madison Sourdough bread crumbs and Guinness stout glazed berkshire pork belly. The sauce isn’t like traditional cheese sauce. It tasted like a fancier version of alfredo sauce. The glaze on the pork belly was sweet and tasted like it had brown sugar in it.
FOOD NOTES: Coopers Tavern has an extremely small dinning room that definitely makes waiting for your table that much more annoying. The gluten-free cider menu is a nice alternative to beer, and I loved the Sconnie egg. My steak and frites were good, but a little on the pricey side. The green beans were generic and the sauce on the steak had a pre-packaged quality to it, but the frites were perfectly crispy and salty. The pork belly mac was a little different than traditional mac and cheese, but it was good. The cider options and Sconnie egg will bring me back, but I will probably get a different entree.
In my opinion breakfast food is the best type of food. I have never been and will never be the person who “just doesn’t eat breakfast.” On busy mornings I still make time for oatmeal and a banana, but I love all types of breakfast options – eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes! And because I love breakfast food so much I love brunch and breakfast for dinner! I know I’m not alone in my love for breakfast food, which is why I was always a little disappointed by the breakfast offerings downtown. Recently, the Bassett Street Brunch Club opened, but there aren’t other places that serve breakfast all day downtown. So when I heard that the Short Stack Eatery opened right in the middle of State Street and would be serving breakfast all day, every day I thought I’d love it. Well I love the theory, but the execution didn’t work for me.
Short Stack Eatery is in a corner building so it has a ton of windows and is super bright and cheery. The brightly colored teal walls also add to the cheeriness. Table numbers are made with old license plates and tables are littered with old letters, maps and clippings, which is a cute way to bring in some nostalgia and Wisconsin pride. There’s a big counter in the middle that serves as a place for staff to huddle and diners to sit around. The huge chandelier made of whisks was my favorite!
We went on a busy Saturday morning after the farmer’s market and actually got a table right away, but only after we ordered at the counter. That was strike number one – I don’t like having to order and pay at a counter and then fight for a table while waiting for my food. Ordering at a counter also means we had to brave the busy drink station to get our own waters, silverware and even build a bloody Mary. I realize this makes me sound lazy, but the space Short Stack Eatery is in is way too small to make diners conglomerate around a small table for their drinks and utensils.
Their menu has all of the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc. But then it has two unconventional options. A Pick Three option, which is exactly what it sounds like – they have a list of options and you get to pick three. The other one is a blind special, which again is exactly what it sounds like…but if you want to know what’s in it you get charged $12.95 and if you order it in blind faith it only costs $6.95, which in theory sounds good but you really have to be open for anything. The next strike against the Short Stack Eatery was the prices. A glass of orange juice is $4.25 – it is fresh-squeezed, but holy crap that is an expensive glass of orange juice. My meal was $8.95, which isn’t bad for breakfast, but the portions were just so freaking small it wasn’t a good deal.
So my $8.95 meal was the Pick Three option on the menu. I chose bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes from a list that also had breakfast potatoes, toast and a couple other things. I was shocked when my order came out. The two eggs barely seemed like one large egg, the two small pieces of bacon were laughable and the three pancakes were about the size of a coffee mug. Everything was good – the bacon was cooked just right, the eggs were fine and the pancakes were actually pretty good, but almost $10 for a couple bites of egg, two pieces of bacon and three small pancakes? I was very disappointed in the price for what I ended up getting. And even though their orange juice was fancy and fresh squeeze, nothing on my plate warranted the price tag.
FOOD NOTES: I really wanted to be excited about a fun new breakfast place downtown, but unless Short Stack Eatery drops their prices or increases their portion sizes I won’t be back. I was shocked with the small amount of food I got, but the food I did actually get served was decent. Unfortunately, because people who live downtown like trendy places like Short Stack Eatery they probably won’t be changing their prices or portion sizes anytime soon, and will probably be pretty successful. The decor was cute, but I really don’t like having to order at a counter and fight for a glass of water and a napkin at a drink station.