Brewery surprises with unique, upscale menu

I haven’t had good luck when trying to eat at breweries. The food is usually sub-par and the only reason people keep going back is for the beer. I’m not a beer drinker, so it’s usually not as great of a visit for me as for others. But Karben4 off Stoughton Road by MATC is definitely different than other breweries I’ve been to. Their dining room is literally inches from their brewing and bottling space. And based on my super scientific calculations, their kitchen is about 1/4 the size of their brewing facilities, but it sure does churn out some fantastic dishes.

 

karben4Here’s how I would describe the options on the menu: take normal brewery or bar food — jack the flavor up on steroids, use local ingredients and toss some beer into most dishes for good measure.

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

When I went with Michelle we got to try a couple different options, but we started with the housemade pretzels and cheddar horseradish sauce. The pretzels were perfect — crusty, salty crust, and a fluffy, butter center. The cheese sauce was so good I wanted to lick the container clean.

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

karben4 portabella 2The portabella sandwich is one of the vegetarian options on the menu. It has a balsamic roasted portabella mushroom with mozzarella, basil aioli, spinach, tomato and onion between two pieces of panini-ed bread. The veggie option was good (and I would recommend it to my veggie friends), but I would not choose it over the other sandwich we got to try.

Karben4 ruben

Karben4 reuben

karben4 reubenThe summer sausage reuben just sounds ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anyone making a reuben with summer sausage, but Karben4 does it and they do it well. The sandwich comes out on a housemade pretzel roll (come on!! the sandwich is already winning with that) and has summer sausage, kraut made with their Lady Luck beer, housemade Russian dressing and aged whited cheddar cheese. I’m not quite sure how to explain this sandwich except to use these words: sinful, fantastic, decadent, unique, scrumptious and one more — perfect. The pretzel roll was super soft and moist. The kraut had a great earthy flavor without being too tart. The Russian dressing was smooth and tangy. The cheddar added a great Wisconsin feeling to the sandwich and the summer sausage was not nearly as intrusive or heavy as I was expecting it to be. I’m not sure what more I could ask for in the perfect sandwich.

Karben 4 chocolate tart

Karben 4 chocolate tart

We also go to try their chocolate tart made with one of their beers — I ate it so fast I didn’t get a chance to note which beer it was, but I don’t have to know which beer the tart is made with to know that it was tasty. It wasn’t too sweet and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The drizzle of raspberry was basically useless because I couldn’t taste it over the other strong flavors in the dessert.

FOOD NOTES: If you’re going to Karben4 for the beer, DO NOT skip ordering food. If you’re not a beer drinker…trust me, their menu has enough great things on it to satisfy. Another unique thing about Karven4 is that they don’t serve french fries…all of their sandwiches come with a small side salad, which made me feel better about eating a ruben made with summer sausage!

 

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That BBQ Joint must serve up good food if vegetarians eat there too

That BBQ Joint

That BBQ Joint

Living in Wisconsin my entire life I can’t say I’ve been exposed to really good BBQ a lot, but when I do find it I really enjoy it. I wish there were more quality BBQ options in the midwest. I also wish I knew if what I was eating would be considered good southern BBQ, but all I know is that the food at That BBQ Joint on Willy Street was very good. One of my vegetarian friends asked if I wanted to go, which was an odd conversation to begin with but she said their vegetarian options sounded good so we went.

That BBQ Joint seating

That BBQ Joint seating

The tiny building that used to house Batch Bakehouse has three small tables and two counters along the side and back walls. When we walked in it smelled like a smoker, which is a pretty good indicator that they are actually smoking their BBQ. You order at a counter, grab a seat in the dining area, and the girl behind the counter brings out your food. I got the rib basket that comes with three ribs, a dinner roll and two sides for $8.99. For sides they have vinegar slaw, creamy slaw, three-bean salad, greens, brisket chili and baked beans.

That BBQ Joint counter

That BBQ Joint counter

The amount of ribs was perfect for the price, but I would have liked my sides to be a little bigger. The three ribs had a great char on them, and I could see and taste the smoke ring, but they were a little tough. The ribs had a good flavor on their own, but there were three sauce options on the table I had to try. The yellow mustard sauce had a good flavor that balanced out the saltiness of the ribs. The Caribbean sauce was awful. It tasted kind of like burned BBQ sauce with a random tang that didn’t work well together. The regular BBQ sauce was good, but nothing special. I would have liked to see a spicy sauce option. My meal came with a roll, which was forgettable and was served without butter.

That BBQ Joint rib basket

That BBQ Joint rib basket

For my sides I chose the creamy coleslaw and the brisket chili. The brisket chili was fantastic. I can safely say it was the highlight of the meal and was even better than the ribs. It had a fantastic flavor, a good consistency and massive chunks of tender brisket. The quality of the chili made me want to try their brisket next time I go. The creamy coleslaw was pretty good except for the fact that they added craisins. The coleslaw is already sweeter thanks to the creamy dressing, it doesn’t need more sweetness. Plus I generally don’t like craisins. I did really enjoy the almost minced texture of the coleslaw. It made it easier to eat and held the sauce well.

That BBQ Joint Boca Mo'

That BBQ Joint Boca Mo’

My friend got the Boca Mo’ which is basically a sloppy joe made with Boca crumbles. She definitely enjoyed it, and I even thought it tasted pretty good, not good enough to pass up ribs but good enough to bring vegetarians to a BBQ restaurant.

That BBQ Joint cornbread muffins

That BBQ Joint cornbread muffins

We also ordered some cornbread. An order of two jalapeno cornbread muffins is only $1.50 and the muffins were a pretty good size. The muffins had actual chunks of corn in them that I really loved, but I didn’t taste any jalapeno flavor. They were also not served with butter, and normally that’s not a problem because cornbread is good enough without butter, but these were a little dry and the butter would have made them better.

FOOD NOTES: I don’t know if this place is southern-BBQ quality, but I definitely enjoyed my meal. The ribs had a great smokiness and flavor, but were a little tough. I would expect better sauce options at a BBQ place, but their yellow mustard sauce had great flavor. I really enjoyed my side of brisket chili and look forward to trying their other brisket options. I’m always about mixing up traditional dishes with new ingredients, but their creamy coleslaw would be a lot better without the craisins. The jalapeno cornbread muffins need more jalapeno kick and could be more moist. The entire place felt very simple and down-home. I look forward to going back sometime soon to try more on their menu, especially the brisket!

Weary Traveler’s food outshines other hipster pubs

weary traveler menuThere are a bunch of restaurants on Willy Street that have been on my “places to visit” list for a long time. It takes time for me to get to these restaurants because I live so far away and there’s a population of “regulars” that clog up those restaurants everyday. I don’t mind fighting for a table, that’s usually a sign of a good restaurant, but sometimes it feels weird being the only one in the restaurant that isn’t on a first name basis with the bartender. A couple weeks ago a friend and I were planning on grabbing an earlier dinner and I thought that would be a good time to try and grab a table at a Willy Street restaurant. After considering all the options, my vegetarian friend and I decided to go to the Weary Traveler. They are known for their Bob’s Bad Breath Burger with garlic in every component, but they are also known for having a decent amount of vegetarian options.

When we got there we had a hard time getting in to the actual building. The first two doors we tried were locked, and we stood outside slightly confused for a couple seconds before a “local” walking past told us the door was around the corner. Once we finally got inside, we had no idea what to do. It wasn’t clear if we were supposed to wait to be seated or grab a table, so I held our spot at the entrance and my friend went to investigate. While she was gone the bartender randomly yelled that I should take a small table in the middle of the room. From what I could tell, there were two dining rooms divided by a wall covered in eclectic stuff (I have to use that word for lack of a better one, there were pictures, books, globes, metal signs, musical instruments, etc. all over the walls). The bar runs the entire width of the building, and the entire restaurant was a bit too dark for me (I felt like it was almost at the point where I would have to use my cellphone light to read the menu). The dining room we were in was extremely cramped. Multiple times servers had to swing dishes over our heads to get them to their destinations, and when our waiter was talking to us he inevitably ended up in the way of another server. They also didn’t mention they had specials. We figured that out by looking around at all the stuff on the wall and realized that one of them was an actual specials board.

weary traveler coppioni

Cioppino

My intent from the beginning was to get the Bob’s Bad Breath Burger for two reasons: 1. it’s what they are known for, and 2. I love garlic in any and every capacity. But for some reason that night I was not in the mood for a burger. So I asked about the Cioppino listed on the specials board. A Google search before the waiter came back told me a Cioppino is a seafood stew that can be cream or tomato based. Now seafood and cream sounds like an extremely disgusting combination to me so I was really hoping theirs was tomato based. The waiter told me it was indeed tomato based, came with mussels and salmon, and had a great flavor (he said he had the Cioppino instead of his normal choice for dinner). So I got the Cioppino with a heavy heart knowing that I had always wanted to try the Bad Breath Burger. But once the stew was set down in front of me I didn’t think about the burger anymore. It was steaming hot and a surprisingly large serving. The broth had a great earthy tomato and seafood flavor; something very hearty and homey. There were large, perfectly cooked chunks of salmon in it alongside corn, onions, and peppers. I was also very excited to find there were three mussels hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. Fish stew is not an appealing description but this was one of the best specials at a hipster pub I have ever had.

weary traveler vegan chili

Vegetarian chili

My friend couldn’t decide between two of the vegetarian options so she got a cup of the vegetarian chili and the grilled cheese. She enjoyed both, but my favorite of the two was the vegetarian chili. Vegetarian chili tends to be pretty flavorless (based on most of my experiences with veggie chili), but this one was pretty great. I’m not sure what was in it but the couple spoonfuls I had were great. The grilled cheese had cheddar and mozzarella on it, which were perfectly melty and stringy. The sandwich was a bit too heavy for my liking though because the bread tasted like two thick pieces of garlic bread made into a sandwich. Some people might really like that heaviness, but it was too greasy and heavy for me.

weary traveler grilled cheese

Grilled cheese

FOODNOTES: Don’t worry if you can’t figure out how to get in or how to get a table…they will even still serve you if they don’t know your name. To avoid the super hipster crowd try being there before 7pm. Make sure you look around for the specials board and consider what they have…mine turned out super well. The prices are on par with what you would expect for a hipster pub on Willy St. in Madison, but the food is a ton better than a generic pub. None of their desserts sounded worth it (they had ice cream and two random cakes listed), but I will definitely be back to try the Bad Breath Burger sometime!