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Wednesday, January 28, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 22.0° F  Overcast
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Azzalino's speakeasy offers hearty portions on near south side of Madison
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Azzalino's serves decent bar fare.
Azzalino's serves decent bar fare.
Credit:Erica Pelzek

Billed as "a joint for bootleggers and flappers," Azzalino's on South Park Street serves up standard American bar food in baskets and large plates in a strip of taverns on Park Street just south of Meriter Hospital. The menu is jam-packed with fried items named after famous -- or infamous -- characters of the 1920s and dangerously fruity cocktails that mask their large amounts of alcohol behind citrus and grenadine.

A friend and I ventured in on a recent breezy summer evening, starting out with the sweet potato fries as an appetizer ($5.33). A heaping basket of orange fries was deposited on our table, fried to crispy-on-the-outside, tender-on-the-inside perfection. The yams could have used more seasoning, perhaps a dusting of sea salt and ground black pepper, but in the absence of seasoning, the sides of ranch dressing and a spicy dijonaise sufficiently enhanced the sweet, mellow flavor.

We both sipped from an Amelia Earhart specialty cocktail -- served in a throwback, 16-ounce Mason jar -- without pineapple juice ($6). The cocktail was too sweet for my taste; the mixture of Bacardi Light Rum, Tanqueray gin, Absolut Vodka, Jose Cuervo Tequila, Triple Sec, orange juice and grenadine tasted like a lethal kiddie cocktail.

The waiter, who told us it was his third day on the job, apologetically informed us he was out of maraschino cherries, otherwise the cocktail would have been "prettier." No loss, the drink looked like a sunset over the Memorial Union Terrace, garnished with a slice of lemon.

Interestingly, though, the restaurant was also still out of tomatoes, despite federal health officials' okay over a week ago to eat Florida-grown tomatoes again. My Capitalists Burger ($7.33), served with homemade seasoned potato chips, could have used a slice or two, but the one-third pound Angus burger was otherwise delectable. The add-ons (Swiss cheese, grilled onions, lettuce and a dollop of sour cream) created one of the better burgers I've had in Madison lately. And the hearty -- though a bit dry -- white roll held up well, even with the lavish toppings. It was served a bit more well-done than I would like, but the meat patty was still substantial and juicy.

I also snuck a few bites of my friend's Stock Market Reuben Crash ($8.33), piled high on the restaurant's marble rye bread, which was unfortunately also a bit dry. The corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island dressing did their job, however. The Reuben came with garlic fries, which were more seasoned than the sweet potato fries and with real garlic to boot, but were less appetizing and a bit soggier. A tastier side dish was the homemade seasoned potato chips that came with my burger -- they had the ground black pepper I was seeking in the sweet potato fries and came warm from the fryer.

The bar keeps with its 1920s theme well, with newspaper clippings about the stock market crash and Prohibition decorating the walls. But though the bar is stocked with all the top-shelf (and bottom-shelf) liquors a patron could desire, a more decisive 1920s jazz music playlist would cement the neighborhood spot's anti-teetotaler atmosphere.

Overall, Azzalino's serves decent bar fare. Even so, there's a decided lack of vegetarian fare on the menu. The eatery could be described as a diet Old Fashioned, North Pinckney Street's lauded Wisconsin-themed restaurant and bar. Azzalino's is similar, but its atmosphere isn't as developed, and its food isn't as good. But what it lacks in quality it makes up in quantity, a likely plus for the hungry student contingent in the Vilas neighborhood.

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