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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Brickhouse BBQ has good ribs -- and 40 local beers on tap
Getting sauced
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It's hard to miss the new Brickhouse BBQ. The squat, bunker-like building on West Gorham that houses the restaurant basically exemplifies its name. And it looks a bit forbidding. But once you open the door to the three-story interior (topped by a rooftop terrace), everything is light and airy. There are gleaming wood floors, a big open stairwell, a handsome bar, and well-spaced chunky wood tables. The waitstaff, dressed down in black tees, is efficient and cheerful.

And a lot of the food is downright good - and a relative bargain at an average price of $12.50 for the very meaty entrees.

Maybe the best of the bunch are the signature Brickhouse ribs, rubbed with a sweetly smoky, subtly spicy barbecue sauce. It's the meat itself, though, tender but still tight to the bone, that makes these some of the best ribs in town. While the roasted chicken is just okay (the cracking brown skin helps), the catfish qualifies as another big success, the sweet, fleshy fish complemented by a cornmeal dusting and a drizzle of spicy mayo.

All these entrees are served with a square of fluffy cornbread and the choice of two sides. And the sides, no afterthought, also prove there is real kitchen ambition at work here. A black-eyed pea succotash makes for a great pickled bean and pea stew. The chunky chipotle sweet potato salad is a nice, bright antidote to the standard rendition, braised collard greens aren't overcooked, and even the cheddar grits have a soothing appeal.

And there's more. The Brickhouse's sandwiches stand their own ground, especially a very meaty brisket version topped with melted pepper jack cheese and a seductive tangle of crispy onion rings, and a superb Brickhouse burger crowned with barbecue sauce, cheddar, those onion rings again and bacon.

The other draw here, of course, is an epic menu of beers on tap, with a special nod to regional brews (20 from Wisconsin alone, from New Glarus and Capital to O'So and Pearl Street), along with a long list of American craft beers.

I'd skip the pulled pork quesadilla, which offers some nice flavor (the pulled pork is augmented with bacon, caramelized onion and shredded cheese) - along with some very tough, overcooked pork. I'd also ignore the soup of the day if it's the beer cheese soup, a one-dish Wisconsin ecosystem that mostly approximates a thick vat of melted Velveeta. And you'll probably want to make a fast detour around the pork chop, a thick, impenetrable, bland block of meat that seems to be itching for a fight.

The desserts try their best. The lemon icebox pie mostly tastes like a standard-issue chilled Key lime pie, and the house version of a red velvet cake is really pretty much just a dry wedge of chocolate cake. But the banana coconut pie - lifted by rum-glazed bananas and vanilla coconut custard - comes close to being an exuberant finish. And that's true to the Brickhouse spirit.

Raphael Kadushin's meaty feature story on spring in Holland, which embraces Dutch culture, history, art and, of course, some food, is in the current May issue of Conde Nast Traveler.

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