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12 months of Madison restaurant meals 2013
Here's where we've been eating
Forequarter. For more photos, click gallery, above.
Credit:Eric Tadsen

Our travels to new restaurants, and ones with new or changed menus, have taken our reviewers all over the map, from France to Japan to Thailand. The dominant mode in restaurants this year, though, was local and homegrown - a vibrant Midwestern focus without a hint of parochialism. Here's a recap, with special callouts of our favorite finds.

Note: With a growing number of restaurants focusing on seasonal ingredients, menus now change frequently, and not all items may still be available.

A La Brasa Latin Cuisine
15 N. Broom St.
The majority of A La Brasa's menu is Peruvian. Picks: Rotisserie chicken, lomo saltado (marinated sirloin served with rice, vegetables and french fries), churrasco a la brasa with tostones (thin, seared steak with smashed plantains), cuatro leches cake and homemade alfajores.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Ale Asylum
2002 Pankratz St.
The tasting room features Ale Asylum brews along with pizzas from Falbo Brothers and sandwiches and salads made in-house. Picks: The beers, of course, along with the shrimp burger, Cuban sandwich, spinach salad, queso blanco nachos and clam chowder.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Chez Nanou
805 Williamson St.
A sweet 20-seat restaurant transformed into a French cafe. Chef Nanou or one of the servers is likely to greet you with "comment a va?" as you walk in the door. Picks: Crepe paysanne, salade nioise and crème brûlée.
- Linda Falkenstein

Chocolaterian Cafe
2004 Atwood Ave.
The landmark Schenk-Huegel space has been turned into an airy, mustard-colored, elongated room with a coffeeshop vibe. Picks: Charcuterie platter and a Wisconsin cheese board, Parisian hot chocolate, tarts, Ugly cookies and a well-curated wine list.
- André Darlington

Dickey's Barbecue Pit
4833 Annamark Dr.
Dickey's is representative of the East Texas variety of barbecue. The style doesn't favor a specific animal so much as a preparation: hickory-smoked, rough-hewn meats often served in sandwich form. Sauce is applied last. Three sizes of sandwiches can be filled with any of nine meats; platters combining those meats with an even more extensive list of sides are also available. Picks: Beef brisket, smoked turkey and smokehouse salad.
- Kyle Nabilcy

117 Martin Luther King Blvd.
The decor is modern and bold, with pop paintings vaguely reminiscent of Roy Lichtenstein. There are handsome booths around the edge of the room. Picks: Alsum Farm spicy sweet corn with Fritos appetizer, upscale burgers, shakes made from Sassy Cow Creamery ingredients (with booze additions available), and house-made sodas.
- André Darlington

Double S BBQ
111 Jefferson St. (Hwy. 18), Cambridge
Haul yourself out to Cambridge and hope that the tiny dining room isn't full. It's maybe a 25-seat joint if the outdoor tables are included. A half-hour drive from the center of Madison, Double S has a few menu items not found in the capital city. Picks: Deep-fried balls of boudain and rice, pork ribs, smoked chicken and buttermilk pie.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Driftless Depot
140 S. Winsted St., Spring Green
Separated into a small dining room and a grocery, the Driftless Depot is also a coffeeshop, gelateria, lunchtime hangout and provider of picnic baskets to American Players Theatre pilgrims. Local purveyors are showcased. Dinner takeout or eat-in orders need to be placed in advance. Picks: Antipasto, egg salad or salmon sandwich, osso buco and Friday trout dinner (place reservations by Thursday).
- André Darlington

708-1/4 E. Johnson St.
Beautiful food, mostly local, in an intimate, sometimes crowded, thoughtfully renovated space. The drink program is as essential as the rotating menu of seasonal small plates. Picks: Pork rillettes; and the Thursday-Saturday late-night menu with plates like dumplings, fried vegetable chips, and beef tongue with fried egg.
- André Darlington/Linda Falkenstein

4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe
305 N. 4th St.
Breakfast at 4 & 20 is good, often exemplary. And it's served all day if you want it. But the menu that kicks in at 11 a.m. justifies a leisurely lunch break. Picks: Biscuits, biscuits and gravy, breakfast sandwich, "Oreo" cookie, "Pop Tart," and Cuban and porchetta sandwiches.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Free House Pub
1902 Parmenter St., Middleton
The locally driven pub fare gets equal billing with the ale and whiskey. And at no more than $10 for any item, it's a great value for the quality. The Free House's burgers, sandwiches and salads don't get too crazy, but they don't really need to. Picks: Charbroiled jalapeño poppers, the ABLT (BLT with avocado), Jail Island salmon, the ample variety of microbrews, and whiskeys and mixed drinks using spirits from Wisconsin distilleries.
- Marcelle Richards

Gates & Brovi
3502 Monroe St.
Gates & Brovi positions itself as a beer-and-bite spot. A full half of the menu is devoted to sandwiches. Light, clean flavors are on display, and the chefs' touch with seafood should reel in both neighbors and passers-by. Picks: Shaved ham; and the mushroom blue cheese burger for sheer napkin volume. Salads are ample, and desserts are simple and ice cream-centric.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Johnson Public House
908 E. Johnson St.
A forward-looking coffee vendor with Chemex, pour-over and French press and mostly Intelligentsia coffees. Pastries and bread come from Batch Bakehouse, and tea is from Rishi. There's a fridge full of microbrew beer singles, too, to accompany a surprisingly solid made-from-scratch menu full of familiar yet inspired options. Picks: Breakfast sandwich with a hardboiled egg, fresh mozzarella, ham, tomato and pesto on multigrain; coffees.
- Marcelle Richards

Jordandal Cookhouse
600 W. Verona Ave., Verona
This is an unassuming walk-up at the end of a strip mall. The food is farm-fresh, with all meats produced by Jordandal. The little plastic tables out front are fine for waiting, but not meant for lingering. Picks: Banh mi sandwich, barbecue brisket sandwich, meatloaf with smoked mashed potatoes, pork cutlet, and white cheddar mac 'n' cheese with optional ring bologna.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Kim's Noodle Vietnamese Cuisine
4604 Monona Dr.
Pho here is good, and it is a relief to finally have a bowl of the traditional rice noodle soup offered on the far east side. The remainder of the menu is pleasantly straightforward at this relaxed but efficient restaurant. Picks: Spring rolls, bun (vermicelli noodles), banh mi in four varieties, Kim's Hot Pot, beef stir-fried with lemongrass and chili, and avocado smoothie.
- André Darlington

148 High St., Mineral Point
Hiroko and Chris Messer are making their own ramen noodles at their restaurant in Mineral Point - hand-kneaded, hand-rolled and hand-cut. Food here is beguilingly simple but expertly prepared. Picks: Japanese classics like donburi, fried rice, curry rice and gyoza. There are also four "salads": tofu, sweet spinach and sesame (gomae), pickled veggies (tsukemono), and a burdock root slaw with carrots (kinpira gobo).
- André Darlington

Macha Teahouse and Gallery
1934 Monroe St.
Each room in the house that houses Macha offers a different environment. The Asian-inspired menu seems to be under the radar of most people, and that's too bad. It's modest, but your senses will have plenty to devour. Picks: Homemade pork buns, donburi bowls, special weekend tea service, and cupcakes.
- Marcelle Richards

Melly Mel's
313 W. Beltline Hwy.
Mostly a takeout and catering business, Melly Mel's does have a welcoming if small dining area. Breakfast is served all day, and there are combos like bacon, sausage, eggs and pancakes, all for $5. Egg sandwiches are $3. Picks: Chicken and waffles, fish and grits, sautéed catfish, fried chicken and barbecue, plus sides of black-eyed peas and mixed greens made rich with smoked turkey neck.
- André Darlington

Namio's Sports Pub
5956 Executive Dr., Fitchburg
A contemporary take on a tavern, with a longish, narrow shape aimed at bar service and TV-screen watching. If you are watching a game, it's easy to see multiple screens from most seats. Picks: The Italian sausage, portobello mushroom cap on ciabatta, and Friday perch fish fry.
- Linda Falkenstein

Naples 15
15 N. Butler St.
Chef Salvatore Di Scala delivers fish, meat and pasta dishes with recipes from his native Naples. A wood oven bakes Neopolitan pizzas in 15 varieties.

Paoli Cafe
6895 Paoli Rd., Paoli
At Paoli Cafe, Ken Ruegsegger grows your food (or gets it from friends), takes your order, helps prepare dishes, and then brings them out. It may be the only restaurant quite like it in the country. On weekends, brunch is the draw. Picks: Swedish pancakes with sorghum syrup, house-made Benedict, trout and eggs, and locally sourced burgers.
- André Darlington

A Pig in a Fur Coat
940 Williamson St.
It's a shift from staid, stuffy, formal eating to more casual, communal tasting adventures - without compromising quality. Let's call it near-fine-dining for the short-attention-span, commitment-phobic generation. Diners have free rein to explore a small but tightly edited succession of honest food. There's an open wood-fired oven churning out good examples of rustic Euro fare. Picks: Veal breast, duck fat fries, lamb carpaccio and pork belly.
- André Darlington

Roast Public House
529 State St.
Roast is a convenient hangout for campus-area diners looking to eat from-scratch and local, yet on a student's budget. Picks: Cranberry and apple Harvest salad, anything with Sriracha lime aioli, sweet potato steak fries, and goldfish-cracker-crusted mozzarella sticks.
- Marcelle Richards

Soga Shabu Shabu
508 State St.
Up a long staircase at the site of the former Nadia's, Soga serves food until bar time for much of the week. It's a great place to slurp up soup through the cold hours of the night, or for a lunchtime bento box. Picks: Shabu shabu, or hot pot, especially the #89; fried duck; and the spicy salad appetizer.
- Marcelle Richards

Suwanasak Thai Cuisine
811 S. Gammon Rd.
The restaurant is an unassuming diamond amid overwhelming stretches of suburban west-side strip malls. But make the journey here. Suwanasak is family-run, and the prices are extremely reasonable. Picks: Moo waam (barbecue pork ribs in a sweet sauce hit with cilantro and lemongrass), whole sweet chili fried fish, chicken larb, green curry, and mango and sticky rice dessert.
- Marcelle Richards

Vasilis' Take Five
901 Williamson St.
Vasilis Kallias, also behind the former Opa and Mercury Cafés, brings new life to the former Corner Store with what he's termed Greek and Mediterranean fusion food. The ambience is casual, but no one would blink an eye if you showed up in heels to drink a martini. Picks: Sampler platter (with dolmades, cheese pies, mini spanakopita and eggplant-chickpea hummus), moussaka and lamb shank.
- Marcelle Richards

Veranda Restaurant and Wine Bar
2784 S. Fish Hatchery Rd., Fitchburg
Lunch, dinner and weekend brunch all merit their own full menu page, listing between 40 and 60 dishes. Veranda has a broad menu of pan-Mediterranean (plus Asian, plus Central American) influences. Picks: Brunch omelets and eggs Benedict; pain perdu.
- Kyle Nabilcy

Viet House
2817 E. Washington Ave.
A pleasant space in the East Madison Shopping Center to dine in and a reliable spot for takeout. Picks: The com tam (broken rice) with grilled marinated beef, bun dau hu chay (vermicelli with fried tofu), ca man (fried rice with salted fish, chicken and egg), and traditional bahn mi.
- Linda Falkenstein

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