The new Muramoto restaurant The Haze among local restaurant talkers. The fusion barbecue joint offers dual American and Asian flavor options for the meats, which include half and full racks of ribs, brisket, chicken, pork, and sausage. Sides, both standard and seasonal, are on the menu, along with a couple of salads. Here's a first look at the lunch specials.
Haze barbecue can be ordered to-go, either in person or by phone. The interior retains its cozy Kushi feel, with the long bar taking up the bulk of the space. While not actually hazy, the air is warm with a pleasant barbecue incense, one that will likely strengthen as its custom smoker's vapors soak into the room. Paper menus are available at the entrance, but visitors are also greeted by a wall size blackboard version across from the front door, helpful when waiting in line at the register. If you're dining in, you order at the cash register, too.
Lunch specials are $8 each, and come with the choice of a single side. They're weighted towards the Western side of the menu, with chopped pork with slaw, pulled chicken, sliced brisket, link sausage with kraut taking up four-fifths of menu. The first three are served as open face sandwiches, about 4-5 ounces of meat atop a slice of Texas toast, while the sausage is served on a roll.
The chopped pork special doesn't look imposing, but it's substantive. The meat covers most of the face of the bread, diced small enough to make for easy masticating. It's drizzled with just a little barbecue sauce, enough to add some tang to the taste but not so much as to compete with the flavorful meat, much less overpower it. The sliced brisket is presented in a similar fashion, savory but also a bit gummy, laden with gristle and burnt ends for those who like those bits. The bread is lightly toasted, enough to make the crust crunchy, and is sliced thick enough to soak up a flavorful portion of jus.
The lone lunch representative of the menu's Eastern hemisphere also comes on a roll. This variation on bánh mì comes with choice of pulled pork, pulled chicken or sausage as the primary meat option. It's augmented by a very reserved spread that, unless you were picking the sandwich apart, you probably wouldn't even notice. The mayo, picked carrots and radish, cilantro and jalapenos (and that baguette) qualify it as a bánh mì. While hardly traditional, it's pretty sensational.
The meats are organic and grass-fed, and come from Black Earth Meats, which in turn sources from Wisconsin farmers and ranchers. The veggies are locally-sourced as well. The standard options are slaw, beans, fries, and potato salad, and are accompanied by an array of seasonal sides (such as curried sweet potato or miso yuzu parsnip) that turn over rapidly.
The fries are house-cut, small in size and more starchy than crispy. But they're not soggy either, the consistency standing up even after cooling down for awhile. The curried potato salad is made with sweet potatoes and has a homemade, picnic feel to it. The beans aren't the baked type found in a can, but are instead a rather sweet stew of kidney, navy, and butter varieties.
Vegetarians are going to be limited to those two salads -- spinach salad with beets, or farmhouse salad with seasonal veggies and hard boiled egg. The pork belly vinaigrette, of course, is out.
When ordered to-go, the lunches are served in a greener-than-styrofoam cardboard container, thoughtfully lined at the bottom with some paper to prevent any grease seepage, with a biodegradable fork ("spudware"). No knife, though.
Fountain soda, lemonade, and iced tea (not sweet) are two bucks a pop, though there are free refills. But if you're looking to wash your barbecue down with some beer, avoid the cans and spring for the taps instead. Options for the former include High Life, Coors Light, Heineken, Leine's, PBR, and so on -- most are 12 oz., likewise run two bucks, and add a bit of canned "authenticity" to the Haze's slow-cooked motif. A full pint better accompanies this grub, though, and the current tap list, while small, has a respectable breadth of styles and sources, such as Sapporo, Ale Asylum Big Slick, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA, Chambly Noire, and of course, Spotted Cow.
The Haze is a welcome addition among downtown lunch spots. There isn't any sort of barbecue option on the isthmus, with both the chains and local faves found in outlying neighborhoods, so it's particularly helpful for those looking for some smoky flavor. The lunch specials are priced in line with other Square favorites (Marigold Kitchen, The Old Fashioned), not quite cheap but a decent value considering the tastiness of the meat. This place is casual enough to draw in lunching state office workers, yet also sharp enough to pull in Capitol insiders and execs.
Kristian Knutsen and Linda Falkenstein contributed to this story.