Can casual dining restaurants in Fitchburg get out from under the long shadow of the Great Dane? At the Dane, the prices are a little less than you'd expect for the amount and quality of the food. Then there's its unusually voluminous menu. Then there's the handcrafted beer. Hard to beat.
As a sports pub, Namio's attempts to lure a slightly different crowd. It would help if its sign was less of a shrinking violet; the driveway from Seminole Highway is easy to miss. Its nightly specials are generally drink specials ("$3 Captain, Jack and Blackheart mixers"), and the beers people clutch are likely to be in bottles and of the light persuasion. The former Byrd's space is a fairly dark contemporary take on a tavern, and its longish, narrow shape is aimed at bar service and TV-screen watching. If you are watching a game, it's easy to see multiple screens from most seating.
The starter menu covers the usual fried items, fancied up a bit with a bruschetta plate. Go for the fried dill pickles or a basket of the sweet potato fries.
For meat eaters, a smart choice from the sandwich menu is the Italian sausage, juicy and not so highly seasoned as to turn off diners who'd prefer a Wisconsin bratwurst. In fact, on one visit I would have testified that the sausage was a white brat. It's dressed up well with caramelized onions and sautéed green peppers, and its hoagie bun stands up to the add-ons. Like all of Namio's sandwiches and wraps, it comes with a choice of pub chips, waffle chips, French fries or sweet potato fries. At $6, it's also a pretty good deal.
There are three sandwich options for vegetarians - a walnut burger, a grilled veggie sandwich with pesto, and a portobello mushroom cap on ciabatta. The portobello, with provolone cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette, was a solid rendition of this sandwich that's become a pub standard.
Namio's "Signature Charred Tomato Soup" was a particular disappointment. No flavor of charred tomato came through, and although the broth was better than too-sweet cream canned tomato soups, it subbed a thin, acidic flavor. The basil chiffonade, more than a garnish, helped with the flavor, but it wasn't a remedy for the lack of depth in the soup itself.
More insulting was the grilled cheese sandwich served on the side. Grocery-store white bread was filled with what looked to be a precut cheese single. This is the kind of thing usually served to 5-year-olds (and grilled cheese does appear on the "small fries" section of the menu). For adults, this sandwich needs to be served on real bread with better cheese, or it should be dropped entirely.
The quesadilla was the grilled cheese sandwich's pseudo-Mexican sibling, with the same cheese melted between two flour tortillas and served with a mushy pico de gallo. The addition of grilled chicken pieces for $2 didn't create much interest to this boring offering.
When Namio's opened last fall, the owners indicated they might expand the menu in time. That hasn't happened yet; the starters, salads, soups, burgers and sandwiches have stayed mostly the same. The only variation from the daily menu is the Friday fish fry.
Although a same-day Facebook posting announced the evening's fish choices as beer-battered cod or baked cod, breaded perch, grilled tilapia and walleye, in fact only the cod and the perch were on the menu. The point of using social media in this way is so that restaurants can be up-to-the-minute, no?
The cod had very light, almost tempura-like batter and was fresh and hot from the frier. The perch had a crunchier crumb breading and was also fresh and hot. It was a little less slippery and fishy-tasting than perch can sometimes be. (I'm not - the truth comes out - a fan of perch, but I thought this was good, so what it bodes for actual perch lovers I'm not certain.)
The downfall came with the fry's indifferent sides: a coleslaw made mostly with purple cabbage chopped too large and a thin, Miracle Whip-style sweet dressing; a completely spherical dinner roll somewhat smaller than a golf ball; and choice of potato. Pub chips, thin-cut like potato chips, had been left in the deep fryer too long and were overly browned, if not actually burnt.
Namio's modest menu is decent for a sports pub - a few tweaks and it could have game.