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Monday, October 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Fair
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Vintage Brewing Company aims to please Madison's west side
Bet on the burger
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Credit:Brandon Jordan

Vintage Brewing Company has a lot going on: an illuminated aquarium in the middle of the bar, flat-screen TVs showing everything from sports to Forrest Gump, cheesy yet appealing '70s beer signs with photos of clear mountain streams and babes with Farrah hair, and various pieces of mid-century kitsch. Throw in a few pool tables, videogames, local artwork, giant brewing equipment and a fireplace, and you have a whole lot of theme. My experiences at Vintage were a similar mixed bag.

Most of Vintage's appetizers are familiar bar stuff - nachos, wings and the like. The fried cheese curds were, unsurprisingly, addictive, though the "Creole" sauce they came with tasted like straight marinara, with only a hint of heat. A plate of two large crab cakes on a bed of mango slaw clocked in at $12. I liked their crunchy exteriors, though the insides were mushy and the taste was not particularly crablike. The house-made island hot sauce, sweet and kicky, lent some flavor.

Reasonably priced soups, salads and sandwiches dominate Vintage's menu. The grilled vegetable salad offers a generous helping of leaf lettuces, but the vegetables lacked grilled or roasted flavor. The house-made salad dressings (I tasted balsamic and ranch) were good additions. Other main-dish salads include tropical chicken, grilled salmon and a chipotle-lime Caesar with goat cheese and roasted red peppers.

The standout burger was the satisfying Blue Heaven with blue cheese and bacon jam. The jam was served on the side and had a salty sweetness on its own; once on the burger, it was rendered mute by the blue cheese. Similarly, the salmon sandwich claimed wasabi aioli as an ingredient, but the aioli was either left off or undetectable. Though Vintage's menu contains a lot of meat and fish, vegetarians have a few options. There's a vegetable sandwich and a black bean burger, as well as a few pastas and salads.

Vintage's entrée selection veers largely toward comfort food. There's a stuffed chicken breast (lunch only), ribs and, for multi-meat lovers, Wisconsin cassoulet (packed with bratwurst, two kinds of sausage, bacon and duck). The pot pie's biscuit top was deep golden and tasted like a biscuit should, while the gravy was pleasantly scented with herbs; however, the vegetables were chewy to the point of being underdone.

The ribs met with mixed reviews. The sauce was too sweet for me, but I liked the ribs themselves; others deemed the meat too tough. As entrees go, the pot pie is reasonably priced at $12; baked macaroni and cheese, Creole ravioli, and gnocchi with shrimp range from $14 to $18. Several large shrimp made the gnocchi dish passable, but it's not an $18 entrée by my standards.

The dessert menu was similarly hit or miss. The Key lime bar is a slab of tangy-sweet deliciousness - get one to share. The chocolate chip cookie Sunday (yes, that's how it's spelled) was great except for the rock-hard cookie. Vintage serves a daily cobbler as well as a daily cheesecake. The mango-raspberry cobbler was cloying and topped with hard granola-esque chunks. The grasshopper cheesecake was bland. A white chocolate bread pudding, though missing its advertised strawberry sauce, was the winner by a mile, its sweet lightness balancing a rich, moist texture.

My impression of Vintage is that it's doing some things well (burgers, fries, friendly staff) but still has kinks to work out. We got our appetizers after our entrees had arrived (and only on prompting). Many elements of dishes as described on the menu were absent (and apparently unfamiliar to the waitstaff). However, the servers were attentive and pleasant and made many efforts to ensure that our meals were enjoyable. Here's hoping that Vintage can make its mixed bag into a place with a little something for everyone.

Vintage Brewing's beers will be reviewed at a later date as part of TheDailyPage.com's "Beer Here" column.

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