Where's the brew? Madison's Blair Street Brew & BBQ still needs beer

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By Bill Livick, Special to the Gazette
Wednesday, September 25, 2013

MADISON—Four months after opening, Blair Street Brew & BBQ still hasn't begun the brewing end of the operation, but it has become a popular hangout almost as much for the atmosphere as the “Mad City-style” barbecue.

Owner Nick Sierzant has created a homemade restaurant a few blocks east of the Capitol that includes two dining rooms and a bar. The place is on the noisy side and caters to a young, fun-loving crowd that turns out Thursday through Saturday nights.

The east room features a row of picnic tables beneath whirling ceiling fans. Framed antique photos of historic Madison decorate one part of the room and share the wall with folksy barn wood. In mish-mash fashion, another section of wall space sports a large mural. There are also a few flat-screen TVs in the room.

The west-side dining room has tables and chairs and, on the night of our visit, live music. The single performer had his amp turned up too loud for us, so we opted for the picnic table seating.

The restaurant serves meats with barbecue sauce that borrows from the classics—Kansas City-style, Texas-style, etc.—and then adds Sierzant's own twist.

The kitchen's highlights include a full and half-rack of ribs, a pulled pork sandwich, a beef brisket sandwich and rotisserie chicken, from a quarter bird to the whole thing.

This is not the destination for vegetarians or even if you're looking for a good mixed green salad on the side.

Conversely, the truest of carnivores will love the Badger Feast ($21.95): ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, ham, bacon and rotisserie chicken all on one plate.

Blair Street Brew & BBQ also offers fairly decent appetizers and sides—potato salad, cole slaw and baked beans—that are all homemade.

“We make everything from scratch,” Sierzant told us as he made the rounds chatting with customers.

One thing we noticed right away is that he offers a lot of food for the cost. Our appetizer—a quesadilla stuffed with shredded rotisserie chicken, nacho cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and onion ($7.50), with salsa on the side—easily could make a meal for a single person. It wasn't a work of art but tasted fine regardless.

Sandwiches come with a choice of baked beans, cole slaw or potato salad, while main courses include all three along with a slice of wonderful jalapeno cornbread.

We opted for a half rack of ribs ($15.95) that are dry-rubbed and basted with a choice of sweet and spicy house sauce or white barbecue sauce. A friend was less impressed with the ribs and house sauce than I was. To my palate, the meat was tender and complemented by the spicy sauce. To my friend's taste, the sauce was too acidic, and the meat should have been more tender and juicy.

We didn't agree entirely on the sides, either. It was two thumbs up on the cornbread, but for my taste, the potato salad lacked cohesion and the cole slaw was a bit cloying.

An open-face beef brisket sandwich ($8.95) with house-smoked bacon and crispy onion strings was delicious (although my companion didn't go for the sauce). The onion strings were tasty, if a bit greasy.

We were a little disappointed that the homebrew referred to in the restaurant's name has not yet made an appearance. Sierzant said he plans to offer a domestic pilsner, a pale ale and a bock, but he hasn't been able to put together the brewing apparatus to make it happen.

He encouraged us to sample at least one of his desserts—fried ice cream, smoked apple pot pie or a house-made malt—but by the time we'd finished about half of our food, we couldn't imagine trying a dessert.

Service was fast and friendly, although our young server did get a few things mixed up. Nothing serious.

Overall, we enjoyed Blair Street Brew & BBQ. We liked the food, the prices and the place's positive energy. If Sierzant can get his mircobrewing act together, he's bound to draw more customers.

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