Next Door Brewing a welcome addition to Madison's east side

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

MADISON—The rise of the brewpub continues unabated in Madison with the recent appearance of Next Door Brewing on the city's east side.

The pub, at 2439 Atwood Ave., opened in late August and is more than a new microbrewery. It's a full-fledged restaurant with a focus on local, fresh food. Some of the kitchen's recipes are familiar—a roasted half chicken comes with rosemary potatoes and marinated cherry tomatoes—while others have an unexpected twist, such as a roasted pork shoulder sandwich with kimchi sauce, pickled vegetable slaw and ginger relish.

Next Door features a three-barrel brewhouse, an open, spacious floor plan, and a menu with Asian flavors and a nod to our northern neighbors in an appetizer plate of poutine.

The dining room is dimly lit and feels slightly retro in colors of orange and blue, with painted cinderblock walls and wall-mounted TVs.

The room has tables for two and four, as well as a few tables designed for communal dining, and an L-shaped bar that affords plenty of room to sit and converse while quaffing one of the in-house brews. The WPA—a local pale ale—is a hoppy beer that's not as bitter as a typical IPA, while the Wilbur is a cream ale with malted oats.

The menu includes 10 appetizers, some very fine soups and salads, and about a dozen sandwiches and entrees. Nightly specials also are available.

A friend and I started a meal on a busy Friday night with an order of poutine ($7.50), the Canadian national favorite, which includes thick-cut, skin-on fries and soft cheese curds smothered in brown pork gravy. This kitchen's version adds chopped green onions, a welcome addition to a comforting (if unhealthy) heaping plate.

We also liked an order of fried sauerkraut sausage balls (six for $5) with remoulade—notable because of the unusual, savory interplay of pork and kraut.

A salad of baby spinach with chevre, tomatoes and pickled shallots that came with a warm dressing made of bacon and the pub's house beer ($6) was an excellent cold-weather plate, while another salad of butter lettuce with radishes, candied walnuts and Granny Smith apples topped with a curry buttermilk dressing ($6) didn't go over as well. The spicy curry dressing just didn't fit with sweet walnuts and buttermilk.

For a main course, we chose a special: a whole red snapper for two, cooked with root vegetables and accompanied by arugula salads ($26). The tender fish was delicious and priced at about twice as much as the most expensive regular entrée, a beer-braised beef shank with apples and onions, served with a root vegetable mash ($14.50).

Unfortunately, our server thought the arugula was part of the fish plate and not a separate salad. That meant my companion and I ended up with four bowls of salad.

It wasn't the only glitch with service—just the most annoying. We attributed those mostly minor drawbacks to start-up issues that get worked out over time.

A return for lunch the next day gave us a chance to sample a couple of the kitchen's sandwiches. The ssam pork sandwich with kimchi sauce, pickled vegetable slaw and ginger relish ($9) was tasty and satisfying. Served with hand-cut fries, the sandwich was a messy affair and required extra napkins, but the pork shoulder was moist, tender and set off by Asian flavors of kimchi and ginger.

A veggie tostada consisted of black beans, generous chunks of avocado, roasted corn, scallions, chili tomato sauce and a dab of queso fresco ($8). It looked pretty, tasted great and was a healthy choice—especially compared to most other things on the menu.

The owners of the new brewpub have stressed their desire to create a space for communal interaction, a place where strangers can meet and converse in a friendly environment over good food and drink. From our perspective, they've succeeded. Next Door Brewing really does exude a welcoming vibe and feels like the kind of neighborhood place you could return to again and again.

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