Ale Asylum's new brewery not just a place to quench thirst
The growth of the Ale Asylum brewery over the last seven years has been remarkable.
When co-owners Otto Dilba and Dean Coffey left Angelic Brewing Co. and used some of its brewing equipment to open Ale Asylum on the city's north side, they probably couldn't have imagined that their operation would become the state's third largest craft brewery.
Much of the credit goes to the brewery's recipe for Hopilicious-an American pale ale that General Beer Distributors in Madison says is the fastest-growing brand the organization has seen in 40 years.
Early last year, Dilba and Coffey announced plans to build a 45,000-square-foot brewery with a tasting room that also would serve food. They emphasized that they weren't going into the restaurant business but intended to expand the menu from house-frozen pizzas to a wider range of options.
We visited recently and found what looked like a full-blown, two-story restaurant with a couple of dining rooms. While it's true that you won't find expensive entrees at Ale Asylum, it did offer tasty appetizers, sandwiches and pizzas-many of which surpassed the fare we've found in fully dedicated restaurants.
The food menu-combined with delicious beers such as Mercy, a sweet-but-strong Belgian ale, Contorter Porter and such hoppy beers as Hoplicious, Ballistic and Ambergeddon-has turned the new Ale Asylum into a true destination.
The facility is a mile from the Dane County Regional Airport and features seating for more than 100 in an upscale industrial-looking building. Plenty of patio space is especially welcome now that warm building. Plenty of patio space is especially welcome now that warm weather has arrived.
Our party of five found lots to like on the menu, beginning with tortilla chips and fresh salsa and a crisp rainbow slaw with its multi-colored sweet peppers. All sandwiches are served with the chips and salsa, and for $1 more you can add a side of slaw, soup or salad.
A velvety tomato bisque ($3 per cup) is loaded with chunky tomato and rich flavor, while a veggie quesadilla ($8) satisfied by blending roasted corn, roasted red peppers, black beans, tomatoes and pepperoncinis. It's all wrapped with grated cheese in a whole-wheat tortilla, with sides of salsa, sour cream and shredded cabbage.
The menu offers four salads: steak, salmon, Southwest and mixed greens. The steak salad ($11) features thinly sliced broiled flank steak on a bed of spinach with toasted walnuts, goat cheese, tomatoes and red wine sautéed onions, with a side of ranch dressing.
The citrus salmon salad ($11) combines a 5-ounce salmon filet with spinach, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, sliced almonds and goat cheese-all drizzled with a Hopalicious vinaigrette.
The Southwest salad ($10) is a lively mix of baby greens and shredded cheeses, black olives, roasted corn, tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro, topped with black beans, tortilla chips and a salsa ranch dressing.
Fish tacos ($8) are a popular choice because they're deliciously crunchy and go well with cold beer. At Ale Asylum, they consist of two corn and flour tortillas with baked ancho tilapia, shredded cabbage, black bean salsa and a house-made taco sauce.
Not to be outdone, the Cuban sandwich ($9) also pairs well with the local brew. It features house-made, slow-roasted pulled pork, smoked ham, Swiss cheese and sliced pickles with stone-ground mustard.
The kitchen also offers an assortment of Middleton-based Falbo Brothers pizzas and other tasty appetizers and sandwiches: a shrimp burger, spicy black bean burger and hot ham and havarti, among others.
The service is also good, and the brewery has plenty of on-site parking. Our only complaint was the noise level inside the dining room. But considering it's also a beer tasting room, what can you expect? At least the place isn't as noisy as some of the more expensive and supposedly highbrow restaurants downtown.
Craft beer fans already had plenty of reasons to make the trek to Madison's north side-the new menu at Ale Asylum is just one more.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.