A new gastropub on the city’s north side has been “packing them in” since opening in early May, according to an employee who provided fine service last week.
Bear & Bottle, a 4,800-square-foot eatery and bar on North Sherman Avenue, is restaurateur Tim Thompson’s latest venture. He also operates the Free House Pub in Middleton, the Flying Hound in Fitchburg and Waypoint Public House in Monona.
The new venue is located in the Lakewood Plaza Shopping Center at the intersection of North Sherman and Commercial avenues. The spacious dining room features a tin ceiling, a blue color scheme and lots of reclaimed wood and brick. The interior uses aged, weathered and whitewashed barn wood, and the back bar’s brick comes from the old Pabst Brewery in Milwaukee.
It all combines to lend a rustic-yet-upscale atmosphere to the attractive restaurant.
Along with its appealing interior, Bear & Bottle offers outdoor dining with five large roll-up doors that open to a patio with seating for 45 to 50 people. Inside, the dining area seats about 100 with room for 35 more at the bar.
The kitchen turns out some tasty fare. Its elevated pub food includes some Asian and Latin influences, as in the Korean-barbecue smoked chicken wings and smoked pork quesadillas from the appetizer menu. The food menu includes six types of taco, eight sandwiches and seven entrees that are served daily after 5 p.m.
Some of the appetizers are classic Wisconsin bar fare, such as deep-fried cheese curds served with ranch sauce ($8), chicken tenders with fries ($8) and braised short-rib sliders served with arugula, blue cheese and caramelized onions. Others include seared tuna with a soy glaze ($14), crab Rangoon nachos ($13) and tempura asparagus ($7.50) and jalapeno poppers ($8.50).
Bear & Bottle also offers street corn as an appetizer. It’s the second time in a month that I’ve found street corn on a local menu, although this version is very different from what we tasted at The Ohio Tavern. There, the corn is served in a small bowl with such ingredients as queso fresco, crispy bacon bits, paprika and cilantro.
Bear & Bottle’s street corn ($6 for two) is served on the cob and seasoned with spicy mayonnaise, cotija (a Mexican cheese), tajin (a Mexican sauce of chili peppers, lime and salt) and cilantro. As with any corn on the cob, it’s a bit messy to eat, but its flavor is a robust mix of bitter and sweet.
The menu lists six salads that are served in enormous portions. The Caesar ($9) is a fairly standard blend of butterhead lettuce, Parmesan and croutons. The spring salad ($9) has more going for it with escarole, shaved asparagus, peas, scallion, caramelized rhubarb and lemon goat cheese with a house vinaigrette.
The restaurant’s tacos come with two corn tortillas and can feature spicy Korean pork, tilapia, smoked grilled shrimp, beer barbacoa, salsa verde chicken or carnitas. The latter comes with diced onion, salsa verde, pickled jalapeno, radish and cilantro ($8.50). It is tasty but a tad dry.
A salmon sandwich ($12.50) came on a batch bun and included tarragon aioli, cucumber, roasted red pepper and escarole. A friend was pleased with the overall effect, but said she’s had better-tasting salmon.
From the entrée category, check out the delicious corn risotto-stuffed poblano peppers ($14.50)—a savory blend of red pepper, carrot, red onion, pico, cotija cheese, cilantro with creamy chimichurri sauce all complementing the poblanos.
Beer lovers have a lot to like at the bar, where about two dozen craft beers are on tap. Some are local (Ale Aslyum, Karben4, One Barrel, Next Door, Wisconsin Brewing Company and more) and some are from the West Coast (Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Green Flash, Bear Republic and more). The bar also features a group of talented mixologists serving a host of cocktails.
About the only drawback to the near-instant popularity of Bear & Bottle is the volume of the din generated when the place is busy. It can be difficult to carry a conversation at a reasonable level.
Still, with good service, good food and an inviting atmosphere, Bear & Bottle is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in experiencing the latest gastropub to emerge on the Madison dining scene.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.