201210BHSAMMIE

Among the entrees Gazette restaurant reviewer Aaron R. Conklin enjoyed as part of a recent take-out order at Buck & Honey’s in Monona was TA’s Hot Comby Sandwich, a take on an Italian club sandwich featuring ham, salami and pepperoni under a pile of melted mozzarella cheese.

MONONA

It’s easy, in this time of limited seating capacity and curbside service, to lament the things it’s harder to or impossible to enjoy in our favorite restaurants.

In the case of Buck & Honey’s Monona location, that includes enjoying your food in the shadow of the jaw-dropping birch mural that backs the restaurant’s main bar—one of the most dramatic design touches in the area.

The good news is that even if you’re forced to order your food curbside, it isn’t just delicious—it is presented just as beautifully as if you were enjoying it sitting at that beautiful bar.

The original Buck & Honey’s has been a staple in Sun Prairie for more than a decade, but the Monona location opened just a little more than a year ago. It is brilliantly located as it is accessible to both both bikers from the nearby bike path and boaters enjoying a summertime slow-drift down the Yahara River. Additionally, its mix of supper club and pub staples is most definitely worth looking into.

The appetizer menu is full of pleasant surprises.

Some places save the heat of their firecracker shrimp for the breading or deliver it in a Szechuan-style dipping sauce. At Buck & Honey’s, the smaller-sized shrimp are swimming in a creamy (and quite spicy) sriracha- based sauce and then gussied up with green onions. It’s the kind of heat you love to savor.

Bacon-wrapped dates ($12) almost subsume the toothpicks holding them together. They are tender, juicy and flavorful, glazed with balsamic and packed with almonds and goat cheese. They also provide a key guidepost to the rest of the Buck & Honey’s menu.

Let’s put it this way: Basically, if the item in question involves meat, you can feel confident ordering it. And that includes the thick-cut pork-belly bacon ($12) from Jones Dairy Farm in Fort Atkinson.

Case in point: The tenderloin salad ($6) with grilled romaine lettuce and fried polenta triangles is eye-popping, with a sizable pile of glazed of tenderloin taking center stage. This is less of an entrée salad than a steak plate with a grilled leafy sidekick along for the ride. We’re just fine with that.

Similarly, the chicken that leads off the chipotle chicken pasta ($16) darn near steals the show from the spices packed into its creamy sauce. Grilled, tender and flavorful, it could almost have been served without the bed of carbs.

Spanky’s meatloaf ($16), a veal-glazed effort, was drier and less flavorful than expected, but was elevated by arriving on a pillowy bed of spectacular garlic mashed potatoes and crispy onion strings—the latter of which is easily the best side on the menu. If you want to elevate it further, make your second side choice the gourmet mac and cheese.

Buck & Honey’s lunch and dinner menus share a lot of similar content, but one of the lunch items you won’t want to miss is TA’s Hot Comby Sandwich ($13). It’s a hot version of an Italian club with ham, salami and pepperoni buried under an avalanche of melted mozzarella.

At this point, veggie- lovers might be wondering what’s in it for them. Not to worry: The dinner menu features a “Life Balance” section highlighted by a plate of edamame ($7) and, if you’re looking for something with a little more pop, a plate of locally-sourced eggs mixed with guacamole ($10).

The only thing that really doesn’t impress on the menu is the pizza, available in build-your own options or specialty pies such as the Thai chicken ($120 and the Wisco ($12)—Buck & Honey’s take on the mac-and-cheese pizza. The thin-crust pies are serviceable, to be sure, but given all of the other delicious items on the menu, you have plenty of other options that stand out. And items such as the aforementioned firecracker shrimp work better as an app or an entrée than they do as a pizza.

Buck & Honey’s is slated to open its third location in Waunakee on Dec. 15, which means the franchise is well on its way to becoming a regional restaurant powerhouse in southcentral Wisconsin.

Given the presentation and quality of the food at the Monona location, it’s not at all difficult to understand why.

Aaron R. Conklin is a freelance writer based in Madison. He has written about food, theater and pop culture for publications such as Isthmus, the Wisconsin State Journal and Madison Magazine.

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