It’s been both interesting and inspiring to see the ways different Madison restaurants have found ways to reach and serve new audiences during the pandemic.
Adjusting menus, adjusting hours and delivery systems, inventing on the fly—it’s a testament to the creativity and survivor’s instinct that runs so deep in the local food community.
You certainly can’t argue staff members at Brasserie V aren’t survivors. Even before the pandemic hit and effectively shut down the cozy bar and dining room, the Euro-centric brasserie had managed to survive and thrive through an entirely different sort of challenge—a brutal year-plus road construction project on Monroe Street that obliterated drive-by business, eliminated on-street parking and claimed multiple restaurants before it finally wrapped up in 2018.
Maybe that experience helped prep chef Chris Murfield and his staff with their approach to the current situation. With the bar and dining room effectively closed, ownership has honed the menu and added four tasty Take-and-Make options to cover dinner for anywhere from two to six people.
Two of those choices—a Flemish beef stew and a duck cassoulet that pairs fowl from Maple Leaf Farms with local sausage and bacon—are also available as single portions from the entrée menu. Two others—a shepherd’s pie ($30-$55, depending on the number of servings) that buries both beef and lamb beneath mashed potatoes mixed with a cave-aged cheddar from Blue Mont Dairy Farm, and a saffron, crab and corn risotto ($35-$70) that would be more difficult to offer as a single entrée—are the kind of thing you would likely spend the day trying (and failing) to create yourself.
All four Take-and-Make options come with a salad.
Much of Brasserie V’s slimmed-down pandemic menu revolves around the tender Scottish Highland beef the restaurant sources from Highland Spring Farm in Oregon. That starts with the carbonade flamande ($19)—the Flemish dish referenced above.
The dish is a seriously savory beef stew with huge chunks of Highland beef braised in St. Bernardus Abbey Ale, one of Brasserie V’s top-selling beers. Everything about this dish is huge—the size of the potatoes, the size of the carrots and the overall smooth taste. This is high-grade comfort food defined.
The Highland beef is also the centerpiece of the tasty V Burger ($12.50), the only burger on a slimmed-down menu that is far heavier on BLTs and turkey sandwiches.
Interestingly, it’s not the meat that maketh the experience here: It’s the sourdough bread from Madison Sourdough and the delicious mayo-based aioli. It’s more sandwich than traditional burger, and that’s a good thing.
In nonpandemic times, Brasserie V’s cheese plates ($16 for three cheese selections, $25 for five) are the perfect thing to pair with the restaurant’s extensive beer list. Curbside alters that calculus a little.
While the cheese travels gracefully, some of the visual appeal is lost having to reconstruct the crackers and cheese once you plant them on your own dining room table. The Hook’s 10-year cheddar and Roth Moody Blue Cheese—the two best of the six possible cheese options—still taste incredible when paired with a locally baked Potter’s Cracker, but this is an experience that is unfortunately not tailor-made for takeout.
But the shrimp fricassee ($23) sure is. The dish features enormous pieces of crustacean in a lemon- based sauce with herbs and rice. I expected the shrimp to be the stars of the show—and they certainly were meaty and delicious—but the sauce and seasoning were so balanced and flavorful, it even made the rice come alive.
If you’re a longtime Brasserie V aficionado, you know the second most critical thing about the menu—beyond the extensive beer menu, obviously—are the delicious frites. These Belgian-style french fries manage just the right amount of crisp saltiness.
In another clever nod to pandemic life, the staff has augmented the menu frites with $5 “walking frites,” a slightly smaller cone of salty goodness you can quickly take to-go. That’s an idea worth hanging onto even when the pandemic finally lifts.
I mentioned Brasserie V’s dining room remains closed, which technically ought to mean curbside is your only option. But if you’re hearty and adventurous, it’s actually not: According to house manager Alex Soglin, even on cold and snowy days, the staff is willing to schlep a few of its small square tables to the sidewalk outside, allowing customers a little winter alfresco experience.
Given the limited space between building and curb, the tables can only seat two. But if you’ve gotta have your outdoor eats, this is a clever way to make it happen.