My dining partner and I enjoy craft breweries as much as a lot of people. Even better is when a place offers great food with diverse batches of beer.
That’s the profile at Union Corners Brewery, a 5,000-square-foot brewery and restaurant that opened in June in the new Union Corners development near the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street on the city’s east side. The development is under construction, and the brewery appears to be about the only business that has opened in the complex so far.
The taproom is a large open space with 113 seats and lots of windows and shiny surfaces—but without much to absorb the sound of patrons unwinding after a day at the office. Fortunately, on the Thursday night of our visit, the place was only moderately busy and not too noisy. Union Corners also has a large patio that is not being used now but will provide seating for another 90 customers next spring.
The business is owned by Janesville native Eric Peterson, who gave up a 20-year career as a bio-medical engineer to open the brewery. He plans to launch smaller brewery-restaurant combos elsewhere in the state once his Madison location gets its legs.
In addition to more than a dozen tap lines of its own, Union Corners offers more established Wisconsin craft beers such as Karben4 of Madison, Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee and Capital Brewery in Middleton.
The food menu at Union Corners relies heavily on the deep fryer, along with some delicious appetizers, a host of great sandwiches and burgers, some fine soups and salads, and wonderful desserts that include homemade ice cream.
The kitchen offers more than a half-dozen appetizers with some inventive options such as vegan harrisa lettuce cups ($8): spiced eggplant, tomatoes, curry raisins, pickled carrots and spiced peanuts served in Boston lettuce cups with a balsamic vinaigrette. There is also a Wisconsin meat and cheese board ($13) that features landjaegers from Bavaria Sausage Company in Madison and cheeses from Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Carr Valley. Deep-fried white cheese curds from Milwaukee’s Clock Shadow Creamery ($8) are crispy and served with a side of ranch dressing, while vegetarians will like the “beet tartar,” which features roasted beets with coconut dressing, herbs and cucumbers.
Also among the appetizers, I’d recommend the kitchen’s dirty rice balls ($8) and pork belly bites ($9). The Cajun-style, fried-rice balls are breaded in panko bread crumbs and served with a spicy peanut romesco sauce, while the pork belly is tossed in a choice of either sriracha buffalo sauce or a spicy dry rub and then served with ranch or blue cheese dressing.
The house-cured pork belly is crispy and melts perfectly on the palate. It is found in the Union Corners BLT ($11), as well. The sandwich comes on toasted challah bread with roasted garlic mayo, buttered soy, lettuce, tomato and pork belly.
Sandwiches and burgers are served with a choice of fries, sweet potato fries, a salad or cheese curds (for an extra $2). Each choice is tasty and comes in a large portion. Customers also choose what kind of meat they want for their burgers: a blend of ground chuck, brisket and short rib, or turkey. For another $2, vegans can order the Beyond patty.
The porchetta sandwich ($13) incorporates herb-roasted pork belly with thin-sliced pork loin in a tasty combination that comes with roasted garlic mayo on a house-made, toasted focaccia.
Uplands Cheese makes its Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese from grass-fed milk each summer at the dairy outside Dodgeville, and Union Corners uses the cheese in its Pleasant Ridge burger ($13.50), as well as with its cheese board. My companion’s burger was served medium rare (“excellent,” she said) and came with caramelized onions and bacon blueberry jam on a toasted pretzel bun.
A buffalo chicken sandwich ($12) also came on a pretzel bun and rivaled the burger for delectibility. Breaded and deep-fried, the breast is tossed in sriracha buffalo sauce and served with blue cheese dressing, lettuce, tomato, onions and pickles. We were impressed.
Union Corners’ fine food is enhanced by a line of craft beers that you can order in 5-ounce glasses or in pint sizes.
The desserts are surprising and interesting, as well. The kitchen makes its own ice cream on a rotating basis, so it offers a different flavor each day. An order of warm banana bread a la mode ($7) was richly satisfying on a cold November night and came with two small scoops of cinnamon dulce de leche ice cream. We also loved an order of churro curds a la mode ($12): cinnamon and sugar-dusted fried curds resting atop the same ice cream along with a dollop of thick chocolate sauce.
Union Corners Brewery is a great new addition to the city’s east side. It is sure to become a popular place in the neighborhood, and it deserves to be a destination in itself.