[<gastro- as in gastronomic, etc. + pub]
Brit. a tavern specializing in serving high-quality food (as opposed to deep fried jalapeno poppers or chicken wings)
The Cooper’s Tavern on the Capital square in Madison is being billed by its owners as a “Gastropub”, which is a British term used to describe a pub that is as well known for its food as it is for its drinks. It’s filling the same niche in Madison as places like The Old Fashioned and Brasserie V, which means a comfortable bar with a great assortment of beers on tap and a menu with intriguing starters, hearty sandwiches, and salads that venture past the plain piles of iceberg and pale tomatoes seen in most Wisconsin taverns.
We visited Coopers for a couple of mid week lunches recently, and both times the place was jammed times with the downtown office crowd looking for a good lunch.
The first thing we ordered was the poutine, solid evidence that Canada was first settled by transplants from Wisconsin: french fries topped with melted cheese curds and a brown gravy. Poutine is a dish from Quebec that can only be described a delicious, caloric mess. Neither of us needed it for a weekday lunch, but we still whimpered a bit when the plate was wisked away before we could sop up the last puddle of gravy with one of the few remaining fries.
For sandwiches, we ordered the Reuben, since we are both big fans of a good corned beef. We also took a flyer on the intriguing sounding lamb sandwich. The Reuben was hands down the winner. The tall stack of carved corned beef was bursting with flavor, easily the best we’ve had anywhere in Madison. The menu says the beef is “house cured”, so whatever is going on inside the “house”, they need to keep it up.
(and BTW, the little “house” at the end of the bar is not where the corned beef is made. It’s called a snug, which is a small private room in Irish pubs where one can drink without being subject to the prying eyes of the public. Think local beat cops, parish priests, or in the case of Madison, your state elected officials and their lobbyist friends).
The carved lamb sandwich on sourdough with carmelized onions and a tomato “jam” stood out as something you don’t see on many menus, so we had to try it. And while it was certainly very good, it paled in comparison to the Reuben. The tomato jam was intended as a tart counter point to the richness of the lamb, but it ended up being more of a distraction.
On another visit, we ordered the burger, which came recommended by the bartender. And while it certainly stood out from your typical supper club offering, it seemed a bit average when compared to the taste explosion of the V-Burger at Brasserie V or the house burger at the Old Fashioned. The beef was good quality from Knoche’s, but the only interesting accent beyond the onion and pickle, the thin slice of pork belly, had its flavor disappear under the massive Clasen’s kaiser bun.
The beer list is wide and varied, moving beyond more typical Belgian imports and local craft brews to include a wide range of offerings from Ireland, England, and Germany.
A slightly more involved dinner menu will have a range of entrees no more expensive that $14. As general manager Peter McElvanna says in this State Journal article:
“For the Capitol Square, it’s relatively well-priced,” McElvanna said. “You can come in and have a burger and a couple of pints and a tip and it’s 20 bucks.”
The Cooper’s Tavern
20 West Mifflin Street, Madison, WI
Open everyday, 11:00AM till close