Roast's cult-worthy sandwiches class up lower State
Nov 28, 2012 (Menafn - The Wisconsin State Journal - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --To say that Roast Public House is an improvement over its former tenant is an understatement along the lines of saying The Coopers Tavern is an improvement over the McDonald's that was once on the Capitol Square.
Buffalo Wild Wings (which moved from the 500 block of State to the Lucky Building on University) is a generic sports bar with cheap taps, chicken wings and big TVs. The new resident is Roast Public House, which sources its turkey from Jordandal and sausage from Black Earth Farms, elevates every sandwich with hearty Madison Sourdough bread and doesn't bother to put a burger on the menu at all.
"We're seeing what reception we get to the (lack of) burgers," said co-owner Henry Aschauer, who with fellow 2010 University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate Doug Hamaker opened Roast in early October.
Roast has offered burgers as an occasional special, and a mushroom burger and a guacamole/chipotle burger fared well on recent Saturdays, he said. But being just a few doors down from Five Guys Burgers and Fries, the Roast team didn't want a "standard, cookie cutter" burger on the menu, just to have one there.
"We saw a void on State Street that catered both toward students and young professionals," Aschauer said.
Both Roast and Coopers, which Aschauer cited as an influence, represent a slow and steady shift toward classing up comfort food. Both are newer restaurants trying something different, something more in line with Madison's more aspirational culinary scene.
The interior of Roast looks split -- half features exposed brick, dark wooden panels and nautical map prints that seem to fit the gastropub menu. The other half looks like a typical college bar, with unfinished floors, ESPN on flat-screen TVs and a game room in the basement with darts and pingpong.
"Recently we've been seeing a good bar crowd," Aschauer said, "an older crowd that's receptive to the beer list we've got going on."
Roast aims to provide "a good quick meal that's a little more involved" and "introduce people to new beers" -- the 16 taps currently include New Belgium's Snow Day Black Ale and Lips of Faith Biere de Garde, Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale and a black IPA from Rogue called Dad's Little Helper.
Among chef Andrew Greenberg's 15-sandwich lineup are cult-worthy options like the turkey spinach dip panini (8), made with juicy turkey and a generous layer of cheesy spinach dip on toasted sourdough. A succulent white cap roast beef (9), topped with melted mozzarella and caramelized onions, needed no au jus to keep it juicy.
On both the roast beef and a hearty chicken francese (8), crunchy/chewy baguette added texture and helped the sandwich travel well.
The California avocado (8) with Swiss was creamy and filling enough to make even a devoted meat-eater forget it's vegetarian. And salads, including the parmesan-topped Roast Caesar (2 side/3.50 small/5 full), tasted fresh and well-dressed.
Roast still has some details to work out. One panini came under-grilled, and the Giambotta (8), which boasts "cherry pepper pork gravy," lacked the kick promised by sliced hot peppers, which contributed only a slight vinegary tang. (The slow-roasted pork itself, however, was excellent.)
Kettle chips, which the restaurant gets frozen and fries up in back, do the pre-bagged versions one better. Skin-on rustic fries (1.50/side, 2.50 a la carte) were double-fried perfectly. But sweet potato fries (1.50 on the side, 3 a la carte), though thin and sweet, wilted before they reached our table.
Still, even small dishes, like a cup of kid-friendly macaroni and cheese with breadcrumbs (3) or a tomato-spiked, slightly spicy chili nicknamed "bad ass" (3.50 cup/5 bowl) show that Roast takes the job of classing up lower State seriously (but not too seriously).
"Both of us grew up having the small little deli or sandwich shop in our home town," said Aschauer, who grew up in Maine. (Hamaker and Greenberg are high school friends from New Jersey.)
"We felt that was missing on State Street. And there's not a better place to start out with our concept ... The city is extremely receptive to new businesses, to young people giving stuff a shot."
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