I was visiting the head of the audio department at American TV in Madison earlier this summer and asked him out for lunch. He gave me two options - one, kind of a dive bar that had lunch specials; or two, a place across the Beltway expressway from the main American TV store called Bonfyre American Grille (see map). "It's a little more upscale," he told me as he climbed in my car. I said upscale was fine with me.
Initially, I thought it was the same place as Axel's Bonfire, a place I've written about here and here based out of the Twin Cities. But after looking at how Bonfyre spells the name with a "y" instead of an "i", I figured out they weren't the same. But quite honestly, there were a ton of similarities between the two.
Actually, I wouldn't call Bonfyre as much upscale as much as I'd call it American contemporary, very similar to Axel's Bonfire in Minnesota where they cook the food over open flame. Located in the Arbor Gate Center, it's quickly become one of the hotter spots to eat in Madison. Parking at peak times can be a little rough - we drove around for about three minutes looking for a space to open up during the height of the lunch rush.
Bonfyre American Grille's owner is Alfredo Teuschler, a local restaurateur who also owns the upscale Eno Vino wine bar and restaurant. Teuschler used to own a Houlihan's franchise on the west end of town and was a co-owner in the elegant Cloud 9 when it was open in Madison. Teuschler opened Bonfyre in the latter part of 2009 and it has been one of the more welcome additions on an already crowded restaurant scene in Madison.
The hostess took us to our table located near the front window of the restaurant that had a not so nice view of the parking lot and the Beltway beyond. We took a look at the lunch menus and discussed ever so briefly about getting a Capital Supper Club beer for lunch. The American TV guy has also fallen in love with Capital beers. The Capital Supper Club is suddenly my favorite summertime beer. It has a taste that is not all that far away from the old Leinenkugel Northwoods Lager that I loved so much when it was available. But after coming to the realization that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to go back to talk to staffers and other upper management at American TV with beer on our breaths, we reluctantly passed on getting a cold one with lunch.
The lunch menu at Bonfyre isn't much different from the dinner menu in terms of selection. The main difference between the two are the combinations offered during the lunch portion of the day. For between $9 and $12 dollars you get your choice of a variety of half-sandwiches, chicken entrees, jambalaya, grilled shrimp and other items along with a salad or a cup of soup. A number of the items are full entrees on the dinner menu.
One thing Bonfyre did have was fish tacos. Yep, good ol' grilled fish tacos topped with cabbage, a creamy chipotle dressing with pico de gallo and refried beans served on the side. I know I'm getting sort of boring with the fish taco thing, but I'm on some sort of a personal quest to find great fish tacos - sort of the same way that I always get sausage, pepperoni and mushroom on my pizza when I find a new pizza place. I need to have some sort of a measuring stick when it comes to the things I'm eating. I ended up ordering the fish tacos combo with a salad.
My guest ordered the jambalaya combo for lunch, however he asked if he could get a wedge salad instead of a regular salad. The waitress said, "Sure! There would be a $2.00 upcharge, but we can make it happen."
"Uh, hang on a second," I said as I stopped her from walking away. "Change mine to a wedge salad, as well."
Thankfully, the wedge salads were small - much smaller than what you'd find with a regular wedge salad. Actually, I didn't know if that was their regular wedge salad or a lunch time size. But it was very manageable in size. And the homemade creamy blue cheese dressing was very good. The blue cheese chunks were huge and very forward in taste. I wondered if they were using Maytag Blue Cheese in the dressing.
When the waitress came back to check on us, I asked her if they used Maytag Blue Cheese in their dressing. She said she didn't know, but she would find out. A couple moments later, she came back and said, "I asked the chef if it was Maytag Blue Cheese in the dressing and he said, 'Absolutely!' " She said one of their signature appetizers is the homemade potato chips topped with Maytag blue and jalapeno jack cheeses.
I commenced to tell the waitress and my guest that I grew up in Newton, IA - home of the Maytag Dairy Farm and Maytag Blue Cheese. About how they used to sentence every fifth grade class in the Newton Community School District with tours of the facility and how bad it smelled. My guest was laughing and he said, "Well, yeah! It's cultured and moldy cheese! It was bound to smell horrible." I told them that it was a good 20 years after that before I began to like blue cheese.
Our entrees came out not long after and I had a couple of large fish tacos filled with a grilled white fish with a cabbage mix and the chipotle cream sauce. And I will say they were very, very good. The fish was fresh, light and had a nice charred taste to it. The chipotle cream sauce added a little subtle kick to the tacos.
My guest's jambalaya was interesting looking - not quite the jambalaya I've seen, but more of a rice dish with a tomato-based sauce and five or six large grilled shrimp placed on top. He said it was good, however, and made a large dent into it before declaring himself rather full.
A manager from Bonfyre came over and asked us, "Which one of you is from Newton, IA?" I told him I was and he said that he had actually toured the Maytag Dairy Farm a few years ago. I quickly told him the story of being a 10-year-old going through the dairy and the being exposed to the cheese vats and how horrible it smelled. He said, "That's sort of weird that they'd make little kids go through the dairy. Yeah, it smells pretty horrific in that vat room. I can imagine that a little kid would probably be turned off with blue cheese if they smelled it during the processing."
I thought Bonfyre was pretty good. My fish tacos were above average, I did like the wedge salad and the service was good, as well. It was a very pleasant experience and I thought, overall, Bonfyre was a very good, dynamic restaurant. It's nice to have another option for dinner in Madison and Bonfyre is not far from the core of dealers that I call on in the city. I was impressed.