On a recent trip to Madison, I took a couple guys from one of my dealers out to dinner. Madison, of course, is a big beer town with a number of restaurants and brew pubs with good food and great beer. We had been to Great Dane brew pub a handful of times (click here to see my entry on Great Dane) and I was sort of looking to mix things up. One of the guys said, "Well, Sprecher's (a small brewery out of Milwaukee) has a brew pub over near Middleton. They have great food. We could go there." Since I was staying in a hotel in the same general area that evening, I enthusiastically agreed that we should go there.
Sprecher's Restaurant and Pub is located in an area of West Madison that has a number of hotels and restaurants (see map). The building it's housed in used to be a Houlihan's until franchise owner Randy Lederer decided the didn't want to be tied to a chain any longer - especially a chain that had been slowly fading away. (Today, there are less than 50 Houlihan's restaurants across America.) Lederer approached Sprecher Brewing Company owner Randy Sprecher with an idea that would exclusively pair Sprecher beers with upscale pub food. Sprecher was sold on the concept. The first Sprecher's Restaurant and Pub opened in Madison in early 2010. Lederer - who along with his wife, Katy, and his in-law's, Felix and Kristin Richgels own the licensing for the Sprecher pubs - turned one of his Houlihan's locations in the Wisconsin Dells area into a Sprecher Restaurant and Pub a year later, then transformed a third location in Lake Geneva into a Sprecher location, as well. There has been talk of opening a Milwaukee location, but that hasn't happened as of yet.
Our small group got into the restaurant around 6:30 and we were greeted by a hostess who asked if we wanted to sit in the bar to the right, or in the dining area that was in front of us. There was a pretty good sized crowd in the bar area and it was pretty loud. We decided to sit in the spacious and somewhat elegant dining room (below right) to discuss a little business before having a relaxing dinner and multiple beers.
We were seated at a table with banquette seats on one side of the table and chairs on the other side. Our hostess left off dinner menus for us, and soon after our server for the evening - Lynsey - came over to greet us and get our beer order. The restaurant has 14 Sprecher beers on tap and four of their soda selections including their awesome root beer. I don't drink pop any longer, but the Sprecher root beer is one of the best I've ever had. But, it's - OH! - so sweet and rich that even when I did drink pop, it was difficult to take more than a few sips of the stuff.
To me, the Sprecher beers have also been a little too sweet for my taste. We've had Sprecher beers many times at Summerfest in Milwaukee. While I can't call them my favorite, they're still better than drinking Miller Lite. Their Amber beer was probably my favorite, but it was still a little too sweet for me. On the beer menu at the Sprecher restaurant they had an India pale ale that I decided to try. One of the other guys got the Black Bavarian beer - a dark beer with a full body. They had the seasonal Winter brew on tap during our visit, described as a "flavorful blend of dark roasted and sweet caramel malts defines this smooth and robust lager." My other guest got that and I immediately asked Lynsey if I could get a sample of that. She said, "Do you want a taste or a sample size?" What's the difference, I asked. She said, "I can just bring you out a small taste in a glass or a 4 oz. sample." I took the 4 oz. sample. I found out later on that the other difference was a $1.95 charge for the sample.
Looking through the menu, the Sprecher Restaurant and Pub had a long list of appetizers, as well as a number of entrees that are almost too numerous to mention. I was a little worried about the quality of the food because they had everything from steaks, seafood, sandwiches, salads, a number of burgers, flat bread pizzas, barbecue, German food, Irish pub favorites and American comfort food. It seems that restaurants who do a little bit of everything don't do them all very well.
As we were looking through the menus, it was time to get another beer. My I.P.A. was all right, nothing special, but I did like the taste of the Winter Brew and signed up for one of those for my second beer. My one guest also got a second Winter Brew, while the other guest decided the Black Bavarian was a little too heavy for him so he switched to the Hefe Weiss.
After conducting a little business at the table, we were ready to order our food. I was torn between the schnitzel - breaded pork tenderloins served with a lemon caper sauce and topped with a fried egg; or the meat loaf - a special meat blend that comes with veggies and pepper jack cheese, then topped with their onion straws and a brown gravy. They also had jambalaya on the menu that caught my eye. But I thought the schnitzel or meat loaf would be better. When Lynsey came by to take our order, I almost jumped on the meat loaf, but ended up getting the schnitzel.
One of my guests that evening ordered the tender tips - beef tips tossed with Wit-beer marinated mushrooms served over beer-cheese potatoes and topped with a red wine reduction sauce. That actually sounded pretty good. He told me, "Oh man. My wife and I have eaten here over a dozen times over the past three years. And that's our favorite thing on the menu."
My other guest got the California burger - a burger with pepper jack cheese and guacamole on top. (I had a burger for lunch, or I would have been interested in looking into the Mushroom/Swiss cheese burger that is topped with a red-wine reduction sauce; or the Breakfast burger that is topped with cheddar cheese, bacon and a fried egg. I may have to go back there for lunch at some point.)
Our food made its way to the table and I was ready to eat. The Winter Brew was very good - probably the best Sprecher beer I've had. I didn't think it was sweet as compared to other Sprecher brews I've had in the past. I was looking forward to pairing it with my schnitzel.
My schnitzel featured two medium sized pieces of pounded pork filets, covered with a breading and pan-fried. A small egg was on top and a small container of the lemon caper sauce was off to the side with a medley of veggies. The schnitzel was a little dried out and even the lemon caper sauce had a hard time making it palatable. It was all right, but definitely not the best schnitzel I've ever had.
The tender beef tips were served in a bowl with large button mushrooms and onion straws on top. My guest who had that was in heaven. "This is the best thing on the menu," he said between bites. "The burgers are good here, too. But this is my go-to item on the menu."
My guest with the California burger was very pleased with his burger, as well. It came on a bed of lettuce and red onion slices with French fries on the side. There was a liberal amount of guacamole on the burger. He said, "Oh, yeah. This is good. They do have good burgers here." I'll have to try either the Breakfast burger or the Mushroom/Swiss cheese burger if I make it back.
After we'd finished, Lynsey came back with our bill. I was sort of surprised that she didn't ask if we wanted anything else because we all wanted an after dinner beer. I sort of kiddingly asked, "Do you want us to leave? We were thinking of getting another beer."
She sort of jumped and embarrassingly said, "Oh! I'm so sorry! Sure, you can stay! Stay as long as you want!" I immediately ordered up another Winter brew, while my other guest who had been drinking the Winter brew switched to the Pipers Scotch Ale - a reddish-brown beer with a slightly smoky taste. My other guest - full from his beef tip entree - decided to go light with the Fire-Light, the lightest beer Sprecher has in their beer arsenal. I've had it before and it has a distinctive fruit taste that I didn't care for. I was happy with my Winter Brew.
My schnitzel was pretty underwhelming and, as I suspected, a place that has many diverse things on the menu doesn't do all of them well. My guests seemed to like their beef tips and burger, respectively. Overall, the experience at Sprecher's Restaurant and Pub was nice, we had good service from Lynsey and the dining room was a very comfortable setting. I'm just wondering if they could cut down on a third of their items on the menu and focus more on the food that is left. I just think there's too many things to choose from on their menu and some items - like the schnitzel - suffer because of it.