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Brunch—it isn't just for breakfast anymore

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Bill Livick, Special to the Gazette
January 30, 2014

MADISON—Brunch all day—not a bad idea during these short days and long nights of winter. And it's the central concept behind Bassett Street Brunch Club, the diner that opened Oct. 31 at the corner of Bassett Street and West Johnson Street in the lower level of the new Hampton Inn.

Everything in the diner is shiny and bright, and there's an appealing energy about the place. It's an attractive space with floor-to-ceiling windows, a bar, a diner counter and lots of seating.

The worst part was just getting there-not actually finding the restaurant but finding a place to park on a Friday night, although in this part of town, located halfway between the Capitol and campus, on-street parking is always a challenge.

I wish we'd known that complimentary parking is available in the Hampton Inn lot above the Brunch Club, off Johnson Street. Just bring in your ticket and the restaurant will validate it for up to four hours.

The diner itself is a part of the Food Fight Restaurant Group, which is behind a host of other fine diners and more upscale restaurants in the Madison area. If you're familiar with Monty's Blue Plate Diner on Atwood Avenue or the Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton, you'll have a sense of what the Brunch Club is about.

The first part of the menu is built around the egg and the all-day brunch options-omelets, French toast, breakfast burritos, eggs benedict and more. The kitchen's other focus is its signature donut, along with other sweet things such as pancakes.

Then beginning at 11 a.m., the kitchen also offers appetizers, a few salads, a half-dozen sandwiches and dinner entrees, along with daily specials.

Our group began a meal last week with an order of tempura-battered vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, onion and squash) served with lemon and garlic aioli. We could have used more of the condiment, or perhaps another to choose from, but the veggies themselves were fine except that the squash was not cooked long enough.

One diner in our party liked the Friday fish fry ($11), which featured excellent cole slaw-not too sweet, and light on the mayo, with lots of fresh, crunchy purple cabbage. The plate included a generous portion of garlic and spice potato wedges, and four pieces of deep-fried cod that were tender, tasty and not too greasy.

Orders are served in large portions; everyone in our group took home leftovers. We tried several items served from the all-day "brunchy entrees" part of the menu.

A friend was ambivalent about an order of chicken on a biscuit and a salad ($11). He liked the salad but found the chicken and biscuit a bit too heavy, and felt the gravy had a slightly off-putting flavor. The order featured a slab of deep-fried white meat chicken atop a buttermilk biscuit, which was then topped with a sunny side up egg. It was all covered with sweet corn-sausage gravy.

The apple-bacon salad consisted of mixed greens, a deliciously complex dressing, and the complementing flavors of sliced apple and generous bits of bacon.

We also sampled the ravioli ($13) from the entrees list. It featured homemade beef and ricotta ravioli in tomato and white wine cream sauce with several slices of shaved Parmesan, arugula and toasted garlic crostini. The ravioli's flavor was terrific. The plate was something of a surprise in that it consisted of large sheets of pasta that enveloped the ricotta and beef, making it seem a bit more like lasagna than ravioli. The cream sauce was a bit heavy but fine for this time of year.

We took a pass on the signature donuts (which, our server explained, are laced with things such as nuts or breakfast cereal) but one in our group went for the lemon ricotta pancakes ($9), topped with blueberries and sweet whipped ricotta and served with blueberry syrup. She was a little surprised at just how lemony and sweet the order was, but praised the cakes for living up to the menu's description as "light and fluffy."

The restaurant serves beer, wine and spirits, as well as coffee and espresso from Colectivo. Other beverages include tea, chai latte, horchata, steamers and hot chocolate.

Service is good and, as mentioned, there is an upbeat energy about the place that Food Fight seems to infuse in its diners. Our server mentioned that the Brunch Club is busy most of the time. Unfortunately, the restaurant does not take reservations. Fortunately, there is lots of seating so if there is a wait, it's usually not too long.



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