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Want craft beer? Try Madison's Side Door

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
May 8, 2014

MADISON—Thirty-three craft beers on tap. For fans of the craft beer craze, that's about all you'd have to say to persuade them to check out the Side Door Grill and Tap in downtown Madison.

But there are reasons for folks who aren't microbrew aficionados to drop by for a visit as well, especially if you're on State Street and looking for upscale comfort food.

First, Side Door offers low prices and generous portions. Second, the pub food is made in-house and from scratch, using mostly local ingredients.

There's also the youthful energy fueled by a college-age crowd. Even for those of us who expended that energy long ago, the Side Door can be fun because the place has such an upbeat, friendly vibe.

But it also has a downside. Like so many restaurant-bar combos, the place is almost unbearably loud. Fortunately, the Side Door has several tables outside that will offer a respite from the noise once temperatures rise.

The Side Door, which opened last April, occupies the lower level of what for many years was the Women's Club of Madison, on Gilman Street. In 2007, Samba Brazilian Grill opened on the first and second floors. The lower level has gone through a number of incarnations since then.

To go with its dizzying array of beers (each priced at $4), the Side Door's menu includes appetizers, soups and salads, sandwiches and burgers, flatbread pizzas, a couple of entrees and desserts.

A friend and I visited the Side Door on a Saturday night and were intrigued to see four varieties of tater tots dominating the list of appetizers. We recalled the frozen deep-fried potatoes from our childhoods, but neither of us could remember seeing them on a restaurant menu.

Naturally, we had to try them.

The Side Door's kitchen prepares four varieties: Volcano Tots (tossed with a cayenne spice blend and topped with sriracha, citrus sour cream and green onions); Baked Potater Tots (topped with shredded cheese, bacon, sour cream and green onions); South of the Border Tots (with black beans, nacho cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole and citrus sour cream); and Scalloped Potater Tots (with cheese sauce, grilled ham and toasted bread crumbs).

We opted for the classic baked version and discovered these were not the bland, processed potato tots that were lodged in our memories. This version was a delicious, calorie-laden blend of rich flavors that complemented the beers we'd chosen: a Tyranena Bitter Woman IPA and Robert the Bruce Scottish ale from Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Ind.

Along with its beer, the Side Door specializes in sandwiches and burgers. My friend Beth was impressed with a Korean barbecued beef sandwich that came with kimchee (fermented vegetables), grilled onions and chili mayo ($9). The beef was grilled, sliced thin and came with a spicy rub that left a slight burn on the lips and tongue. It featured big chunks of kimchee and was served on a crusty sub roll—more than she could eat.

The sandwich included a choice of sides. Beth opted for a spinach salad, which came with a cloying dressing that rendered the greens inedible.

The kitchen's fish tacos, on the other hand, were terrific. Two tacos included generous amounts of fried tilapia wrapped in flour tortillas with cole slaw, pico de gallo and citrus sour cream ($9). They were served with a side of black beans and rice.

On Friday nights, the kitchen offers all-you-can-eat fish tacos for $9.50.

For comfort food, the house mac and cheese ($9.50) is made with cavatappi and cheddar and comes in an oven-to-table casserole.

One of six flatbread pizzas with house-made crust ($8-$10, gluten-free for an extra $2.50) is a nod to Side Door's Brazilian predecessors: the churrasco, topped with grilled flank steak, chimichurri, mushrooms, caramelized onions and piquillo peppers. The 4Ps (pepperoni, pineapple and pickled peppers) is enough for more than one meal.

Also important to note is the restaurant's excellent service. Our server was professional and attentive but not intrusive.

An upbeat atmosphere, along with very good pub food, low prices and a great beer selection, combine to make the Side Door a fine hangout for locals but also a nice place to visit if you're on State Street and looking for a quick meal.



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