Saturday, May 12th, 2012

I’m pretty sure My Darling B would agree with me when I say that Wednesday night we had the most fun during Madison Craft Beer Week, starting with our visit to Natt Spil for dinner and a couple glasses of beer from New Belgium Brewery. From there, we went up Pinckney Street to The Old Fashioned to try the brews they were serving from Three Sheeps Brewing, the newest brewery in Wisconsin. B tried the Black Wheat, and I tried the IPA; both were very relaxed, mild beers that reminded me of home brews.

The highlight of our Wednesday night was undoubtedly the hour or so we spent at Cooper’s Tavern talking with Page Buchanan about beer. In particular, the five beers he made that were on tap at Cooper’s – and they were, if memory serves, a stout, an amber, an extra special bitter, an ale and a wheat. The ESB was my favorite. It tasted more like the bitter ales I used to drink while I was stationed in the United Kingdom. But My Darling B preferred the stout. The smokier the beer, the more she likes it.

Page seemed to be having as good a time sampling his beers as we were. He came along to our end of the bar while we were trying out a flight of all the brews and asked us what we thought of them, then stuck around for a while to talk about brewing beer. Page hopes to make House of Brews the first community-supported brewery in the region, modeled after the CSAs (community-supported agriculture) that brought farm-fresh vegetables to urban areas. I hope he can make it happen, because I want to be one of the first in line to subscribe.

When Pepper Stebbins showed up at Cooper’s, we knew it was time to jump on the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between the cap square area and the near-east side of Madison. We got off at Glass Nickel not because we had the munchies, but because the Glass Nickel on Atwood has a basement bar and we were hoping to sample a few of the brews that Founder’s Brewing was supposed to have dropped off there. It was a little too late to get the stuff we wanted – B was looking forward to a glass of Better Half, a brew that doesn’t seem to be on the brewery’s web page, so I can’t tell you about it because there wasn’t any left at Glass Nickel by the time we got there. We settled for a glass of Breakfast Stout between us and nursed it while we chatted up the bartender, who knew as much or more about beer as some of the brewers I’ve talked to.

bus route | 4:10 pm CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, restaurants | Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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Thursday, May 10th, 2012

I used to work on cap square so I must have walked I don’t know how many times past Natt Spil and wondered what was in there. It looked like maybe it was a restaurant, or it could have been a bar, but then again for all I could tell from the minimal signage and ornamentation out front it could have been a stationery store, or the headquarters of a ninja clan.

It took an embarrassingly long time for us to finally get around to visiting, but My Darling B and I finally stopped by last night, when Natt Spil took part in Madison Craft Beer Week, hosting a tap takeover of New Belgium brews. We wanted to take advantage of the free shuttle bus that Hop Head Beer Tours was running between downtown taverns and the bars on the east end of town, so we planned to hit the town right after work, and that plan called for a place that would not only be taking part in Craft Beer Week, but which served food as well. And so, Natt Spil.

We liked the place the moment we walked in the door. Except for the sandblasted brick wall that is apparently required by Dane county ordinance to be in every restaurant in Madison, there is wood just about everywhere: On the floor, on the walls, on the ceiling. The booths are darkly stained panels, while the tables glow in what appear to be their natural colors, glazed over with plenty of urethane sealant. And across the ceiling, Asian mandalas filled the panels above the paper lanterns.

The table we chose at the front of the shop still had its rough, undressed edges, as did many of the seat backs in the booths along the wall. We didn’t get it by accident. A couple of young ladies were finishing off their drinks and offered it to us as we looked around the room, wondering where we would be able to shoehorn ourselves into the crowd. That was nice.

There appeared to be just one guy waiting on tables, and even though he was running his legs off, he was friendly and always smiling. He was also wearing a pair of shorts that were at least six inches too big in the waist for him. Every time he came back to the bar to pick up an order, he had to hook a thumb into the waist band and drag them back up to somewhere in the vicinity of his butt. As soon as he grabbed whatever drinks or food was waiting for him, they’d fall right back down to his knees again. Somehow, he never fell flat on his face after getting his legs tangled up in them.

To quiet our growling tummies, we ordered copiously from a menu of what we thought was going to be snacks. My Darling B asked for a bowl of Duck Duck Soup, which turned out to be a very generously-laden bowl of what looked like ramen noodles topped with slices of duck meat, swimming in broth so yummy that B did her best to scoop up every last drop of it.

I ordered dim sum: spring rolls, dumplings, shrimp cakes and a salad of picked vegetables. The spring rolls were HUGE and could have been a meal in themselves. The dumplings were stuffed with shrimp, sausage and water chestnuts and drizzled with a very morish sauce that we rubbed the dumplings in to get every bit of it down our necks. The shrimp cakes were stuffed with shrimp – what’s not to like about that? And about the pickled salad I can say that even the most dedicated cook can mistake a big chunk of ginger for a potato. “I’ve never had pickled potato before!” B proclaimed, popping it into her mouth with glee. Five seconds of chewing later, her face was red and her eyes were brimming with tears. Beware.

Even though it appears to be an enormously popular place, we can’t wait to go back.

Natt Spil | 9:53 pm CDT
Category: beer, festivals, food & drink, Madison Craft Beer Week, play, restaurants | Tags: , ,
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