Craft Table & Tap is a new Middleton addition to the Food Fight empire, in the space formerly occupied by Byrd's Bar and Grill. The carpet has been pulled up exposing the concrete floor, and that change, along with a few other minor touches, has refined the space into a pleasantly modern Prairie Style look.
Comparisons have been made between Craft and its sister restaurant, the Coopers Tavern, but the analogy isn't very helpful. Both have similar attention to detail and quality ingredients, but you won't find many of the things that make Coopers' menu varied and interesting. Instead there are big salads, a few burgers and a variety of standard sandwiches.
Starters at Craft are a study in fried. Except for the tasty bratwurst sliders with sauerkraut on a mini pretzel roll, everything has taken a dunk in oil. The cheese curds are handmade and good but extremely salty. Better is the Crispy Little Fish: Fat Tire-battered haddock, smelt and rock shrimp. The haddock is flaky, and the rock shrimp are delectably sweet and juicy. Beware the smelt if you're not into their fishy flavor.
The poutine here is braised brisket over thin-cut fries, and might be more successful as a main than a starter. The brisket is too stringy and the fries too thin to work well shared.
Most of the appetizers are served in a tipped-over bucket that some will find cute, but feels like a throwback to '90s-era Pottery Barn. Some menu items are also well past their heyday: cranberry mayo, truffle aioli, portobello sandwiches.
The restaurant has an impressive list of bottle and draft beer, and if you sit at the bar there are gregarious bartenders who are generous with samples. On tap is everything from the local New Glarus Cabin Fever honey bock to the white beer Blanche de Bruxelles from Brasserie Lefebvre in Belgium. It is fun to compare Lake Louie's Warped Speed Scotch ale from Arena, Wis., to the truly Scottish Wee Heavy from the Belhaven brewery in Dunbar, Scotland.
If you're in the mood to start with a hearty stew, the homemade chicken soup is actually chicken and dumpling - and although the broth has no depth, the flavorful roasted chicken and hearty chunks of carrots and celery nearly make up for it. A brown ale pairs well, and I tried Tyranena's Rockies Revenge from Lake Mills.
Smoked cheddar is usually best paired with a stout, but I went with the Monk's Café Flemish Sour Ale to accompany the fantastic chicken and smoked cheddar salad with applewood smoked bacon, garlic croutons and a creamy buttermilk dressing. A little fruity and very vinegary, this style of beer is not for everyone. But with the perfectly dressed salad and its addictive garlicky crunch, the pairing is shockingly good.
There are four burgers on the menu: plain, bacon, mushroom and blue. I tried the blue, which sports pickled red onions and a pretzel bun. It seems the most adventurous and well thought-out of the group. While it arrived a little too well done, the half-pound of meat had superb grilled flavor. The Salemville Amish blue cheese is thinned out to a moist tangy drizzle and plays brilliantly with the tart onions and toothy bun. At $9, including a side, it is a star.
Sandwiches at Craft are the usual suspects of contemporary American cuisine, but each with a little something to set it apart from average, such as the use of really good bread.
One of the better options is the Uphoff Farms ham sandwich, thinly sliced ham piled high between two big slabs of griddled Clasen's caraway rye, with gouda, baby spinach and a grainy Dijon mustard. This is a rewarding beer-friendly meal for $10.
Available sides are greens, hand-cut fries, and macaroni and cheese. The fries are thin and skin-on and have a tough time staying warm, arriving often a little over-fried and clumpy. Choose the mac and cheese, which is texturally dreamy, although a touch lacking in flavor.
For dessert, there is a great-sounding banana caramel bread pudding that is sadly lackluster. Instead, try the brownie sundae featuring Chocolate Shoppe's Zanzibar ice cream.
With atmosphere that is surprisingly comfortable, good service and excellent value, Craft Table & Tap is a welcome option for diners on the far west side. Pair a great beer or two with a better-than-expected burger or sandwich, and you've found the restaurant's sweet spot.