Man does not live by shaved vegetables alone. Sometimes, there are also berries.
It’s either madness or genius to open a California-inspired restaurant right before entering into a Wisconsin winter. Light, fresh, vegetable-centric cuisine can, of course, be fabulous — and eating it doesn’t make you hate yourself! — but there’s a reason Midwesterners love comfort food that warms the innards.
Everly, the newest venture from Food Fight Restaurant Group, has done Madison a favor by proving that these two concepts are not mutually exclusive. The chic, modern restaurant opened late this fall in the space that formerly housed Bluephies. I was never a big fan of Bluephies, which always struck me as an Applebee’s for people who wouldn’t be caught dead in an Applebee’s. By the mid-2010s, the place was overdue for a revamp.
Everly’s menu is a vegetarian’s dream come true — there’s an entire section devoted to vegetables, and they’re so good you can make a meal out of them. Cauliflower is both pickled and roasted (a shockingly nice preparation), flavored with garlic, lemon and a bit too much parsley. Pan-roasted brussels sprouts come tossed with a luxurious gribiche, a type of French mayonnaise. Carrots are charred (the best way to prepare a root vegetable) and topped with a tangy chimichurri. And what could be better than roasted squash, dressed with brown butter, hazelnuts, apples and watercress?
I also loved the shaved vegetable dish — a colorful and crunchy mosaic of raw carrots, beets and radishes with blackberries, almonds, blue cheese and fennel. The lemon vinaigrette was nice, but could have used a bit more zip. A more substantial appetizer comes from the “things on toast” section of the menu. Other local food critics have raved about the mushroom toast, and they are correct — it’s rich, savory and decadent, if a little messy to eat. The whitefish toast is a bit more elegant, topped neatly with pickled cauliflower, thinly sliced radish, more of that tasty gribiche and again a liberal sprinkling of parsley. And the kitchen can prepare the toasts with gluten-free bread.
The whitefish toast topped neatly with pickled cauliflower, thinly sliced radish and a liberal sprinkling of parsley.
Meat eaters, don’t worry — Everly does good things with animal protein, too. Beef tartare here is simple and delicious, lightly flavored with shallots, capers and parsley and topped with a rich egg yolk. Spread it on toasted bread and top with aioli; you’ll be glad you did.
The “big plates” section of the menu has fish, chicken, steak and pork dishes. The pan-roasted salmon came out crisp on the outside and moist within. The beurre monté (emulsified butter) was subtle, and a garnish of chilis added color and spice, but the lovely little filet was absolutely drowning in parsley. Not a big deal, but dang — the folks in the kitchen aren’t holding back.
My favorite meal at Everly was, hands down, the brunch. A smoked salmon and avocado benedict felt luxurious and light all at once — I didn’t even miss the hollandaise. Chilaquiles were genius, constructed with refried black beans and green salsa at the bottom of the bowl and homemade tortilla chips on top (no soggy bites!). The So-Cal grain bowl turned out to be a visually appealing but not particularly hearty breakfast of quinoa, toasted oats, cashews and sprouted lentils artfully arranged around a sunny-side-up egg. It was tasty, but the house-made hot sauce (which our server referred to as “volcano sauce”) was thin and wimpy. Also, be sure to order the granola, but get it to share — it’s like a bowl of delicious brown sugar candy, drizzled with sweet-tart berry reduction and topped with orange-scented whipped cream. It’s also available on the dessert menu, but in a smaller portion.
My main gripe — and this is really more of an aspirationally minded critique — is that Everly tends to play it safe with ingredients and flavors. There’s something to be said about keeping things within the realm of the somewhat familiar (especially when you’re trying to convince people that they should pay $12 for a neatly arranged bowl of squirrel food), but the downside to that approach is that nothing on the menu rises to the level of being truly innovative. Also, don’t bury perfectly good food under a layer of parsley!
Everly could be considered the latest local restaurant experimenting with trends sprouting up on the coasts (and on Instagram). It’s similar to Field Table (exotic grains!) and Graft (magnificent vegetables!), and even shares some characteristics with healthy fast-casual joints like Freshii and Native Foods. But it’s more than that; this lovely eatery has already gained a following — and it has plenty of room to grow.
Everly, 2701 Monroe St., 608-416-5242, everlymadison.com
9 am-9 pm Sun., 11 am-9 pm Mon.-Wed., 11 am-10 pm Thurs.-Fri., 9 am-10 pm Sat., $6-$19