Hydro Street’s pizzas are ever-changing; as the menu suggests, “Ask what’s available!”.
Columbus, Wis., is situated on the Crawfish River about 40 minutes northeast of Madison. It’s a spot that can take you on a journey back to a simpler time, almost as if you’re visiting a movie set. Indeed, several Columbus locations were used for 2009’s gangster drama Public Enemies, which was set in the Great Depression.
If you’re looking for antiquing, dining, a bank or most any other kind of commercial entity, head for James Street, the main drag. With a population just shy of 5,000, Columbus is not a Wisconsin destination of note, but the people of Hydro Street Brewing Company hope to change that.
Translucent fabrics are draped across the windows, but plenty of light streams through, throwing multicolored patches across surfaces. That light helps to illuminate tables in the front. Away from the windows, it feels more like a bar and less like a cozy restaurant. But there’s plenty of space to work with, for different vibes. The stereo plays The La’s “There She Goes.” The warehouse-like space holds a large collection of thrift store furniture, a pool table in the back near the kitchen and an enormous bar.
The menu is as wacky and sprawling as the space: jalapeño cheese spread with crackers, liver pate, a smoked trout platter, “spent grain” breads (reusing material from the brewing process) and “loaded pots” (aka pub chips). The latter comes with plenty of cheddar cheese and bacon. Don’t overlook a smoked sausage platter, tabouli and haddock po’ boys.
Homemade cream soda and root beer are light, ephemeral and noncarbonated. The root beer smacks of licorice. Beer is made on-site, lately with a three barrel system. Expect seven house beers and a few guest taps. A fascinating yarrow beer isn’t even technically beer; it’s made with flowers and no hops and tastes lemony, salty and a bit sour.
Potato chips, also homemade, are still warm as they hit the table with any one of a dozen sandwiches. The soup of the day, crab bisque, was mild, smoky, rich and hearty.
The Hydro Street pizza is a winner, with a light and flaky crust topped with garlic, Parmesan, Alfredo sauce, basil, red peppers and tender, lightly peppered chicken.
A chicken sandwich with creamy garlic sauce and red pepper and the not-too-salty potato chips makes an entirely satisfying plate of food. Add crispy bacon to the huge, dense cheese sandwich that comes on a sourdough baguette. This one is carb-heavy but a chewy classic and perfect for two kids to split.
The haddock tacos with homemade coleslaw and shredded cheddar were surprisingly delicate and crisp. An especially nice side of pickled cucumber is made with vinegar, jalapeños and sugar, a wonderfully subtle sweet-and-sour combination.
The menu is a little scattered, but there are a lot of interesting ideas. Hydro Street elevates the usual raft of bar food to a fresher, more exciting level. Calling out local sourcing on the back of the menu, while a little strained at this point, underscores the surrounding environment, the fertile farmlands of southern Wisconsin.
Hydro Street is a fun place to lounge with a large group. And it’s a good fit for James Street.
Hydro Street Brewing Company
152 W. James St., Columbus, 920-350-0252,
11 am-8 pm Mon., 3-10 pm Tues.-Wed., 11 am-10 pm Thurs.-Sun. Opens at 9 am the last Sunday of the month for brunch.,