Three cheers for the churros.
As Verona continues to expand with more apartments, condos and homes (obviously due in good measure to Epic System’s ever-growing campus there), it’s only natural that its restaurant options are expanding as well. The Verona Woods opened in early February across from the Wisconsin Brewing Company, aiming to bring fine (or at least finer) dining to the area.
The dining room is decorated simply with natural elements. Steel “canvases” with tree silhouettes adorn spaces above booths and there are warm wood touches throughout, plus cozy seating, with live music on weekends.
Appetizer standbys like cheese curds, chicken wings and several different versions of nachos are on the menu, but there are less predictable choices, too. Croquettes are a delightful mix of ham, mashed potato and manchego cheese all deep-fried as one, served atop pools of both roasted red pepper and garlic aioli, like a hot dish all dressed up.
The tequila sunrise tiger shrimp (though I question whether they were true tiger shrimp, based on size) are delicately arranged on crispy wontons with a dab of guacamole and radish matchsticks, brightened with a hint of tequila orange sauce.
The crispy brussels sprouts could convert a naysayer. Roasted to the point where their sweetness shines, topped with pancetta and a delightful fruity balsamic reduction, this preparation earns the cruciferous vegetable the respect it deserves.
The salads here are inventive, including one featuring charred beets and goat cheese. A mix of arugula, shaved fennel, savoy spinach, just-crunchy beets and a handful of chickpeas provided a good base. However, the toasted almond vinaigrette is too sweet and the honeyed almonds and goat cheese were missing.
Some entrees need a little more refinement as well, especially considering the prices. The Friday fish fry of beer-battered cod is a bit greasy and served with what I think was tartar sauce, but tasted much more like mayonnaise with a chunk of relish mixed in. Also, my menu indicated a choice of potato but the server informed me my only option was french fries. Even for lunch, choice of potato should be standard. With so many other fish fry options in the area, I’d skip this one.
A pasta dish that promises a cabernet sauvignon beef broth, slow-braised short ribs, root vegetables and parmesan shavings is disappointing. Only a hint of beef comes through in the sauce, the only root vegetables are carrots and the meat is mostly tough. To top it off, there was a sad showing of a parmesan shaving.
While I had hoped the bone-in pork chop would be more tender, I knew I was in trouble when the server set it down in front of me, saying “This is really tender. At least, I hope it is!” Based on our wait time for dinner, I’m guessing it sat under the heat lamp for too long. It also had too much of a char flavor. Still, the asparagus was lovely, crisp and lightly seasoned and the dijon mashed potatoes were unusual but worked.
The restaurant redeems itself with the 12-oz. New York strip. Expertly served medium rare, this is steak as it ought to be. There’s a choice of several flavored butters to top it, but I wouldn’t. The superb bourbon-glazed carrots on the side tasted like candy. The pan-seared red snapper, something you don’t encounter regularly in these parts, comes with a delicious and creative side of coconut tomato red curry chickpeas over rice pilaf.
The signature burger, the Gooey Louie (akin to Minnesota’s Jucy Lucy) is another standout. Biting into a burger and having cheddar cheese cascade from the middle is something every carnivore should experience at least once. The grilled brioche bun makes the burger a little more elegant, too. The owners also operate Willy Ty’s in Sun Prairie, and some menu items are marked with a “Willy Ty’s” logo — this is true of the stuffed burgers and the griddled cheese sandwiches. Touches from sous-chef Barbara Wright, who used to own the Dardanelles on Monroe Street, are evident in the dinner entrees.
Vegetarian and gluten-free options are marked on the menu (gluten-free buns and bread are a $2 upcharge).
Desserts are where the restaurant excels. Share the poppy seed crumb cake, a generous loaf served warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream and a jammy Bing cherry sauce, all topped with cookie dough crumbles. And definitely experience the house-made churros, which are dusted smartly with cinnamon and cardamom for a little punch, drizzled with chocolate sauce and accompanied with salted caramel ice cream. Each is just $5, a dessert bargain.
The decor and prices at Verona Woods indicate a fine dining experience, as do many of the dishes — but the menu at times hovers closer to American sports-bar territory. If the kitchen ups its game a little with some tweaks to menu items and preparation, there is promise.
The Verona Woods
958 Liberty Dr., Verona n 608-497-1680, veronawoods.com, 11 am-10 pm Mon.-Sat., 11 am-8:30 pm Sun., $5-$34