There are 61 different sandwiches, plus eight appetizers, seven salads and a soup of the day at the Argus.
For years I avoided eating at certain places that were also bars, because of the smoke problem. Now that Madison's bars are smoke-free, I sometimes forget that there's no impediment to eating the best of bar food at places like The Plaza or The Shamrock. Add to this list the new incarnation of the Argus, now dubbed Argus Bar Grille.
The venerable Argus, on the corner of East Main and Webster Street, is one of our city's oldest buildings. It was home to the newspaper The Wisconsin Argus, so it's a fitting place (around the corner from Isthmus) for editors to run and get lunch. In the recent bitter cold and the busy run up to the Wisconsin primary, I found myself popping into the Argus frequently.
The spot has been refurbished since its incarnation as Argus Food & Sprits, but still retains its classic bar and pressed tin ceiling. There are tables for dining, too, and daily specials at noon, like Friday's fish fry.
But the real surprise is how extensive Argus Bar Grille's menu is. There are 61 different sandwiches, plus eight appetizers, seven salads and a soup of the day. And takeout is cheerfully accommodated. Sandwiches are divided into hot, cold, wraps, "from the grille" and burgers.
First, the test of any bar/restaurant in the United States -- its burgers and fries. The cheeseburger ($5.25) is the right size -- not flat and fast-foody, but not so huge to be intimidating either -- and comes with a choice of cheddar, Swiss, provolone or muenster cheese. My medium-rare burger came medium-rare, with a little (but not an alarming amount) of juice. The patty was not among the best burgers in Madison, but it was certainly good enough.
All sandwiches including the burgers come with chips and a dill pickle spear, but $1 will upgrade you to the fries, which are a pleasantly rustic skin-on version that are worth the upgrade. The Cajun fries also come highly recommended -- and fries are also available in garlic parmesan.
I've gone ga-ga over "Gramma's Gone Gonzo" ($6.25) a fabulous wrap featuring a fresh whole-wheat wrap, deli turkey, gorgonzola cheese, walnuts, mandarin oranges and apples with romaine lettuce. Perfect! I loved the crisp bits of apple playing off the gorgonzola, the crunch of the nuts and the lettuce against the soft, juicy orange pieces. Yet while this could be a train-wreck of ingredients, everything arrives in an appropriate-size dice, and no one ingredient overwhelms the other. (A similar salad, sans turkey but with dried cherries, is also available.) The wraps come with tortilla chips and salsa, and while they're the familiar out-of-the-bag tortilla chips, the salsa side is a nice touch.
The "Sweet Lorraine" ($6.25) is another favorite pick, with mozzarella, pesto, and tomatoes served hot on a French roll.
Pat the menu makers at Argus Bar Grille on the back for the larger-than-usual number of veggie options, including a veggie Reuben, several versions of grilled cheese, sandwiches featuring tempeh, or sautéed veggies, or avocado & mushrooms, or hummus and veggies; a tempeh burger and a black bean burger ($4.25-$6.95). And five of the seven salads are vegetarian.
The only real problem I have at Argus is deciding which sandwich to try next.