Underground Kitchen, the bricks-and-mortar arm of the Underground Food Collective, is readying for its opening tonight at 127 East Mifflin, just off the Capitol Square. Staffers are moving through the space, doing what needs to be done. About an hour before opening, a tray of microgreens waits near the entrance, and a brown bag full of Madison Sourdough loaves is hustled in the front door. Underground Kitchen, or just 'Kitchen' as the sign in the window and the menu have it, has been in the works since last spring, with several soft open events held over the last week.
The layout of Kitchen will be familiar to anyone who was in the old Café Montmartre. The bar is still along the interior wall between the main room and the old "Sidecar" special event area, but the space has been lightened considerably, with brick walls painted bright white and light maple floors and trim. Tables are wood and seats are generally old wooden deck or church basement folding chairs. Plates are plain white. There are several communal tables, including a picnic-type table with bench seating, but there are also more private tables for twos and fours. Mason jar lamp fixtures carry through the minimalist-reclaimed interior aesthetic.
The menu will be changing frequently. The first night's fare includes seven starters, including crostini, a meat board, a cheese board, a vegetable board, and veal tartare with squab yolk. Six vegetables or salads plates include a red leaf lettuce salad, kale with hazelnuts and mozzarella, wheat berries with a grilled onion vinaigrette, panzanella with squash, wild rice with mushrooms, and broccoli rabe with yogurt cheese.
The debut entrees are: white beans with braised rabbit, ricotta gnocchi, brick chicken, and roasted meats (either veal prime rib, lamb loin, or duck leg).
This bill of fare, somewhat unconventional for downtown Madison, fits in with the collective's commitment to ingredients over expectations. Dishes range from $4 to $14.
Eight brews are on tap; there are sixteen wines by the glass or bottle; and eight specialty cocktails, several featuring Wisconsin-distilled Death's Door vodka and gin.
The restaurant is open 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesday-Saturday, with food service from 5 p.m.-11 p.m.
The deli arm of the business will eventually be located in the satellite dining room, confirms collective member Ben Hunter, although there are no dates set.
And should you be filing this place under "U" for Underground or "K" for Kitchen? The name is Underground Kitchen, says Hunter. But people can call it Kitchen if they want. What people want to call it in the end might determine what it ends up being called, it seems. "Maybe put it under both," Hunter suggests.