After a very warm and pleasant getaway to Turks and Caicos, I am back in Madison for a while. And I am happy to be here and experience it. There is so much to do in town this winter, so my plan is to take it all in.
There are a number of new restaurants on and around the square. L'Etoile moved, Graze opened, the Old Fashioned expanded, the Underground Kitchen, Nostrano, Francesca and now - Merchant Madison. I was very excited about it. I tried to check on the progress of it every time I passed by with the dog. And it opened this past week!
Excited to check it out, some friends and I went there last night for drinks/munchies. I wasn't that hungry on my way there, but after about fifteen minutes, my dinner bell was ringing. (I am one of those people who can't go very long without food when I am hungry).
My understanding of this new joint is that they want to have a casual breakfast and lunch and an upscale dinner with "crafty" drinks. They also want to sell some gourmet foods on their shelves.
So - let me put it this way. If I am shopping for something gourmet in a pinch, I am going to walk over to the very much loved fromagination around the corner to buy some Potter's Crackers, spiced nuts, etc. I don't know what Merchant Market is thinking about their gourmet selection. Umm - the last time I checked, I could get Heinz Ketchup, Nutella, Sriracha Sauce and even "gourmet" noodles at the cheap college grocery store across the street. I love the experience of a nice market. So, if they want to do that, I recommend they look at what Fox & Obel is selling and go after products like that.
The atmosphere was nice - it is very large. I am pretty sure the space was previously an office. It's a fun environment and it wasn't busy for their debut Saturday night. It was very cold - temperature wise. I cut them some slack, though because it was like three degrees outside.
The drink menu looks fun. These are some "crafty" drinks. I had a "bonfire" something or other which included tequila and a lot of other things (maybe something with mango?) and a nice lemon garnish. All of these cocktails are around $9.00 and unfortunately, I am going to be mean and say they are much better and cheaper at Fresco. Especially when you can do the Fresco $5 menu. My friends tried other specialty drinks and weren't that excited, either.
We had a few appetizers which were tasty, but I hope you aren't hungry because they did the same thing that I have been experiencing quite a lot lately - they used a large plate to put little cheeses and crackers and the such on display. If I was hosting a party, I would be embarrassed to serve this stuff. It looked like nothing on this giant plate. The apple was probably 1/6 of an apple and the crumbled nuts were probably literally 4 peanuts chopped up. It was all good, but too small. Ok - so enough is enough. I feel bad being so critical, so the main thing here is that the portions are small (we got some other things) but the food was ok.
They boasted about their sustainable and localness like every other place on the square, which is great - don't get me wrong.
Server was nice and friendly. The drinks took forever, but they just opened, so again, no sweat. All in all - too expensive for drinks/dinner, portions need to be bulked up and they need to restock their shelves.
After that, we headed to Cooper's Tavern - a great place that is so close to my home, I could walk there in my sleep. Plus, the poutine filled us up. So bad for you, yet so good. The free round of drinks didn't hurt, either.
Next, I am heading back to Nostrano and the Underground Kitchen.