The Merchant - Foodie Review

Craft Cocktails and Food in the Madcity
by Robin Gray
April 2018

Lamb Sliders at the Merchant in Madison

Lamb Sliders at the Merchant in Madison

Given its proximity to the Majestic Theatre, Merchant is one of the obvious choices for dining and drinking before or after catching some music at the Majestic and that is what I did on a recent Saturday evening. Although it was technically spring they were still serving their winter menu for both cocktails and food. We began with drinks. The cocktail menu is very lengthy (and by lengthy I mean 64 pages long, not including wine). Given that we were only given one drink menu for our table of 4, it made for an equally lengthy process of choosing and ordering drinks. They claim to be “Madison’s original craft cocktail bar” and their use of quality ingredients and creativity is as important with the cocktails as it is with the food. Perusing the extensive menu included scanning sections such as seasonal original cocktails, favorites, and classics. Additional there are cleverly named drinks with amusing descriptions. Despite all this, I decided to go with bartender’s choice. For this, I chose Mescal and the bartender created a drink. The drink that was delivered was prepared on the rocks and included freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, an herby flavor, and while I can’t say what else, I enjoyed it. The food menu is much smaller than the cocktail menu coming in at 1 long page. They focus on craft and quality ingredients throughout the menu. They were offering some snacks, small and large plates, boards, fondue, and burgers. I sampled the ricotta board which featured freshly made ricotta, a salad of arugula, radish and bacon, brûléed grapefruit, and sourdough bread. It was simple and fresh and a nice light choice. The scallops where on the sweet side but perfectly cooked and complimented with a rye crust and toasted hazelnuts. The lamb sliders arrived with oil glistening buns but the flavorful lamb and pork patties were well balanced with a cherry condiment, caramelized onions, and oozing Gouda which all made for some necessary finger licking.  The star dish of the evening was one that someone else chose, and I would have easily overlooked. It was the Roasted Winter Squash Dumplings. And the star of the star was the lemongrass and mushroom consume. This broth was deeply flavored and drink-to- the- last- drop delicious. It tasted of winter and was perfect on a cold evening. I am looking forward to finding out how the chefs and bartenders will be inspired by spring in creating the next menu of cocktails and food.

Merchant has live music or a DJ on Fridays, Saturdays and the last Thursday of each month. Aside from daily dinner service, they have brunch on Saturday and Sunday, and some special events most evenings during the week. They accept phone or online (OpenTable) reservations. And as the name suggests, you can purchase most if not all featured bar items such as spirits, wine, and beer right on site.

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