Longtable Beer Cafe is every bit as good as Brasserie V, and that’s saying a lot.
Matt and Andrea Van Nest, who opened the wildly popular, Belgian-inspired Brasserie V on Monroe Street more than 10 years ago, have opened a second restaurant, this one in Middleton, where they live.
The new restaurant also has a beer focus and amazing food, but offers counter service, instead of full service, and features long, communal tables where customers will find themselves sitting next to strangers when the restaurant nears capacity.
The most stunning aspect of Longtable is the enormous, 16-foot open cooler that’s twice as long as the counter next to it and also dwarfs Longtable’s bar. It’s the first thing you see when you walk in, and its mix of colorful beer labels makes it look like an art installation. Choosing can take time.
I bypassed a favorite, New Glarus Brewing’s Raspberry Tart, which I had never seen in 12-ounce bottles, in favor of DogfishHead’s Festina Peche ($5.50), a sour weisse beer with a faint peach flavor. My friend had one of his favorites, Duvel Moortgat ($7.50), a robust Belgian golden ale with a slight bitterness. Each beer came with a curvy, tulip-style beer glass that makes the beer look more sophisticated.
The food menu has a nice amount of variety: soups, salads, sausages, sandwiches and sides. Shared boards — meat, cheese, fish, poultry, sausage and vegetable — are a focus, but there’s so much else that seemed more interesting.
We started with a cup of Longtable’s thick, formidable beer cheddar soup ($5/$8), which had perfect amounts of both beer and cheese. It was superb.
The crispy goat cheese and roasted beet salad ($10/$16) was distinctive with a fried goat cheese patty on top of arugula with basil in a balsamic vinaigrette. The beets paired nicely with the cheese and spicy greens.
A thin, juicy Polish sausage ($8.50) was served on a soft, delicious bun that didn’t swallow it up like some rolls would. It came tricked out with sauerkraut, shaved cabbage and brown mustard, all of which made it truly special.
“Every time you bite into it, it kind of bursts,” my friend said.
Also excellent was a brisket sandwich ($13) with slices of house-smoked, dry-rubbed Fox Heritage meat protruding from its compact, toasted brioche bun. Giardiniera with jalapenos added kick, while the rest of the pickled vegetables gave it an appreciated salty bite and a whiff of healthfulness.
Brasserie V’s peerless frites are the only thing carried over to Longtable, and that was a smart move. The Monroe Street restaurant has sold more than $1 million in frites, or upwards of 200,000 orders. They’re available for $5.50 as a starter, or $2.50 extra as a side with a sandwich.
I’m crazy for these frites, and the friend who was with me had never had them. He’s been craving french fries lately and shared my enthusiasm.
Customers pick a dipping sauce from a list of five on the chalkboard. We got the lackluster saffron aioli, and paid an extra 50 cents for the beer cheddar, which was pretty much just a thicker version of our soup.
Any of the other sides are included with the sausages or sandwiches, and all sound creative and appealing. I tried an order of farro, the nutty-tasting ancient grain, enlivened with roasted squash, pecans and pepitas in a vinaigrette. It complemented the brisket sandwich well.
Another healthful addition was an order of Brussels sprouts ($9) from the “snacks” section. Served in a glass jar, they were also made unique by their preparation, which involved apple cider, bacon and shallots.
Longtable opened Oct. 24, and feels more like an inviting beer hall than a cafe. It has a wonderful energy and soft, warm lighting. The restaurant’s tables of various lengths were made in Middleton with reclaimed barn wood from New Glarus. They not only give the restaurant its name, but its look, too.
I visited the night before Thanksgiving, and while there was a fairly long line to order when we arrived, not every seat in the room was filled, so we had the end of a table to ourselves the whole time.
It’s mainly bench seating, but there are some stools, and a few tall chairs along a counter by the windows. A small tasting room off to the side can be used for overflow seating or for those feeling antisocial.
Like Brasserie V, Longtable is the rare local restaurant where you can eat interesting food that’s often healthy, in a stylish, yet casual way. Prices are reasonable and the service is friendly. What more could you want?