VERONA — In the case of The Verona Woods, the past was prologue.
The excellent Willie Ty’s Eatery in Sun Prairie, which the Turner family opened in 2014, gave a taste of what Chef Christian “Willie” Turner was capable of, because everything that comes out of that kitchen is well made.
Now the Turners have opened a 5,900-square-foot restaurant on Highway M, in a newly-developing area of Verona across from Sugar River Pizza Company. At The Verona Woods, which opened in late January, customers can order a burger, a salad or a sandwich, or go more upscale with seafood entrées, steaks or chops.
We were in a more fine-dining mode, and the restaurant came through splendidly with a perfectly-cooked 6-ounce filet mignon ($29) and a gorgeous lemongrass halibut ($24) plate.
In a time where it’s all about local, local, local, the menu goes out of its way to describe its Black Angus beef that comes from Iowa. Steve Turner, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Kelly Turner, and their son and chef, “Willie” Turner, said that’s because they tested lots of steaks and these came out on top.
“We tried to stay local, but there wasn’t a purveyor who could provide us the consistent steaks we were looking for,” Turner said. “For us, the Midwest is pretty local.”
He’s right about the steak quality. Our tenderloin was as good as any steakhouse steak. We asked for it medium well and it came out that way, wonderfully tender and flavorful, and in a pool of veal demi-glace. It was served with asparagus and a choice of potato. We chose mashed potatoes with cheddar. The potatoes were fine, but hardly memorable.
The halibut didn’t taste of lemongrass, but was superb anyway. The fish was thick and flaky with a delicate flavor and a basil beurre blanc that was thicker than expected. It came with couscous and sautéed garlic spinach. My only criticism was that the spinach was too salty.
Appetizers didn’t disappoint, either. The menu offers three types of nachos, and the buffalo chicken ($13) ones were something special with lots of chicken chunks; a modest amount of cheese, including blue cheese; pickled jalapenos; tomatoes; and a touch of sour cream. It came with a small cup of roasted corn salsa that worked better poured over the nachos than it did on its own.
“I could have just had the nachos and been happy,” my companion said about the large portion.
The medium-cut dusty fries ($7) were dusted with the restaurant’s dry rub and served with a housemade remoulade for dipping. It was the sauce that made them irresistible in a Cajun sort-of way.
Dessert, although it’s not made in-house, was fantastic. The red velvet cheesecake ($5) was half red velvet cake, half cheesecake, and served with whipped cream.
Some of The Woods’ cocktails were tempting, but I ordered poorly with the Jameson McRee ($8) made with the Irish whiskey along with raspberry liqueur, lemon and simple syrup. I didn’t care for the blend of flavors, but it was certainly potent.
There’s a lot of attention to detail at The Verona Woods. For instance, the hostess, while seating us, pointed out the large monitors in the bar area that show the available beers on tap, along with their alcohol content, price, the glass they come in, and how much is left in the keg. It’s pretty cool technology, and we were glad to know about it.
The bar and lounge, in its own room leading to the dining rooms, is comfortable and attractive, with leather turquoise chairs and a stripy wood bar. The same wood is also used in the enormous booths in one of the dining areas. We arrived late on a weeknight and two of us sat in a booth that could have seated six comfortably.
I appreciated the tree motif in the steel pieces built in above the booths, and also the tree theme of the artwork throughout the restaurant.
Also notable were the unusually soft cloth napkins and the elegant glass bottle of water left on our table.
It’s obvious the Turners put a lot of effort into creating the restaurant. Willie Turner spent four years honing his skills at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and, on top of that, they smartly hired Barbara Wright as kitchen manager. Wright is well-known for owning and running the first-rate Dardanelles restaurant on Monroe Street, which closed in 2010 after 13 years.
That’s a pretty foolproof starting lineup.