The Coopers Tavern

Yesterday, after Aaron’s Wisconsin Supreme Court argument — at which he did a great job fielding difficult, and sometimes aggressive, questions — we went out for lunch.  We decided to try the new place on the block (Square), The Coopers Tavern.  I’ve been confused about the name, likening it to The Ohio State University.  When I asked Aaron for his thoughts on the name, he said he didn’t think it was at all odd and informed me a cooper is a person who makes barrels.  Well.  I was already learning from this place, and we hadn’t even stepped through the door.  I still don’t understand why there is no apostrophe to make it either Cooper’s or Coopers’, but I suspect it’s a choice of aesthetics over grammar.  And this place definitely has thought about asthetics. 

The place is really nice-looking.  It’s got lots of light but warm wood and despite having only a small window area, feels bright and clean.  The menu is small and features the ever-popular and trendy, upscale bar food cuisine.  There are a few appetizers, including poutine and Belgian frites, pictured below.  These frites seem to have taken over Madison in the last few years.

We started with these frites, which were served with a side of malt vinegar aioli, which just looked like mayo to me so I obviously stayed away.  I should have asked for another condiment to complement the fries, but they were quite tasty on their own.  I prefer Sardine’s version, which are thinner and crispier, but these were really quite flavorful and — probably because they are twice-fried — a very pretty amber brown. 

I ordered the Amy’s salad, which is spinach, cranberries, walnuts, pear, apple and “crisped goat cheese.”  The salad is also served with what they are calling a “rustic baguette” from Madison Sourdough.  I heart Madison Sourdough so I was particularly excited about the baguette, which I know is a tad lame.

The salad arrived and I was confused.  What are these two medallion things on either side of the plate?  Aaron said, “Croutons?”  I furrowed my brow, smiled and said, “I think it’s the goat cheese!”  And I was right.  This brilliant way of serving goat cheese — simply one of my favorite foods — had me smiling throughout my meal.  It was warm inside, crispy outside and great for spreading on the bread.  The bread, though, did not taste like the Madison Sourdough baguette I’m used to.  It tasted dry and not like sourdough.  I wonder if it’s a different type of the baguette than I usually buy or if it was an off day.  In any event, the salad was quite good.  I wish I had gotten the dressing on the side because, well, I’m me.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  The dressing is a balsamic vinaigrette but, like the Old Fashioned’s, it is white and creamy.  And, as a rule, I don’t do white and creamy.  So, I would get the salad again, but with dressing on the side and maybe use lemons as a dressing instead, which I think would go nicely with the spinach and fruit.  Aaron got the brisket sandwich, which he seemed to love.  Sandwiches come with either a side of greens or hand-made chips.  He opted for the greens, because we started with the fries.  The bill, with tip (and a diet Coke) was $28, which is a bit steep for lunch for two, but I’m not complaining.

I should also add that service was great and the place started getting packed a little after 1 pm, which was a little surprising.  We walked back to work and I said how much I liked the place, but how I suspected that it will ultimately be a little like the Old Fashioned for me — I like the space and the idea of the place better than I like the food itself.  But I know that I will return to this nice, welcoming spot.

[Also of note is that this space used to be a McDonald’s that closed several years ago.  I am relieved to have a new, sweet, locally-owned restaurant using what was a vacant spot for too long.]

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7 Responses to “The Coopers Tavern”


  1. 1 Sarayu March 4, 2010 at 12:02 am

    I love the pics. I want the frites, and the goat cheese, though perhaps not the baguette. That salad sounds just yummmmmy. Hmm… creamy balsamic? Not sure about that either. I wonder what their other options are, although I’m sure the lemon would be lovely. I really want those frites. And I hate to upset you but I’m very interested in that aioli.

    Also, I wonder how much the chips differ from the frites. Let me know if you ever end up going that route.

    This post made me hungry, but I just ate dinner… so I’m at odds.

  2. 2 Heather March 4, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Are frites defined as being in those containers? Are they at sardine? I do like them. When we were in a restaurant in Chicago Dale got very excited when he saw some fries in a silver cone being delivered to the table next to us, but then didn’t order any. I got the onion rings, and although I like frites, I had forgotten how awesome onion rings are.

  3. 3 gracieandkate March 5, 2010 at 11:17 am

    They are not in those containers at Sardine. I think of frites (or Fritz as the table next to us referred to them as) as just Euro-style fries as opposed to American ones, which are usually more wedge-like. I would classify McDonald’s fries, for example, as frites. But I mean, I wouldn’t actually. I’d call them fries. And onion rings can be quite tasty.

  4. 4 David May 11, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    Hi there,

    I’m one of the owners of Madison Sourdough. I thought I’d comment on the Rustic Baguette comment. Our Rustic Baguette is a Parisian style baguette, not a sourdough baguette. It is designed to have a very open structure and to be less crusty than our sourdough baguette. We deliver them fresh 6 days a week to our wholesale customers. They shouldn’t be dry, but some things are out of our control. In any case they’ve been fairly well received and we now sell more of them to restaurants than we do the sourdough baguettes.

  5. 5 gracieandkate May 12, 2010 at 2:16 am

    Ah! Thanks for the info – good to know!

  6. 6 Kyle May 19, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Actually, this location was the patisserie-bar Sucre in between McDonald’s and Coopers. It was a great, artsy-fartsy place that shot the moon and either went over, or fell short, depending on your perspective.

  7. 7 gracieandkate May 20, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Yes, it was the short-lived Sucre before it was Coopers. I never got the chance to check it out. Well, I shouldn’t say that — I never checked it out because it didn’t really appeal to me. In any event, it was a McDonald’s for a long, long time. Not that you’d know it now. The remodel is fantastic. I suspect it doesn’t look much like it looked when it was Sucre, either, but what do I know.


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