A new type of restaurant just hit Madison. One that boasts utter transparency between the kitchen, the bar, and the customers. A restaurant that features the best of local ingredients and drinks. One that even sells its kitchen and bar ingredients in the restaurant. Intrigued yet? Because I definitely am. I had been waiting months to try Merchant, the craft cocktail lounge, restaurant, and urban grocery now open in downtown Madison.
Merchant jumps on the growing desire for craft cocktails. Other Madison restaurants such as Nostrano on the square and Jac’s on Monroe St. are beginning to gain press for their unique and often complex cocktails; Merchant enters the ring as well. Patrick Sweeney, co-owner of Merchant, calls the Merchant bar “the restaurant’s biggest table,” and wants to “bring back mixology as a craft.” Merchant employees make several of the bar’s syrups and mixes in house, as well as offer high-proof liquors, and feature plenty of seasonal citrus, herbs and bitters. The menu features classics such as the Sazerac, and the Corpse Reviver, while also offering new originals, such as “The Judge”—a mix of 12 year-old scotch, Bulliet bourbon, vermouth, Lillet Blanc, Angostura bitters, lemon peel, and cherry. Beer drinkers will appreciate the large selection of brews, several of which are favorites from Wisconsin breweries—New Glarus, Furthermore, Tyranena, and Lake Louie, among others.
The food at Merchant does not disappoint. Brian Hauke, the executive chef at Merchant (formerly of Minneapolis' Red Stag Supper Club), uses the best ingredients available, cooking with local products when possible. The menu features several Wisconsin vendors, including Bolzano Meats from Milwaukee, Madison Sourdough from Madison, Willow Creek Farms Charcuterie from Prairie Du Sac, Kickapoo coffee from Viroqua, and Sassy Cow Creamery from Columbus. Lunch options include pressed sandwiches (I recommend the cured pork with fresh mozzerella and pickled onions), deli sandwiches, and salads. The dinner menu will rotate weekly in order to ensure that the customer receives the freshest and best tasting products. Current offerings include Chicken and Dumplings, Trout with Brown Butter and Celery Root, and a Farro Risotto with Broccoli Rabe and Chili. Merchant also has a “Gourmet-to-Go” counter with breakfast pastries in the morning and sandwiches and salads during the lunch hours so that diners can grab a freshly made meal on the run.
The most unique aspect of the new restaurant, in my opinion, is its transparency. The owners want customers to see all aspects of the restaurant’s operation. There is a gorgeous open kitchen and a glass door where customers can see behind the front line of cooks. Additionally, the restaurant offers all kitchen and bar ingredients for purchase on-site. Josh Berkson co-owner of Merchant, says that they sell “[ingredients] that would be in our pantry” so customers can grab ingredients to make dinner at home. It’s pretty obvious that quality food and drink are the focus at Merchant—as produce, grains, oils, dairy, and beer are also the restaurant’s main decoration—which is a philosophy I think other restaurants should think about adopting.
121 S. Pinkney Street
Madison, WI 53703
Monday-Friday 7am-late with lunch at 11am and dinner at 5pm
Late night menu Thursday, Friday, Saturday from 10pm-1:30am
Saturday 10am-late with brunch from 10am-3pm
Sunday brunch 10am-3pm
Katy Radtke is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Growing up in a foodie family spurred her love for cooking (and eating!) tasty food, while her time in Madison has prompted her deep passion for the sustainable and local food movement. When Katy isn’t baking up one of her famous pies, she enjoys doing yoga, perusing one of Madison’s many farmer’s markets, drinking tea at the coffee shop around the corner, and traveling. You can see more of Katy’s work on her blog, A Blissful Bite.