In a word: Madison's worst-kept secret.
The specs: #0539
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JM ate the pork belly mac and cheese.
Nichole ate the Reuben with a Lakefront Brewery Fixed Gear red.
Paula ate the Brussels sprout salad with an Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen.
The bill was $47, or $15.67/person, plus tip.
JM gave Coopers Tavern a B+; Nichole gave Coopers Tavern a B-; Paula gave Coopers Tavern an A (see our grading rubric).
Coopers has been packed at dinnertime every time we've seen it. Is it because the Square needs a midrange comfort food outlet? The lure of the real snug in the back of the room? The extensive beer list, the Food Fight affiliation, or the truly warm hospitality of its tireless owner? Probably all of this and more. But on our visit, three months into Coopers' tenure, we felt the place creaking under the weight of its own popularity, and food and service were somewhat worse for overwear.
Picking a Saturday night at 6:30 was our own dang fault, sure, and we did get in sooner than promised (not like it was a burden to catch up on Baconfest and other news with Nichole's DCFM Info Booth buddy). However, Paula never got the club soda she requested, and we missed out on the bone marrow app we ordered. And the din, good heavens.
Pish, tosh, let's get to the food we did eat. JM's pork belly mac and cheese was a bit sad. The noodles seemed like they'd sat out under a lamp too long and were crusty on top, which left JM with little patience for a somewhat tough bit of otherwise tasty pork belly and a decent, yet bitter ,cheese sauce. JM and Paula were both disappointed in the sourdough baguette, which was of the gum-tearing-up variety.
Paula let Nichole order her own favorite dish, the Reuben, and opted for the Brussels sprout salad. The sprouts were large, cut into quarters, and only very lightly steamed if they'd been cooked at all. A bed of romaine mix in a creamy garlic dressing "paired perfectly with the bite of the sprouts," said Paula, but the bacon and blue cheese were both were pretty mild and didn't have quite the effect she thought they would. She'd order the salad again, but perhaps hold the croutons, which seemed to be made from bits of the same machete-like baguette.
The Reuben is made with excellent house-corned beef, and the cheese and beer slaw and bread all add up to more than the sum of their parts. Even knowing all that, and knowing the zeal this sandwich has inspired in many a Madisonian, Nichole's going to nail up her 95 theses for Quivey's Riley Reuben on this one.
There's more on Coopers' menu we'd love to try - namely the beet salad and chicken curry (thanks to Kyle, Nichole's already sampled the grilled cheese, which was good if blander than expected). We wish we could go back when they weren't so crowded, because this hardly feels like it was the optimal circumstance. Then again, Coopers sans crowd seems pretty unlikely.