In a word: What are we Karben4?
The specs: #00923
3698 Kinsman Blvd., Madison 53704
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JM ate the grilled cheese plus ham, with a lemonade.
Marijka ate the pick two salad plate with spring roll salad and maple spinach salad.
Nichole ate the Midwest Muffaletta with a Sprecher.
Ryan ate the ham & bacon supreme with a Fantasy Factory.
We split the deviled eggs and pretzel styx. (Welcome to Hell!)
The bill was about $55, or $14ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Karben4 a B+; Marijka and Ryan gave Karben4 a B-; Nichole gave Karben4 a C+ (see our grading rubric).
K4B is in the old Ale Asylum space on the northeast outskirts by Madison College. As Ale Asylum, the space was intimate and warm, though a bit raucous when it needed to be. Karben, not so much.
The space has been reimagined in modern industrial. It's a little like a warehouse rave with loud music, high black walls adorned with distant murals that make little impact, and TV sets, but instead of showing artsy swirls they just silently spewed minor big 10 college football. As a place to get sandwiches, it is the anti-Mildred's.
Foodwise, K4B is roughly in the Vintage family of foodie brewpubs, but lighter and healthier. For app-sample, there were good pretzels and very fun deviled eggs. We got four kinds: classic, smoked chile, fresh and bright gremolata and Hollandaise (very nice, though it could have been more citrusy).
Based on what we observed of the menu, the kitchen could be quite limited: no fryer, maybe not even a grill. But there's probably an oven.
The subtext of the entrees at Karben4 seems to be: "What can we do with all this spinach?" The sandwiches and salads are a nice break, but unless you are looking to see Popeye exposed to something akin to 'roid rage, there's a little too much spinach in everything.
Marijka's 2 half-salads, while appealing on paper, didn't really mix well. Despite both having a lot of spinach the flavors didn't mesh, but she said she has had worse apple walnut salads. While the grilled sandwiches were decent, the Polish sausage on the Midwest Muffaletta on a pretzel bun was awkward and hard to eat. It was also a smidge on the cold side. JM got ham & cheese and a lemonade, which may account for his higher than average grade. Ryan's ham and bacon supreme was also pretty good.
That said, there are a lot of nice hints toward something more solid - Underground meat, Stalzy's bread, homemade dressings and pretzels. Heck, maybe an Madison College student in the kitchen?
And of course there's beer. K4B quickly made a name for itself (not least for its fire-breathing unicorn ridden by a gun-wielding cat) in the beer trade. But their tap menu is small and mostly ossified against change. This wouldn't be terrible if there weren't so many other places in Madison to have a beer, even their beer.
Karben4 mostly uses this sammy shop as a showroom for their signature beverages, and we cannot fault them taking an incremental approach. But there's a not a lot going on here, and in this genre, Vintage, Dexter's or Ale Asylum probably have more to offer the average food enthusiast.