When winter sets in and the frost petrifies, we crave things that not only satisfy our stomach but our emotions. Cue The Cooper’s Tavern in Madison, WI.
You’ll be tempted by the poutine ($7), but you may decide that it’s too early in the evening to order fries, curds, and gravy in one go. Order the roasted bone marrow ($8) to start. It’s served in a veal bone, sliced length-wise, accompanied with roasted garlic, pumpernickel rye toast, and parsley salad. The texture may be unfamiliar, but the flavor is enticingly rich. It picks up the subtleties of the veal and enhances the garlic. Ask the bartender to do a ‘bone luge’ and drink port using the cleaned half-bone as a funnel. When the sweetness of the port slides through the richness of the marrow, it blends into a salty-sweet experience that might ruin you on other dessert options.
Pork belly is popping up on menus across the country, but The Cooper’s Tavern’s Pork Belly Mac ($14, above) is a perfect fit for this Capitol Square nook. Mac and cheese is something all Midwesterners have grown up with. This version combines the familiarity of a childhood favorite with the cultural-memory of curing pork belly and serving it in slabs — not strips — in the winter. It’s beyond bacon. A single piece of Fox Valley Farm Berkshire pork belly cooked perfectly results in a rich layer of fat with a crispy rind cured in a Guinness glaze blanketing the well-marbled pork. The pork is clearly expressed and is not hidden behind a pile of superfluous ingredients.
Winter done right.
(The Cooper’s Tavern, 20 West Mifflin Street, Madison, WI 53703, 608.256.1600)