An evening at Buck & Badger Northwoods Lodge can be a fun, campy and ultimately delightful dining experience. A daytime outing works, too.
The restaurant opened in late November on the top block of State Street in the former Ian’s Pizza space.
Owners Jack Sosnowski and Julie Stoleson also run the Capital Tap Haus and Ivory Room Piano Bar on the same block. (The main piano bar entrance is on West Mifflin Street).
They’ve been seeing a lot of families at the Tap Haus, especially on weekends, and designed Buck & Badger to be family oriented. The first time I ventured into the restaurant was because the line at Ian’s Pizza across the street was too long. Ushering my 7-year-old into Buck & Badger instead provoked the hint of a tantrum, but she ended up loving the log-cabin look of the restaurant and begged to go back days later.
She had her eye on the s’mores diners can make tableside, which the restaurant unfortunately was out of on a return visit. She also liked the kids’ menu with its word find game.
Ironically, it’s the kids food that is the weakest link. Where my daughter will eat three pieces of a Glass Nickel pizza, she barely made a dent in the tiny Buck & Badger one, which on two occasions had only a smattering of cheese. The mac and cheese was likely Kraft’s, and the kids’ cheeseburger was dry and unimpressive as well. Oh, but the thin-cut fries that came with the burger were excellent.
Adult food fares better here. There’s a lot to like on the menu, starting with the daily soup ($2.95), which on one occasion was a creamy chicken so laden with chunks of meat that I wondered if I had gotten the bottom of the pot. Moreover, it had a distinctive flavor and was not overly creamy.
The wedge salad ($7.75) was also quite good, although it’s not about to make anyone forget about the Tornado Steak House version. It was beautifully presented, cut in half with two crostini in the middle, drizzled with Thousand Island dressing and topped with lots of crumbled blue cheese.
There are a number of tempting starters, but the beer brat corn dogs are a surefire crowd-pleaser: six tasty little brats concealed in a thin, cornmeal batter and deep-fried, and served with three types of mustard.
The grilled cheese tomato fondue ($7.95) wasn’t thrilling, but a good idea for kids who normally may not partake in appetizers. The grilled sandwich had been quartered and served with richly textured tomato soup in a little pot over a flame.
The entrées were slightly less successful. The fish boil ($13.95) was supposed to invoke the Door County classic but resembled it in no way. It was, however, an attractive, well-contained bowl with chunks of mild, moist cod that had a meaty texture, potatoes, and lots of cooked onion, sitting in a pool of broth. It could have used some carrots for taste and color, and the crostini that came with it should’ve been either softer or harder, my companion argued. It was certainly fine, but when in Madison, I think I will stick to the fish boil at the Avenue Bar.
The booyah ($13.95) was a perfectly adequate beef and chicken stew, although both meats were overcooked, dry, and in turn, chewy. Cooked carrots here added a lot. Like the fish boil, it came in a handsome silver pan/dish/bowl with crostini.
Well-trained wait staff bring out large, complimentary, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies as a surprise at the end of a meal. How can anyone leave disappointed?
Our last visit started with an enjoyable s’mores martini (on special for $5) with graham cracker bits attached to the glass’s rim with marshmallow and lots of chocolate syrup crisscrossing the glass. It ended with that long-awaited s’mores dessert ($6.95).
The dessert was the perfect amount for two adults and two children. The marshmallows came already roasted; the chocolate already melted in a pot over a flame. It was novel to be seated in a restaurant dipping marshmallows in chocolate and pressing them between graham crackers.
It’s almost enough to make my daughter forget about Ian’s.