Longtime restaurateur Joe Tachovsky certainly has the touch.

The consultant behind Samba Brazilian Grill, responsible for opening and running that exquisite restaurant from 2007 to 2009, has worked miracles again turning Mildred’s Sandwich Shop into an intimate spot where you’ll want to linger over your meal.

With The Spot, Tachovsky has kept Mildred’s same conjoined wooden booths and made them distinctive and comfortable, respectively, with stripey wood tables and new black cushions. The floor is also gorgeous with a linoleum that mimics three different shades of wood.

Whimsical black and white photographs of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade hang on the walls in the front room, with a prominent photo in the middle of a Pinocchio and other vintage toys that is simply delightful.

An unexpected five-stool bar in back is also charming, as is a five-table patio that saw a lot of use in the weeks after the restaurant opened Aug. 27.

The menu is just as creative and enticing, with neighborhood joint type prices.

We adored the gorgonzola chips ($6): crisp, housemade potato chips draped with melted gorgonzola and a thin, white pepper crema with shredded basil on top. They made a terrific snack to nibble on with our drinks.

It was hard to pass up the Scott Walker ($8.50) with Absolut, Door County cherry juice, Grand Marnier and lime juice, served straight up. Unfortunately, it was just as astringent as the real Scott Walker. My companion fared better with a very nice pinot gris (Jovino 2011, Oregon, $6), which was highly drinkable for a bargain price.

Another starter, the vegetable charcuterie ($10), contained an unusual white bean hummus. It had the color and consistency of mashed potatoes and was more bland than a chickpea hummus. I liked the basil buried within, but was pretty neutral on it until I bit down on a clove of roasted garlic. That really added some intrigue. Roasted red pepper strips with onion and rosemary were also kind of plain, but the olive tapenade was striking, as were the pickled carrot sticks and red grapes. Even the crostini were better than most, sprinkled with garlic salt.

What else did we like? Everything.

The Spot burger ($10.50) was spot on, a loose, hand-formed patty of fresh-tasting beef stuffed with goat cheese and enhanced by prosciutto and fried leeks. The red pepper “catsup” was a brilliant touch. It could have been sensational had the prosciutto been crisp like good bacon instead of limp and soggy.

On the side was a choice of mustard green-potato salad, beans and rice, or mixed greens. The potato salad was rustic but also sophisticated with thick chunks of potato, carrot, and bits of blanched mustard greens. Instead of mayonnaise it was dressed with a vinaigrette. It had a hint of mustard and a sprinkling of parsley.

The chickpea and pepper goulash ($10), was a virtuous vegetarian offering. When I think of goulash I think about a messy stew served over noodles, but this one was neat and orderly and served atop basmati rice. The garbanzo beans sat amid a thin tomato sauce with three colors of bell peppers represented along with tomato, cilantro and onion.

“I wish it were saucier,” said my companion, but I appreciated the light, healthful touch. The “sauce” was more like the juice from crushed tomatoes, with no discernible oil. The menu mentions sour cream but I don’t remember it.

For dessert we split the salted caramel sundae ($5), vanilla ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The sea salt seemed only to be on my half, so only my companion had a complaint with it. And the syrup could have been warm. First-world problems, I know.

The only other criticism was that from our table next to the window we could hear the food going on the grill and into the fryer. It was as if it were coming out of the speaker near our table.

Our server, it should be noted, was exceptional.

Tachovsky, who has spent the past few years as a consultant for restaurants in Milwaukee and Egg Harbor, is a puppet-master, creating a similarly warm ambiance of the restaurants he’s opened for others. At the same time he’s added the coziness and playfulness he established with his own Porto Bananas on King Street in the mid-1980s.

He took some 36 years of Mildred’s history and elevated the space into something new and cool.


Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.