One regret I had about Freiburg Gastropub closing on Monroe Street this spring was that I didn’t get to try its doner kebab.
The Turkish kebabs, found all over Germany, where I once lived for a year, are made, like a gyro, with well-seasoned meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, served on a fresh pita with lots of vegetables.
I was therefore happy to find the doner kebab turn up on the menu of the new Freiburg Tap Haus — its name, menu and environment tweaked after it took over the former Wisconsin Brewing Tap Haus on the top block of Street Street in May.
The former State Street bar/restaurant was owned by Jack Sosnowski’s Noble Chef Hospitality group, which also owned the former Freiburg, and owns the new Freiburg, and two other businesses on the 100 block.
The new Freiburg has the original Freiburg’s handsome logo painted behind the bar and the chandeliers from Turner Hall in Milwaukee that were in the old place. But otherwise, it doesn’t look much different from the Wisconsin Brewing Tap Haus. It’s got the same high-backed wooden booths, but with some new black-and-white rugby and soccer photographs over them.
Like Hawk’s and Nomad, Freiburg is positioning itself as a place to watch soccer and has more TVs over its bar now. Sure enough, a World Cup soccer match was being televised during a recent visit.
The Monroe Street Freiburg — named for the Madison sister city in Germany — lasted three years and closed in April, just after the street’s nine-month construction project got underway. The restaurant Tin Fox took its place.
Sosnowski said the new Freiburg is in the second oldest building on State Street, and because of that, “already has that old world, almost German feel.” The transition seems smooth, and the new place was doing a strong business late on a Sunday afternoon, with a good number of customers eating on its sidewalk cafe.
It makes sense that the doner kebab ($11) turned up on the new menu since it combines the hits from each restaurant and as a result is a bit more casual. The kebab can be made with chicken or vegetables, and the grilled chicken was juicy and flavorful.
Shredded cabbage, cucumbers, pickled red onions and garlic cucumber sauce combined beautifully for taste and looks, and the soft, warm naan bread was so much better than a traditional pita. It was perfection.
The Black Forest burger ($12) was also outstanding. It featured a half-pound of quality Angus beef, char-grilled to medium, as we’d asked, but still deliciously pink in the middle. Making it special — and like two sandwiches in one — was a thin layer of Black Forest ham and Swiss cheese. Grilled onions and horseradish mustard on a soft pretzel roll made it even better.
The sandwiches each came with a side: fries, German fried potatoes, or salad. The German potatoes were the way to go because they were distinctive — small cottage fries with caramelized onions. The regular fries were medium thick and super crispy, but not as special.
We passed on the side salad, instead going with the entrée-sized beet salad ($12), which surprised my friend: “That’s a salad for three people,” he said.
It’s true, it had a spectacular showing of beets. There were more beets than the arugula that served as the salad’s base. The arugula was a good choice for a green and the other components worked well: blue cheese, pickled onion and hazelnuts tossed in a citrus vinaigrette. The only problem, and it was a big one, was that the beets hadn’t been cooked long enough and weren’t tender.
The appetizers we ordered were good, not great. The brat stickers ($8) — six pot stickers deep-fried until crisp with minced bratwurst and onion inside — had mustard sauce drizzled over them. “Without the mustard, these would be pretty tasteless,” said my companion.
Potato pancakes ($7) also slightly missed the mark by being too salty. They were served with a lemon-flavored sour cream and apple compote, instead of applesauce, and both helped redeem them. I’ve long searched for the perfect potato pancakes in Madison and have yet to find them. These would’ve come close if not for all the salt.
The new Freiburg has more of a pub atmosphere than the former one, with a nice mixture of local beers and German beers. The 14 taps are well organized on the menu by type.
Even though its move puts it in closer competition with Madison’s other German restaurant, Essen Haus, the new Freiburg will see good foot traffic.
“The cuisine has really stepped up on State Street and the Square,” Sosnowski said. “We think it’s a much better opportunity for the concept.”