The people who run the Food Fight restaurant group didn’t have anything much in mind when they picked the name Everly for their latest restaurant, but if they were subconsciously trying to get people to crave it “every” day, they’ve succeeded.
The menu at the healthful, California-inspired restaurant that took the place of the longstanding Bluephies is inspired, making it hard to decide what direction to go. And while I expected it to be all light fare, there are plenty of rib-stickers.
My first visit was for brunch, and the coffee ($2.50) from the local fair trade cooperative Just Coffee was richly brewed and didn’t disappoint. Neither did our two meals, although I had minor quibbles with each.
The pork and white corn grits ($12), a version of which shows up as a “big plate” on the dinner menu, featured braised pork shoulder served over creamy grits with a sunny-side-up egg on top. The mild, roasted cipollini onions seemed raw and just got in the way. There was a hint of horseradish, but it needed something more, so I asked for hot sauce. And the thin, homemade sauce I was served, made with Fresno and serrano peppers, wasn’t great, but it helped.
The sausage and potato hash ($10) was made with big chunks of roasted potatoes, the same way Bassett Street Brunch Club, another Food Fight restaurant, does them. Only Bassett Street’s version is twice as big. What made Everly’s sing was the spicy, homemade breakfast sausage. The caramelized onions worked better than the roasted cipollinis in the other dish, and the red peppers and the egg — also served sunny-side-up — were welcome.
A subsequent lunch visit produced some surprises, particularly from the “things on toast” section of the menu. The toasts come on thick Madison Sourdough bread sliced into four strips — perfect because there were four of us. I ordered the smoked whitefish toast ($11), where the fish was mixed with a delicious gribiche, a French mayonnaise and egg sauce which soaked into the bread. On top were pink pickled florets of cauliflower and sliced radish.
It was only outdone by the seasonal mushroom toast ($11) ordered by one of my tablemates. It featured huge pieces of sautéed mushrooms covered by an amazing sauce made with bone-marrow butter, garlic and herbs. You need to taste it to believe it.
Another category where everything sounded too good to be true was the “vegetables” section. From it, the yellow curry eggplant ($7) was a fine choice, the chunks of eggplant doused in a creamy curry sauce. “I don’t even like eggplant and I’d order that again,” said one member of my party.
His salmon sandwich ($12) was exceptional, the perfectly cooked fish joined by an outstanding combination of shaved Brussels sprouts, dried cranberries, apple slices and aioli made with Nueske’s bacon. The sandwich bread, also from Madison Sourdough, was of average thickness leaving the ingredients to shine. Sandwiches come with one of two sides, and he chose the restaurant’s incredible herb-roasted potatoes. The other option is kale dressed in a garlic-shallot vinaigrette.
The farro risotto ($12) with a Parmesan broth, also had a lot to offer, with grilled artichoke hearts among other ingredients. At different times during the meal, two of my companions remarked, “risotto isn’t easy to make.” It’s true that good risottos are hard to find, and this one was a perfect representation.
A bloody Mary ($7) garnished with pickles, a slice of Fresno chili, pickled cauliflower and lemon, had the right amount of heat and could easily become a draw here.
The room has a clean, open, contemporary feel, but the green metal sculpture suspended above the main dining area doesn’t really work.
Everly is one of the two restaurants replacing Bluephies. The excellent, fast- casual Miko Poké, opened in August in the old restaurant’s bar room.
I don’t know that Bluephies had to go; it still had quite a following after 22 years. But its replacements seem more in line with how Madisonians eat in 2016. All but one menu item (the buttermilk fried chicken) are marked as vegetarian, vegan or gluten sensitive.
General manager Ben Brady, also a partner in the restaurant, said the name Everly doesn’t really have a meaning, it just fit and seemed to roll off the tongue. It felt “welcoming for any and all occasions,” he said.
To me, it brings to mind the hit-making Everly Brothers (“Love Hurts,” “Bye Bye Love”). But it was also the name of a forgettable 2014 action movie.
Forgettable is one thing Everly, the very 2016 restaurant, is not.