Our Neighborhood Eats (Published in the East Emerson Neighborhood Association Newsletter, May 2009.)
by Otehlia Cassidy
My one-year-old daughter has become completely attached to her light blue winter coat. I expected that she might cling to something for comfort—her lemon-yellow baby blanket, or her doll with shimmering fairy wings, perhaps. But I never thought she’d bond so heavily with her Land’s End coat. I can’t blame her. The soft fleece collar and quilted down squares cocoon her body and contain her roller coaster toddler emotions, all while allowing her to brave the Wisconsin elements. She even wears it to bed.
As adults, we have usually moved away from the security of blankets and dolls, or coats, and lean toward other things to sooth ourselves. I would hazard a guess that for many of us certain foods and drinks can provide us with the same sense of warmth and comfort as a winter coat. Dexter’s Pub, poised at the corner of North Street and E. Johnson, provides both, and does it well.
The food menu offers many pub standards, but proffers a few welcome surprises as well.
The appetizer selection includes heaping portions of waffle fries and onion rings, which you might find at any bar, but also offers chili-garlic fries, which you won’t. The combination of chili and garlic make most foods taste better, and fried potatoes are no exception. Dexter’s offers six “classic” burgers, which use wonderfully innovative ingredients to enliven a familiar food. The Santa Fe burger, topped with spicy Jack cheese and sauteed onions and peppers, delivers some heat. Or you can order the Defibrillator, which stuffs ham and bacon, as well as two cheeses and an egg, under the bun.
There are numerous sandwiches to choose from as well, including Italian Beef and grilled cheese; add bacon and mushrooms for not-like-your-mom-made flavor. Dexter’s owner Nick claims to make Madison’s best corned beef, which is slow cooked in beer. Soups and salads round out the menu: try the Chicken BLT salad, with grilled chicken breast, bacon, and tomato served on crisp mixed greens for a light meal.
The beer selection is superb and features many locally made craft beers, from breweries such as Ale Asylum and New Glarus, as well as imports, and other domestic brews. At least 10 tap beers are offered at time, and the selection is frequently rotated. It is a true consolation knowing that you are simultaneously supporting local breweries and a locally owned restaurant.
The lining that seamlessly binds Dexter’s well-chosen offerings is the atmosphere. The bar area, which is separated from the laminate booths and tables by a half-height wall, fills with people at night. Dexter’s offers something for everyone. A popcorn cart fits snuggly in one corner, and lively chatter cuts through the noise of flat-screen TVs, which broadcast sports and news. A shuffleboard table stretches along a side wall, out of the way of people playing the weekly poker or trivia games. Dexter’s is a great place to meet friends and surround oneself in the comfort of our neighborhood pub.