Restaurant Review: Stoughton's Viking Brewpub menu is both pleasing and promising
STOUGHTON—Vik and Lori Malling decided to build and open the Viking Brewpub in downtown Stoughton last year despite virtually no experience in the dining, brewing and entertainment business.
What they did have was a good business plan and a simple, straightforward philosophy.
“Lori and I want people to feel comfortable coming in here, just like they're coming into our home,” Vik said.
What the couple didn't account for in their business plan is how much time it would take to run the business. They also didn't anticipate how long it would take to have a custom brew kettle and tanks manufactured and installed.
Although the 4,300-square-foot brewpub and restaurant opened in August 2014, it has yet to begin brewing in-house. Instead, the brewmaster's three original recipes—an American lager called Nordic blonde, a dark IPA called Soot in my Eye, and an amber ale—are being brewed in Madison.
Once brewing begins in the pub, Vik says he will have 12 beverages on tap, with “six or seven of our own.”
But the lack of in-house brewing hasn't seemed to hurt the business, which has been popular for its inviting atmosphere and good food.
The space features lots of blonde wood, bold Nordic logs and an impressive hand-carved Viking dragon ship bar as the establishment's centerpiece.
Lori's brother, Mitchell Brickson, carved the dragonhead, which blows smoke from its nostrils on special occasions. Mitchell and his dad, Duane Brickson, also were responsible for helping design the space, and Mitchell did the carpentry work throughout.
The bar is made from wood recycled from the Point Brewery in Stevens Point, and the unusual bar stools came from the Minhas Brewery in Monroe. Several flat-screen TVs also help to draw big crowds for sporting events.
The kitchen's food is almost as impressive as the pub's interior. While we don't normally expect much from pub fare, our party of five dined at the Viking on a recent Saturday and agreed its appetizers were much better than expected. The brewpub's sandwich baskets—which include a choice of fries, homemade coleslaw or chips—also were pleasant surprises.
The kitchen offers about a dozen deep-fried appetizers. Definitely check out the Sriracha chicken bites ($7.50)—a half-pound of seasoned chicken breast bites served with a sweet, zesty chili sauce. These are filling, and they arrived hot and much less greasy than anyone at our table expected.
That also was true of an order of breaded and fried dill pickle spears, served with ranch dressing ($4.75). Even better are the fried green beans ($7.50), which are lightly battered and served with a sweet lingonberry dipping sauce.
A popular ingredient in Scandinavian sauces and recipes, lingonberries make an appearance in several dishes as a flavor enhancer.
One of the kitchen's most popular sandwiches is the portabella mushroom ($8.50), which is served open-face with roasted red peppers, grilled onion and a choice of cheeses: cheddar, American, Swiss, Provolone, Havarti or pepper jack.
A pulled pork sandwich ($7.50) features one-third pound of slow-cooked pork with house barbecue sauce on a ciabatta bun. The meat is tender, and a tangy-sweet sauce complements it.
Hamburgers and cheeseburgers feature one-third pound of certified Hereford beef cooked and served to order.
Vik said the kitchen is about to expand its menu and will offer what it calls a “to-go burger” with cheese, fries, coleslaw and bacon all stuffed with a burger in a hardy bun ($12.95). Other new items include the Viking burger ($10.50), which includes onion rings and three slices of bacon with a choice of sauces; a burger that includes pork and beef patties, pulled pork and cheese with bacon for $12.95; a mushroom-Swiss burger ($9.95), and a chillin' burger ($11.95).
Other specials include a Friday fish fry with coleslaw, roll and choice of potato: three-piece beer-battered cod ($11.95), three-piece baked cod ($12.95) or six-piece fried jumbo shrimp ($13.95).
On Saturdays, the kitchen turns out a Norwegian meatball special with mashed potatoes and red cabbage with diced apples ($10.75), as well as a fried Cajun sausage basket with fries and slaw for $5.75.
Online customer reviews of the Viking Brewpub have been mixed—most have praised the food, but some have criticized the pub's service. On the day we dined there, service was very good—both friendly and prompt.
With a great atmosphere and better-than-expected pub food, Viking Brewpub is just one of several new restaurant/bar combos that have opened in downtown Stoughton in the past year or two—thanks largely to the popularity of the Stoughton Opera House and its annual 70-plus show schedule.
Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.