Restaurant Review: Freiburg Gastropub proves fitting taste of real Germany

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By Bill Livick/Special to The Gazette
August 20, 2015

MADISON—Madison has another place to go for authentic German dining.

Freiburg Gastropub opened earlier this summer on Monroe Street, further contributing to the popular dining scene on the city's near-west side. The new restaurant/bar combo puts a third German dining spot on the map here, with Essen Haus and Come Back In having already been established for decades east of the Capitol Square.

Freiburg has been Madison's sister city in Germany since 1964, and that apparently played a part in naming the new gastropub. It features an open-concept kitchen, where some diners in the 60-seat venue have a bird's-eye view of what's cooking.

Owners Jack and Julie Sosnowski operate several other restaurants in Madison, but nothing quite like Freiburg.

With its distinctive brown and white color scheme and German architecture, the place gives customers the feeling of being transported to a pub in central Europe, although a friend who is a native German pointed out a few shortcomings. But they were few and minor. Mostly, she was impressed—and pleased to have a new spot to remind her of home.

The restaurant features a handsome, masculine dining room and bar—all dark brown, with thick timbers framing a room filled with heavy block tables and chairs. The color scheme also is used in a pressed tin ceiling and hardwood floor.

The city limited the business to seating for 60 and required that most of its revenue come from the food side of the business due to its location in a quiet neighborhood. Nearby homeowners were concerned about having a large bar open late at night, and they managed to convince the city to turn down the owners' request for patio seating outside.

Inside, there are mostly private tables. There also are a couple set up for communal dining when the place is busy, as it was on the Wednesday night we visited.

All those hard surfaces tend to make the place loud and noisy when there's a crowd, a problem that seems to plague most popular restaurants these days.

The pub boasts the largest on-tap German beer selection in the city—I counted 21. It also serves a good selection of bottled beer from local craft breweries.

The food is on the pricey side, with appetizers starting at $8 and entrees around $15. As expected for German cuisine, the menu features lots of meat and potatoes, with sausages and cabbage playing lead roles.

Diners will find big, soft pretzels with mustard at their tables shortly after being seated. The pub's menu is fairly concise. From a short list of appetizers, be sure to check out the delicious potato pancakes, which come with homemade apple compote and lemony sour cream ($7.95). The pancakes are crispy and flavorful but not greasy.

Brat stickers are another good starter: cuts of bratwurst and beer-braised onions wrapped in RP's pasta and served with sweet and sour mustard ($8.95). There's also a fairly standard house salad for $7 and a cucumber and dill soup for $5.

The kitchen turns out a special each night. On Wednesday, it's a wurst platter with three sausages, sauerkraut, a pretzel with mustard and red potatoes ($17.95). My German friend was impressed, but not being big on sausages, I was less so. I could detect a subtle flavor difference between the three, while Julia explained that each comes from a different part of the country (although these sausages, of course, are locally sourced).

Another main course, maultaschen, consisted of spinach-stuffed pasta with radishes in a Riesling butter sauce ($15.95). The flavor was exquisite, with al dente pasta and a sauce so rich and sweet I could have licked the plate if it hadn't been in a public venue.

For beers, I opted for a 17-ounce pour of Bitburger pilsner—Germany's most popular draft beer. My friend chose a dark beer from Munich—Fraziskaner Dunkel. Each cost $5.50 for just more than a pint.

We shared a delicious and decadent Black Forest cherry cake for dessert ($5.95), which consisted of several layers of chocolate cake with whipped cream and cherries between each layer. It's decorated on top with more whipped cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate shavings.

Service at the pub is very good and efficient, as you might expect with something inspired by German culture. Our waiter was both knowledgeable and friendly.

The restaurant already has proved to be a popular destination for weekend brunches, as well as lunch during the week.

With its fairly heavy food and beer, Freiburg Gastropub is not going to have universal appeal. But for me, it really felt like a return to some pleasant memories of time spent in Germany.

Bill Livick is a freelance writer who writes entertainment stories and Madison-area restaurant reviews for The Gazette.

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