The holidays have come and gone and the semester is now in full swing. In my opinion, these are the longest months of the year. Before the cold reluctantly gives way to spring, we get caught in a cycle of blizzards, freezing rain and wind. If ever there was a time of year for hearty meals, this is it. I’m talking about the kinds of meals that stick to the bone, like steak and potatoes or thick stews, meaty bowls of chili or roasted chicken over carrots, mounds of mashed potatoes or creamy mac and cheese. These are the types of food that help us get through the colder months.
So where should you go for hearty meals in Madison? There are too many great places to include in one article: from the massive bowls of pho at Nam’s Noodle to the mac and cheese at The Old Fashioned to the meatloaf at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner to the shepherd’s pie at Brocach. For me, the quest for hearty meals has taken me to two places lately—besides my mom’s house, that is. Both places are on Willy Street: the Weary Traveler and the relatively new Vasilis’ Take Five: Vittles & Vices.
I’ll start with Weary Traveler Freehouse, located at 1201 Williamson St. Walking in, you almost immediately feel warmer. The interior is dimly lit and the seating is intimate. Their menu is small, but there are a few comfort dishes that jump out. The chicken Dijonnaise is made with locally sourced chicken and served with garlic mashed potatoes, buttered green beans and a creamy Dijon sauce. Their Ramblin’ Vegan Chili is thick and, for carnivores, also comes in a not-so-vegan form with bacon and beef tenderloin tips.
On my last visit to Weary Traveler, though, I chose the Hungarian Goulash. It comes in a bowl about the size of your head and contains beef tenderloin tips, Yukon Gold potatoes, carrots, celery, caraway seeds and Hungarian paprika. It was piping hot and well seasoned. My only complaint was that it was a little thin, more like a soup than a stew. I washed it down with a cup of grog, a hot, red wine-based drink seasoned with allspice and cinnamon. It’s worth coming back for the grog alone.
The other hearty meal I enjoyed recently was at Vasilis’ Take Five: Vittles & Vices. Take Five is located at 901 Williamson St. and is less than a year old. It brings Greek fusion food to the already diverse restaurant scene on Willy Street. They serve most of the Greek classics one might expect, including gyros and spanakopita. When I visited, I had the roasted leg of lamb, served with potatoes, a carrot puree and a lemon sauce. The lamb was juicy and a roasted lemon added a lot of brightness to the dish. The juices from the lamb soaked into the potatoes, making them soft. I did have a complaint here, too. The carrot puree was missing from my plate. I hope this was one of the symptoms of a new kitchen, rather than a common mistake for the restaurant. Overlooking this hiccup, the meal was good enough to ensure that I will be back.
Both of these meals, along with many more in Madison, will help to keep you warm until spring is officially here. These restaurants will also not break the bank. The goulash at Weary Traveler is only $8 a bowl and the roasted leg of lamb at Vasilis’ was $12 (and was one of the more expensive items on their menu). So if you’re feeling cold and craving comfort food, you might want to consider trying either Weary Traveler or Take Five.
What’s your favorite dish for keeping warm? Let Ben know at [email protected]