A Madison favorite since its opening in 1993, The Great Dane provides a casual yet lively atmosphere to have a sit down dinner, a glass of fresh, hand-crafted beers or play a few rounds of pool in the Billiards Lounge. According to Rob LoBreglio, the Great Dane Brewery vice president, the pub’s rapid growth and success ranks it among the top five brewpubs in the United States, offering over 14 original beers. Located in a unique and historic building, The Great Dane complements the downtown area. There’s a special brew for everyone to enjoy, and the menu is no different.

Even on a weekday evening, making reservations for larger groups is recommended. A little after 6 p.m. almost all the tables in the main dining room and bar area are occupied, so plan accordingly. The appetizer menu features everything from Nacoma nachos to pan-seared Buffalo wings to calamari, and it of course includes a Wisconsin favorite, beer-battered cheese curds. I’ve got one word for that appetizer — delicious. The sandwich and burger menus are nothing short of extensive, offering over 10 different types of burgers grilled adequately to customers’ requests.

As one of the more popular restaurants in the downtown area, its success speaks for itself, but there is always room for improvement. While it is a pub and not a high-class restaurant that uses silver napkin rings or fine china, there are certain standards people come to expect from a restaurant where an average dinner for two will probably cost over $50, not including drinks.

First, food presentation is just average. There is nothing special about the way The Great Dane serves a burger and fries but, once again, it’s a pub and not fine dining. While offering a wide variety of items on the menu can be a positive, even a marketable aspect of a restaurant, they are spreading themselves to thin. While The Great Dane is an ideal place to grab a burger, the “Pub Favorites,” as they’re called in the menu — in particular the Southwest Tortellini — come up short. Just because the chicken is smothered in noodles and a cilantro cream sauce doesn’t justify using fatty meat. Customers might not be able to see it, but they can sure taste it. Pub Favorite? Not mine. If they are going to try to cover all the bases, they have got to cover them all well.

An additional aspect to consider is customer service. How hard is it to leave personal gossip at home and greet guests as they enter the restaurant? There was a definite lack of leadership and organization among the hostesses. I could give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was all their first day on the job, because that is how they presented themselves. On the other hand, once the waitresses visited their tables, they were polite, courteous and very familiar with the menu and gave great recommendations.

So, bottom line: great beer, good food, decent service.

4 stars out of 5