By Grace Edquist
If you've noticed an increase in national media attention on our city's culinary scene, Forequarter is in large part to thank. The fifteen-month-old outpost on the near-east side has garnered more big-time nods than most Madison places do in their lifetimes.
So what's making critics at the James Beard Foundation, Eater.com and Bon Appetit swoon? For one, Forequarter's structure, or lack thereof, is unique. As Underground Food Collective runs it, the tiny restaurant is without a single owner or executive chef. Instead, it pulls in talent from across the whole collective. With more than seventy staffers on payroll, most with multiple interests, the talent base is extensive. You've got a bartender who dabbles in farming, a server who's also a home brewer, a butcher who makes a mean craft cocktail.
Combining all this know-how leads to some pretty spectacular and innovative cuisine. Dishes large and small are beautifully composed, using oft-discarded parts of both animals and produce, all thoughtfully paired with complementary flavors. Forequarter excels with its charcuterie boards, pork entrees and vegetable sides, but equally as impressive are the drinks. Many have a traditional base with a local twist. "If you know how old-school drinks balance, you can do your own riffs much easier," says bar manager Hastings Cameron.
Forequarter is also known for avoiding waste. If the special entree one night uses cucumbers, you'll likely see a side salad with toasted cucumber seeds. "What do I have available in front of me? That's my inspiration," says Ben Blohoweak, a line cook known for his out-of-the-box salads.
As far as we can tell, the swooning won't let up anytime soon.
708 1/4 E. Johnson St.
Grace Edquist is associate/web editor at Madison Magazine. She blogs about Madison food and drink news here.
Read more Madison Magazine stories about local restaurants here.