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Catching up with 2013 Chef of the Year Dan Fox

Heritage Tavern's head chef is still going strong

It’s been almost two years since you opened Heritage Tavern. How’s it going?
Things are great. I think we’re getting better and better every day. We’ve worked out a lot of the kinks. It was a little chaotic with seven days a week and full pretty much every single day. Eventually we got to catch our breath and our team is stronger and we have better systems in place. Our late night is growing, we started to bring in some jazz music once a month and we’re doing brunch Saturday and Sunday. I just think we’re a much better restaurant today than when we first opened and we’re excited to continue moving on.

How has your menu evolved?
When we first started, we were changing everything all the time. Now we’ve landed on some staple dishes based on good customer feedback and magazine write-ups. The menu still rotates, especially in the swing of the season with the farmers’ market, and we run a lot of verbal specials throughout the day. I think our price point is definitely dialed in a bit better now to where our customers are really happy.

What are some of those staple dishes?
Probably our most popular is deviled eggs, an assortment of three to four different types, like Wagyu Beef Tartare, or fried egg white with pork rilette whipped into the yolk. Then we do a pork belly foie gras tuna dish that’s really popular, and our ham sandwich is probably one of our best sellers. It’s our homemade ham recipe and of course it’s from our pigs.

How are your pigs doing?
We’ve downsized to two really awesome farms, one in New Glarus and the other in Mount Horeb. We’ve started a product line out of our state-licensed kitchen in Fitchburg, Fox Heritage Farms, doing a lot of fresh meat sales and then new products like boudin blanc, maple lamb sausage links, things like that.

What’s it like, having your own place, after all those years in other people’s kitchens?
I definitely now understand a lot of what would stress the owners out that I didn’t fully understand at the time. No, it’s really fantastic. I thoroughly enjoy it. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. There is definitely creative freedom, but Heritage Tavern is a concept and we try to make it as approachable as possible. I love the food here, I think it is super creative and definitely exciting, and catering
is our next big push.

What has surprised you the most?
There’s definitely been a lot of competition in town. It just seems like there’s a plethora of really fantastic restaurants downtown and they’re consistently opening with great chefs and great teams. It’s exciting as far as the food scene growing, but at the same time it gets a little difficult to have consistent employees. It’s a big-city food scene in a smaller town.

I think that with all of that, it’s made Heritage Tavern stay tried and true to what the concept is and what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to reinvent ourselves, we’re definitely very excited about what we built and I think it shows well in Madison, and we’re excited the food scene is growing. It’s definitely a cool thing to be a part of. 


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