Settle Down Tavern elevates classic tavern fare while opening during a pandemic

No one expects to open a restaurant during a pandemic but that is exactly what Brian Bartels, Ryan Huber and Sam Parker did.
Burger Settle Down Tavern
Photo by Ryan Huber
Settle Down's house burger, the Good Idea, features two local beef patties, fried onions, cheese, house made pickles and Settle Down sauce.

No one expects to open a restaurant during a pandemic but that is exactly what Brian Bartels, Ryan Huber and Sam Parker did. The owners of the new Settle Down Tavern originally planned to open in early April.

“No one could have ever foreseen such catastrophic events as are happening at the moment,” Huber says. “We began making major adjustments to our opening strategy as soon as health care professionals began informing the public on the pandemic. Everything from menu design, ordering, staffing, build-out details and sales estimates had to be adjusted in a major way.” But the owners, along with executive chef Joslyn Mink, adapted to the changes and Settle Down, located at 117 S. Pinckney St., opened in late May.

The owners, who worked together 20 years ago at Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co., have long dreamed of opening their own version of a classic Wisconsin tavern “on our own terms,” says Bartels. Settle Down’s menu features traditional tavern fare — read burgers — but there are some surprises, too, like deep-fried chickpeas and the Instagramma-Bowl, a grain bowl with veggies and a jammy egg that Bartels says has “all of the properties” of a great bowl of ramen. While the owners had a vision for their tavern, the menu’s creative touches are all Mink, Bartels says. “We gave her a template to work off of but she brought really amazing ingredients and approaches to the culinary program.”

Exterior Of Settle Down

Seating is currently available in the atrium located next to the Settle Down Tavern, in addition to a new outdoor patio space on South Pinckney Street. (Photo by Ryan Huber)

Formerly of Underground Food Collective where she worked for six years, Mink also created Bastard Dining, a dining pop-up, with her partner, Charles Denno. Her position with the Settle Down is her first time as an executive chef. “Based on what I know about Joslyn’s work, I was shocked she wasn’t already running a restaurant,” says Huber. “I called an interview with the crew and it was immediately obvious that she was a champion.” Mink says she has enjoyed the process of taking a classic tavern menu and giving them “a new twist or being playful about it.”

“We definitely wanted a really good burger,” Mink says. “We had a lot of test trials and arguments about what that looked like. A lot of nostalgia plays into everyone’s opinion about what makes the best burger. I have been swayed on the things I didn’t include before. Ours is a smash burger that is two patties, rolled in salt and pepper so it’s heavily seasoned and then gets a really crisp edge on the flat top.” Called the Good Idea, the burger is topped with fried onions, Butterkase cheese from Cedar Grove, house-made pickles and Settle Down sauce, which is part mayonnaise, part tomato jam and part homemade steak sauce called J1 (after Mink.)

If veggie burgers are your thing, the Settle Down takes theirs just as seriously as the beef one. Called the Prit’ Near, the veggie burger is made in house with oats, carrots and shiitake mushrooms and topped with turmeric pickled onions and herby chickpea mayo. Without the bun, it’s vegan. In addition to smoked herring and potato salad, another nostalgic menu item — the cheeseball — is a riff on the one that Mink says she grew up eating at holiday gatherings. The Settle Down’s version is made with Hook’s cheddar, rolled in hazelnuts and topped with a Door County cherry reduction syrup. Pretzel crackers made specially by Potter’s Crackers are served on the side.

Veggie Burger Settle Down Tavern

The veggie burger at the Settle Down is made in-house with oats, carrots and shiitake mushrooms and is topped with turmeric pickled onions and herby chickpea mayonnaise. (Photo by Ryan Huber)

While patrons aren’t currently allowed inside The Settle Down at this time for safety reasons, the tavern is currently open for takeout and dine-in service with two options for seating. Bartels says those looking for air conditioning can sit inside the atrium space that is located next to Ancora Coffee but the Settle Down also has a new outdoor patio thanks to the city’s Streatery program that temporarily lets some downtown restaurants expand outdoor dining onto streets (South Pinckney Street has been shut down to car traffic).

Bartels says opening the Settle Down during a global pandemic has been quite the experience. “You never know what to expect,” Bartels says. “Every day is wildly unpredictable about the way the world is working … We are one of the lucky [restaurants] who can do this because of the outdoor patio and [being able to give] people proper social distancing.”

While striving to keep their staff safe, the owners of the Settle Down also pride themselves on hospitality. “At the end of the day, it’s really about that,” Bartels says. “The safety measures that we need to adhere to and also still maintaining a level of hospitality, service, genuine food and beverage and an opportunity to make people feel a little bit normal for awhile.”