North and South Perfects Surf and Turf

Photo by Eric Tadsen

After 10 years of serving up award-winning fare as Joeys Seafood and Grill, Madison west-side restaurant owners Keith and Erin Stoesz needed a reboot. The Joeys Seafood franchise had dissolved long ago, and their menu was always evolving. One night, as they were smoking brisket at home, they thought, What if we did this full-time? What if we rebranded surf and turf into something really good, really local? And then and there, North and South Seafood & Smokehouse was born.

There was always some confusion because we had started out as a chain, but for the past eight years, we were doing our own thing as a locally owned restaurant, Keith says. We were ready to do something that was more us, more independent, more mom and pop.

Fast forward to today. North and South Seafood & Smokehouse is located in the same strip mall at 6604 Mineral Point Road in Madison, but the dining rooms facelift of new, warmer colors and barn boards has transformed it into a cozy eatery. The menu now centers around seafood and smoked meat, and the bar has been reborn with signature craft cocktails, featuring whiskey, bourbon, scotch, and rye. The couple worked with Three Count Beverage in Madison, a group of local bartenders who started their own cocktail consulting company, to create a new menu that includes two original drinks: the Mint Finley, a combination of vodka, lemon juice, strawberry shrub, and soda, and the Mineral Point Mule, with bourbon, lemon juice, honey, and ginger beer.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Our bar now has some personality, Erin says. We feature all Wisconsin craft beers on tap, a great wine list with good variety, and our cocktails dont use bottled mixeswere making every drink from scratch, every time. If I had to brag, Id say we have the best from-scratch margarita on the west side.

Erin should probably brag more, as nearly the entire menu, from pulled pork and Kansas City ribs to grilled shrimp and hand-battered haddock, is made to order from scratch and prepared with in-house sauces and rubs. This isnt the kind of restaurant that pulls food from a freezer; meat is smoked nightly, and fish is delivered daily. A giant chalkboard lists whats in season or on special each day, and when entres are gone, theyre gone. Customers sometimes have to wait until the next visit if the guests before them got the last order of pulled pork.

Daily specials include crab legs on Tuesdays, Urban Bourbon on Thursdays (featuring cuisines inspired by the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville, Kentucky), and the prerequisite Wisconsin Friday fish fry with all-you-can-eat haddock. Saturdays specialize in smoked prime rib, ready at 5:00 p.m., and Sundays feature beer-can chicken dinners. The restaurant gets incredibly busy during peak times, so call-ahead seating is available.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

While neither Keith nor Erin have formal culinary training, the pair have worked with a variety of chefs over the years, and the menu reflects the food of their childhoods. Erin is from Texas, Keith from Minnesota. They met in Alaska, and have called Wisconsin home for years. The North and South restaurant name reflects not only the menu, but also their history.

North and South menu items are named after U.S. cities where dishes were inspired. For example, the Galveston brisket and coconut shrimp is named for Galveston, Texas, located on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. It features Texas-style brisket smoked 10 to 14 hours and rubbed in salt, pepper, paprika, garlic, onion, and mustard powder. The shrimp is hand-battered with Malibu rum and served with apricot dipping sauce.

Yazoo, meanwhile, is a dish of Kansas City-style ribs, smoked low and slow, full of tasty bark and rubbed with brown sugar, salt, pepper, and other stuff, Erin says with a smile. The dish is named for Yazoo, Mississippi, located on the river headed out to the gulf, so it comes with grilled shrimp basted in garlic butter.

Perhaps the most popular item is the Birmingham, named foryou guessed itBirmingham, Alabama. Bone-in pork butts are smoked for 11 hours in a signature rub, and then served as pulled pork with seasoned corn-meal-fried catfish. Warning: eating this dish may cause you to break into a Southern accent.

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Then there are the sides, and more sides, and even more sides. In fact, this portion of the menu grew exponentially with the reboot, although not quite on purpose. Keith and Erin thought the addition of mac n cheese and stove-simmered beans warranted the removal of a few old-time favorites. Customers asked for their return. The result is an extensive sides menu with all the favorites: hush puppies; sweet potato fries; skin-on fries; steamed seasonal vegetables; coleslaw; wild rice; and crispy-on-the-outside, delightfully-gooey-on-the-inside potato cakes. The cakes are very popular and consist of shredded potatoes, egg, garlic, onion, cheese, and Japanese breadcrumbs fried to perfection. When we run out, people get upset, Erin says. So we try really hard never to run out of potato cakes. Keith adds, A lot of times, sides are considered an afterthought at a restaurant, and they shouldnt be. A side dish should be able to stand on its own.

If the craft cocktails, seafood, and smokehouse entres, sides, and more sides dont fill you up, there is still dessert. Each is made from scratch by Erin. Her key lime pie has reached near-notorious status, with customers often ordering a whole pie for special occasions and regular customers ordering and eating a piece even when completely stuffed from dinner. Because, yes, it is that good. We really take pride in making everything ourselves from scratch, Erin says. We truly aim for authenticity and hope people enjoy themselves enough to always come back.

Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.