R.P. Adler's: Urban Oasis

Photo by Eric Tadsen

R.P. Adlers stellar sandwiches, seafood, and pasta dishes make it one of the most popular upscale casual restaurants on Madisons west side. But its the locally owned eaterys chicken strips that keep locals coming back for more. Made to order, never frozen, and hand dipped in beer batter, the deep-fried chicken strips at this urban oasis are second to none.

People rave about them, says owner and restaurant namesake, Randy Adler. It was never our intention to be known for chicken strips, but its what keeps people coming back. Randy says hes delivered his famous chicken strips to weddings, funerals, and parties across Madison. We use fresh chicken breast strips, make our own beer batter, and fry them to a light, crispy golden brown. Theyre our number-one-selling item.

Served with house-made ranch dressing, a generous order of five chicken strips at R.P. Adlers isnt the only menu item that has helped keep the restaurant booming since opening in 2006 at 8202 Watts Road, next to Brennans in the Cortland Commons Shopping Center. Other signature dishes include the Grouper Sandwich, prepared to orderbroiled, blackened, or deep friedand served on a toasted kaiser roll with lemon and a side of tartar sauce. Its easily the best grouper in Madison, and Randy says customers often remark the grouper is the best theyve had outside Florida. A limited-supply seasonal item, the sandwich sometimes disappears from the menu for a week or two, but always comes back.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Before opening R.P. Adlers in Madison, Randy managed the popular Rookies sports bar outside of Black Earth for eight years. With a degree in business and courses in hotel and restaurant management, he has a knack for knowing what customers want and keeping employees happy.

Many of his bartenders, wait staff, and kitchen crew have been with him since the beginningunheard of in a city facing a constant labor shortage in the service sectorand he treats many of his long-term employees as partners. I cant be here 24/7, so I depend on my staff to carry out my expectations. They always deliver.

Executive Chef Jim Hein is one of Randys original hires and has run the R.P. Adlers kitchen since day one. Chef Jims latest project is installing an in-house smoker. That means new dishes featuring smoked salmon, brisket, ribs, and turkey have been added to the menu, with more to come. Its definitely an area were going to be expanding, Randy says. Its good to change things up now and then and freshen up the menu.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Smoked items will be fun additions to a menu already popular with families, couples, and travelers staying in nearby hotels. Randy describes the dcor as upscale casuala place where diners can feel at home and eat a good meal.

A popular item with adults and kids alike is R.P. Adlers Mac N Cheese with Smoked Pork. Chef Jim has recreated this classic with smoked pork and a four-cheese blend of cheddar, havarti, parmesan, and cheddar-jack, topped with green onions. The pork is infused into the entire dish, creating a delicious texture of heavy cream with a note of garlic. The macaroni is stepped up a notch by using cavatappi, a helical tube-shaped pasta (its the Italian word for corkscrew), and scored with ridges on the surface, helping it soak up more cheese with every bite. Accompanying the dish is choice of soup, salad, coleslaw, or cottage cheese, as well as R.P. Adlers famous freshly baked pretzel roll.

A lunchtime favorite is the Sweet Potato Chicken Wrap, which is also Chef Jims fresh approach to an old favorite. French-fried sweet potatoes, slow-roasted chicken, shredded lettuce, diced tomato, and a delicious cranberry dijon mayo make this not only a filling, but flavorful meal.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

Perhaps the restaurants most popular night, however, is Friday, the day of the ubiquitous Wisconsin Friday night fish fry, a Badger State mainstay that R.P. Adlers does right. Diners have their choice of two- or three-piece cod prepared as broiled, blackened, or deep fried, or a half-pound lake perch that is beer battered and deep fried, orwait, wait, wait, theres morea half-pound serving of blue gill that is lightly floured and fried. All fish fry orders include choice of baked potato, mashed sweet potato, steamed baby red potatoes, french fries, chips, or wild rice with coleslaw and a pretzel roll. Cod dinners are also available on Tuesdays.

The bar area at R.P. Adlers is a welcoming gathering space offering fresh, free popcorn; several televisions that arent overly loud or obtrusive; and a respectable number of local craft brews on tap. Bartenders are quick to refill sodas and offer food service, eager to ensure customers are happy with their drinks and food.

Since we opened 10 years ago, we wanted our restaurant and bar to be a relaxing place to enjoy your meal and still feel the buzz of the R.P. Adlers dining experience, Randy says. We hope to keep fulfilling that promise for at least another 10 years.

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