Simple Perfection: Sardine, Marigold, and Gates & Brovi Deliver on Experience

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Its hard to believe, but Madisons dining scene has a three-flat brownstone apartment near Wrigley Field to thank for three of the citys most acclaimed restaurants: Sardine on Williamson Street, Marigold Kitchen on Pinckney Street, and Gates & Brovi on Monroe Street.

Thats because the trios co-owners, Phillip Hurley and John Gadau, happened to be neighbors in Chicago in 1998. The chefs, working separately in the Windy Citys renowned Caf Provencal and Carlucci, quickly discovered they share the same philosophy about dining out: the food should be executed to simple perfection, and the experience should be memorable. Three years later, they moved their families to Madison and began a revolution in the art of taking local ingredients to a new level.

The common denominator in all of our restaurants is the desire to give people a great experience, John says. Of course, the food must be good. But we pay very close attention to every aspect of what our diners experience: the dcor, the atmosphere, the personality of our staff, and the magic that can happen from living in the moment. We want to transport people to another place when they eat in our restaurants.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

As two of Madisons most down-to-earth restaurant owners, the James Beard nominees feel lucky they came into business before the media transformed chefs into celebrities. For Phillip and John, cooking is less about hype and more about passion. Building a successful restaurant is based on a philosophy of generosity.

We come from an era that encompassed a philosophy of generous hospitality, Phillip says. Our cocktails are generous. The food is unexpectedly good. The servers and bartenders are engaged and genuinely excited about what theyre bringing to your table. When you err on the side of generosity, youll be busy and success will follow.

Nowhere in Madison defines generous hospitality better than Sardine, located in the historical Machinery Row on Lake Monona. The French bistro and bar, launched in 2006, underwent a full open-kitchen remodel in the fall of 2016, and now includes a wood-fired oven and rotisserie. While Steak Fritesgrilled ribeye, compound butter, and classic frites served with mayo and spicy mustardis probably still the most popular entre on the menu, Wood-Fire Rotisserie Chicken Ratatouille with frites and chicken-balsamic butter sauce has quickly become a local favorite. Sardine is the go-to restaurant for locals to show off their city to out-of-town guests because of its Parisian vibe and warm Wisconsin hospitality.

When youre in France and you eat dinner in a beautiful restaurant, the food always tastes better because youre living in the moment, John says. Thats what were trying to re-create at Sardine: embracing life with good friends and family and eating food that feeds the soul. We built a restaurant out of happiness, thankfulness, and joy, and we hope our customers find all of those things through our food.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

While Sardine allows diners to experience a French bistro without ever leaving Madison, John and Phillips first restaurant, Marigold Kitchen, is considered a breakfast, lunch, and brunch fresh-ingredient institution. The eatery, launched in 2001, was the pairs foray into the Madison dining scene, bringing a West Coast influence of fresh and local ingredients to downtown before the term farm-to-table had entered most peoples vocabulary.

We were coming from Chicago, having both worked long nights in restaurants, and thought a breakfast/lunch place would let us enter the day job world. In retrospect, we never worked harder, Phillips says.

While all three restaurants are fueled by local ingredients, Marigold Kitchen is perhaps best known for showcasing what Wisconsin makes best in any season: bread, eggs, and dairy. Marigolds French Toast enjoys near-legendary status, and features brioche drizzled with pastry cream, berry pure, seasonal berries, shaved almonds, and pure Wisconsin maple syrup. Omelettes are served with Marigold potatoes and choice of toast, while Duck Confit Hash includes new potatoes, caramelized onion, and fresh herbs served with two eggs any style and petite greens in a champagne vinaigrette. Phillip and Johns favorite dish, however, is the Chili Poached Eggs, served with French rosemary toast, prosciutto, and manchego cheese. Its based on a favorite dish Phillip and John each experienced separately in different cafs in Los Angeles.

Photograph by Eric Tadsen

The pairs latest restaurant is Gates & Brovi, which launched in 2012. Its where East Coast fish house meets Midwest supper club. Designed as a casual lunch and dinner restaurant decked out in reclaimed lumber, Gates & Brovi is named for the nicknames of Phillips mom and Johns dad. Its a place where you can share a table and spill your beer, Phillip says. Its a great little family spot with solid food and a stellar Friday fish fry.

While the signature dishes at Gates & Brovi include sandwiches, salads, and burgers, the Fishermans Stew, a mix of seafood poached in a rich and spicy tomato broth, is a classic Boston dish. But its the eaterys popular one-size made-for-two pizzas that have put the eatery on the Monroe Street map. The Green Goat pizza features basil pesto, zucchini, roasted tomatoes, oil-cured black olives, mozzarella, and goat cheese. Other choices include the Carbonara Bacon, with tomato sauce, parmesan, cream, red chile flake, grilled scallions, black pepper, and parsley, and Old Faithful, a pizza with tomato sauce, house-made Italian sausage, pepperoncini, black olives, and mozzarella.

The one thing about each and every one of our restaurants is that the food must be executed perfectly, John says. We strive to create an atmosphere that begins with comfort, continues with the taste buds, and ends with a memory of the whole experience.

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