- Views & Opinions
The history of the Stamm House stretches all the way back to 1847 — before Wisconsin was a state.
Located in Middleton, it’s a stone building that originally served as an inn and stagecoach stop on the Old Sauk Trail from Milwaukee to Minneapolis.
Now, channeling the building’s 170 years and numerous iterations as a hotel, dance hall, speakeasy, restaurant — and, legend has it, a stop on the Underground Railroad, the newly renamed 1847 at the Stamm House restaurant is finding its footing in the 21st century. Its new menu stresses traditional foods served in a beautifully rehabbed historic building — a combination that will put the restaurant paces ahead of its competition, according to general manager Craig Madigan.
“The Stamm House today is a modern take on the traditional Wisconsin supper club,” says Madigan, a Detroit native who moved to Madison to work for Food Fight Inc. and other area fine dining restaurants. “We want customers to understand every dish on our menu.”
The restaurant has long been known for its Friday night fish fries, a feature Madigan and co-owners Troy Rost and Dr. Jim Hagstrom have worked to preserve. But beyond that, the Stamm House has struggled to find a niche in the Capital City’s burgeoning foodie scene.
Changes over the past decade, including a stab at quasi-French cuisine, have been less than successful.
The restaurant also has shuffled through a number of chefs in the past two years. The kitchen door stopped revolving with the hiring last year of Sergio Lopez, the founding chef of Francesca’s al Lago on the Capitol Square. Lopez worked with Madigan while he was manager of Francesca’s, in between the Detroit native’s stints at Food Fight’s Johnny Delmonico’s and The Statehouse at the revamped Edgewater Hotel.
Madigan tapped Detroit friend Emelia Juocys, an associate of award-winning food writer Michael Ruhlman, to create the current menu. Long on steaks and “lake fish,” Juocys’ menu forms the template that Lopez follows in executing the restaurant’s culinary vision.
The menu boasts five steaks — from an 8-ounce sirloin ($20) to a 12-ounce New York strip ($43). There also is an oven-roasted half-chicken ($18) and the Stamm Burger ($13) is Angus beef topped with, among other things, “crispy cheese curds.”
The lake fish list includes fried smelt ($12), oven-roasted trout ($18), hash brown potato-crusted walleye ($21) and deep-fried or pan-sautéed lake perch ($25). The all-you-can-eat Friday night fish fry, which features deep-fried or baked cod, is $17.
Other than a collection of side dishes, there is nothing currently on the menu for vegetarians. But Madigan is considering a few options. He also says the restaurant is not necessarily governed by the locavore ethos found elsewhere in Madison.
“Our food is fresh, but we don’t die by the sword for the farm-to-table tag,” Madigan notes.
Prices are in line with other area fine dining restaurants, but what is not is the atmosphere.
Partners Rost, a developer who owns Lake Effect Properties LLC and Hagstrom, a geneticist who works for Mirus Bio LLC, spent two years reclaiming the property from the ravages of age and the quick fixes made by past owners. The result is a fully restored and beautifully appointed historic space on par with the menu in defining the Stamm House’s appeal.
Open ceilings and exposed bricks and beams give the upstairs dining area a spacious feel. The finished product may or may not be fully historically accurate, but there is no doubt the latest version is certainly the most attractive the restaurant has ever been.
The name, too, sparks historic interest. It turns out the building was never owned by anyone named “Stamm.”
Purchased by Heine Fuller in 1925, the former Pheasant Branch Hotel was renamed with a derivative of the German word stammtisch, which means “regular’s table.” Madigan believes more and more regular customers are coming to 1847 at the Stamm House for the food and a dose of history.
“The secret is out,” he says.
1847 at the Stamm House
6625 Century Ave., Middleton
Hours: Monday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday 5-10 p.m., Saturday brunch 8 a.m.-2 p.m. and dinner 5-10 p.m., Sunday brunch 8 a.m.-2 p.m.
On the web: 1847stammhouse.com