Dinner delicacies make dining at Hawk's an enjoyable experience

I normally don't leave my house on homecoming weekend. I love the floats and the fireworks and the school spirit oozing out of the cracks in the sidewalks, but the millions of alumni that descend upon Madison just rub me the wrong way.  


Seeing all these Wisconsin grads with children, jobs and mortgages makes my fast approaching future seem too real. All those smiling, successful faces forces me to consider The Rest Of My Life,"" a very scary prospect. I enjoy sleeping until noon and eating pasta seven nights a week, thank you very much.  


Despite my reservations, my cruel roommates forced me out of the house this past weekend, where we stumbled upon a restaurant that made it all worthwhile. 


Hawk's Grill and Bar, located at 425 State Street, is the kind of place that makes you feel cool by association. Maybe you're not dating the head cheerleader, but she did ask you to study for a math test last week. The décor is what you'd expect in an upscale pub - exposed brick, dark wood and high ceilings. The lighting and acoustics are perfect - brighter and a bit loud in the dining area, lower and softer near the bar. The random collection of jazz photographs and modern art covering the walls is a bit eclectic, but that's State Street for you. 


Hawk's food selection is much larger than the average bar and grill. You can get burgers, cheese curds and steak sandwiches, but unexpected tastes such as Asian Fried Calamari and Thai Salad appear on the menu as well. 


I had a delicious baked brie appetizer when we dined at Hawk's this past weekend. The 4-inch round was served nice and toasty, which intensified the wonderful nutty aroma of the cheese. It was served with crunchy slices of French bread and sour slices of a granny smith, a delectable combo and a great deal at only $7.95. 


One of my dining companions decided on traditional pub fare, chicken strips and curly fries. The chicken strips were pretty standard, though they came with an unusually tangy honey mustard sauce. The fries were very good, though not nearly as spicy as I would have hoped for. The strips and fries were also a bargain, six large strips and a huge mound of fries for less than eight bucks. 


My other companion tried the soup, salad and French bread meal for $6.95, which paired a hearty, white bean and ham soup with a traditional Greek salad. The soup was good, although it could have used a bit more seasoning and broth. The salad was excellent with plenty of feta cheese, kalamata olives and pepperoncinis tossed in a tangy Greek dressing. 


The portions at Hawk's are generous, but not excessive - don't hesitate to split an order of fries or share their exquisite artichoke dip. I would also recommend ordering a smaller portion of the soup. The restaurant serves soups in standard sized cups and bowls, but most of their soups are too filling and a bowl could serve as an entire meal. 


One of my favorite things about Hawk's, after the wonderful food, is the presentation of every dish. Every meal I've seen leave the kitchen is arranged beautifully. Whether it's a delicate fan of thinly sliced apples or a few perfectly placed sprigs of parsley, everything looks delicious. Sometimes it's the little things that make all the difference. 


To send other restaurant suggestions to Caroline, e-mail clmueller2@wisc.edu

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