There are five gold–plated bald eagles and one rainbow peacock painting hanging on the walls of Bud & Marilyn’s.
The decorations tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the Gayborhood’s newest restaurant, another brain–child of owners Marcie Blaine Turney and Valerie Safran (Barbuzzo, Lolita, Jamonera, among others). Inspired by Chef Turney’s grandparents, the real–life Bud and Marilyn own their own restaurant in her hometown of Ripon, Wisconsin.
Safran put her well–trained designer’s eye to use in crafting this refined, yet borderline extravagant Americana atmosphere. An abundance of plumage, dark wooden booths, jewel tone decorations and a retro TV transport the restaurant’s trendy east coast patrons to an older—and distinctly Midwestern—setting. But as soon as you start to feel the urge to take your pants off and call your server “Auntie,” the subtle hints of rainbow feathers and man–bunned staff remind you that this isn’t Grandma and Grandpa’s house, and you’re not in Wisconsin anymore.
While Bud & Marilyn’s may have the vibe set in the front of the house, after only a month of business, the kitchen is still clearly working out some kinks.
The menu is a little overwhelming at first. Even after sipping on our funky, boozy cocktails served in some classic ’70s barware, my two friends and I still feel a little lost. Though the restaurant claims to be inspired by Midwest American, the starters alone range from the strictly American cheese and crackers ($14) to a Chinese–American pu pu platter ($26) and a Vietnamese chicken liver pate ($10). Even the section titles are confusing, with appetizers and entrees renamed “sharables” and “shared specialties” and a section titled, simply and suggestively: “HOT BUTTERED BUNS.”
We couldn’t resist the aforementioned buns, though, so we kicked off our meal with the $14 lobster option. The toasted bread was everything that you’d expect from something described as “hot” and “buttered,” but the cold lobster salad on top was under seasoned, over priced and an unfortunate waste of a perfectly good bun.
Luckily, though, the next appetizer to land on our table came as a fried, cheesy basket of hope. The Crispy Cheese Curds ($8) are perfect little battered balls of cheddar that will make you wish for the first—and probably last—time that you were from Wisconsin.
The good vibes kept coming with the Warm Skillet Bread ($7), compliments of the chef. A weird–but–delicious combination of potato, butternut squash and caramelized onions, it looks and tastes something like a Spanish frittata and comes paired with a dip that tastes exactly like the French onion accompaniment you didn’t even realize you missed.
From the “Vegetables & Salads” section we ordered the grilled carrots ($12) and roasted and pickled beets ($10). While neither dish was particularly revolutionary or exciting, they did leave us feeling ready to dive into what we expected to be the stars of the meal, Marilyn’s Fried Chicken ($18) and the Fontina & Chard Stuffed Meatloaf ($22). Our own man–bunned waiter described both dishes as being “what [Bud & Marilyn’s] is really all about.” We hope not, because the namesake chicken left a lot to be desired. Apart from the over–salted breading and biscuits, the dish lacked seasoning. The only spices or herbs on the plate were a few sprigs of oregano used for garnish, cruelly making the whole dish smell much better than it tasted.
One look at the meatloaf though, and it was hard to stay mad. Glazed carrots and peas sit shining on top of a generous hunk of ground meat oozing with fontina cheese and bits of Swiss chard cooked to such a dark shade of green that they’re almost black. A perfect white mound of mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy inside an actual gravy boat round out this picture of home–style comfort food. And, thank God, it tastes as good as it looks. The mash is fluffy, the meat is juicy and there’s a surprise sauce under the carrots that offers a welcome tangy kick. The gravy itself isn’t anything special, but the fact that it’s served in a gravy boat is really the only part that matters.
After six generous dishes and one cocktail each, we didn’t have enough room, or money, for dessert. Then our waiter said there was Funfetti Cake ($8) on the menu. We ordered the Funfetti Cake.
The cake itself was a little dry, but the decadent buttercream frosting came coated in rainbow sprinkles and topped with a fortune cookie, so, really, we couldn’t complain.
In the end, Bud & Marilyn’s was a lot like the cake. The food itself wasn't perfect, but the misses were only unfortunate, not inedible. They didn't take away from the fact that, ultimately, Bud & Marilyn's is well–conceived and well–executed. The food was an interesting combination of new and nostalgic. The decor toed the line between authentic and over–the–top with perfect balance. And, like funfetti cake on a fine dining menu, it was just plain fun.
Location: 126 S 16th Street
TL;DR This new restaurant is still working out some kinks in the kitchen, but the good vibes and a few star dishes give us high hopes for the future.
Don't miss: FRIED. CHEESE. CURDS. They're mentioned multiple times in this article; you're morally obligated to order them.
Skip: The hot butter buns. They might sound like the most appealing thing on the menu, but they're not.
When to go: 5pm—7pm for happy hour drinks and a basket of curds. Or with your own grandparents when they come to visit (and pay for dinner).