Williamson Street restaurant carries on with new owners

The Weary Traveler Freehouse may have new owners and a new head chef, but all three are well traveled at the neighborhood pub.
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Photos by Christian Grover
Kyle Martin (pictured left) and Jeff Schmidt (pictured right).

“Let’s go to the Weary” is such a common phrase on Madison’s near-east side that it requires no further comment. Once these words have been uttered, the decision has already been made. You see yourself there, hunkered down at a heavy wooden table, surrounded by friends. A record is playing from behind the bar and the lights are low. The only thing left to decide is if it’s going to be the goulash or the burger, the West of the Andes sandwich or maybe the special. If it’s winter, you might be lucky enough to get a mug of the grog, a house special that warms the soul and has a two-glass limit.

The Weary Traveler Freehouse — the restaurant’s official name — opened in 2002 at the corner of Williamson and South Few streets. Although the menu was originally inspired by former owner Christopher Berge’s global travels, it’s a quintessential neighborhood spot, thanks in part to its location in the heart of the Willy Street neighborhood.

“It’s a throwback to the old neighborhood saloon or bar where there is a core neighborhood family that comes in here and has been coming here forever,” says Jeff Schmidt, a longtime Weary bartender and one of the restaurant’s new co-owners along with Kyle Martin. Schmidt says that even though The Weary draws patrons from all over the city, as well as out-of-towners, he’s always seen it as a neighborhood bar. “On snow days, people finish shoveling their sidewalks and their driveways and it’s, ‘Well, what do we do with a day off?’ ” he says. “They come over here and sit inside all afternoon, see their neighbors and their friends, eat great food, and have fun drinks and good beer.”

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Photo by Christian Grover

Seasonal Grain Salad
A new menu item is a seasonal grain salad for those hoping to eat on the lighter side. Summer’s iteration featured strawberries, pickled red onions, crunchy pepitas, creamy goat cheese and a mix of wheat berries and quinoa. “I believe in bold flavors, maximum flavors in all of my food,” says new head chef Cookie Scheib-Brazzel. “I feel like sometimes it’s a lot going on, but it all goes together — gotta have the acid, the crunch, the sweetness.”

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Photo by Christian Grover

Bob’s Bad Breath Burger
The name says it all for The Weary Traveler’s best-known dish, Bob’s Bad Breath Burger. A half-pound of beef topped with cream cheese, green goddess dressing, tomatoes, caramelized onions and garlic, it’s an award-winning burger that’s worth the after-breath. “If people know The Weary, they are going to say, ‘Oh the burger,’ ” says Scheib-Brazzel.

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Photo by Christian Grover

13-Ounce Bone-in Ribeye Pork Chop
When Scheib-Brazzel took over as The Weary’s head chef last spring, she knew she would keep “the classics” but also wanted to add a few dishes of her own — a pork dish was at the top of her list. “I’m a big pork girl,” she says. After running a couple of specials, “this is the one that stuck.” A thick-cut, bone-in Heritage Farms pork chop is plated over Parmesan grits and served with seasonal vegetables, Vitruvian Farms shiitake mushrooms and ramp butter.

New Travelers
Although Jeff Schmidt didn’t know fellow new co-owner Kyle Martin until recently, Martin isn’t new to the restaurant. A UW–Madison alum living in New York City for the last 18 years (where he was COO/partner of a restaurant with locations in NYC and Los Angeles), Martin often stopped by The Weary while visiting Madison. That’s how he met then-owner Christopher Berge, who asked if he wanted to buy the restaurant. Then Berge connected Martin and Schmidt for a “first date.” Meanwhile, Berge secured new head chef Cookie Scheib-Brazzel, who’d worked there in 2015 while in culinary school at Madison College. “I think the three of us have an amazing triangle of how we can continue this place on for so many years,” Martin says.

Find The Weary Traveler: 1201 Williamson St., 608-442-6207, wearytravelerfreehouse.com

Erica Krug is a contributing writer for Madison Magazine.

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