Tipsy Cow has been a downtown Madison staple for tavern food since 2011. But when co-owners Michael Banas, Patrick O’Halloran and Sue Kirton wanted to serve a new market, they looked east.
“We saw a lot of momentum happening in Sun Prairie, especially at Prairie Lakes,” Banas said. “We knew there was a lot of potential.”
In fact, Banas and his ownership team were so confident in Sun Prairie’s potential that they opted for new construction — rather than moving into an existing building — to house Tipsy Cow’s second location.
The result is a spacious restaurant with a large bar area and separate dining room that opened in December at Prairie Lakes. Even though it took about three years to reach fruition, according to Banas, the decision to open another Tipsy Cow is paying off.
The downtown location, off the Capitol Square on King Street, offers about 60 seats plus a patio, Banas said. By comparison, the Sun Prairie location can seat about 150 people, and a patio is expected to open this summer.
“In Sun Prairie, we have everything that we wish we had downtown,” Banas said. “The kitchen itself is the size of the entire restaurant downtown. Our kitchen downtown is in the basement.”
Size isn’t the only difference between the two restaurants. According to Banas, Tipsy Cow serves a lot more of its Korean beef sandwiches and deep-fried Alligator Bites at the Sun Prairie location, while tacos are big sellers downtown. The Tipsy Burger — featuring two quarter-pound patties, cheddar and brick cheeses, smoked bacon, onion, pickles and special Tipsy Sauce — is popular at both restaurants.
Sun Prairie’s specials include beer-battered fish tacos on Tuesdays and Thursdays
Banas said Tipsy Cow prides itself on using authentic ingredients that, when possible, are sourced from Wisconsin suppliers, such as the lamb used in the Local Lamb Burger, which comes from Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Delavan. Buns and breads also come from the Milwaukee area.
High-quality ingredients is another point of pride. “Even our American cheese has flavor,” he said. “It’s still on a cheeseburger, but it tastes a little different.”
Although comparisons with other Sun Prairie restaurants, including Buck & Honey’s and Monk’s Bar & Grill, are inevitable, they are not quite accurate for at least one very significant reason: Tipsy Cow’s entrées do not come with sides. Rather, the menu is a la carte, meaning diners can order an appetizer as a side to an entrée or as a true appetizer.
“We want people to have the experience they want to have,” Banas said. “It’s not because we want to be more expensive.”
At the bar, Tipsy Cow offers 14 craft beers on tap (nine of which rotate), as well as taps for hard cider and Sprecher Root Beer. Wine also is on tap, whereas wine is served from bottles at the downtown Tipsy Cow.
Another difference comes in how you pay your bill at the Sun Prairie Tipsy Cow location. Unlike the downtown restaurant, Sun Prairie’s restaurant uses a cloud-based point-of-sale software system called Toast, which allows diners to pay with a debit card or credit card at the table using a handheld device provided by servers.
“It has its ups and downs,” Banas admitted, adding that the restaurant experienced some challenges in training staff how to use Toast and that the process has been streamlined. “For some customers, though, it’s exciting, because their card never leaves them. I just want to be a little more advanced regarding credit card security.”
Worth noting is the fact that Banas and O’Halloran also have owned Lombardino’s since 2000. More upscale than Tipsy Cow, that restaurant became a Madison institution and focuses on authentic Italian cuisine — also with an emphasis on state-sourced ingredients.
Banas lives in Cottage Grove and splits his time between Lombardino’s and the two Tipsy Cow locations.
“We just want to be part of the neighborhood,” he added.