Taylor Zander, Ope Haus Pub’s owner, is a familiar face to many local diners, having worked at multiple local eateries. Photo by Matt Geiger.
It’s a Midwest thing
Ope Haus Pub finds inspiration in Wisconsin’s culture of dining and drinks
Restaurants often use themes to establish their identity. They can be inspired by the outlandish, the fanciful or the far-away. But a new gastropub in the heart of Barneveld found its personality right in its own backyard.
“We’re just trying to make it as Midwesty as possible,” explains chef Dereck Rikli.
Located at 107 Co Rd ID, Ope Haus Pub opened this summer and has a decidedly Midwestern flavor, offering food and drinks that represent the region’s broad culinary palate. The menu reads like a list of comfort foods to the average Wisconsinite, with small twists and deviations that make the dishes unique. The spacious 5,000 square foot interior, filled with old wood and new ideas, was formerly Shenanigans, Lucky’s and Glacier Ridge, but a new owner, staff, menu and chef mean Ope is something entirely its own.
Twenty-seven-year-old owner Taylor Zander, Ope’s owner, is no stranger to the community. She was born and raised in Mount Horeb. She’s also no stranger to running a restaurant, having worked in the industry for more than a decade, including at the Grumpy Troll and the Mount Vernon establishment formerly known as Marcine’s.
“I want the experience here to be positive and good,” Zander said. “I want people who come here to feel welcomed, and I want them to hopefully tell their friends about us.”
“We wanted a family feel, a place people could bring their kids, and a place where people could belly up to the bar, too,” she added. “We wanted that kind of atmosphere. The bar is beautiful. The prior owner had, kind of, more bar and less dining. We wanted a mix.”
She said dreaming up the restaurant and bringing it to fruition was a “two-year process” during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Zander felt it was worth it.
“I’ve been [working in the industry] for 13 years, so I figured why not,” she said. “I have a good chef by my side.”
That chef, the aforementioned Rikli, previously worked in the kitchen at the Grumpy Troll and Brix, in Mount Horeb, and Pig in a Fur Coat, in Madison.
“I went to school for graphic design and flunked out immediately,” he says with a wry grin. “Then I realized that cooking, cooking made sense to me.”
After going to culinary school and working in an assortment of eateries, he enjoyed putting together his own eclectic menu.
“That’s what I’m trying to do here,” he said. “Combine a little bit of everything.”
That means the menu is filled with standards like cheese curds and nachos, but also lion’s mane mushroom cakes and Slichernchit Poutine, featuring fries, curds and poutine sauce.
Burgers include the Jam It All, featuring bacon onion jam and aioli with Hook’s cheddar cheese on a brioche bun. There are also the Ope (topped with cheese curds and caramelized onions) and the Hangover, featuring Hook’s pepper jack cheese, a fried egg and Tabasco sauce. Other options include a grilled goat cheese sandwich on Texas Toast with apples.
They also serve pizza, fried fish, and entrees that range from the beer mac and cheese to salmon topped with pesto and tomatoes and herbs.
“I want the people who eat here to know we care about what we make,” Rikli said. “I wanted to make it so that people are comfortable ordering, but it’s a little different from what they are used to.”
Zander’s favorite item on the menu is the Hot Honey Chicken. “My dad’s a beekeeper so we get our honey from him,” she explains.
The kitchen is small and on full display for anyone sitting at the bar, or in much of the dining area. Zander says she hopes people from the community will visit Ope and taste the variety of “Midwesty” things they cook up.
“Stop in and try some good, fresh local food, and don’t forget the Uff Da Bloody Mary,” she said.