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“No so welcoming”
Review of The Free House Pub

The Free House Pub
Ranked #8 of 110 Restaurants in Middleton
Certificate of Excellence
Description: Full details on the pub's website: http://www.freehousepub.com
Restaurant details
Description: Full details on the pub's website: http://www.freehousepub.com
Reviewed August 11, 2012

It was my idea to take my out of town guest to the new "Free house" for lunch. From the time we arrived the host made it clear that they could not seat us outside or put 2 tables together for 8 guests. With plenty of wait staff on hand we recieved little service. It was mater of factly service nothing warm or to show us glad you are here. That does not cost anything when the food is just average. My burger blacken bleu was extremly small compared to a McDonalds quarter pounder.
Dry and not very flavorful for 8.50. I will not rush back to a place where I did not feel so welcomed.

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2  Thank observant57
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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141 - 145 of 146 reviews

Reviewed July 27, 2012

My friend and I went here for dinner on a Sunday night. The outdoor area was pretty full, so we decided to sit indoors. We were seated promptly and were served with drinks right away. We ordered the chips, salsa and guacamole for an appetizer, which came at a reasonable time. The appetizer wasn't anything super special, but hey, it was only $5. It only took about 10 or 15 minutes for our entrees to be served, which is pretty good service in my opinion. I had the old standby burger with bacon and greens for my side and my friend had the pesto sandwich with fries. I thought my burger was perfect - I asked for it well done, and well done it was! The greens were good, although nothing special - just some chopped up romaine lettuce with a citrus-type dressing. Overall, not bad for a dinner! It was very filling, and my bill was only about $14 with splitting the appetizer, my entree, drink, and a tip. I will definitely go back there again!

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Thank Saki92
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 26, 2012

I had lunch at this restaurant two weeks ago in its second week since it opened and despite having tremendous potential, it was a bad experience, with OK-to-bad food, small portions, slow service, and a go-to-hell attitude from the restaurant's owners. I don't recommend it. Please bare with me through this lengthy, detailed review and account of my dealings with this business and I think it will be helpful in deciding whether you want to pay a visit to this restaurant and give them your hard-earned money.

The restaurant is pleasant inside, has an outside patio and is located in the "downtown" area of Middleton, with parking available either on the street or in the bank's parking lot across the street after hours. They have a good beer list featuring Wisconsin microbrews and they apparently have quite a number of whiskeys as well. Their menu features basic pub fare, but it has has detailed descriptions that include mention of plenty of premium local ingredients. We had heard good things about this restaurant from someone else and had high expecations, especially based on the menu's gourmet-oriented dishes. We really wanted to like this restaurant.

We ordered the thin onion rings and waited and waited for them. After 30 minutes, we received a small basket half filled with globs of heavy, greasy, burnt dough with some thin onion slices in them. The kitchen also forgot to include the chipotle ranch dressing that was supposed to accompany this appetizer. Although the quantity was on the small side, we would not have eaten a full basket anyway since they were awful.

Our meal finally came out, after an hour. My wife's pesto sandwich was pretty good, but small, my young daughter's quesadilla was fine, but their upcharge to add chicken to this appetizer-turned-entree amounted to an overcharge - the $10.50 I paid is probably the most expensive quesadilla in Madison; unlike all the other items we ordered, it at least was reasonably sized. My friend who was dining with us complained that his 1/3lb Black and Blue burger had no blackened cajun seasonings on it and was only average; it was also smaller than comparable 1/3 pound burgers from other area restaurants.

My "loaded" grilled cheese was not loaded or particularly good. Like my wife's sandwich, it was small and on non-distinct bread that did not taste craft-baked or interesting in any way. A small amount of cheese covered only 2/3 of the sandwich and it was combination of bland medium cheddar (an inexpensive cheese, not a premium aged cheddar, almost a sacrilege in a state that has so many amazing cheeses) and gouda. It had a couple of not-quite-ripe tomato slices on it (inexcusable not to have ripe tomatoes in mid-summer). I discovered that the extra charge I had paid for premium "Door County Applewood Smoked Bacon" got me two measly little strips of bacon, one on each half of the sandwich, that tasted like average $3/lb grocery store bacon, not like the flavorful applewood smoked bacon I have had in the past. When our server asked how our meal was, I pointed out that my sandwich had very little cheese on it and she offered to have the kitchen add more, but I did not want to wait another 10 or 15 minutes for their slow kitchen, plus how would they pull apart a melted grilled cheese sandwich without making a mess of it?

Both the bartender who originally took care of us and our server did a good job. The significant delays we encountered (lunch took 1 hour 45 minutes - at least 30 minutes too long) appeared to be the fault of the kitchen, which the owner/manager later confirmed was the case that afternoon.

Our bill, with tip, came to $55 for 2 adults and a small child, including a bad appetizer, two small sandwiches, a quesadilla, two beers and a soda (my friend paid separately for his lunch). I thought this was expensive for lunch and a poor value given what we received. I wanted to talk to a manager, but given how long we had been there with a restless child, my wife wanted to leave so we could get on with our busy day. Additionally, there was no evidence that there even was a manager present in the restaurant - certainly none stopped by our table as a decent manager, particularly in a new restaurant, should have done.

That evening, I wrote a detailed e-mail to the restaurant's owners using The Free House's e-mail address from their website, describing all the problems we had with their lunch and asking them what they would do to cure the problems and make me a happy customer. I thought this was fair - contact them before posting a review and allow them to make amends for an unsatisfactory meal. They never responded.

After waiting several days beyond the point one would expect to be a reasonable period for a response to my e-mail, I got aggravated (who likes to be ignored?) and decided to post reviews of this restaurant online. Another review site was the only one at that point that had this brand new restaurant available to review, so I joined that site, reviewed it there and I also requested that TripAdvisor list the restaurant. Within hours of posting my negative review on that other site, I miraculously got a detailed, highly apologetic e-mail response from one of the two owners, the manager-owner, with a not-particularly-plausible excuse for the delay in getting back to me, namely that the other owner, the financial backer, went on vacation and no one was monitoring the e-mail. What sensible person goes on vacation in the first two weeks that his new business opens its doors and furthermore, who doesn't have someone in charge of monitoring the business's e-mail, particularly in this age of electronic communications?

So, it was only after seeing my negative review that the restaurant felt it was important to respond to me. How do I know this? The owner/manager responded to an issue I had raised in my negative review that I did not include in my e-mail - he could not have addressed that point without having read my review.

The owner/manager admitted that our negative experience at his restaurant was, in his own words, "unacceptable" and "inexcusable" and took the blame for deciding to understaff his kitchen that day, hence the delays, and he stated he was taking the onion rings off the menu because they couldn't consistently make them properly. However, he attempted to defend some of the complaints about the size and quality of his ingredients (he claimed that a more flavorful cheese like aged cheddar doesn't melt on a grilled cheese sandwich - curiously, for 15 years I've had no problems getting extremely tasty 3-year aged cheddar to melt just fine in my kitchen at home). Then the second owner-financial backer e-mailed me another very apologetic e-mail and promised changes for the future to make sure they would cure the problems I encountered. But, as with the owner/manager's e-mail, he also failed to address the fact that I had a bad experience and received a poor value for my meal - they offered me nothing, not a gift certificate, not even a free desert or appetizer for a future visit.

So I wrote the two Free House owners back the next day and stated that the changes and future improvements they planned were a good thing, but asked them to address what they planned to do to convert me from an unhappy customer to a happy one. I stated that even at a Culver's fast food restaurant, when I had a problem with a meal, the manager had offered to re-make the entire meal and offered me a gift certificate. I didn't bring up my review at all, but if they had offered me anything more than a free appetizer, we would have gone back and if the experience was better, I would have edited my review at the other review site and changed it from negative to positive.

Funny thing happened the same day I sent the reply e-mail to The Free House's two owners: my negative review on that other review site suddenly disappeared - it was no longer visible to the public. My review had been screened from public view, allegedly by the site's monitoring system that was supposedly designed to prevent disgruntled former employees (not applicable with a brand new restaurant like The Free House) and competitors from posting phony negative reviews. What criteria could they have used other than I was a new reviewer posting a negative review? And you know what else happened? With my negative review no longer visible online, The Free House's owners resumed their earlier tactic of ignoring me. That's right, once my review could no longer advise potential customers of my negative experience at their restaurant, they refused to respond to me any further and no longer gave a damn that I was unhappy with their restaurant. And another funny thing happened: all of the other negative reviews on that review website also disappeared from public viewing, having been "screened."

So I did some research on this other consumer review website and discovered that they allegedly contact businesses that appear on their website and for a fee, they will "screen" any potentially "phony" - i.e. negative - reviews. Now I have no proof of any communications with or payments that the owners of The Free House may exchanged with the other review website and they subsequently denied it. So if you like, you may find it merely a coincidence that my review is no longer visible on that website. But I personally believe it would have to be a collossal coincidence that not one, not two, not three, but all four negative reviews for that restaurant to have disappeared, all at the same time that the attitude of The Free House owners went from very apologetic and concerned about my experience as a customer, to go-to-hell-we-don't-care-anymore.

After 5 days I e-mailed the Free House Owners pointing out they had ignored me again. I asked them "You decided to pay [the other review website's] fee to filter/censor negative reviews instead of doing right by an unhappy customer, correct?" They finally responded and denied they were paying a censoring fee to the other review website. The told me that they didn't respond to my second e-mail because they have no intention of doing anything further for me, asserting that even though they previously admitted that nearly all of my complaints were genuine and the meal they gave us was, in their own words "unacceptable" they somehow doubted my complaints because I did not bring them up while at the restaurant (ignoring that I had been there 1 hr 45 minutes with a small restless child, I DID complain to our server, and there was no manager to be seen in the restaurant). They also got mad that I had posted a negative review before discussing the problems with them, conveniently ignoring the fact that I had tried to contact them before I wrote the review but they ignored my e-mail for more than half a week. So they told me, in essence, to get stuffed, and concluded the e-mail with the bizarre statement "I do hope you give us another chance.... Finally, if you would like to discuss this further, I encourage you to stop by and speak to us directly."

Wow. I didn't make that up - they admitted they were at fault for serving us a bad meal, then bizarrely implied I invented all my complaints about that meal, told me to go to hell, and then asked me to give them another chance. Do you see what kind of people are running this restaurant?

So I will never do business with The Free House again because of this awful treatment by its owners following up on my experience with their bad food, non-generous portions, slow service and poor value. They admitted my meal was unacceptable, made multiple bad business decisions that caused me to be an unhappy customer, but won't take responsibility for their bad decisions and mistakes. If you want to give your hard-earned money to a business like this one, well, the decision is yours. Personally, I try to patronize restaurants and other businesses that have significantly higher concern for customers than that held by the owners of The Free House.

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5  Thank lousygolfer
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed July 23, 2012

My husband and I stumbled upon this restaurant and it happened to be the third day that it had been open. We were impressed by the service and the new and clean decor. The outdoor seating is really cute, overlooking downtown Middleton. The main part of the restaurant/bar is open and decorated nicely. There is another part of the bar that made you feel like you entered a tavern somewhere in Europe, with a beautiful dark bar and a great whiskey selection. They had a great selection of beers, about 16 taps and many more by the bottle. We were told that there would be a constant rotation of different beers on tap too, which seems fun. There were several large flat screen TVs too. The food was really good and there were several items that I would like to go back to try. Very tasty food for "bar food", especially! We will definitely go back!

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Thank jsmatthews
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 19, 2017 via mobile
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Thank Marcelo_Jorge
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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