Under dated, dusty chop house lives classic, quality supper club

You’ll have to look past the stained carpet, dusty windowsills and dated furniture to see just how great the Watertower Chop House in Sun Prairie is. You’ll also have to look a little harder to actually find the Watertower Chop House because it looks a little rundown on the outside and there isn’t really a sign. We walked in through the back and, after getting past the musky smell, I fell in love with this place.

The drinks are strong here!

The drinks are strong here!

The front room where the bar is needs a facelift and way more seating, but then again the entire place needs both of those things. The dining room is small so we had to wait for a table, but it wasn’t a long wait.

My plate from the salad bar

My plate from the salad bar

As for the menu, it’s a traditional supper club — steaks, seafood and a salad bar (my favorite). We went on a Saturday night, so obviously both of us got got the prime rib. They have three sizes of prime rib and they all come with two sides (one of which can be the salad bar). The salad bar had all of the goodies I was expecting from a good supper club — traditional salad toppings, potato salad, macaroni salad, beets, pickles, soup and rolls. I’m not sure what it is about supper clubs and salad bars — it’s probably because I used to get to go to the salad bar when I was a kid — but I love them and everything they come with.

The prime rib was great and I ate it so fast I forgot to take a picture of it before I had inhaled it. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare and the outside had a great char on it. I got the mashed potatoes as my other side. They also offer some healthier options like veggies, but who wants that! Oh…well my mom got the asparagus so I guess some people order the healthier options!

slightly melty grasshopper

slightly melty grasshopper

And just in case our visit to the chop house wasn’t old school enough, we ended our meal with a grasshopper. I think our waitress left ours sitting somewhere because it was slightly melty when we got it, but it was still tasty — not too minty, not too sweet and just the right amount of alcohol — and she comped it from our bill, which was not necessary but very good customer service.

FOOD NOTES: Once you get past the old building and the old smell, Watertower Chop House is really a hidden gem. There’s nothing better than a good supper club in my book and this one tops my list in the Madison area. There are a lot of supper clubs in the area, but not all of them are worth the trip. The chop house looks like it hasn’t changed or been updated in 60 years, but maybe that’s why it hasn’t changed…because it hasn’t had to. The dining room was full on a Saturday night, so this place must not be a secret. I will definitely be back, and like all supper clubs I go to, I’ll probably get a steak, salad bar and mashed potatoes because it’s what they do best!

You might have to Google stuff on Freiburg Gastropub’s menu, but it’s worth it

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Joining a decent-sized list of restaurants on Monroe Street by Wingra Park, Freiburg Gastropub opened last year and is a good addition. The German-stye pub is dark and cozy even with the big windows at the front of the building. The bar takes up an entire wall, probably to accommodate the large beer menu they have.

About 1/3 of the massive pretzel

About 1/3 of the pretzel

I went with some friends and, after Googling half of the menu to make sure we knew what our options were, we got a pretzel with house mustard and cheese spread to start. The pretzel had a bit too much salt on top, but after scraping about half of it off it was perfect…dense and rich on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. The mustard had the perfect level of heat, but the cheese spread was hard to eat with the soft pretzel. I’d prefer the cheese to be dip-able, and this stuff was definitely not dip-able.

pretzel roll

pretzel roll

TIP: You also get pretzel rolls with your meal that are just as amazing, so ordering the pretzel probably isn’t necessary.

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Freiburg fish fry

Since it was Friday, I decided to get the Freiburg fish fry — panko breaded rainbow trout, a potato pancake and coleslaw. I loved that the trout wasn’t heavily breaded…it was just enough to add a good crisp. The potato pancake was good, but was basically just a hash brown, and the coleslaw was good, but nothing special. All-in-all it was a very good meal.

Schweinshaxen

Schweinshaxen

Huhn

Huhn

My friends got the Schweinshaxen — beer braised pork shank with mashed potatoes and mustard — and Huhn — oven roasted half chicken, sauteed spaetzle, vegetables and riesling butter sauce. The most memorable thing about the Schweinshaxen was the size! It was probably one of the largest pieces of pork I’ve seen on a plate. I tried the spaetzle that came with the Huhn and it was what I was expecting — soft and buttery…like buttered noodles!

FOOD NOTES: If you’re willing to Google most of the items on the menu, you’ll get a great meal at Freiburg Gastropub. If you’re hungry for a good pretzel, pass on ordering one and wait for the pretzel rolls they’ll bring to your table. If you’re not super hungry, split a dish with someone because they’re huge servings. I want to go back and try their Reuben sandwich and the cheesy spaetzle with sausage. They also have a deli-style lunch menu and a brunch menu that both sound very promising.

#throwback review of lunch at El Pastor this summer

I’ve taken a couple months off from reviewing restaurants…but after a couple of my adoring fans (bahahahaha jk!) asked if I was ever going to blog again, I figured I should get back to it.

So here’s a quick review that dates back to this summer to get the ball rolling:

I went to El Pastor on Park Street for a quick lunch with two friends over the summer and was not very pleased with any part of it, except the friends part!

First of all, the entire place smelled like a stale cigarette the second we walked in. That’s not an appetizing smell, and definitely not what I want to smell walking into a any restaurant.

Now to the food.

el-pastorI’m a sucker for a good combo meal so I got the Sabor De Mexico with one chile relleno, one tamale, one pork taco, rice and beans, but I asked to swap out the pork taco for a lengua taco. The only way to describe the entire plate of food is bland. Nothing had any flavor and the hot sauce they put on the table tasted like watery tomatoes.

The chile relleno tasted like a boiled pepper with cheese in it…no seasoning, no grill flavor on the chile. The batter wasn’t salty or crispy. It wasn’t good. The tamale was fine, but nowhere near the best tamale I’ve ever had. The meat on the inside was tender, but again…didn’t have any flavor and the corn dough was dry. The lengua taco (yes…I like lengua tacos…at least I do at other places) was not good. The meat was stringy and didn’t have any seasoning on it at all so it tasted very gamey. I ate so little of the rice and beans I can’t even tell you what was wrong with them. Basically it was not a good plate of food.

FOOD NOTES: On top of the terrible cigarette smoke smell, the food at El Pastor was pretty bad. It wasn’t inedible, but I definitely was not happy with my lunch. My lunch dates weren’t as critical of their lunches, but I won’t be back.

Hidden atop downtown hotel, The Blind has many something specials

It takes something special for new restaurants in downtown Madison to last, and the new one on top of the Graduate Hotel has a couple something specials.

Reasons I love The Madison Blind:

  1. It’s on a roof where you can see State Street, Lake Mendota and the Capitol.
  2. No matter where you sit, inside near the wall of windows or outside on the patio, you have a great view!
  3. The drinks a great. They do the classics well and their specials are super tasty.
  4. The fries are extra crispy and served with great aioli.
  5. The beet salad is an A+.

Those are some pretty great reasons to check out the Blind, but I can’t say enough about the view, especially on the patio…I have repeatedly forgotten to take a picture of the view because I was too busy enjoying it in real time!

IMG_3316The food is also pretty great. I’ve tried most of their appetizers and none of them disappointed. The poutine is phenomenal. I’m usually not a fan of poutine because it usually tastes like a pile of mush, but the poutine at the Blind is cheesy, the fries are crispy and the gravy is super flavorful. The fish tacos are super fresh and light, but they are very tiny. The cheese curds are a great version of the Wisconsin classic.

IMG_3314Like I said, the beet salad with chicken is top notch. If you get the poutine and cheese curds to start, the beet salad is a great entree option. It’s tasty and hearty, but not heavy.

IMG_3318As for dessert, they serve the hand pies sold downstairs in the hotel’s cafe Portage Pi. I got the apple pie a ‘la mode. The turnover-like pie was hot and crispy, but the crust was a little dry and there could have been more filing and ice cream

Based on its location, the corner of Langdon and Francis, and it’s great drinks and food, it’s not a surprise the Blind is usually very busy. I’ve had to wait for a table every time I’ve been there, but the view and food are worth the wait. It is a small dining room, but based on my experience I think part of the wait time has to do with the service. Every time I’ve been there our waiter has either taken forever to come to the table the first time or disappeared halfway through. It also feels like there are no assigned tables because all three times I’ve gone I had a couple different servers.

FOOD NOTES: The Blind is one of my new favorite places in Madison. If the food and drinks don’t keep you coming back, the view should. The service could be faster and more organized, but there are too many other goods things at the Blind that will keep me going back. I’m a sucker for their beet salad so I’ve never tried their burgers, but they look and smell amazing!

Cafe hidden behind East High School features unique sweet dishes

IMG_3288Hidden behind East High School is a Milio’s sandwich shop and hidden behind that is 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe. The space is small and industrial, but very warm and inviting. There are only a couple tables, but from my understanding students pack those tables every day.

Michelle doing her thing!

Michelle doing her thing!

They have a pretty typical coffee and cafe menu with baked goods, breakfast options and sandwiches. The day Michelle Li and I got to try the place out we had the place to ourselves, and we got to try the chef/owner’s favorites: lemon bread blueberry french toast, and a very interesting turkey sandwich.

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

IMG_3292The lemon bread blueberry french toast was quite a dish. They use lemon bread for the french toast and then top it was lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh cream. I don’t like french toast or super sweet breakfasts, so this dish had two strikes against it before I even tried it. So to be honest, I didn’t like it because of how sweet it was, but there were some up sides. The french toast was crispy, the blueberries were sweet and fresh and the cream added a much needed lightness to the dish. If you like sweet breakfast dishes and lemon curd, you will totally love it.

IMG_3301IMG_3299The  sandwich had all of the regulars: greens, cheese, crispy bread…and cranberry spread on it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like cranberry spread, but it was a good tangy addition to the heavy sandwich. There was also a mustard on it that I really liked. Based on reviews I’ve read online…I would suggest trying their breakfast options before the turkey sandwich. It was interesting, but not something I would get again.

IMG_3294FOOD NOTES: The location of 4 & 20 Bakery is perfect for East High School students and people who live east of First Street, but otherwise you might not know it’s even there. The dining room is super cute and inviting, and I love the succulents on the tables. The lemon blueberry french toast wasn’t my jam, but Michelle liked it and if you like sweet dishes you will also love it. The turkey sandwich was better than I was expecting, but it wasn’t something I’d order again. There are a ton of other things I’d like to try on the menu if I ever make it back over there.

Soho converted me to a calamari lover

Soho has been known as one of the go-to food trucks for dumplings in Madison for years, but now that they’ve opened a storefront in Fitchburg, they’ve expanded their menu. And boy were those good additions! Of course they still serve dumplings, but if you’re going to the restaurant in Fitchburg I would suggest some of the things they don’t serve out of the cart.

I like being Michelle Li's roadie!

I like being Michelle Li’s roadie!

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IMG_3247Before trying calamari at Soho with Michelle Li, I had tried it several other times and didn’t like it — both fried and sauteed. I thought the texture was terrible and the taste was worse. But Rocky at Soho really knows how to do calamari. His secret…promise you won’t tell…is cornstarch. I could eat an entire order of it by myself. The batter is salty and crispy. The calamari is tender and not fishy. And to my surprise, the pieces with the tentacles were the best ones because they were crispier. The calamari comes with a tasty dipping sauce, but it is not necessary. All you need is a little lemon juice squeezed on top and it’s time to dig in! If you don’t like calamari, do me a favor and give Soho’s a try. They will convert you.

IMG_3250We also got to try Soho’s green beans and fried tofu. I know, you’re thinking that both of those sound boring, but trust me…they aren’t at Soho. The green beans are charred, salty and in some sort of sauce that was so good I started eating them before I even had a fork, and couldn’t stop.

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IMG_3251Now for the tofu. Every time I try to cook tofu it ends up mushy and tasteless…so I usually avoid it. Well apparently the secret is to deep fry it…because everything is better deep fried! The tofu soaks up the sauce they use, so it’s soft and flavorful on the inside and super crispy on the outside. As a non-tofu-lover I was surprised that I just kept popping cubes of tofu into my mouth.

Soho pork and chicken dumplings

Soho pork and chicken dumplings

FOOD NOTES: Soho’s dumplings are good…there’s no question about it, but if you’re going to their store in Fitchburg instead of their food truck I really suggest giving some of their other menu items a try. I would venture to say their calamari tops most of the places in Madison and they really know how to serve up usually boring green beans and tofu with flare.

New brewery partners with tap haus for awesome Wisconsin favorites

IMG_3202In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.

WBC beer cheese soup

WBC beer cheese soup

The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.

WBC fish fry

WBC fish fry

The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.

IMG_3203FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!