Verona Woods shouldn’t be overlooked for lunch

Have you seen that new development just south east of Verona on Highway M across the street from Wisconsin Brewing Company? Well if you haven’t it’s because you haven’t been over there. On my last pass through that area there were at least five buildigs, most of them housing multiple businesses, and a couple still being built. I believe there are two new restaurants and a winery. The Verona Woods is one of those new restaurants over there.

front seating

When I met a friend over there for lunch a couple months ago the bar area and most of the dining room was empty — except a large group of ladies having some sort of luncheon/meeting. We were seated fast and our waiter was extremely helpful and friendly, but with that large group they could have used more staff.

dusty fries

The lunch menu is pretty standard…appetizers, soup, salad, sandwiches and burgers. We both decided to get a salad and split an order of dusty fries — fries dusted in house dry rub served with remoulade dipping sauce. The fries were very tasty — crispy and hot with a good spice from the dry rub. The dipping sauce was a good creamy balance for the dry rub with a touch of sweetness. The fries were definitely a good addition to our salad choices.

charred beet salad with chicken

I got the charred beet and goat cheese salad — minus the goat cheese and add chicken. The half salad itself is a bit small, but the amount of chicken you get makes up for it. The salad was arugula, baby spinach, charred red and golden beets, shaved fennel, honey dipped almonds, chickpeas and a toasted almond vinaigrette. It all worked very well together — the spiciness from the arugula, the sweet from the honey dipped amonds and the tang from the vinaigrette. The chicken breast was juicy and well worth the extra $3 to add.

My friend also ordered a cup of soup, but she never got it so our server brought us this tasty dessert. I don’t 100% remember what it was, but I do remember none of it was left when we were done.

FOOD NOTES: The Verona Woods is a great addition to the Verona area. Keep it in mind for a lunch spot if you need something out in that area. I’d like to give some of their entrees — like a pasta or steak dish — a try. Also…huge props to our waiter for managing that big group and then making up for the forgotten soup with an amazing dessert!

Everly does veggies better than everyone

Bluephies wasn’t my favorite Food Fight restaurant, but I was sad to see it go. It had some unique dishes, a funky atmosphere and great dessert…am I the only one who will miss the deep fried cookie dough? So when I heard the restaurant replacing it was going to focus on vegetables I was a little disappointed. But boy was I proved wrong when I visited Everly during winter Restaurant Week.

First let’s talk about the remodel…it’s very bright, white and clean inside. The door has been moved and the space seems much larger even though a chunk of the old Bluephies is now another Food Fight restaurant, Miko Poke. They also popped a chunk of the wall out and put in a big glass wall for the bar. It’s definitely an improvement from the Bluephies space…which I didn’t even think needed an improvement.

celery root bisque

roasted cauliflower

For the Restaurant Week menu, they had some of their menu items and some special items. My friend got the celery root bisque and I got the roasted cauliflower…thinking, “Come on! How can cauliflower be an appetizer on it’s own?” When the small bowl of cauliflower came out and I reluctantly claimed it from the waittress and looked at it with pickled vegetables, parsley, garlic and lemon on top. After the first bite…I was hooked. I’m not sure how you make cauliflower like this…it was crispy and salty and more flavorful than most non-vegetarian food that come out of my kitchen. If I could make cauliflower like that, I’d make it every week!

roasted chicken sandwich

heritage pork sandwich

Their entree options were smoked whitefish toast, roasted chicken sandwich, braised heritage pork sandwich and a So-Cal grain bowl. I went with the pork sandwich…because when I ordered I was just so excited to see a non-veggie option on the entrees list that I went with the heaviest one. The sandwich came with pickles, buttermilk slaw, Fresno chiles, red onions and bibb lettuce on top. And for sides I got the herb roasted potatoes, but you could also get a kale salad. Everything about this dish was perfect. The bun was soft but toasted, the pork was tender and had a flavorful BBQ sauce on it. The pickles were tangy. The slaw was crispy, light and creamy. The potatoes were crispy and salty. I have nothing bad to say about the sandwich or the side.

For dessert we both got the chocolate mousse, and for one las time the disappointment sunk in when I saw how small the bowl of chocolate mousse was. But I was wrong again! This mousse was so dense and so rich that I could barely finish the tiny amount I was given. My one and only tiny complaint about the dessert was the orange peel on top…it was chewy and sparse so when I did get a chunk it was unwanted. I eventually picked most of it off.

FOOD NOTES: Everly definitely does veggies better than most restaurants. But the good news is they also do pork and chicken and desserts really well too! This goes down in the books as one of the top three Restaurant Week meals I’ve ever had. I want to go back and try the So-Cal bowl and their brunch, especially now that their patio should be open for the season!

Waunakee supper club doesn’t stray from tradition

After writing a couple posts about my love for supper clubs, I started getting suggestions for great places in the area. A couple people suggested Rex’s Inkeeper in Waunakee, and after my long lost food date partner Michelle Li sent me a gift card she still had after moving to Seattle, I decided to take my mom to check the place out.

When you walk in you immediately know you’re in an old-school supper club and that you’re probably the only people the bar tender doesn’t know by name. The random floral decorations, leather bar stools and padded dining room chairs are pretty standard was far as supper clubs go. The biggest difference between Rex’s and most other supper club’s were the large TVs on all four walls of the dining room. I wasn’t mad at…it just wasn’t necessary.

Dirty Shirley at Rex’s

Grasshopper at Rex’s

Let’s start with the drinks. Both of us got a mixed drink. My mom’s was way stronger than mine, which was odd because usually supper clubs serve some pretty stiff drinks. The grasshopper we got after dinner was pretty tasty, but not very strong either.

The salad bar…that’s one of the main reasons to hit up a supper club on a Saturday night. Rex’s salad bar didn’t disappoint. They had all the salad fixings I wanted…including those tasty bar pickles…plus some premo pasta salad and potato salad. No complaints here!

Rex’s prime rib

It was Saturday…so I got the only option in my mind…prime rib. Here’s the thing about prime rib in my opinion…it’s great, but it tastes the same everywhere (Maybe that means I’m lucky and have never had bad prime rib? I don’t know!). Rex’s fits that description to a T. My prime rib was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it was very tender. The hash browns were what they’re supposed to and what I love…hot, crunchy and salty.

FOOD NOTES: As far as fancy drinks and nice decor…Rex’s Innkeeper does not cut it, but that’s not what they do. Rex’s does what it does right…supper club favorites. I’m a sucker for some 80s decor, a salad bar and a steak, so I’ll probably be back to Rex’s. My one and only tiny issues was that the drinks could be stronger.

 

Don’t fail like me…get the BBQ at the Thirsty Goat

Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main

So there’s a new barbecue restaurant in Fitchburg and I hate to admit that I didn’t actually get BBQ on my first visit. The good news — everything I got was tasty so I’ll be heading back soon to try the BBQ. The Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main in Fitchburg took over an old Mexican restaurant spot I think. The building is rustic and cozy inside, but the fire pit in the back is what caught my attention. There’s a deck off the back of the building overlooking Fish Hatchery Road, and my friend Nicole and I definitely spotted a fire fit back there…I’m thinking this place will be a regular stop on my patio rotation this summer!

Cheese curds

On to the food…that isn’t BBQ (sorry!) but was still good. I must have forgotten where I was and what type of restaurant I was in when looking at the menu because we ordered broasted chicken and the sausage plate…and no barbecue. But because we work hard and deserve a treat…we started with the cheese curds. The almost overflowing basket came with what were obviously hand-breaded cheese curds. Here’s your clue: If the curds are all the same shape and size…they came out of a freezer box — if they’re random shapes and sizes…they were probably hand-breaded. These were hand-breaded, fried to a perfect golden brown, just salty enough and came with the perfect dipping sauce — housemade ranch! Nothing bad to say about the curds!

img_3837Nicole and I decided to each get an entree and split it. I got the sausage plate with mac and cheese and coleslaw. It also came with corn bread. Their sausage that week was an Italian sausage. It was perfectly grilled with crispy grill marks on the outside and had a good flavor. I appreciated that it wasn’t too greasy and you get enough to feed two! BBQ restaurant mac and cheese is never anything special and the Thirsty Goat’s was right on par with that. The coleslaw wasn’t unique, but it was good. I don’t remember much about the corn bread, but only because I ate it so fast!

img_3836Nicole got the half chicken and it was good…but it was chicken. I have zero complaints about the chicken…except that it wasn’t BBQ brisket!

FOOD NOTES: Good ahead…get the cheese curds at this BBQ restaurant…you won’t be disappointed! Our lunch at the Thirsty Goat was very good, but I do regret not getting BBQ…guess it’s just a good reason to go back again! Oh, and don’t forget about the fire pit for this summer! If it’s a Friday night, you might find me there!

MY PLEA: Someone open a restaurant in old Julep space

I went to Julep on Madison’s near east side last fall with two friends and their daughter. Since we were there, Julep has closed. Based on my experience, I’m not surprised they closed, but I am really hoping someone opens a new restaurant in the unique space.

First the drinks:

Mint Julep at Julep

Mint Julep at Julep

I wasn’t planning on getting a drink, but then I decided I had to get a mint julep at Julep. It came the traditional way in a metal cup with shaved ice on the top. A julep is basically bourbon, sugar and mint. And at Julep they really knew how to make a julep…it was probably one of the smoothest drinks I’ve ever had.

Onto the food:

Julep's biscuit

Julep’s biscuit

Julep's cast iron cornbread

Julep’s cast iron cornbread

We got the biscuit and cornbread to start…both were disappointing. The biscuit was dry, but the butter and jam were good. The cornbread had a good flavor but was burnt.

Blue corn crab cakes

Blue corn crab cakes

Roasted pork chop

Roasted pork chop

Julep fish special

Julep fish special

My friends got the crab cakes and pork chops. Both of them liked their entrees, but mine was disappointing. I was planning on getting the fried chicken, but the nightly special swayed me, which was a cornmeal crusted fish with roasted potatoes and a cheesy broccoli bake. The cheesy broccoli bake and potatoes were perfect. No complaints. But there were a lot of problems with my fish. The batter was soggy and didn’t have much flavor. The fish was also flavorless, and one of the filets was not cooked all the way through. The dish had a lot of potential, but the main ingredient — the fish — was a big fail. Based on my entree…I’m not surprised Julep didn’t make it.

Chocolate cake dessert

Chocolate cake dessert

Caramel apple dessert

Caramel apple dessert

As for the desserts…they were surprisingly good after the entrees. My friends got the chocolate cake and I got the apple dessert, both of which came with house made ice cream. My apple crisp with candied pecans and house made butter pecan ice cream was amazing. The ice cream was creamy and had a lot of pecans in it. The apples were still slightly crunchy (which I like way better than mushy apples) and the crust was crispy. I had zero complaints with the dessert.

Now for the location:

Julep's back patio

Julep’s back patio

Julep was in a building that was refurbished into a coffee shop, wine bar and restaurant. It was an old industrial building and they did a great job redoing it, especially the restaurant space in the back. It has big brick walls, but the inside was transformed into a warm and welcoming space. But the best part was the outdoor patio. It’s like this secret little garden right off one of Madison’s main roads. They had heaters and strings of lights…the patio made the experience. The patio is why I hope someone opens another restaurant in this spot.

FOOD NOTES: Based on the food I had, I’m not surprised Julep is closed. Based on the location and the patio, I am very sad Julep is closed. I think a restaurant that has a simpler menu with better-quality dishes would do really well in the space. Here’s hoping someone realizes that!

Waunakee brewery has potential with unique menu

img_3867

The owner told me they named the brewery The Lone Girl because they have several kids, but only one daughter.

Brew pubs are the new thing in the restaurant business. It seems like everyone wants to brew their own beer and serve food while offering a casual atmosphere for dinner or a place to watch the game. And trust me, I’m not mad at it. I love a good brew pub, but the key word there is good. There are so many of them popping up all over the Madison area that each place is going to have to offer something unique or better to bring me back. The Lone Girl in Waunakee didn’t do that with its service, but the food was good and it does have a good location and a rooftop dining room so I’ll probably be back.

I went to Lone Girl on a Saturday in November with a friend. We decided to stop in quick for lunch while we were hitting all the little shops up there, but I think we picked the wrong day. The place was packed with kids and parents — all of them wearing the same T-shirt from a charity walk/run. It turned out that Lone Girl was a big sponsor of the race so we assumed race participants were getting some sort of deal. Surprisingly we got seated right away, but that’s where it went downhill. It took almost 15 minutes for someone to bring us water and menus, and then when we finally did order (two pretty simple dishes if you ask me), it took another 45 minutes to get our food. I’m not sure if the wait seemed horrible because I was starving or because the place was so busy and loud, but by the time our food came I was not happy.

Let’s go back to the menu for a minute. For a brew pub, it has an odd menu. They have the standards you would expect: nachos, house-made potato chips, cheese curds, a burger, fish fry and a chicken sandwich. But then they add in hush puppies, albondigas (which are fancy meatballs), and what  I got — a chicken Caesar salad with grilled chicken and grilled romaine lettuce. Even some of their standards have an odd twist, like the nachos that can come chilaquiles style and their version of chicken wings that come with a tropical fruit pico de gallo. It’s hard to decide which direction the menu is going — which usually doesn’t bode well for the food because in my experience, an unfocused menu means a kitchen doesn’t know how to do anything well.

img_3869But my salad proved my assumptions wrong. Now granted, it was a simple chicken Caesar salad, but it was very tasty. The chicken was perfectly grilled and not dry. The romaine lettuce was also grilled to perfection — I love grilled lettuce! If you haven’t had it…try it. The house-made dressing was flavorful but not too heavy or prevalent on the salad, and the croutons were garlicky as promised. Other than the time I had to wait to get my salad, I was very pleased with my meal.

img_3868My friend got the buffalo chicken sandwich, which she said was good but the chicken had basically no buffalo flavor (I tried it and totally agreed). It retrospect — that was very odd since the chicken had an orange tint to it, which should indicate a buffalo spice. So odd! The sandwich came with a mix of regular and sweet potato fries, which is an awesome option for people who don’t like deciding between the two. Both types were crispy and appropriately salty.

FOOD NOTES: The Lone Girl Brewery proved to have potential during my first visit. Putting aside the odd menu options and slow service, I was very happy with my meal. I’m going to chalk the service up to the special event that was happening, but beware if you go on a busy night…it might be the same slowdown. The menu — although heading in a bunch of different directions — seems to have an option for everyone and there are things I would go back to try. The food was good enough to bring me back on its own, but if I’m being honest, I’ll probably go back for the rooftop seating because who doesn’t love eating outside in the summer on a roof!

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!