Heritage is more than a tavern

Madison is definitely a food-lovers paradise but most restaurants don’t get featured in two local publications (Madison Magazine, Isthmus) before it even opens. I don’t remember why Dan Fox’s new restaurant Heritage Tavern got so much pre-opening attention, but I was definitely excited about going when some friends suggested it as our dinner stop for the night! Another reason I was excited about going to Heritage Tavern was because of the location. I went to Underground Kitchen before the apartment building above it caught fire and loved it. The atmosphere was awesome. The food was great. Needless to say, I was sad when Underground Kitchen decided not to reopen somewhere else (and yes, Forequarter, their new restaurant, is on my list!). So, I was also excited about getting to see how another restaurant would use the space.

heritage tuna app

tuna and escolar poke

The Heritage Tavern space is broken up into two dining rooms, mainly because of the large brick wall separating the two sides. I love that there are steps down into the dining room closest to the kitchen. I thought the bare brick wall, tile floors and wooden chairs with a fox cutout were perfectly industrial and homey at the same time. I also loved the little appetizer plates with the pink pigs on them!

I think the menu goes in two distinct directions: classic/savory and interesting/Asian. Those two flavor profiles also cross quite a bit on the menu. On my first visit my friends and I got the Tuna & Escolar Poke. I don’t usually do too well with raw fish but this was amazing. The tuna and escolar were not fishy at all, and they were a perfect marinated flakey texture. The marinade was not too salty but still had a great flavor. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicate the dish was considering the “tavern” in the name and my expectation of the restaurant to focus on meat, pork specifically. Along with our appetizer came a plate of bread, honey butter and house pickled vegetables. The bread and honey butter were not exceptional, but the house picked vegetables were fantastic! The pickle flavor was perfectly tart and had another level of flavor usually lacking in pickled things. I loved the pickle plate!

heritage white fish

great lakes whitefish

For my entree choice I decided to go with fish and got the Great Lakes Whitefish. The fish was cooked perfectly with crispy edges and a flakey center. The clams on top and creamy grits on the bottom added a richness that was perfectly cut by the vinaigrette. The spinach and haricots verts were good but nothing exceedingly special. I was very happy with my choice and felt everything on the plate complimented the entire dish very well.

heritage beet salad

roasted beet salad

One of my friends got the Sake Poached Mackerel. I didn’t try too much of it because it came with cilantro on it, but he loved it. My other friend got the Roasted Cauliflower Beer Cheese Soup (served, of course, with popcorn) and the Roasted Beet Salad. The soup was good but the standout, in my opinion, was the beet salad. It came with beets, pears, goat cheese, figs and dark chocolate. I was impressed by the size of this salad and how many of the premium toppings (beets, pears, figs) it had on top. I’m not usually a fan of sweet salads but this one was exceptional.

heritage choc dessert

chocolate tart

Time for dessert! They had three different options and of course the best one was the chocolate tart. It came with caramel sauce, a homemade chocolate nib and chocolate espresso ice cream. The amazingly buttery and flakey crust was filled with a fantastically smooth chocolate. The chocolate espresso ice cream had a fantastic flavor and actual ground espresso in it, which I loved! The little homemade cocoa nib was a great decorative addition but also stood out on its own with the unexpectedly crispy texture. I loved the dessert all together but the caramel sauce wouldn’t be missed if they took it off.

FOODNOTES: The prices are what you would expect from a restaurant that got the hype it did before it even opened its doors. I don’t think it will become one of my regular stops because of the prices, but I will definitely be back again! I love the Asian flare throughout the traditional high-end Wisconsin tavern food. I loved the Tuna and Escolar Poke, and was exceedingly impressed that they were able to keep it so delicate with all of that flavor. I have never had such a perfectly cooked piece of fish as the one in my entree, and loved that my dish was balanced with both heavy savory flavors and light fresh flavors. I’m not usually a sweets fan but that chocolate tart and chocolate espresso ice cream could convert me! I’m pretty sure I can speak for all three of us at the table and say we would all go back again (and probably will)!

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Stalzy’s beet salad is perfect side for flavorful sandwiches

I’ve been to Stalzy’s on the near east side multiple times but this time their special was so good I decided I needed to post about it again! I’m not sure how to describe Stalzy’s other than say they serve fresh homemade deli food. I’ve had great soups and amazing sandwiches every time I’ve been there. And their beet salad is so epic that I took some home the last time I was there.

stalzys brisket rachel

Stalzy’s Rachel sandwich with brisket

Usually when I go I get the Rachel with pastrami, swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye. It is so good that I’ve had cravings for it. It is probably a good thing that I live on the completely opposite side of town. On my most recent visit their special was the Rachel with beef brisket instead of pastrami. I’m a huge brisket fan so I had to get it. The brisket’s smokiness added another flavor profile to this already amazing sandwich. Also, by itself, the brisket was one of the best briskets I’ve ever had!

stalzys pickled beets

Stalzy’s picked beet salad

My other go-to favorite at Stalzy’s is their beet salad. The beets are the perfect texture and have a good combo of spices on top of the pickling. They are an amazing compliment to the salty sandwiches at Stalzy’s. I haven’t tried any of their other sides because the beet salad is so good!

FOODNOTES: The special Rachel with brisket was the best sandwich I have ever had…ever! My goal is to visit Stalzy’s more often so I can try more of their sandwiches, sides and their brats/sausages. The one thing I will get every time I go is the beet salad. During this last visit I also found out they serve breakfast and really want to try that. They have a small deli counter and I would like to get some of the house-smoked meat at least once. FYI – they only take cash.

Look past bad service to find amazing food at Pasta Nuovo

pasta nuovo menuPasta Nuovo took over the old Tutto Pasta spot in Middleton a couple months ago. I was kind of disappointed that my neighborhood was getting another Italian restaurant instead of a good Mexican restaurant or casual deli, but figured I should give it a chance. The inside was cozy and open, but it was a beautiful night so we sat outside on the patio. A restaurant definitely gets extra points with me when they have outdoor seating.

pasta nuovo bruschetta

Pasta Nuovo bruschetta

I want to start with the one reason I won’t be going back to Pasta Nuovo for a bit. The service here was awful. Our waiter was inattentive, arrogant and a little inappropriate. The other waiter serving on the patio filled our water glasses more than our waiter. Our appetizer and entrees were brought out by two different people other than our waiter. Our waiter spilled an entire bottle of beer on the woman behind us. He disappeared the entire time we were eating our entrees. He also told us about the two times he lost his credit card and had his identity stolen and how dumb he felt when that happened the second time. The cherry on the top of being a terrible waiter was when he condescendingly told me he would take care of my coupon after he didn’t take care of it the first two times I asked. The woman who brought out our appetizer and the other guy serving on the patio seemed like very nice and competent servers…maybe we just got the cream of the crop!

pasta nuovo bolognese

Pasta Nuovo pappardelle bolognese

I found a coupon for $10 off the purchase of an appetizer and two entrees so we started with the bruschetta. It came out on a large chunk of pizza dough, which was different than I have ever seen. The menu said it was topped with an heirloom tomato basil salad. The description was a little misleading because the stuff on top of our pizza crust was halved cherry tomatoes, a couple slices of basil and a ton of arugula. Everything was really fresh but the dish was definitely lacking in flavor. The flavorless pizza dough with cooked tomatoes and peppery arugula would really benefit from some balsamic vinegar and either mozzarella or Parmesan cheese. Also, the tomatoes were in such big pieces only one out of every two or three bites actually had tomato in it. Chopping the tomatoes up into smaller pieces would make it better.

pasta nuovo summer pasta

Pasta Nuovo tomato basil angel hair

They have a couple of non-pasta options for entrees but since they make the pasta in house I don’t think there was any questions that we wouldn’t get pasta. I got the pappardelle bolognese and was extremely happy that I did. The pasta was so fresh and was cooked to a perfect al dente. The bolognese sauce was, in one word, amazing. It was creamy and hearty but not too heavy. I think what made the sauce special was that it had a little bit of cream in it. Most bolognese sauces are strictly meat based and this one stood out from the crowd with the creaminess combined with the traditional hearty flavors of a bolognese. My mom got the tomato basil angel hair pasta. The pasta was also just as amazing as the pappardelle and the accompaniments were very fresh. The tomatoes were perfectly cooked and plentiful, and the sauce a perfectly sparse buttery drizzle with basil on top. It was very different from the pappardelle bolognese but an extremely flavorful version of buttered noodles. Both were a great choice.

FOODNOTES: The location is a plus for me and I loved the outdoor seating. The portion sizes were plentiful for the prices. Our server was terrible so I will be giving them some time to weed out the bad servers and assemble a good serving staff. Unless there are changes made to the bruschetta I probably won’t be getting it again. As amazing as the bolognese was there’s another dish on the menu I want to try. Next time I go I will be getting the roasted beet pasta. It is fresh beet and spinach fettuccine with roasted beets, goat cheese and pine nuts drizzled with olive oil. I don’t like the flavor of goat cheese but they said they would substitute Parmesan and I think that would be a great substitute. I would suggest getting the bolognese during your first trip and I will definitely update you on the roasted beet fettuccine dish. I also plan to check our their dessert options next time.

Potato dumplings perfect at Paul’s Pel’meni

When looking for Paul’s Pel’meni on Gorham you have to be careful not to walk by. It’s tucked in a side entrance between State and Henry streets. The trickiest part is that the main door has an art supply store sign over it. Again, make sure you pay attention because you don’t want to miss this place,

pauls

The tiny dining room with a half dozen tables and a counter by the front window has an industrial feel with modern colors. The simplistic feeling is accentuated by the simple menu and the simple preparation area. The menu has basically one option with a couple different variations that are prepared ahead of time, frozen and dropped into one of four pots of boiling water. They offer full or half orders of dumplings that can come stuffed with meat, potatoes or both. Then they offer “the works” as a topping. The works includes butter sauce, curry powder, chili sauce (which I was told is Sriracha and rice vinegar), cilantro and sour cream.

Paul's Pel'meni with the works on top

Paul’s Pel’meni with the works on top

I went to Paul’s for lunch with a friend and the full size was enough for the both of us plus leftovers. We got a combo with the works and I thought they were great considering they are so simple. Both the meat and potato fillings were good but the potato one really shined. The meat one tasted like a standard pot sticker, but the potato filling was buttery and creamy, and a really good vehicle for the spicy topping. The thing that makes Paul’s Pel’meni stand out from other dumplings is the topping combo they offer. I’m not a fan of cilantro so I plan to get the works without cilantro next time, but the rest of the toppings worked really well together. The butter sauce gave it a hearty flavor while the curry powder and chili sauce gave the dumplings an intense but flavorful heat. The sour cream was a nice compliment to the spicy toppings.

The price was a tad high for the amount and simplicity of the food but it won’t keep me from coming back. ALERT: They only take cash so make sure to hit an ATM on the way.

FOODNOTES: This hidden gem on Gorham has a great feel and dishes up amazing food. The simplistic menu means they were able to perfect the options they do have. Both meat and potato fillings are good but the potato one shines. Next time I go I will probably just get the potato filling. As for toppings, if you like spicy food I would suggest getting the works. I know it sounds like an odd set of flavor combinations but they all work really well together (of course I won’t be getting the cilantro). I would say Paul’s Pel’meni is a great lunch place and will definitely be back, but I think the limited menu would not make for a good dinner stop. And remember: they only take cash!