Steaks, martinis, supper club atmosphere at Smoky’s stand test of time

Disclaimer: Due to the generous martinis Smoky’s Supper Club serves, this rave review may be slightly clouded by the very strong martini I started drinking before dinner.

Whenever I talk with someone in Madison about the topic of steaks, inevitably Smoky’s on University Avenue is mentioned. I had heard two things about Smoky’s before visiting it with my mom for her birthday: the steaks are amazing and the martinis are strong. And both of those things turned out to be extremely accurate.

Smoky's

Smoky’s Supper Club

If you don’t know where Smoky’s is, it’s probably because you’ve driven by and it not noticed it. It is tucked in between newer buildings on University Avenue. And aside from it’s neon sign, it doesn’t look like an upscale supper club. There are multiple dining rooms. I saw four but there may have been more tucked around corners, and a huge oval bar that sticks out in the main room when you walk in. It’s pretty dark inside, which may be part of the ambience or a sneaky way to hide that the building could use some updates.

Smoky's Razzputini

Smoky’s Razzputini

We got to Smoky’s a little bit before our reservations so we were asked to wait at the bar. After paying our $20 bill for two martinis, we realized that the price tag and the rumors proved true and that neither of us had ever had such a strong drink. I got the Razzputini, which from what I can remember had raspberry vodka, some other type of liquor and then grapefruit juice. That grapefruit juice was my saving grace. Thanks to the juice my martini actually tasted good and wasn’t 100 percent alcohol. My mom got the pomegranate martini, which was made with three different types of alcohol, and again from what I remember, didn’t have any juice in it. That one didn’t taste as good as mine, and had a stronger kick. I’m not a big drinker, so I preferred the one with the juice in it, but others might prefer no juice! Either way, they were both extremely well-made drinks.

Smoky's

Smoky’s

My one complaint about Smoky’s is that about 20 minutes after our reservation time we went up to ask the host why we weren’t being seated (because there were open tables and everyone else had been seated). Basically he told us he forgot about us, which was kind of annoying but nothing too bad to overshadow the great food we eventually got.

Smoky's bread basket

Smoky’s bread basket

Smoky's relish crock

Smoky’s relish crock

For starters, we had a traditional supper club bread basket and relish tray on our table. Neither were spectacular or original, but there is something special about those traditions and I wish more places offered them with dinners. We decided to skip ordering an appetizer because we asked our waiter about the fried mushrooms and he said they were not homemade. Plus, dinners come with soup and a salad, so ordering an additional appetizer didn’t seem necessary.

Smoky's salad

Smoky’s salad

The salad was exactly what I was expecting. A small, perfectly fresh salad with cucumbers, red onions, croutons and multiple homemade dressing options. As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one dressing option when getting a salad at a supper club, and that’s French…but my grandparents would disagree with that and say blue cheese is the only option. I went with French, but I can only imagine their homemade blue cheese would have been just as good.

Smoky's clam chowder

Smoky’s clam chowder

There were two soup options the night we went. I got the clam chowder, which was a good choice. It was the perfect balance of creamy and savory while not being too heavy and thick. The vegetables in the soup were chunky, and both the vegetables and the clams were plentiful.

Smoky's ribeye

Smoky’s ribeye

We both went with the 12 0z ribeye, which did not disappoint. It came out on a sizzling platter with a great charred exterior and perfectly pink inside. It was also seasoned with the right amount of salt and pepper that added that simple, classic savory flavor to the charred exterior. It was definitely one of the best steaks I have ever had, and because of the size I got to take another serving home.

Smoky's hashbrowns

Smoky’s hash browns

The hash browns come on a separate plate and must have been cooked in a cast-iron pan because they were round, extremely hot and perfectly crispy. I loved that they weren’t greasy at all, but we did add some additional salt on top.

FOOD NOTES: The rumors about Smoky’s Supper Club are true. The steaks are amazing and the martinis will knock you on your ass. Everything about Smoky’s screams quality, expertly-executed, traditional supper club, and I love it. I also love the location. It’s kind of hidden, but perfectly accessible in the middle of Madison. The prices at Smoky’s are a bit steep at first glance, but the quality and quantity of the food proves it to be 100 percent worth it. I hope someone someday soon will put a little TLC into the building so Smoky’s and it’s great menu will be around for many more years.

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Pub’s kale salad better than heavy European fare

Flying Hound dining room

Flying Hound dining room

When I walked into the new Flying Hound Pub across from my old stomping grounds (the Fitchburg Super Target) I was expecting a heavy lunch littered with french fries, cheese and sauces. When our lunch came all of those expected pub food components were there, but the salad we ordered was surprisingly light, fresh, flavorful and filling.

Flying Hound schnitzel

Flying Hound schnitzel

To try out the traditional pub food at the Flying Hound we got the schnitzel, which is a fried piece of meat (I think the one at the Flying Hound is a pork chop), that comes on top of a Clausen’s bun with muenster cheese and arugula on top. It also comes with a container of housemade onion gravy. The schnitzel was tender and battered perfectly, but it was a little greasy and with the bun and cheese it was a very heavy sandwich. The onion gravy looked a little scary (it was dark brown and lumpy) but it was definitely the best part of the sandwich. Without the onion gravy the schnitzel didn’t have enough flavor and would have been very dry.

Flying Hound schnitzel and sweet potato fries

Flying Hound schnitzel and sweet potato fries

For a little extra we decided to get the sweet potato fries instead of regular fries. They were thin and crispy and not greasy, but they definitely needed more salt. The other added benefit of the odd-looking onion gravy was that it went really well with the sweet potato fries.

Flying Hound kale and salmon salad

Flying Hound kale and salmon salad

As for the salmon kale salad…I would definitely get that over the schnitzel if I go back. The salmon was perfectly cooked and came on top of a massive pile of tender kale. The salad also had walnuts, craisins, croutons, parmesan cheese and an herb vinaigrette. I’m not a huge fan of craisins, so I mostly avoided them but the couple I had with the other ingredients added a good sweet flavor. Other than the craisins, I loved the rest of the toppings. The walnuts were great with the vinaigrette, and the parmesan cheese added a nutty, savory flavor that paired well with the salmon. The one note I have is that the salad is pretty large and filling with a higher-than-normal price tag for a lunch.

Flying Hound patio

Flying Hound patio

FOOD NOTES: The new pub is in a perfect location — there aren’t any other non-franchise options in the area, plus it has a great patio. The schnitzel was made with quality ingredients, but definitely needed the housemade onion gravy to top it off. The sweet potato fries were good, but not spectacular. The surprising thing about the Flying Hound was that I was more impressed with the salmon kale salad than anything else we got. The salad had the perfect combination of yummy and healthy ingredients. If you’re heading to the Flying Hound for lunch definitely give their salad menu a look over the heavier pub fare on the menu.

Traditional Italian deli does not disappoint

Gino's Italian Deli

Gino’s Italian Deli in Middleton

When I think of an Italian deli I think of hot beef, meatball subs and cannolis. And that’s exactly what I got at Gino’s when my parents and I grabbed lunch there a couple weeks ago. I had stopped in before and gotten Italian sausage and some pasta salad, but this time I wanted to go all out. Gino’s isn’t a fancy place to eat (the Middleton store only has a couple small tables behind some room dividers), but it is the perfect place to grab a good sub and take it to go.

Gino's meatball sub

Gino’s meatball sub

I got the large meatball sandwich, and probably should have gotten the small size. The large size seemed about the same size as a footlong sub at Subway. The bread was super fresh, with a crusty outside and a fluffy inside. The sauce was chunky and had a good level of salty flavor without overwhelming the tomatoes. The meatballs were also perfectly flavored and the perfect size for the bread. I’ve seen people each meatball subs from other places and everything falls out all over the wrapper, but Gino’s crusty bread was the perfect vehicle for the Italian-spiced meatballs and the zesty tomato sauce. It wasn’t a napkin-less sandwich experience, but I didn’t lose any of my filling to the table.

Gino's hot beef sub

Gino’s hot beef sub

My dad got the hot Italian beef sandwich. It came on the same super crusty bread, and was filled with a substantial amount of Italian beef. The super tender and perfectly seasoned hot beef came piled high with just the right amount of hot beef juices to soften up the crusty bread. The provolone cheese was a great addition, but it could have also used some spicy peppers.

Gino's roast beef sub

Gino’s roast beef sub

My mom got the concerts beef sub with sliced roast beef, lettuce and horseradish mayo. This sandwich was much lighter than the other two, but it was still extremely good. The roast beef was tender and lean, and the horseradish mayo added a great kick. The cold sandwiches don’t come on the super good crusty bread that the hot sandwiches come on, but the wheat bread was still pretty good in it’s own way.

Gino's cannolis

Gino’s cannolis

The day we went there was a little sign on the top of the counter saying they had homemade cannolis. So of course we got three. They were traditional cannolis, but they were not exceptional. The filling was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, but instead of putting pistachios on the end they put chunks of maraschino cherries. I didn’t love the cherries in place of the nuts, but they weren’t terrible. I liked the cannolis, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had.

Gino's subs

Gino’s subs

FOOD NOTES: Gino’s Deli definitely serves up quality Italian subs. The meatball sub was the perfect combination of crusty bread, zesty tomato sauce and amazing meatballs. The hot beef and roast beef subs were also extremely good, but not good enough to deter me from getting the meatball sub whenever I go back.  The prices are reasonable for the quality of the ingredients and the size of the portions you get at Gino’s. If you don’t mind not getting a ton of ingredients I would definitely suggest going to Gino’s instead of any other sub shops in town.