Jason’s Deli tops other chain restaurants on west side

Jason's Deli
Jason’s Deli

I always walk into chain restaurants with low expectations in an effort to not be extremely disappointed by my meal. Usually it works, but when I went to Jason’s Deli with a friend the food and dining experience actually far exceeded my chain restaurant expectations and met most of my regular expectations for a good meal.

Jason's Deli dining room
Jason’s Deli dining room

Jason’s Deli opened a couple weeks ago and on my first visit I was pretty impressed. The building behind West Towne Mall just off Mineral Point Road has a large dining room with Madison-themed pictures, an open kitchen and a great outdoor seating area. The staff seemed very green (I did just open), but they were extremely nice throughout our entire visit.

The menu has a lot of different options, including soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis, a couple pasta options and baked potatoes. They also have a nice-sized salad bar and free ice cream when you dine in (one of the super nice employees told us they deliver, and we noticed they have a drive through!). Everyone who eats there also has access to their free dry bar, which includes bread, mini corn muffins, crackers and pickles. I love pickles and corn muffins, so this was an awesome perk to find out about!

Jason's Deli Cuban panini
Jason’s Deli Cuban panini

My friend got the Cuban panini and it got a thumbs up. All sandwiches come with chips, even when you get the manager’s half-sandwich special, which means you get a half sandwich with either a cup of soup, fruit or salad bar.

Jason's Deli salmon salad
Jason’s Deli salmon salad

I decided to try the Mighty Wild Salmon Salad. The description has a special box around it on the menu denoting it as something developed with the MD Anderson Cancer Center…I know it sounds kind of gimmicky but it was also the only thing on the menu that had the calories listed. The salad is a mix of organic field greens, beets, beans, nuts…and more, topped with grilled, wild Alaskan salmon for 610 calories with the oil and vinegar dressing. Everything on that list sounded great except for the ‘and more.’ I was concerned the ‘and more’ would be some sort of goat or blue cheese but the guy taking my order said it was a mix of craisins and seeds! When the salad came out I was pretty happy with the size and extremely happy with the quantity of ingredients on top. The lettuce was fresh, the beets were…well they were beets and would have been better pickled…but I like beets! The salmon was a good size, but it was a little dry. But because it was a little dry and didn’t have a lot of seasoning it went well with everything on top of the salad. The beans consisted of lima, garbanzo and kidney from what I remember and the nuts included sunflower, pepitas, and walnuts. There were also large florets of broccoli and a couple tomatoes! The light oil and vinegar dressing mostly helped keep the salmon from tasting too dry, but I didn’t need any more flavor assistance from the dressing because the rest of the toppings had so much flavor!

Jason's Deli potato and broccoli, cheese soup
Jason’s Deli potato and broccoli cheese soup

Both of us decided to get a cup of soup. I got the broccoli cheese and my friend got the potato. Both of them were pretty typical restaurant soups…nothing special, lukewarm, heavy with not a really great flavor, but still good. The best thing about my soup was dipping the crispy chunks of bread in it from the dry bar!

FOOD NOTES: Jason’s Deli has a ton of different menu options — it seems they have something for everyone! The food was a little pricey, but in comparison to Panera I felt like I got more food — and better quality food — for my money. The extra freebies diners get are super fun and were really unexpected. The Mighty Wild Salmon was tasty, pretty healthy for a dinner out and not too high in calories for what you get. The soup was forgettable. While we were there I did notice one thing being delivered to tables that I want to try next time I go — the  Plain Jane baked potato. It comes stuffed with cheddar, sour cream, butter, bacon and green onions. That doesn’t sound plain Jane to me!!

The Spot Restaurant is well-kept neighborhood secret

The Spot
The Spot

Driving down Johnson Street always involves a mixture of emotions for me: I really want to go to Forequarter, I really don’t like how close together the lanes are, is this what all of the construction was for over the summer, I wish I lived closer to this neighborhood to visit the Johnson Public House, etc. But I never noticed The Spot Restaurant on the south side of the road smooshed in between a couple other odds-n-ends stores. After getting to take a look around and try two entrees, I have to say: It’s small name and unimpressive curb appeal definitely hides a neighborhood treasure.

The Spot dining room
The Spot dining room

the spot boothWalking into The Spot I didn’t expect much because the exterior of the building looked a little rough and the entryway wasn’t much better. But once inside the main door I was blown away. The entire front dining room consists of seven beautiful wood booths. The two front booths offer great corner seats with a full view of the dining room and an elevated view of Johnson Street — perfect for people watching. There’s a little bar in the back of the building, but the front seats are definitely the primo spots. The deep red walls, black and white photography on the walls, and the beautiful two-toned wood floors all made the tiny space feel upscale, but still warm and welcoming.

Now on to the food: Head Chef David Post Jr. describes the food as mediterranean and eclectic with some gluten free and vegan options sprinkled throughout the menu. We got to try two dishes, a vegetarian option from the menu and a great special he’s been trying out.

The Spot pulled pork
The Spot pulled pork

We started with a pulled pork sandwich with bacon braised cabbage and tomatoes on top. The sandwich was pretty close to perfect. The barbecue sauce was tangy and had a great spicy kick to it. The tomatoes added a freshness to the sandwich, and the bread was sturdy enough for the ingredients, but not overly crusty. The one thing that I noticed was the pork could have been shredded a bit more, but the big pieces were so tender it didn’t really matter that much. The braised cabbage was good on it’s own, but it was lost in the sandwich under the spicy barbecue sauce. The sandwich came with some sauteed kale, which was a bit too salty. I would actually have preferred the bacon braised cabbage as a side instead of the kale.

The Spot risotto
The Spot risotto

The butternut squash risotto, which is on the menu and can be made vegan, was a surprising dish. I usually don’t order butternut squash dishes from restaurants because they tend to be made with sweet flavors and spices, and I’m not a fan of sweet vegetables. But this dish was as hearty and savory as you can get without adding meat. The barley and brown rice were cooked perfectly (almost to a creamy consistency), the spinach was hidden well by other flavors (just the way I like spinach in savory dishes…there for the nutrients but you can’t really taste it!), and there were hearty chunks of butternut squash throughout the dish. I can’t really explain the flavor, other than to say that it was creamy (but not heavy), rustic, hearty, perfectly seasoned and probably one of my favorite new dishes I’ve tried in a while.

FOOD NOTES: I learned something today during my visit to the Spot Restaurant: The saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” also applies to restaurants. The Spot is an extremely well-kept secret in the Johnson Street neighborhood that I wish I knew about sooner. The butternut squash risotto is a fantastic dish, but next time I go I want to try the paella…unless I go for brunch in which case I want to try the Rumchata French Toast and the PB&E…who wants to go with me?!

Good wings, mediocre entrees the norm at Quaker Steak

OK…I’m going to say it: The only difference between Quaker Steak & Lube and Buffalo Wilds Wings is that they give you licorice at the end of the meal at Quaker Steak. Other than that little perk, they basically have the same menu, the same sauce options and the same loud atmosphere. My mom and I went there on a Friday night and the Middleton location was pretty busy. I was super hungry so the short 10 minute wait was very much appreciated. We got a table in the middle of the dining room, which is not my favorite place to be but it was busy and someone had to sit there.

Quaker Steak and Lube pickles
Quaker Steak and Lube fried pickles

We started with an order of fried pickles and what came out was exactly what I was hoping for. There are these fried pickles (I’m assuming they are from Sysco) that a lot of chain restaurants serve. They were the first fried pickles I ever tried and even though they come frozen in a box, they have a great crispy batter and the pickles are always crunchy and flavorful. I’ve had them where they weren’t fried long-enough, but the ones at Quaker Steak were perfect!

Quaker Steak and Lube wings
Quaker Steak and Lube wings

My mom and I decided to split an order of wings and a grilled chicken wrap. The traditional wings at Buffalo Wild Wings come in portions of six, but the portions at Quaker Steak are a little odd. I believe the sprintster comes with 6, the single order comes with 10, the supersize single comes with 15, the compact bucket comes with 20 and the full bucket comes with 30. We went with the single order (leftovers are always great!) and got them with the boom boom sauce. Boom boom sauce is a garlic, red pepper sauce just at the bottom of the medium-spiced sauces. The wings were bigger and meatier than the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, but the sauce was not as good. The boom boom sauce was spicy but didn’t have as good of a flavor as compared to the spicy garlic sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Quaker Steak and Lube grilled chicken wrap
Quaker Steak and Lube grilled chicken wrap

I always like to get the grilled chicken wrap because it is filling, but feels healthier than additional wings. Plus you get to pick any of the sauces to go on the chicken in the wrap. The wrap comes with lettuce, carrots, celery, chicken and we got it without the blue cheese crumbles and with ranch dressing and fiery BBQ sauce. The wrap had crunchy veggies, grilled chicken and too much sauce. I didn’t notice that it comes with sauce and ranch dressing, so ours had a lot of sauce on it. I would suggest getting either ranch dressing or a sauce…not both. The french fries (presumably out of a box) were crispy, hot and salted just right.

FOOD NOTES: Quaker Steak and Lube is an extremely similar, but slightly better option than Buffalo Wild Wings. The wings are bigger, the french fries are better and the wrap is basically the same. Once I get a chance to try some more sauces, hopefully I will find my go-to sauce. I would suggest only getting one sauce on the wrap otherwise it is kind of messy and the sauce combo overpowers the rest of the ingredients. The fried pickles are the best possible fried pickles you can get that come frozen out of a box, and they totally give you licorice with your bill!