Forequarter’s focus on mixing simple with spectacular lives up to hype

When my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I only asked for one thing — a dinner at Forequarter. When I was in college a friend and I got a chance to eat at Underground Kitchen, and when it had to close because of a fire in the apartments above it I was very sad. I loved their dishes full of fresh, unique ingredients cooked and served in a very simple way. When Underground Food Collective decided to open another restaurant under a different name I knew I would love it. Unfortunately, because of its location, prices, size and the fact that it doesn’t take reservations, it took me a while to get to Forequarter. (NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was very dark in the dining room)

Forequarter

Forequarter

I know other people don’t like the no-reservation policy because when we got out of our vehicle a 4:58 pm groups of people from two other vehicles followed suit. We were all seated promptly at 5 pm and the tiny dining room that seats less than 20 filled up within the hour. The menu changes regularly, but based on what we got I can only assume I’d love anything they’d offer. Their menu seems to be broken into three categories — appetizers, small plates and entrees.

Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich

Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich


We decided to go all out and get an appetizer, a small plate, two entrees and a dessert. For our appetizer we had to get the braunschweiger sandwich because both of us genuinely like braunschweiger. The open-faced sandwich comes on toast with caramelized onion jam, mustard and radish. Braunschweiger can be fatty, greasy and sometimes the flavor can be a little sour or oddly seasoned, but Underground Meats clearly knows what it’s doing. Their braunschweiger was creamy, and was seasoned perfectly (not too salty and just enough garlic). The radish added a nice crunch and the peppery flavor worked well with the extremely rich braunschweiger. The onion jam and mustard took the sandwich to another level. The onion jam was that perfect combination of sweet and savory, and the seedy stout mustard was perfection. I loved how truly Wisconsin the sandwich was.

Forequarter warm potato salad

Forequarter warm potato salad

For our small plate we got a warm potato salad with a fried egg vinaigrette, pea shoots and pickled mushrooms. The super simple fried potatoes were elevated by the toppings. The vinaigrette was rich, creamy and tangy. I’d love to learn how to make the dressing so I could have it on my salads at home. The pea shoots’ crunchiness and freshness went great with the warm potatoes and rich dressing. The last (but definitely not least) components of the dish were the tiny pickled mushrooms. The pickled, savory beech mushrooms helped to balance the warm potatoes and rich dressing to keep the salad lighter. It was the tastiest and most unique potato salad I’ve ever had.

Forequarter steelhead trout

Forequarter steelhead trout

The first entree we decided to try was the Steelhead trout with black lentils, radish, burnt orange and herb butter. This dish was still very good, but less successful than the first two. The trout was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the skin was crispy…which is the best way to eat fish! The black lentils were perfectly seasoned, but may have been slightly overcooked. The roasted radishes were an interesting touch and added a great pepper flavor to the rich dish, but the burnt orange and herb butter did not impress me. The butter was not only an unappealing color (black), but it tasted like rotten citrus and dirt…we avoided it. The random pieces of mandarin orange were also oddly out of place.

Forequarter hanger steak

Forequarter hanger steak

Our second entree was the hanger steak with parsnip puree, smoked carrots, soubise and beef tendon. This dish was pretty special. To start, the hanger steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and was very tender. Sometimes parsnips are prepared sweet, but this puree was perfectly savory. I’m not sure what the flavors were (nothing stood out to me), but it went very well with the steak. The other three components are what took this dish up 10 notches. The smoked carrots were an extremely unique flavor and I loved them. The soubise was fantastic – I had to look up what soubise was and it is described as an onion bechamel sauce. I’m not sure why an onion sauce was so good, but I wanted more of it to eat with the steak. And then the beef tendon — it was basically a pork rind. I don’t love pork rinds, but this crispy fried pork tendon was a surprising and decadent addition to the dish.

Forequarter cookie plate

Forequarter cookie plate

For dessert we had to get the cookie plate (seriously…everyone I had talked to about Forequarter said we needed to get the cookie plate). We got four items on our cookie plate. Two of them were cookies – a salted pecan macaroon and a ginger molasses cookie. Two of them were candies – pepita toffee and chocolate covered bourbon caramel. The salted pecan macaroon was as good as macaroons can get. The cookie had a crunchy shell but a soft inside and the filling was the perfect balance of salty and sweet. The ginger molasses cookie was pretty special — it tasted exactly like my grandma’s gingersnap cookies, which means it had her special ingredient in it: bacon grease. There’s nothing better than a gingersnap cookie, except a gingersnap cookie with bacon grease. I don’t usually like candies, ironically I don’t actually like toffee or caramels, but these two were fantastic. The pepita toffee was crunchy, salty and buttery. I’ve never had toffee I liked, but I loved this one. The chocolate covered bourbon caramel was the same. Caramels usually just taste like sugary, chewy messes to me, but this one was not too sweet and the chocolate and caramel had a melty consistency. I loved all four of them.

FOOD NOTES: I had extremely high hopes for Forequarter and they were all justified. The braunschweiger sandwich and warm potato salad were impeccable. The trout was perfectly cooked, but some of the components of the dish were not great. The hanger steak was great and the extra components were spectacular. The cookie plate lived up to all the hype. The prices are a tad higher than the average restaurant, but not out of the question for the quality of the food and the creativity of the dishes. I offer two suggestions when visiting Forequarter — go hungry and order small plates and appetizers over entrees.

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Bakery treats fall short at Lane’s on south side

Lane's Bakery

Lane’s Bakery

I have been a devoted lover of Scott’s Pastry Shoppe for a couple years now…I always have to get a cheese danish, and I usually get another donut or some donut holes. Over my years of visiting Scott’s I always had this little voice in the back of my head telling me I needed to compare it to Lane’s Bakery on Park Street, so when it reopened a couple years ago I knew I needed to go.

Lane's bakery case

Lane’s bakery case

My mom and I went on a Friday morning and the place was packed. The Villager Mall houses a lot of other things, but I’m pretty sure most of the cars in the parking lot were for Lane’s. There were two long cases filled with everything from cakes and kringles to donuts and cookies. My mom and I decided to split three things and then she got something to take home and two things for my dad.

Lane's cookies

Lane’s cookies

My mom and I split a sugar donut, a cheese danish (obviously) and a powdered sugar rossette. We got my dad a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut donut, and my mom took home an apple pie pastry.

lanes boxThe sugar donut was probably the best of the bunch, which doesn’t bode well for my return. The donut was fresh, crispy on the outside and perfectly fluffy and sweet on the inside. The cheese danish was not great. There was too much pastry, not enough cheese filling, and there was way too much of the super sweet, hard frosting. Scott’s sugar donuts and cheese danishes are way better than Lane’s. The rossette was something new for me (and I think it was a seasonal specialty). It was a crispy, fried cake that broke into tiny pieces when I tried to break it apart and eat it. It didn’t have any real flavor other than fry oil and the texture of the batter was either burnt or super oily…I couldn’t tell.

As for the stuff my mom took home, she said the apple pie pastry looked and smelled better than it actually tasted. She said the apples and cinnamon mixture tasted good, but it was overpowered by way too much of the dough. And the peanut donut and chocolate chip cookie didn’t get rave reviews from my dad.

FOOD NOTES: Considering this less than stellar first visit and the fact that Lane’s is all the way on the south side, I probably won’t be back. Their cheese danish was nowhere near as tasty as Scott’s and that’s what I crave when I visit bakeries, so Lane’s did not pass my test. We did not try their kringles (which is something they say they specialize in), but I have tried Scott’s and they are very good, so I think I’ll stick with my Middleton fave. What’s your favorite bakery in the Madison area?

Best breakfast award goes to hidden gem on Park Street

The Curve on Park Street

The Curve on Park Street

I’ve driven past The Curve, an extremely tiny restaurant on Park Street, many times, but I never really wanted to try it because it looks a little rundown. After hearing through the foodie grapevine that I was missing out, I decided to try it out for breakfast the weekend before Christmas.

Since the tiny (8 tables, plus a counter) restaurant is right on South Park Street I was worried about parking, but we got a spot on the same block looking toward Monona Bay. The Curve’s exterior and interior presentation is a little unsettling (it’s dirty, outdated and could clearly use some repairs), but don’t let that stop you from ordering. The menu is simple and the staff (two or three people max) are probably the nicest I’ve dealt with ever. The red tile floors partnered with the chatty regulars really give this place a neighborhood feel!

Coffee at The Curve

Coffee at The Curve

We were brought two large cups of coffee before we even had a chance to open a menu. Sometimes diner coffee can be bad — weak, bitter, too strong, lukewarm, only drinkable with cream — but not at The Curve. The coffee was hot, smooth and best consumed black. Good coffee is the first mark of a good breakfast place!

Homemade corned beef hash

Homemade corned beef hash

Now here’s where this review is going to get a little confusing. I was planning on ordering the corned beef hash off the menu, and that’s when the woman told me the special was corned beef hash. I immediately said I’d get the special, but after she walked away I realized the corned beef hash on the menu was $2 less than the special…which didn’t make a lot of sense. And when I asked — the difference does make a huge difference! The hash on the menu is out of a can, but the special hash is homemade. And apparently they only have it every other weekend. I’ve had corned beef hash out of a can and it tastes like dog food. DO NOT get the corned beef hash if it isn’t the special. The homemade corned beef hash special was crazy good! It had a spicy, garlicky heat to it with tender corned beef, crispy potatoes and onions. Corned beef hash is one of my favorite breakfast dishes (thanks Dad!), and this is the best one I’ve had. Normally I need the egg yolk to make the dish perfect, but this hash was so good I could definitely eat it without the egg — but I won’t because eggs make everything better! The serving size is also something to mention — it wasn’t too small or too big…it was perfect! I was full when I finished off my plate, but not gross full and it kept me filled the rest of my day.

The Curve omelet

The Curve omelet

My mom got some sort of omelet that I don’t even remember trying because my hash was so good! I do remember bringing half of her omelet home, because it was so large!

FOOD NOTES: There are three take-aways from this review.

  1. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” really applies to The Curve. Don’t let the peeling paint and dusty window ledges scare you away.
  2. The employees (and diners the day we were there) are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a restaurant. The woman who works there even invited us back the next week on a day that she brings in Christmas cookies for all of their customers!
  3. The corned beef hash special is so good I’m craving it now just writing about it and looking at the picture. It is a perfectly seasoned, crispy pile of potatoes and corned beef only made better by the gooey eggs! Remember: I wouldn’t suggest ordering the corned beef hash off the menu.

Turns out a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich

chik sandwichesThere are three very distinct sides of the Chick-fil-A debate: It is the best chicken sandwich even, it isn’t a big deal and politically-charged avoidance. After two opportunities to try their infamous chicken sandwiches I am in the second camp. I wasn’t impressed and was actually disappointed on my second visit.

I had high hopes for the new chain that opened near West Towne Mall at the beginning of winter, but my meal was less than impressive in mid-December. My mom and I went for lunch on a Friday. There was an extremely long line and tons of people, but the line moved fast and we were able to stealthily secure a table.

Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich

Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich

We decided to order a regular chicken sandwich, a spicy chicken sandwich and an order of waffle fries. Both sandwiches came with a bun, a fried chicken filet and a pickle. The buns were typical, bad fast food quality, and the pickle was pointless. The chicken was definitely a higher quality than other fast food restaurant sandwiches, but it wasn’t spectacular. The batter had a good flavor, but it was soggy and I wanted it to be crispy. The spicy sandwich had a good spice, but the batter was also soggy. Both sandwiches were pretty dry and benefited from the addition of mayo.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A

As for the waffle fries — they were edible at best. They were lukewarm, barely seasoned and also slightly soggy. All three of those qualities add up to a failing grade for the waffle fries in my book.

FOOD NOTES: I’ve decided I most likely won’t be going back to Chick-fil-A for a while. I wasn’t impressed with the sandwiches and the waffle fries were a big letdown. The one high note of our visit was how nice the staff was even though they were extremely busy. While the sandwiches are a higher quality than other fast food options, they weren’t tasty enough to bring me back. Do you like Chick-fil-A? What’s your favorite fast food restaurant?

Edgewater view, menu impresses — kinks disappoint

state house edgewaterI wanted to try breakfast at the Edgewater for two reasons: the menu and the view. And neither of them disappointed. What did disappoint was the various levels of disarray the Edgewater was in the weekend we went. My mom and I stayed at the old Edgewater so both of us recognized the amazing view of Lake Mendota when we walked into the State House for breakfast a couple weeks ago.

The State House at the Edgewater

The State House at the Edgewater

State House dining room

State House dining room

Other than the view, the State House had some other interesting atmosphere quirks — like the odd teal velvet chairs with studs and wings. Those were probably the ugliest chairs I’ve ever seen…and yes, they did detract from the dining room’s ambience. The extremely upscale kitchen and menu were overshadowed by the nice but untrained and awkwardly overattentive servers. And the plastic wrap and paint supplies we had to walk around to get into the dining room were pretty surprising to see.

state house sign 2Now on to the menu. Everything listed seems to have at least one thing that made it intriguing and hard to decide what to get– whether it be something homemade or an interesting ingredient. It also made the menu slightly unapproachable.

Savory croissant bread pudding benedict

Savory croissant bread pudding benedict

I eventually decided to get savory croissant bread pudding even after our waiter had no idea what it was and didn’t offer to go find out. The dish came with two perfectly poached eggs on top, a lighter-than-normal hollandaise sauce, a couple stalks of asparagus and some thinly-sliced ham on top of the savory croissant bread pudding. The bread pudding was what I had questions about when reading the menu and after trying it all I can say is — get the savory croissant bread pudding. It is chunks of croissant stuck together (I’m not sure with what) to make a base for the toppings, which are basically eggs benedict. The croissant bread pudding was surprising because it was still super flaky and had that dense, buttery flavor that everyone looks for in a croissant, but it was seasoned with savory spices…I picked out salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. It was one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had in a while…if the hollandaise had a better flavor it might have been the best.

Poached egg crostone

Poached egg crostone

My mom got the crostone which was kind of also like eggs benedict. It had a grilled piece of sourdough bread as a base and asparagus, prosciutto, a basil emulsion and two poached eggs on top. This version of eggs benedict was lighter than mine, but equally as good. The prosciutto added a much-needed saltiness to the eggs and the basil emulsion was super light and flavorful. And then the sourdough bread tied it all in with a great tang and char from being grilled. My mom loves sourdough bread so this one was her favorite, but mine was my favorite!

FOOD NOTES: After reading and hearing a couple other reviews of the State House’s dinner I was a little worried about their breakfast, but the two versions of eggs benedict we got were great. A savory croissant bread pudding? I’ve never heard of it, but now I crave it! The coffee was also notably good. As I already mentioned, the dining room decor seemed like it was trying too hard and the fact that parts of the building were still under construction was awkward. However, I really hope the State House is able to stay open because when we were there on a Friday morning there was only one other table of people and the prices are a bit higher than comparable places (minus the view!).