Great location doesn’t = great food at Waypoint Public House

The saying ‘Location, Location Location’ is popular for a reason, but every location has to be backed up by quality product — in my opinion. Waypoint Public House in Monona definitely has the location, but the food needs a little work. The dining room and decor are the perfect mix of industrial and cozy with some local charm thrown in. I loved the mismatched chairs, different types of wood and funky decorations. The restaurant is at the end of a new apartment building on West Broadway, which is where the location factor comes in. Some people might not like it, but I think that spot is cool because you get the hustle and bustle of the Beltline and the calm and relaxing feel of the Yahara River. It was raining the day I went with a friend so we didn’t get to try out their patio, but it looks like it has the best seats in the house.

Waypoint Public House cheese curds

Waypoint Public House cheese curds

Now on to the food. We got the cheese curds and jalapeno poppers. Both of them could have been better. The cheese curds were fresh and should have been good, but they were super super greasy. I always expect cheese curds to be at least somewhat greasy because they’re fried, but these were so greasy I didn’t want to finish them. The homemade ranch was pretty stellar though.

Waypoint Public House jalapeno poppers

Waypoint Public House jalapeno poppers

The jalapeno poppers were not traditional poppers, and while I get what they were going for, I didn’t like them. When I order jalapeno poppers I want the crispy, fried jalapeno bites. But at Waypoint their jalapeno poppers are grilled instead of being breaded and fried. They might be healthier, but I wanted the unhealthy ones (to be fair — our waitress told us what to expect when ordering them). Besides not being breaded, the cream cheese filling didn’t have any flavor…every bite basically tasted like jalapeno.

IMG_1942Their main menu had a lot to offer, but I couldn’t decide what to get so we asked the waitress and she suggested the pulled pork quesadilla. The quesadilla has house smoked pork, queso fresco, jalapeno, tomato, onion, sour cream and guac. The quesadilla had all the right ingredients (including a ton of tender pork) to be good, but a couple factors derailed it. 1) The smokiness of the pork overpowered all of the other ingredients so I couldn’t taste any of them. 2) It was super greasy…greasier than the cheese curds. It was so greasy the first thing I noticed when picking it up was grease dripping out of it. And 3) The guac was really bad…like out of can bad. I only ate one of the wedges, but the other three were OK the next day for cold leftovers.

FOOD NOTES: In the case of Waypoint Public House, it isn’t all about the location. They do really have the location part down, but their food leaves something to be desired. Everything was way too greasy and didn’t have great flavor. I’m not sure exactly when they opened, but I know they hadn’t been open very long when I went in August. I will probably give them a second chance, but not anytime soon.

Portage Pi is hidden gem between State and Langdon

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Canoes hang from the ceiling of the Graduate Hotel’s lobby

Portage Pi dining room

Portage Pi dining room

Portage Pi communal table

Portage Pi communal table

The amount of food and beverage options downtown keeps growing, but there are always some standouts. Over the summer about a dozen new places opened downtown, but one place’s atmosphere, location and food should be noticed. Portage Pi is in the lobby of the new Graduate Hotel on the corner of Francis and Langdon streets. It’s the perfect location for students needing sustenance either walking to or from classes, but students shouldn’t be the only people enjoying this new gem. When I visited with my friend Michelle Li, they said they’d be opening a cafe and walk-up counter for quick ordering. But if you walk up, you don’t get to experience the great decor and atmosphere inside.

Lamp base

Lamp base

IMG_1804IMG_1808 IMG_1807 IMG_1806I’m not really sure how to explain the decor, other than saying there’s probably something for everyone. It’s cute, eclectic, cozy and has some local flair. The menu has hand pies, salads, sandwiches, coffee, smoothies and juice.

IMG_1817 IMG_1815 We got to try two of their hand pies — the banana s’mores pie and the short rib pie. Both hand pies were super good, but I liked the savory one better. They would be great to take to class and secretly eat in the back row of a lecture hall! The crust was flaky and didn’t overwhelm the filling. The inside was flavorful and filled with quality ingredients.

Banana s'mores hand pie

Banana s’mores hand pie

IMG_1813The banana s’mores pie was also good, but unless you’re a huge dessert fan, I wouldn’t pass up the savory pies for the dessert pies. They are a bit too sweet for my taste.

housemade juices

housemade juices

I also got to try one of their housemade juices — the Thornton Melon with honeydew, mint, lemon, ginger and cucumber.  It was super refreshing and even though it was technically juice, didn’t feel sugary…it tasted like infused water.

FOOD NOTES: I lived three blocks from this place when I was in college and it would have been a regular stop on my way back from class. A place where I can get good coffee, a quick lunch and a juice or snack for later would have been at the top of my list of regular stops…right up there with Med Cafe, Amy’s and Chipotle. I wouldn’t recommend getting the juices every day, but it would have been a good treat on some of those hot days at the beginning of the school year.

Everything’s better dipped in Banzo’s hummus

Banzo food cart

Banzo food cart

When it’s sunny, feels like it’s 130 degrees and you’re walking around on blacktop the last thing you want to do is eat something heavy and greasy…well it’s the last thing I wanted to do during Atwood Fest at the end of July. Everyone else seemed perfectly fine eating hot, fried food, but my friend and I went for a mediterranean option from the Banzo food cart.

Banzo falafel and chicken combo

Banzo falafel and chicken combo

The food cart offers a couple different ways to get their falafel, chicken or kebabs. You can get them in a pita, on a hummus plate, over rice with hummus on a platter or as a salad. I got the falafel and chicken combo platter, which comes with mediterranean chicken, falafel, rice, hummus, salad and pita. The salad was fresh and crunchy…a fantastic, fresh option on a hot day. The rice wasn’t anything special, and the chicken was good…but the stars of the platter were the falafel and the hummus. Everything was better dipped in the garlicky, creamy, earthy hummus and the falafel was crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and had a great flavor.

FOOD NOTES: Anything Banzo serves would be a great option to other festival food, especially when it’s hot and steamy out. Next time I’ll get the full falafel platter instead of doing the chicken combo. I’d also like to try the salad with falafel.

Classic steak, seafood best enjoyed on patio at Mariner’s Inn

There are a handful of places in Madison that make you feel like you’re not in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million people — picnic point, the UW Arboretum, Wingra Park and the docks on the north side of Lake Mendota. Luckily for us, the Von Rutenberg family put a very nice Wisconsin supper club right on the north shore so we could enjoy some good food with that great view.

Lake Mendota

Lake Mendota

The Mariner’s Inn really is a classic steak and seafood restaurant, but what makes it special is the outdoor patio and the view. I went on a beautiful Sunday night with a friend for Restaurant Week in July. The patio was the perfect spot to enjoy our three-course meal.

Mariner's Inn clam chowder

Mariner’s Inn clam chowder

Their clam chowder was the perfect starter. It was creamy and peppery, and had big chunks of potatoes and clams. I’ve had clam chowder that tastes fishy, but this one had the right amount of saltiness without being fishy.

Mariner's Inn tenderloin of romance

Mariner’s Inn tenderloin of romance

Mariner's Inn hashbrowns

Mariner’s Inn hashbrowns

For entrees they had surf and turf, shrimp, salmon and a tenderloin dish. The tenderloin of romance, as they called it, was a tenderloin, three scallops and crab meat served with a béarnaise sauce and asparagus. The tenderloin was perfectly cooked and it paired really well with the sauce. I thought the crab meat might be too much with the bearnaise sauce, but it was pretty good. The asparagus was also really good with the crab meat and sauce. I’m not a huge fan of scallops, but these were perfectly cooked, which means they were buttery and delicious. We also got an order of hasbrowns, which were hot and crispy, but a little salty.

Mariner's Inn key lime pie

Mariner’s Inn key lime pie

Mariner’s cheesecake with Door County cherry sauce

Mariner’s cheesecake with Door County cherry sauce

For dessert we got the cheesecake and the key lime pie. The key lime pie was fantastic. It was sweet and tart, but not too tart and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The cheesecake was also very good. I don’t like cherry desserts, but the sauce was the perfect combo of sweet and tart.

FOOD NOTES: The food at the Mariner’s Inn is classic supper club food. It’s good, but the view from the patio is what makes the experience at the Mariner’s Inn special. The clam chowder was the best I’ve ever had, and the rest of the meal followed suit, but I would highly suggest all Mariner’s Inn dining experiences be out on the patio.