In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.
The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.
The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.
FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!
There are always new restaurants opening in Madison, but every once in a while a new restaurant opens in one of the small towns around Madison. I heard about Holstein Kitchen in Oregon, and the short 20 minute drive is definitely worth it.
Their website says they speak meat and potatoes with their farm cooking. I love that! I’m not sure what the old building was before it was Holstein Kitchen, but it’s super cute and is decorated like a simple but elegant farm house (think sparkly lighting, barn wood and checkered table cloths). My friend Mary and I went around lunch on a Saturday and it wasn’t very busy, but the owner told us they were pretty busy around breakfast.
I got the Americana Scramble — scrambled eggs with sausage and bacon…and it comes with a pancake. I prefer savory breakfasts, but can’t resist a good pancake, so the Americana Scramble was the perfect breakfast for me. The scramble was the perfect size and because of the crazy amount of sausage and bacon it was very filing. The breakfast potatoes were perfect — hot, crispy and salty. The pancake was a perfect American pancake — and I ate it before I remembered to take a picture!
Mary got the Pain Perdue, which is New Orleans style french toast. It was thick, and fried perfectly so it was crispy on the outside and super fluffy and light on the inside.
Something very unexpected during our visit to the Oregon newcomer happened — the owner and chef came out toward the end of our meal and let us try the special of the day. I don’t remember what it was, but he wanted us to try it just to get our opinion. That was very cool and personable. I also remember the coffee being super tasty and plentiful.
FOOD NOTES: If you’re in the Oregon area (or even if you’re not), Holstein Kitchen is a great breakfast/brunch spot. I loved the homey feel of the dining room, and the owner seems to be very hands on, which is always a good thing. I want to go back for dinner sometime soon because the menu has a salad with cheese curds on top and buttered noodles! I mean..come on! Those have to be winners!
I heard two things about Estrellon when it first opened:
The food (both the paella and the tapas) is amazing
The prices are a bit high
But a girls night out at a bar downtown seemed like the perfect time to try tapas for dinner at Estrellon. We got one of the last tiny tables on the tapas side of the restaurant and after waiting a little too long for a waiter, we ordered a half dozen tapas to start with. But those ended up being surprisingly filling and a perfect mix of fun food for dinner.
Here’s what we got:
The deviled eggs were too mustardy for me…I like my deviled eggs traditionally chocked full of mayo.
This was the worst thing we got. I’m not sure what I was expecting because the menu didn’t say fried cheese curds, but fresh cheese curds (that weren’t even squeaky so they couldn’t have been that fresh) with some dressing and sesame seeds on top was a very underwhelming dish. Definitely not worth ordering.
The toast pieces come with a bunch of different topping options. I got the summer sausage with raw milk cheddar and pickles; the charred beets with manchego cheese and pine nuts; and the jamon iberico with tomato jam and relish. My friend got the sweet pears with candied walnut butter and feta cheese; brie with artichoke, tomato and caviar; and the smoked sockeye salmon with greek yogurt, caviar and truffle honey. They were a lot smaller than I expected, but they were extremely tasty. My favorite was the summer sausage one with the housemade pickle!
These were the best thing we ordered. They were fried mushrooms, but what made them special was that they were stuffed with cheese and came with a great aioli sauce drizzled on top. They were hot, crispy and had a great flavor. And since the cheese and sauce were so rich, the serving size was just enough.
These were pretty much what I expected — crunchy, salty frites with yummy aioli. I always go for papas fritas because they’re easy to do well. Always a good standby.
FOOD NOTES: Once we got everything we ordered, we decided we wouldn’t need another round of food, which was good. Our bill (split two ways) ended up being about the same as if we had gone to another pricier restaurant downtown, which was pleasantly surprising. After we listed off our entire order, I thought it was going to be about double what it ended up being. Estrellon is definitely a fun place to go, and if you drink wine they have a happy hour deal where you buy a glass of house wine and get a free tapa…which would be a great way to check out Estrellon.
Sometimes you just want a burger, and a decent place to get one on Madison’s far west side is Mooyah. Mooyah is in a strip mall in the parking lot of the Super Target in Fitchburg. The dining room isn’t huge and fills up fast during lunch, but they do have additional outdoor seating during the summer.
You order either a single or double Mooyah burger, then you can add cheese, bacon or avocado. But the best part are the extras. You can add anything from lettuce, tomatoes and pickles to grilled onions, fried onion strings or jalapenos. They also have a dozen sauce options.
I got lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms and jalapenos. It was a great custom burger. The one downfall is that with all the extra toppings and the soft buns, the burgers get pretty messy. The regular fries are decent, but rumor has it the sweet potato fries are way better.
FOOD NOTES: I don’t usually go for burgers and fries, but if you’re looking for a decent burger and fries with a lot of topping options, Mooyah is a good spot. They’re not the greatest burgers you’ll ever find, but they’re on par with Five Guys with the amount of options and tasty fries. The metal lunch trays they’re served on are also pretty fun.
I’ve lived in Middleton over four years and the Stamm House has been an empty shell that entire time. That is, until this summer when it opened as a restaurant. The building itself is extremely old and historical, so I can only imagine how bad the inside was, but their remodel doesn’t seem to go with the historical nature of the building. They put up pine panelling on the walls and some of the booths are made of the same panelling. The bar is stark and cold, and the lack of decor doesn’t fit with the warm stone building. We sat outside, which had the best atmosphere. It was simple outdoor seating with a white picket fence and some small lights.
Their menu is pretty small, which is good because it means they’re focusing on getting what they’re serving right. We started with a cheese and charcuterie plate that came with three cheese, a liver paste and some tasty pairings. I liked the option of four items for $17 because we could get three cheeses and one meat. That’s also a very reasonable price for the amount of food we got. The options change, so you can probably never build the same cheese/meat board twice. Ours came with pickled veggies, two different types of preserves, nuts and bread. I could make an entire meal out of charcuterie, so this was my favorite part of the meal.
I got the sirloin entree, which isn’t on the menu anymore. The sirloin dish I got came with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and onions. It also came with a sweet and savory sauce that I didn’t like. The steak was perfectly cooked, had a great flavor and was tender. The serving of sirloin was also about twice as much as I was expecting. In general, the dish was good, but in true American fashion I wanted a potato. And ironically, the new sirloin dish posted on the Stamm House’s online menu has a potato listed with it.
My mom got the burger, which was a standard burger that had one interesting topping — mornay sauce. I love mornay sauce. It’s a creamy, cheesy white sauce that usually accompanies eggs or steak, but putting it on a burger is a great idea. If you’re looking for a good burger that’s a little different than the norm…this is it. The frites and aioli were also top notch.
My mom and I aren’t dessert people, but they had French press coffee on the menu and we wanted something sweet to go with it. So we got the set of three pastries. The crispy shells were filled with a not-too-sweet custard and the crunchy hazelnuts were perfect. They were just sweet enough to compliment the strong coffee perfectly, but not too sweet to be overwhelming.
FOOD NOTES: I loved the cheese and charcuterie board (because those are hard to get wrong), but my sirloin entree could have been better. Based on the menu changes, I would definitely give the Stamm House another chance because the hardest part — the steak — was the best part of my meal. I was just disappointed with the sauce and vegetables. I love that they offer French press coffee with their perfectly balanced desserts. I don’t love the remodeled inside, but once their outdoor patio opens back up for the summer, I’ll give Stamm House another chance.
If fall isn’t your favorite season…you’re basically wrong. The weather is great, the clothes are great, the food is warm and comforting, and then there’s Halloween and Thanksgiving. My friend Riju loves Halloween and in an effort to keep me very busy during the month of October, she sent me the “31 Days of Halloween to do list” to do. This blog will be my recap…with one caveat: some of the items were modified but totally still count!
No. 1 – Bake Halloween cookies. Krista, Nicole and the cookie-decorating master Avery helped out with this one.
No. 2 – Drink cider
No. 3 – Watch a classic monster movie. This one was completed…just not documented. I watched some freaky movie about Halloween.
No. 4 – Make pumpkin bread with fresh pumpkin. This one was also completed with help from Krista.
No. 5 – Collect different color fall leaves. I didn’t know what I would do with a handful of leaves, so I just took pictures during a hike.
No. 6 – Eat a caramel apple. I got this one at Treinen Farm in Lodi.
No. 7 – Build a fire. This one was very unconventional…but fire is fire right?
No. 8 – Go on a hay ride. The hay ride at Treinen Farm was pretty interesting. It was one of the only cold and rainy days in October, but Nicole, miss Avery and I made the best of it!
No. 9 – Eat a Halloween Oreo. They don’t taste different, but I feel like they should!
No. 10 – Wear orange. I don’t own anything orange, so this scarf will have to do.
This picture also qualifies as No. 21, which is eat a caramel apple Milky way…but they don’t make those anymore, so I had a caramel apple pop instead!
No. 11 – Watch Hocus Pocus. Thanks to Mary and Kevin Arbuckle for the movie access and the prop!
No. 12 – Drink a pumpkin spice latte.
No. 13 – Eat candy corn. This nasty Halloween treat goes pretty well with coffee!
No. 14 – Play in the leaves…see No. 5.
No. 15 – Drink spicy tea. The Trader Joe’s version I got was not good.
No. 16 – Bake an apple pie. I thought this was going to be one of the hardest ones on the list…but Krista and I made a pretty great pie!
No. 17 – Carve a pumpkin. Steph and I carved Frank the Pumpkin…harvested at Treinen Farms for No. 23.
No. 18 – Host a spooky movie night. I’d say mine was technically a movie afternoon…but it totally counts.
No. 19 – Eat Frankenberry, BooBerry or Count Chocula. I chose BooBerry…
No. 20 – Drink pumpkin ale or beer. Thanks Marissa for sharing your pumpkin beer!
No. 21 – Eat a caramel apple Milky Way. See No. 10.
No. 22 – Roast pumpkin seeds. Steph and I roasted the shit out of Frank’s seeds!
No. 23 – Visit a pumpkin patch. Nicole, miss Avery and I braved the rain and cold to find Frank the Pumpkin at Treinen Farm.
No. 24 – Dance to Thriller. Mary Arbuckle and I got our groove on. A short, yet extremely entertaining video, is available on Facebook.
No. 25 – Visit an OctoberFest…was replaced with “drink an OctoberFest beer.” Thanks Kevin Arbuckle for the beer!
No. 26 – Collect cool pumpkins. Thanks for the pumpkins dad!
No. 27 – Sit on the porch and smell the rain…this one seemed odd, but here’s a rainy picture from my balcony.
No. 28 – Visit a haunted house. I hate haunted houses, but Mary Arbuckle found one for little kids…so I consented. Favorite quote of the night: “Hannah…stop screaming, you’re scaring the giraffe (who was probably about 2 and being carried by her dad).”
No. 29 – Make a Halloween playlist.
No. 30 – Decorate the house – inside and out. Thanks to the instigator of all of this, Riju, for the new Halloween owl!
No. 31 – Go trick or treating. I gave away candy at Kevin and Mary’s…I also got trick-or-treat candy at the haunted house…all of this counts…none of it is documented.
There are a lot of options for steak in Madison and the surrounding area, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a place that has as much history as Wonder Bar. I’m not going to get into too much detail, but if you like gangster history and don’t mind eating on the other side of a dead body (what? yeah…that’s what their website says), then Wonder Bar is a great place to check out.
My mom and I went on a Friday night and got seated upstairs. There’s nothing super impressive about the decor or the dining areas, but if you read up on the history of the place, it is pretty cool. We decided to start with the BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp. The BBQ was tangy and had a little spice, the bacon was thick and the shrimp were huge. Combine all those ingredients and we had a great appetizer.
Steaks come with a salad, and of course both of us got steak. Even though our waiter warned me the wedge salad could probably be a meal on its own…I decided to go with that. And boy was he right. It was legitimately 1/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce, an entire tomato (cut in half), probably a full cup of blue cheese and a ton of dressing. I don’t usually love blue cheese, but I usually like it on a wedge salad…this time it was good, but I didn’t eat even half the blue cheese that was on the plate.
My mom and I both got the house filet with hash browns…because what else do you get when you go to a steak house?! Both filets were perfectly cooked and had a great flavor. They were also super tender and had that great grill char. The hash browns were crispy and had onions mixed in…winning!
Needless to say…we skipped dessert and took home doggy bags.
FOOD NOTES: If you’re looking for a place to get a stiff drink and some classic steakhouse food…Wonder Bar is definitely your place. My mom and I had a great meal…but keep in mind that classic steakhouse food usually comes with a higher price tag. Another thing to note…if you’re trying to find Wonder Bar…it’s the super tiny brick building right behind the Coliseum Bar. If you’re not looking closely…you might drive right by.
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.
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.
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.
Their 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.
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.
I’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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.