Waunakee brewery has potential with unique menu

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The owner told me they named the brewery The Lone Girl because they have several kids, but only one daughter.

Brew pubs are the new thing in the restaurant business. It seems like everyone wants to brew their own beer and serve food while offering a casual atmosphere for dinner or a place to watch the game. And trust me, I’m not mad at it. I love a good brew pub, but the key word there is good. There are so many of them popping up all over the Madison area that each place is going to have to offer something unique or better to bring me back. The Lone Girl in Waunakee didn’t do that with its service, but the food was good and it does have a good location and a rooftop dining room so I’ll probably be back.

I went to Lone Girl on a Saturday in November with a friend. We decided to stop in quick for lunch while we were hitting all the little shops up there, but I think we picked the wrong day. The place was packed with kids and parents — all of them wearing the same T-shirt from a charity walk/run. It turned out that Lone Girl was a big sponsor of the race so we assumed race participants were getting some sort of deal. Surprisingly we got seated right away, but that’s where it went downhill. It took almost 15 minutes for someone to bring us water and menus, and then when we finally did order (two pretty simple dishes if you ask me), it took another 45 minutes to get our food. I’m not sure if the wait seemed horrible because I was starving or because the place was so busy and loud, but by the time our food came I was not happy.

Let’s go back to the menu for a minute. For a brew pub, it has an odd menu. They have the standards you would expect: nachos, house-made potato chips, cheese curds, a burger, fish fry and a chicken sandwich. But then they add in hush puppies, albondigas (which are fancy meatballs), and what  I got — a chicken Caesar salad with grilled chicken and grilled romaine lettuce. Even some of their standards have an odd twist, like the nachos that can come chilaquiles style and their version of chicken wings that come with a tropical fruit pico de gallo. It’s hard to decide which direction the menu is going — which usually doesn’t bode well for the food because in my experience, an unfocused menu means a kitchen doesn’t know how to do anything well.

img_3869But my salad proved my assumptions wrong. Now granted, it was a simple chicken Caesar salad, but it was very tasty. The chicken was perfectly grilled and not dry. The romaine lettuce was also grilled to perfection — I love grilled lettuce! If you haven’t had it…try it. The house-made dressing was flavorful but not too heavy or prevalent on the salad, and the croutons were garlicky as promised. Other than the time I had to wait to get my salad, I was very pleased with my meal.

img_3868My friend got the buffalo chicken sandwich, which she said was good but the chicken had basically no buffalo flavor (I tried it and totally agreed). It retrospect — that was very odd since the chicken had an orange tint to it, which should indicate a buffalo spice. So odd! The sandwich came with a mix of regular and sweet potato fries, which is an awesome option for people who don’t like deciding between the two. Both types were crispy and appropriately salty.

FOOD NOTES: The Lone Girl Brewery proved to have potential during my first visit. Putting aside the odd menu options and slow service, I was very happy with my meal. I’m going to chalk the service up to the special event that was happening, but beware if you go on a busy night…it might be the same slowdown. The menu — although heading in a bunch of different directions — seems to have an option for everyone and there are things I would go back to try. The food was good enough to bring me back on its own, but if I’m being honest, I’ll probably go back for the rooftop seating because who doesn’t love eating outside in the summer on a roof!

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Too many toppings to list for burgers at Mooyah

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.

IMG_1965You 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.

IMG_1966I 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.

Stamm House needs to work out menu kinks to be great

1847 at the Stamm House

1847 at the Stamm House

IMG_1955I’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.

Cheese and charcuterie plate

Cheese and charcuterie plate

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.

Stamm House sirloin

Stamm House sirloin

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.

Stamm House burger and frites

Stamm House burger and frites

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.

IMG_1960My 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.

Atmosphere, prices worth trip to Village Bar

Village Bar

Village Bar

I think I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again — I’m all about the townie bar. I’ve found that you can usually find the best atmospheres, prices, food and people at townie bars. There’s a reason people keep going back to these places and the owners usually don’t make changes very often. The Village Bar, right where Mineral Point Road veers and changes into Speedway Road, is one of those places.

Village Bar - we're sitting in the front corner so this is about it!

Village Bar – we’re sitting in the front corner so this is about it!

When you walk in you’ll notice there are only about a dozen tables and the same number of bar stools. The other thing you’ll notice is that even though they have a food menu there’s no kitchen — they have a small cook top and fryer at the front end of the bar that handles everything. Their menu is pretty simple – hamburgers, cheeseburgers, a sausage and cheese plate (which is about as basic as it can be), fries and chips. The menu also listed steak, pork chops, brats and hotdogs, but I didn’t see anyone get any of those items. Oh yeah, one more thing — everything is served on styrofoam plates.

village bar burger

Village Bar pepper jack cheeseburger

Village Bar french fries

Village Bar french fries

I got the cheeseburger with pepper jack cheese and an order of fries. The burger itself was decent — a good size, had a good char — but the bun was pathetic. They steam the bun on the cook top, but I would prefer it to be grilled or toasted or left alone, because what was left was a soggy hunk of bread that was too small and too mushy to do any good. The cheese was a completely different story. I’m not sure how many slices they use, but the cheese was almost as thick as the burger. I really enjoyed the cheese in the beginning – it was melty and thick – but by the end it had congealed a little and the amount seemed unnecessary. But that also could have been caused by the fact that I was chatting too much and not eating fast enough! The fries were decent, but nothing special.

Village Bar cheeseburger

Village Bar cheeseburger

FOOD NOTES: Honestly, I loved the atmosphere at the Village Bar. It was super chill and very Badgers sports focused (I was there to watch my Badgers men’s basketball team squash Coastal Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, so that was a plus!). Everything on the menu (including beer from what I remember) is under $5, so that’s also something to note. The next time I head to the Village Bar I will probably skip the cheese on my burger and I will definitely get a super old school cheese and sausage plate to enjoy during the game.

Near east side’s Harmony not my idea of great neighborhood bar

There is definitely something to be said about good bar food, but it is rare and hard to find. And once again a Madison bar’s bar food has disappointed me. I put a decent amount of stock into public polls like the Isthmus’ Madison Favorites and Madison Magazine’s Best of Madison list, but those voters led to astray this time. The Harmony Bar on Atwood Avenue has been recognized for best neighborhood bar and a couple other things over the years, but I definitely don’t agree. As far as dive bars go, this one is pretty high on the totem pole of dives I’ve been to lately. The building itself needs some updating and TLC to be anywhere near what I would consider a charming dive bar. The paint was peeling, the floors were dirty and I don’t even want to go into detail the disaster that was the bathroom.

As for the food, they list “specialty pizzas” as a feature on their website. The picture on the website depicts a thin crust pizza with generous toppings and cheese. The pizzas we were served had super doughy and chewy crust, almost non-existent toppings, a sauce with zero flavor, and more grease than pizzas that are served out of cardboard box and cost $5. I barely ate the two small pieces I grabbed.

Harmony cheese curds

Harmony cheese curds

Because the pizzas were so disappointing we decided to order some food off the regular menu. I am a Wisconsinite through and through so for me to leave cheese curds on the table when I leave, they have to be pretty bad. Not only did I not like the Harmony’s cheese curds, more than half of our order was left behind when we got up. The batter was super heavy, the curds were solid when they should be soft and stringy, and I can pretty much guarantee you they came out of a box from the freezer. The curds were extremely disappointing.

Harmony pub chips

Harmony pub chips

Their pub chips and blue cheese were probably the best thing we had that night. The chips were the perfect thickness with a good crunch, and tasted house made. The blue cheese dressing was so mild it could have passed as ranch, but it was still a good pairing with the salty, crispy potato chips.

Harmony cheeseburger

Harmony cheeseburger

The burger was certainly nothing special. It was nowhere near as awful as the cheese curds, but I wished it was better. The cheese looked like it had been melted in a microwave, but the lettuce, tomato and onions on top were fresh. The one note I have about the burger is that it was huge. The actual patty was much larger than I was expecting. It didn’t have a ton of flavor or good char, but it wasn’t a terrible burger.

FOOD NOTES: The Harmony has so much potential, but the building needs some TLC, and the kitchen and menu need to be revamped. The pub chips are the exception. They are perfectly thick and crisp, and aren’t too greasy. The cheese curds were laughable for a Wisconsin bar, but the burger was edible. I wouldn’t even bother with the horrible “specialty pizzas.” They do have live music some nights, so that might be a draw but I would suggest eating somewhere else before heading to the show.

DLux: Aptly describes burgers, fries, drinks at downtown eatery

DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)

DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)

If you’re lucky enough to get one of the coveted half-dozen tables outside looking up at the Capitol at DLux, you’re experience will be just a great as mine. I’ve been to DLux three times now, and all three times I have sat outside. Their outdoor seating is just one block down from the Capitol, and if you’re facing the right way you will get a glimpse of Monona Terrace. It’s a great way, even on a hot afternoon, to enjoy their great food.

Dlux Hawaii 5-O

Dlux Hawaii 5-O

DLux has a pretty simple menu. They have a couple appetizers, a couple salads, about a dozen burgers and sandwiches and then a la carte sides. In addition to their drink menu, they also have shakes that can be ordered with or without alcohol. When I went with friends we decided to make dinner an event and get some drinks. I got the Hawaii 5-O with vodka, pineapple juice and house-made strawberry and ginger soda. Despite the drinks odd name, it is exceedingly refreshing and dangerously tasty. I definitely recommend any of their cocktails made with their house-made soda.

DLux fried pickles

DLux fried pickles

We also got the fried pickles to enjoy with our drinks. They weren’t the greatest fried pickles I’ve ever had, but they were definitely tasty. The breading was a little heavy, but they were surprisingly not greasy. The serving was just enough to keep my friend and I happy while waiting for the rest of our food.

DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries

DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries

Their burger choices range from a normal burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles to more interesting options. I got the couch potato burger, which comes with house-made french onion dip, pepper jack cheese and potato chips. The combination sounded great and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The pepper jack cheese added just enough spice to the burger. The french onion dip and potato chips are a great combo on their own, and are also pretty great on top of a burger. I know I’m not the only person who has put potato chips on the inside of a sandwich…well, DLux does it for you on a pretty great burger!

I’m a huge fan of French fries and they have been known to make or break a restaurant for me. At DLux, their french fries definitely do not disappoint. The french fries themselves are pretty standard — super fluffy, not greasy, and they look hand cut. The sauce options are what put their French fries over the top. This time I got the parmesan and truffle fries. The white truffle sauce was perfectly rich and creamy, and the parmesan added a good sharp, nutty flavor. But the other two times I’ve been there I got the sharp cheddar and green onion fries. The sharp cheddar sauce is pretty spectacular. It looks like bad nacho cheese sauce, but it’s amazingly cheesy and creamy, and not at all greasy. It is shocking how much flavor is in this sharp cheddar sauce. The sliced green onions cut through the heaviness of the sharp cheddar sauce perfectly. There really isn’t much that compares to a good French fry covered in cheese sauce goodness.

FOOD NOTES: In my three visits to DLux I have never been disappointed. The couch potato burger is a great combination of good ingredients and interesting flavors. The fried pickles are a good starter and go well with the great drinks made with house-made sodas. And their French fries with spectacular sauces are awesome. Their menu is so simple. How much simpler can you get than French fries, burgers, house-made sodas and milk shakes? But their interesting combinations, quality ingredients, great flavors and awesome outdoor patio put the dining experience over the top. I highly recommend DLux for classic food made in interesting ways with quality ingredients.

1 thing will always bring me back to Mickey’s Tavern

Two words: sexy fries.

mickey'sWalking into Mickey’s Tavern on Madison’s near east side I lost all hope for the quality of the food. The bar was dark, the seating was sparse, the tables were dirty, the kitchen(which was open) looked dirty, there were people smoking like chimneys outside on the patio and the service was awful. We sat down at the only spot left, a tiny table shoved in the corner behind two bigger tables. After we sat there for 15 minutes or so someone finally figured out we were there and brought us drinks.

Mickey's cheese curds

Mickey’s cheese curds

We started with an order of cheese curds because they are always the best appetizer option on a menu. Well not this time. The curds at Mickey’s probably come out of a box because the batter is extremely heavy and flavorless, and the actual curd comes out in a lukewarm chunk, not stringy goodness like fresh cheese curds. They were extremely disappointing.

Mickey's burger

Mickey’s burger

For dinner I got the Mickey’s Burger, which has supposedly been named the best bar burger by Madison Magazine. I’m not sure who voted for that award, but I 100 percent disagree with them. The burger is mixed with spicy giardiniera and herbs, and is topped with chili aioli, tomato and buttermilk battered fried onions. It all sounds like a really good combo, but the burger I got was definitely missing some components and the ingredients that were there were subpar. The burger was extremely crumbly, which made the entire thing super hard to eat. I did not see or taste any giardiniera or herbs in the patty, and it could have been cooked a little longer. It was this odd light brown color. It would have been exponentially better if it had a good grill char on it. The fried onions flavorless and soggy, and added unnecessary heaviness to the burger. The tomato was mushy and probably a couple days old, and the aioli was thick and didn’t have any flavor, let alone any promised chili spice. The odd little container of coleslaw was unwanted and forgettable.

Mickey's sexy fries

Mickey’s sexy fries

Now on to the one and only reason I will ever go back to Mickey’s Tavern, and that’s their sexy fries. They are hand sliced thin chunks of potatoes tossed in truffle oil and covered in parmesan cheese, chives and crushed red pepper. The sexy fries are the single best french fries I have ever had. They are crispy, crunchy, salty, savory, cheesy and a little spicy. Most fries are made better with a good dipping sauce, but any type of sauce added to the sexy fries experience would take away from their perfection. Whoever came up with the amazing idea to combine parmesan cheese, truffle oil and red pepper flakes on top of perfectly cooked potatoes chips is a genius!

FOOD NOTES: The only thing that I will ever go back to Mickey’s for is the sexy fries. The service, dining room and the rest of the food were all subpar. The Mickey’s burger was awful and the cheese curds were even worse. Next time I go I will get the largest order of sexy fries they have and maybe I’ll give one of their sandwiches a try.