Don’t fail like me…get the BBQ at the Thirsty Goat

Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main

So there’s a new barbecue restaurant in Fitchburg and I hate to admit that I didn’t actually get BBQ on my first visit. The good news — everything I got was tasty so I’ll be heading back soon to try the BBQ. The Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main in Fitchburg took over an old Mexican restaurant spot I think. The building is rustic and cozy inside, but the fire pit in the back is what caught my attention. There’s a deck off the back of the building overlooking Fish Hatchery Road, and my friend Nicole and I definitely spotted a fire fit back there…I’m thinking this place will be a regular stop on my patio rotation this summer!

Cheese curds

On to the food…that isn’t BBQ (sorry!) but was still good. I must have forgotten where I was and what type of restaurant I was in when looking at the menu because we ordered broasted chicken and the sausage plate…and no barbecue. But because we work hard and deserve a treat…we started with the cheese curds. The almost overflowing basket came with what were obviously hand-breaded cheese curds. Here’s your clue: If the curds are all the same shape and size…they came out of a freezer box — if they’re random shapes and sizes…they were probably hand-breaded. These were hand-breaded, fried to a perfect golden brown, just salty enough and came with the perfect dipping sauce — housemade ranch! Nothing bad to say about the curds!

img_3837Nicole and I decided to each get an entree and split it. I got the sausage plate with mac and cheese and coleslaw. It also came with corn bread. Their sausage that week was an Italian sausage. It was perfectly grilled with crispy grill marks on the outside and had a good flavor. I appreciated that it wasn’t too greasy and you get enough to feed two! BBQ restaurant mac and cheese is never anything special and the Thirsty Goat’s was right on par with that. The coleslaw wasn’t unique, but it was good. I don’t remember much about the corn bread, but only because I ate it so fast!

img_3836Nicole got the half chicken and it was good…but it was chicken. I have zero complaints about the chicken…except that it wasn’t BBQ brisket!

FOOD NOTES: Good ahead…get the cheese curds at this BBQ restaurant…you won’t be disappointed! Our lunch at the Thirsty Goat was very good, but I do regret not getting BBQ…guess it’s just a good reason to go back again! Oh, and don’t forget about the fire pit for this summer! If it’s a Friday night, you might find me there!

Waunakee brewery has potential with unique menu

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!

Hidden atop downtown hotel, The Blind has many something specials

It takes something special for new restaurants in downtown Madison to last, and the new one on top of the Graduate Hotel has a couple something specials.

Reasons I love The Madison Blind:

  1. It’s on a roof where you can see State Street, Lake Mendota and the Capitol.
  2. No matter where you sit, inside near the wall of windows or outside on the patio, you have a great view!
  3. The drinks a great. They do the classics well and their specials are super tasty.
  4. The fries are extra crispy and served with great aioli.
  5. The beet salad is an A+.

Those are some pretty great reasons to check out the Blind, but I can’t say enough about the view, especially on the patio…I have repeatedly forgotten to take a picture of the view because I was too busy enjoying it in real time!

IMG_3316The food is also pretty great. I’ve tried most of their appetizers and none of them disappointed. The poutine is phenomenal. I’m usually not a fan of poutine because it usually tastes like a pile of mush, but the poutine at the Blind is cheesy, the fries are crispy and the gravy is super flavorful. The fish tacos are super fresh and light, but they are very tiny. The cheese curds are a great version of the Wisconsin classic.

IMG_3314Like I said, the beet salad with chicken is top notch. If you get the poutine and cheese curds to start, the beet salad is a great entree option. It’s tasty and hearty, but not heavy.

IMG_3318As for dessert, they serve the hand pies sold downstairs in the hotel’s cafe Portage Pi. I got the apple pie a ‘la mode. The turnover-like pie was hot and crispy, but the crust was a little dry and there could have been more filing and ice cream

Based on its location, the corner of Langdon and Francis, and it’s great drinks and food, it’s not a surprise the Blind is usually very busy. I’ve had to wait for a table every time I’ve been there, but the view and food are worth the wait. It is a small dining room, but based on my experience I think part of the wait time has to do with the service. Every time I’ve been there our waiter has either taken forever to come to the table the first time or disappeared halfway through. It also feels like there are no assigned tables because all three times I’ve gone I had a couple different servers.

FOOD NOTES: The Blind is one of my new favorite places in Madison. If the food and drinks don’t keep you coming back, the view should. The service could be faster and more organized, but there are too many other goods things at the Blind that will keep me going back. I’m a sucker for their beet salad so I’ve never tried their burgers, but they look and smell amazing!

Holstein Kitchen’s farmhouse menu is more than just meat and potatoes

IMG_2099There 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.

IMG_2096Their 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.

Americana Scramble
Americana Scramble

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!

Pain Perdue
Pain Perdue

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!

O.S.S.: Obviously stellar sausages


O.S.S. opened this year in a little brick building on Regent Street that has been vacant for a while. O.S.S. by all technical definitions is a sausage shop and the name can mean whatever you want it to mean – Old School Sausages, Open Source Sausages…they even take suggestions from customers. But no matter what O.S.S. means to you, it will also mean awesome sausages, fresh cheese curds and perfectly crispy hand-cut french fries. Plus, the menu uses locally sourced sausages and cheeses, which I absolutely love!

O.S.S. dining room
O.S.S. book table
O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street
O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street

The tiny brick building is conspicuously signed with a side entrance and a hidden back patio. The dining room is flanked on both sides by long, communal tables with a mix of chairs and stools. The entire place has a unique, industrial feel to it with warm touches — the legs on one of the long tables is made out of a stack of books! There’s also a whimsical feeling because they won’t really tell you what O.S.S. stands for, yet you can find the initials and possible definitions scattered throughout.

O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi
O.S.S. bahn mi

The bahn mi sausage, which the manager said is one of their best sellers, had some real potential. The sriracha mayo added a great spice to the heavier sausage, and the cabbage slaw gave the entire thing a much-needed crunch. I could have done without the cilantro, and the whole jalapeno slices could have been cut smaller as to avoid an entire mouthful of unbalanced spice. But the slaw mixed with the mayo and sausage was a great combination.

O.S.S. Chicago dog
O.S.S. Chicago dog

The traditional Chicago dog was pretty awesome. It is a traditional hot dog with tomatoes, onions, relish, a pickle, celery salt, sport peppers and mustard. The hearty bun was just the right size to contain all of the top-notch ingredients. The peppers and the pickle added a great spice and saltiness to the dog, and the freshness of the tomatoes and onions was very welcome. I’ve never had a Chicago dog in Chicago, but I can’t imagine they could be any better.

O.S.S. fried cheese curds
O.S.S. fried cheese curds
O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard
O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard

The hand-battered cheese curds were pretty phenomenal. They were stringy and melty with a perfectly light and crunchy batter. They were probably the freshest fried cheese curds I’ve ever had. The manager told us you can also order them spun in sauces, like chicken wings…which sounded very interesting, but we opted for the traditional curds. The curds came with a special sweet mustard from the National Mustard Museum. The mustard was sweet and a little tangy, but the curds were good enough on their own.

O.S.S. fries
O.S.S. fries

The hand-cut fries were just as prefect as french fries can get. The fries still had the skins on them, and all of them were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The entire batch had just the right amount of salt, and they even came with a stray cheese curd!

FOOD NOTES: This sausage shop is an awesome addition to the Regent Street area. Regent Street has never been a food destination for me, and O.S.S. really changes that. Their take on traditional cheese curds and hand-cut french fries shows that making fried sides fresh and with quality ingredients really pays off. I enjoyed both sausages I’ve tried, but I really want to try some of their special dogs they’ve posted on Facebook (Swissco Bacon Mac Dog, the Assadura and the Tikka Masala…yum!).

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.

Great atmosphere, overrated food at Buck and Honey’s

buck and honeys signI’ve been hearing about Buck and Honey’s in Sun Prairie for a couple years and the outside seating area lived up to the hype, but the food definitely did not. The large outdoor seating area features patio furniture, a fire pit, a grassy area with bean bag toss games and a small stage (the night I was there a spirited guy was singing and playing the mandolin). It would be nice if the outside patio faced something other than the back of a building and a parking lot, but it is still a nice feature and a great place to chat with a good friend!

Buck and Honey's fried cheese curds
Buck and Honey’s fried cheese curds

We got the fried cheese curds to start, and I was immediately disappointed when they got to our table. For $9 you get like eight cheese curds and two sub-par dipping sauces — ranch and pizza sauce. The curds had potential, especially with the shaved parmesan on top, but that’s as far as it went. They were lukewarm in the middle, the batter was a bit too heavy, and they kind of tasted a little funny — like the oil was old. The curds were definitely  not worth the price or the calories.

Buck and Honey's brisket dinner
Buck and Honey’s brisket dinner

Their regular menu didn’t have a lot of promising things on it, so I was happy when our server sat down a specials menu. I got the brisket dinner with sliced brisket, roasted potatoes and onions in a red wine reduction. The serving was massive, which was surprising considering the curd serving. The slices of brisket could have been more tender and  they didn’t have any of the smokey flavor I expect with brisket. The potatoes were edible, but could have been seasoned better, and the onions needed some more time in the pan to caramelize. The most disappointing part of the dish was the red wine reduction, which tasted and looked more like a sweet mixture of BBQ sauce and ketchup. The dish was good, but nowhere near the quality I expect when paying $18 for dinner.

FOOD NOTES: The public really likes restaurants that trick them into thinking their food is good just because the atmosphere is fancy and the prices are high. Buck and Honey’s in Sun Prairie perfectly fits that description. While the outside seating is very enjoyable, the cheese curds were disappointing, and the brisket dish was barely what is usually considered brisket and the sauce was amateur. I’m not sure I’d go back to even give other things on the menu a chance because none of the descriptions on the menu seem to warrant the prices.

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.

New Monroe St restaurant may have best cheese curds in town

Gates and Brovi
Gates and Brovi

There’s nothing more Wisconsin and more Madison than deep fried cheese curds. Most restaurants in the city and the state have them on their menus, and places that pull them frozen out of box should be ashamed. There’s something special about a good homemade fried cheese curd dipped in homemade ranch dressing. When talking about cheese curds in Madison most people talk about the curds at the Old Fashioned, Graze, The Tipsy Cow, the Avenue Bar or the curds served at local breweries. I’m a huge fan of all of these places, and when I visited Gates and Brovi on Monroe Street I was not expecting to find a frontrunner for the best cheese curds in Madison.

Gates and Brovi cheese curds
Gates and Brovi cheese curds

The restaurant opened about a year ago and hasn’t made too much noise in the food scene, but I was excited to try it because of some good things I had heard about the food. The menu seems a little confused and unfocused offering salads, clams, shrimp, sandwiches, burgers, pizza and pasta. I tend to go for something other than sandwiches or burgers unless they sound super original, so I went with the roasted beet and avocado salad. But first we decided to get the fried cheese curds. They came in a little red basket, and had extremely light batter that was not greasy. The white cheese curds were extremely fresh and perfectly melty. I’m not sure what type of batter they use, but it is definitely a lot lighter than the normal beer batter on Wisconsin cheese curds. They were fantastic! And the homemade ranch dressing was perfectly tangy and creamy.

Gates and Brovi beet salad
Gates and Brovi beet salad

The roasted beet and avocado salad also had red onions, carrots, radishes, arugula, queso fresco and a tangy orange dressing. I don’t like citrus dressings so I got a balsamic dressing instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh, but not extremely flavorful. The balsamic dressing was fine, but queso fresco is basically a useless cheese with no flavor. I wold prefer something with a little flavor like feta or an aged cheddar. There were a ton of beets, but they were nothing special. The salad as a whole was good, but I probably wouldn’t get it again.

Gates and Brovi
Gates and Brovi

FOOD NOTES: Gates and Brovi is a very casual place with the vibe of a southern shrimp place. The dining room has wood plank benches and white wood paneling, and is warm and inviting. The day we went there was only one waiter, but he kept everything moving fast and was super nice. The one downfall to Gates and Brovi is that there is extremely limited parking, especially during the day. I only had to park a block away, but I got super lucky with street parking. The cheese curds were amazing. They aren’t the same as Wisconsin beer battered cheese curds but they were definitely unique and just as good as their heavier beer-battered counterparts. The batter was lighter and the curds were extremely fresh. I would go back just for the cheese curds.