Waunakee supper club doesn’t stray from tradition

After writing a couple posts about my love for supper clubs, I started getting suggestions for great places in the area. A couple people suggested Rex’s Inkeeper in Waunakee, and after my long lost food date partner Michelle Li sent me a gift card she still had after moving to Seattle, I decided to take my mom to check the place out.

When you walk in you immediately know you’re in an old-school supper club and that you’re probably the only people the bar tender doesn’t know by name. The random floral decorations, leather bar stools and padded dining room chairs are pretty standard was far as supper clubs go. The biggest difference between Rex’s and most other supper club’s were the large TVs on all four walls of the dining room. I wasn’t mad at…it just wasn’t necessary.

Dirty Shirley at Rex’s
Grasshopper at Rex’s

Let’s start with the drinks. Both of us got a mixed drink. My mom’s was way stronger than mine, which was odd because usually supper clubs serve some pretty stiff drinks. The grasshopper we got after dinner was pretty tasty, but not very strong either.

The salad bar…that’s one of the main reasons to hit up a supper club on a Saturday night. Rex’s salad bar didn’t disappoint. They had all the salad fixings I wanted…including those tasty bar pickles…plus some premo pasta salad and potato salad. No complaints here!

Rex’s prime rib

It was Saturday…so I got the only option in my mind…prime rib. Here’s the thing about prime rib in my opinion…it’s great, but it tastes the same everywhere (Maybe that means I’m lucky and have never had bad prime rib? I don’t know!). Rex’s fits that description to a T. My prime rib was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it was very tender. The hash browns were what they’re supposed to and what I love…hot, crunchy and salty.

FOOD NOTES: As far as fancy drinks and nice decor…Rex’s Innkeeper does not cut it, but that’s not what they do. Rex’s does what it does right…supper club favorites. I’m a sucker for some 80s decor, a salad bar and a steak, so I’ll probably be back to Rex’s. My one and only tiny issues was that the drinks could be stronger.

 

MY PLEA: Someone open a restaurant in old Julep space

I went to Julep on Madison’s near east side last fall with two friends and their daughter. Since we were there, Julep has closed. Based on my experience, I’m not surprised they closed, but I am really hoping someone opens a new restaurant in the unique space.

First the drinks:

Mint Julep at Julep
Mint Julep at Julep

I wasn’t planning on getting a drink, but then I decided I had to get a mint julep at Julep. It came the traditional way in a metal cup with shaved ice on the top. A julep is basically bourbon, sugar and mint. And at Julep they really knew how to make a julep…it was probably one of the smoothest drinks I’ve ever had.

Onto the food:

Julep's biscuit
Julep’s biscuit
Julep's cast iron cornbread
Julep’s cast iron cornbread

We got the biscuit and cornbread to start…both were disappointing. The biscuit was dry, but the butter and jam were good. The cornbread had a good flavor but was burnt.

Blue corn crab cakes
Blue corn crab cakes
Roasted pork chop
Roasted pork chop
Julep fish special
Julep fish special

My friends got the crab cakes and pork chops. Both of them liked their entrees, but mine was disappointing. I was planning on getting the fried chicken, but the nightly special swayed me, which was a cornmeal crusted fish with roasted potatoes and a cheesy broccoli bake. The cheesy broccoli bake and potatoes were perfect. No complaints. But there were a lot of problems with my fish. The batter was soggy and didn’t have much flavor. The fish was also flavorless, and one of the filets was not cooked all the way through. The dish had a lot of potential, but the main ingredient — the fish — was a big fail. Based on my entree…I’m not surprised Julep didn’t make it.

Chocolate cake dessert
Chocolate cake dessert
Caramel apple dessert
Caramel apple dessert

As for the desserts…they were surprisingly good after the entrees. My friends got the chocolate cake and I got the apple dessert, both of which came with house made ice cream. My apple crisp with candied pecans and house made butter pecan ice cream was amazing. The ice cream was creamy and had a lot of pecans in it. The apples were still slightly crunchy (which I like way better than mushy apples) and the crust was crispy. I had zero complaints with the dessert.

Now for the location:

Julep's back patio
Julep’s back patio

Julep was in a building that was refurbished into a coffee shop, wine bar and restaurant. It was an old industrial building and they did a great job redoing it, especially the restaurant space in the back. It has big brick walls, but the inside was transformed into a warm and welcoming space. But the best part was the outdoor patio. It’s like this secret little garden right off one of Madison’s main roads. They had heaters and strings of lights…the patio made the experience. The patio is why I hope someone opens another restaurant in this spot.

FOOD NOTES: Based on the food I had, I’m not surprised Julep is closed. Based on the location and the patio, I am very sad Julep is closed. I think a restaurant that has a simpler menu with better-quality dishes would do really well in the space. Here’s hoping someone realizes that!

You might have to Google stuff on Freiburg Gastropub’s menu, but it’s worth it

img_3427

Joining a decent-sized list of restaurants on Monroe Street by Wingra Park, Freiburg Gastropub opened last year and is a good addition. The German-stye pub is dark and cozy even with the big windows at the front of the building. The bar takes up an entire wall, probably to accommodate the large beer menu they have.

About 1/3 of the massive pretzel
About 1/3 of the pretzel

I went with some friends and, after Googling half of the menu to make sure we knew what our options were, we got a pretzel with house mustard and cheese spread to start. The pretzel had a bit too much salt on top, but after scraping about half of it off it was perfect…dense and rich on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. The mustard had the perfect level of heat, but the cheese spread was hard to eat with the soft pretzel. I’d prefer the cheese to be dip-able, and this stuff was definitely not dip-able.

pretzel roll
pretzel roll

TIP: You also get pretzel rolls with your meal that are just as amazing, so ordering the pretzel probably isn’t necessary.

img_3424
Freiburg fish fry

Since it was Friday, I decided to get the Freiburg fish fry — panko breaded rainbow trout, a potato pancake and coleslaw. I loved that the trout wasn’t heavily breaded…it was just enough to add a good crisp. The potato pancake was good, but was basically just a hash brown, and the coleslaw was good, but nothing special. All-in-all it was a very good meal.

Schweinshaxen
Schweinshaxen
Huhn
Huhn

My friends got the Schweinshaxen — beer braised pork shank with mashed potatoes and mustard — and Huhn — oven roasted half chicken, sauteed spaetzle, vegetables and riesling butter sauce. The most memorable thing about the Schweinshaxen was the size! It was probably one of the largest pieces of pork I’ve seen on a plate. I tried the spaetzle that came with the Huhn and it was what I was expecting — soft and buttery…like buttered noodles!

FOOD NOTES: If you’re willing to Google most of the items on the menu, you’ll get a great meal at Freiburg Gastropub. If you’re hungry for a good pretzel, pass on ordering one and wait for the pretzel rolls they’ll bring to your table. If you’re not super hungry, split a dish with someone because they’re huge servings. I want to go back and try their Reuben sandwich and the cheesy spaetzle with sausage. They also have a deli-style lunch menu and a brunch menu that both sound very promising.

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.

Big portions, big history housed in tiny Wonder Bar

Wonder Bar
Wonder Bar

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.

Wander Bar BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp
Wander Bar BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp

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.

Wonder Bar wedge salad
Wonder Bar wedge salad

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.

Wonder Bar filet and hash browns
Wonder Bar filet and hash browns

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.

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.

Cento stands out with great starters, fresh pasta

Cento
Cento

My experience with Italian food growing up included pasta from a box and sauce from a can, the famous blue-box mac and cheese, and something called “Italian ice” that probably isn’t actually Italian. I’ve tried to expand my exposure to real Italian food, but my options have been limited. That is…until Cento opened in downtown Madison. I had heard mixed reviews before my first trip at the end of April, but my pre-concert dinner with a friend was fantastic!

The smaller-than-I-expected dining room was simple and classic with a bar toward the front, a small party room in the back and a mix of wooden booths and tables. The kitchen and prep areas are mostly open to the dining room, and our server was attentive but not annoying. (Side note: the bathrooms are super cute!)

Cento melon and prosciutto
Cento melon and prosciutto

The menu is broken into appetizers, small plates, soups/salads, pizza and pasta. The pasta comes in two sizes, which means you can get three appetizers or small plates and a small pasta — which is what my friend and I did! We started with melon and prosciutto which is something I’ve never had. It was thinly-sliced prosciutto and honeydew melon with sliced cucumber, balsamic glaze and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top. This is not a dish that sounds good when you read the description, but the combination of the sweet, light melon and the salty prosciutto really works well together. The balsamic adds a much-needed kick of acidity, and if I’m being honest — I don’t even remember tasting any parmesan cheese over the other strong flavors on the plate.

Cento bacon wrapped dates
Cento bacon wrapped dates

The second appetizer/small plate we got was bacon wrapped dates. I usually avoid these at restaurants because they’re usually stuffed with goat cheese and I don’t like goat cheese. But these were stuffed with spicy sausage…and let me tell you, spicy sausage in a sweet date wrapped in bacon…it really couldn’t get better than that! The combination of spicy, salty and sweet was super good. More restaurants should stuff their bacon wrapped dates with spicy sausage instead of goat cheese!

Cento arancini
Cento arancini

The third appetizer/small plate we got was my favorite — and it’s not just because I first heard about them on the “Sopranos.” Arancinis are rice balls stuffed with cheese that are coated with breadcrumbs and then fried. They sound super boring, but they are great! Cheesey fried rice balls in marinara sauce — yum!

Cento pappardelle
Cento pappardelle

When deciding on an entree I went for pasta because I’m not a huge fan of pizza and the pasta are made fresh. I went with the pappardelle that comes with a “northern ragu.” I’m not sure what “northern” means but it was very rich and flavorful and the noodles were excellent. There’s something special about fresh pasta…it’s hard to describe, but once you’ve had it you know the difference. As much as I loved our starters…I liked my pasta better!

Cento cheesecake
Cento cheesecake

We weren’t going to get dessert, but the cheesecake sounded so good we couldn’t resist. Everything about the cheesecake was perfect, except the marmalade and the lemon sorbet. The cheesecake was rich and creamy. The crust was sweet and crumbly. The cream on top was light. The slices of orange added a great freshness and the crispy sugar was fun. The other two components of the dessert were unnecessary and slightly unpleasant. We completely ignored the thick orange marmalade and we probably should have done the same with the sorbet. It was extremely bitter…to the point that it was unpleasant to try and eat. But once those were pushed off to the side or scraped off…the cheesecake dessert was great!

FOOD NOTES: Cento is a great addition to the Food Fight network and to the downtown restaurant scene! Not only did we have a great time figuring out what all the authentic Italian stuff on the menu was, but we also had a great meal. The arancini are a must when ordering a starter and the bacon wrapped dates should also be considered. After finishing off our three starters I was so full…but my pasta was so good I couldn’t stop eating it! Fresh pasta is really one of the best things an Italian restaurant can do to set itself apart. Next time I want to try their burrata, cheese board and their potato gnocchi.

43 North’s tiny portions, bland dishes disappoint during Restaurant Week

My third Restaurant Week stop in January was at 43 North on King Street. Based on their normal menu, the tiny “modern bistro” features classic appetizers, salads and entrees with modern twists (different sauces, interesting ingredient combinations). But I’ve learned that anything with the word “bistro” in the description usually means the portions are small and 43 North was no exception. Usually the point of small dishes is that the flavor makes up for the size, but that was not the case with the dishes I tried at 43 North.

**NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was super dark in there!

43 North roasted dates
43 North roasted dates
43 North sweet potato soup
43 North sweet potato soup

For appetizers they were offering a radish salad, roasted dates with goat cheese and a sweet potato soup, which is what I got. The soup was smooth, but not creamy and didn’t have any complex flavors. It just tasted like savory sweet potato puree. To be honest, it almost tasted like it had curry in it, but that was not in the description. It was not memorable.

43 North game hen
43 North game hen
43 North curried cauliflower
43 North curried cauliflower

The entree options seemed to have more components. The two friends I went with got game hen with lentils, thyme vinaigrette, bacon and butternut squash, and curried cauliflower with polenta, kale and eggplant. The curried cauliflower had a very light (almost nonexistent and less than the sweet potato soup) curry flavor.

43 North salmon
43 North salmon

I got the salmon with red potato, spinach and mushroom ragout. I will use two words to describe the dish: small and boring. My salmon was cooked well and was crispy on the outside, but it was the absolute smallest piece of fish I have ever been served at a restaurant. The spinach was unremarkable and the mushroom ragout was lacking the savory flavor I expect from mushroom sauces. The red potatoes were mixed in with the mushroom ragout, so I can’t imagine they had any great flavor on their own.

43 North pavlova
43 North pavlova

The dessert options actually sounded the most exciting. They offered a Wisconsin cheese platter with jam and mustard (but the cheese options were a blue cheese and goat cheese — why not offer a cheddar?) and a very interesting dessert called a Pavlova. After some research we learned it is a meringue-based cake with a crisp crust and usually topped with fruit and whipped cream. The Pavlova at 43 North came with coconut cream, blackberries and passion fruit coulis. It looked very interesting, but because of the coconut I didn’t try it.

43 North almond panna cotta
43 North almond panna cotta

I got the almond panna cotta with balsamic macerated strawberries and hazelnut shortbread. The panna cotta was light in texture, but had a dense vanilla-y, almond flavor. The panna cotta by itself was the single best part of my meal. The toppings were a little odd. The balsamic macerated strawberries just tasted like cooked strawberries…I was missing the sweet tang I was expecting from the balsamic vinegar. The hazelnut shortbread was hard to identify. I was expecting it to be a cookie or larger chunks, but it was basically crumbles on top that I kept trying to scoop up. I’m not sure what the hazelnut shortbread tasted like because I could never get enough in one bite to get a good sense of its flavor.

FOOD NOTES: All in all, I was pretty disappointed with my meal at 43 North. The soup was lacking in flavor. The salmon dish featured a perfectly cooked piece of fish, but everything else on the plate was bland. The dessert was the best part, but only the panna cotta. The toppings followed suit with the rest of the meal — boring flavors and small amounts (why does a hazelnut shortbread have to be mashed into minuscule pieces instead of served in larger, edible chunks?). I’m glad I finally got to try 43 North (especially during Restaurant Week when I didn’t shell out a ton of money), because now I know it belongs on my “do not visit” list.

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.

Tiny tavern boasts big cider menu, unique dishes

Cooper's Tavern
Coopers Tavern

One Madison restaurant that I took way too long to try out is Coopers Tavern. It’s near the top of State Street on the Capitol Square and has a super tiny dining room with a long bar on one side. It was busy the Friday night I went with a friend, and we had to wait basically inches from people already eating. Once we were seated the cramped dining room issues continued…I had to hook my purse on my knees and I was awkwardly bumped by two people who were hovering around the bar waiting for a table. Despite the super tight quarters the atmosphere at Coopers Tavern is rustic and welcoming.

Crispin blackberry, pear cider
Crispin blackberry, pear cider

I’m not a big drinker, but I do love a good gluten-free cider and Coopers Tavern has the largest selection of ciders I’ve seen. The Crispin blackberry and pear cider was light and refreshing. I could really taste the pear flavor, and even though the blackberry flavor was pretty much non-existent I still really liked it.

Cooper's Tavern Sconnie egg
Coopers Tavern Sconnie egg

We started with Coopers Tavern’s version of a scotch egg, the Sconnie egg. The Sconnie egg is a hard boiled egg wrapped in a Knoche’s market brat patty and fried. It is served with pickled vegetables and stout mustard. The Sconnie egg looks a little odd, but it tastes great. The hard boiled egg and the brat taste like breakfast and then they fry it…frying makes everything better! It’s a pretty heavy flavor profile, so the spicy, seedy mustard really adds a much-needed tang. I was really excited about the pickled vegetables, but they ended up not being good. They were pickled with anise and other warm spices, and I really didn’t like those flavors.

Cooper's Tavern steak and frites
Coopers Tavern steak and frites

I got the steak and frites as my entree. The marinated flank steak came served with blue cheese bone marrow butter, a homemade bourbon steak sauce, green beans and Belgian frites. The steak was crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, but it was a pretty small portion for the price ($16.95). The bourbon steak sauce tasted pretty much like pre-packaged barbecue sauce, and even though it was good I was expecting it to be better. The fancy bone marrow butter didn’t taste as special as the description made it sound. The simple steamed green beans would have been better with some seasoning. The frites were classic frites — they were salted perfectly and fried to a crisp.

Cooper's Tavern pork belly mac
Coopers Tavern pork belly mac

My friend got the pork belly mac. The dubliner cheddar mac and cheese comes topped with Madison Sourdough bread crumbs and Guinness stout glazed berkshire pork belly. The sauce isn’t like traditional cheese sauce. It tasted like a fancier version of alfredo sauce. The glaze on the pork belly was sweet and tasted like it had brown sugar in it.

FOOD NOTES: Coopers Tavern has an extremely small dinning room that definitely makes waiting for your table that much more annoying. The gluten-free cider menu is a nice alternative to beer, and I loved the Sconnie egg. My steak and frites were good, but a little on the pricey side. The green beans were generic and the sauce on the steak had a pre-packaged quality to it, but the frites were perfectly crispy and salty. The pork belly mac was a little different than traditional mac and cheese, but it was good. The cider options and Sconnie egg will bring me back, but I will probably get a different entree.