Burger joint surpasses expectations with simple, unique touches

Some places rely on their amazing food, while some places serve up good food in an amazing atmosphere. AJ Bombers definitely falls into that second category. The food my mom and I got had some high points, but the great atmosphere and staff is what made our experience at AJ Bombers awesome; not to mention the fact that the Badgers beat Arizona in the NCAA tournament to make it to the Final Four. We went down to State Street to find a place to watch the game and ended up at AJ Bombers. Originally the hostess told us we might have to wait through part of the game for someone to leave (which we were completely fine with), but some idiot came in and threw a fit that a back room he had sat in before wasn’t open. So the super nice manager opened the back room so that guy’s party and we could get a seat for the game. The manager was extremely nice and even though they didn’t have the staffing for that extra room he made sure we had a great time during the game. SIDE NOTE: Sorry about the lack of pictures, the Badgers game was so exciting I forgot to take pictures of the cool peanut dispensers, the awesome dining room decor (you get to write on the walls!), and the sign.

AJ Bomber's peanuts
AJ Bomber’s peanuts

While waiting for our table and for our food we got to munch on peanuts and throw the shells onto the floor. When I first started tossing the shells on the floor I felt bad, but the floor throughout the entire place was covered in shells so I got over that. There are peanut troughs and dispensers throughout, and it was a great option while we were originally waiting for a table. The peanuts are a great gimmick and pretty unique. It’s such a simple thing to offer, but I have never seen it before.

AJ Bomber's frickles
AJ Bomber’s frickles

We started with the AJ’s frickles because how can you pass up fried pickles during a basketball game?! The long oval pickle chips were heavily coated in batter and fried. They came out hot and crispy. They weren’t the most amazing fried pickles I’ve had, but they were pretty good and were a great accompaniment to the start of the game.

You have to order sides separately from burgers and sandwiches so we decided to split an order of sweet potato chips. The homemade chips were crispy, perfectly salted and not at all greasy. They were the perfect compliment to the pretty heavy burger I ordered.

AJ Bomber's MKE burger, sweet potato chips
AJ Bomber’s MKE burger, sweet potato chips

I got the Milwaukee burger that comes with Wisconsin colby cheese, Berkshire bacon and Schlitz onions. The Wisconsin ingredients are what drew me to the burger and they delivered. The onions sauteed in Schlitz beer added a great  flavor that, just like the peanuts, were so simple and unique. The bacon was thick and cooked perfectly, and all of the ingredients were on a super moist potato bun. The one suggestion I have for the burger would be some type of sauce, a garlic aioli or garlic ranch sauce would be pretty good with the ingredients.

AJ Bobmer's root beer float
AJ Bobmer’s root beer float

To end the meal and the game we got a root beer float with Sprecher’s root beer. The glass came probably 75 percent filled with ice cream and almost a whole bottle of root beer to keep adding to it. It was the prefect sweet, but not overly sugary end to an awesome meal during an awesome basketball game.

FOOD NOTES: AJ Bombers has a great atmosphere and has some super simple touches and ingredients that really add some unique experiences and flavors to what feels like a chain restaurant. AJ’s originated in Milwaukee and there are only a handful of locations so it’s not a chain, but I was expecting chain food. They definitely surpassed my expectations. The things that impressed me the most, like the peanuts, Schlitz onions and potato bun, are so simple but actually added a lot to the meal. I will definitely be going back even if the Badgers aren’t playing (but if they are that would be a bonus!!!).

There really isn’t anything better than an old-school steakhouse

Main Street entrance
Main Street entrance
Bar entrance on Main Street
Bar entrance on Main Street

Madison has a lot of food events to promote restaurants, like Taste of Madison and Restaurant Week, but one restaurant sticks out in my mind as never participating in any of it: Tornado Steakhouse. Tornado is this elusive restaurant on the south side of the outer-capitol square (which is kind of the opposite side of where all of the other foodie restaurants are). Not a lot of people talk about Tornado, but a lot of people do go there so I could never figure out why it was never part of the foodie buzz in Madison. Well, I think I figured it out. Madison foodies are very into new, experimental, modern things, and the Tornado is none of those things. It is 100 percent a traditional steakhouse done exceptionally well.

Hamilton Street entrance
Hamilton Street entrance
Hamilton Street sign
Hamilton Street sign

It is technically located on South Hamilton Street, but there’s also an entrance on West Main Street. The Main Street entrance brings you through a cramped bar featuring a couple round leather booths straight out of the 50s. The Hamilton Entrance takes you up a couple steps, past the secret entrance to their late-night bar the Corral Room (I hear it is straight out of Mad Men) and into the main dining room area. I’m not sure exactly how many dining rooms there are throughout the steakhouse, but I saw at least three on the way to the one we were seated in. All of them were bordered in dark wood paneling, and were sparsely lit by old-school sconces.

bread plate
bread plate
tornado relish
relish “tray”

As if the portions we were soon to order wouldn’t be enough, we were given a bread basket and a relish tray. The bread basket had a biscuit, a crunchy long breadstick and a small loaf of bread. The biscuit was buttery, fluffy, moist and very good. The breadstick had a good flavor, but was kind of hard. We saved the loaf for last because we had high hopes for a small warm loaf of yummy bread, but it was super hard, not very good and kind of disappointing. The relish tray was not actually served on a tray. It came in an iced beer mug and had a pickle, some celery and carrots and a skewer with a radish, cucumber slice, cherry tomato and olives. It was a traditional relish tray, but I love the simplicity of a relish tray!

Caesar salad
Caesar salad
spinach salad
spinach salad

Every entree comes with a salad to start with. It sounds like you’re going to get a side salad, but it is a massive serving. Both the Caesar and spinach salads we ordered were double the size we were expecting. My Caesar salad had fresh romaine and a nice portion of parmesan cheese on top. The dressing wasn’t too overwhelming, but I did not eat the whole anchovy filet that was on top of my greens. The spinach salad my mom ordered came with a vinaigrette that was very tangy and yummy.

New York strip steak with hashbrowns
New York strip steak with hashbrowns

Now on to the entrees. They offer seafood, chicken and other random protein options (venison, rabbit, lamb), but both of us were obviously going to order steak in a steakhouse like this. I got the 16 oz. New York Strip Steak, and for a person watching portion sizes a 16 0z. steak is just a little more than four servings of steak. I ordered it medium rare. This steak was the most perfectly cooked, perfectly charred and perfectly flavored steak I have ever had. They really know what they’re doing at Tornado! The 16 oz. sirloin my mom ordered was exactly the same.

sirloin steak with steak fries
sirloin steak with steak fries

All of the steaks come with a single onion ring on top. The batter was very heavy, and lacked some necessary salt to balance it out. I got hash browns with my steak. They were crispy, hot and well seasoned, but compared to the steak they were nothing special. I thought for the caliber of steakhouse Tornado is, they would serve them with sauteed mushrooms and onions or something like that. My mom got the steak fries with her steak. They were not greasy and tasted baked rather than fried, but again they were overshadowed by her steak.

FOOD NOTES: Despite the disappointing loaf of mini bread and the not-so-special potatoes served alongside our steaks, Tornado served up the best steak I have ever had. A lot of restaurants my parents and grandparents took me to as a kid had relish trays, and I really like when restaurants offer them…it is just so simple! The service was good throughout our meal, but there were multiple people doing multiple things throughout the dining room, not sure one dedicated server. The menu definitely gave us sticker shock when we first decided to go, but based on the fact that we each brought home another two servings of steak and one extra serving of potatoes as leftovers…the price doesn’t seem as astronomical. The prices are high, but not nearly as outrageous once you see the portions (especially if you exercise portion control and save some for another meal). Basically, my meal was $35, which sounds really high but I had another full meal of steak and hash browns, plus another meal of steak…so in my mind that breaks down to $2o for the initial Tornado meal (with the relish tray, bread and salad), $10 for the second at-home leftover meal and $5 for the third portion of steak. Doesn’t sound as bad does it!

#restaurantweek 2014 ends at disappointing steakhouse

Restaurant week is always a great opportunity to eat some good food for a reasonable price. This year’s winter restaurant week was not disappointing as a whole, but it ended with a slightly disappointing meal. I had zero complaints about my first three restaurant week meals, but the last and most expensive one ruined the perfect streak that was Winter Restaurant Week 2014. I went to Johnny Delmonico’s with two friends and was pretty excited because I’ve heard it’s a very good steakhouse, but my experience was a little less than exciting.

Johnny Delmonico's New England clam chowder
Johnny Delmonico’s New England clam chowder

The restaurant week menu appetizers Johnny Delmonico’s offered included a house Caesar salad, fried calamari and New England clam chowder. I always get Caesar salads so I opted to try something new. I didn’t think I’d be a fan of fried calamari, and I’ve never tried New England clam chowder so I got that. The chowder was a great decision! It was creamy, savory and perfectly salty. The bacon and potatoes were a great compliment to the slightly fishy flavor of the clams. I absolutely loved it!

Johnny Delmonico's fried calamari
Johnny Delmonico’s fried calamari

Both of the friends I went with got the fried calamari. They mostly enjoyed the appetizer, but one of them (including me) was a little freaked out by the pieces with tentacles! The spicy chili sauce that came with the fried calamari was pretty good and the batter wasn’t too heavy. I’m not a fan of calamari, but if you like it you’d probably like their version.

Johnny Delmonico's calamari
Johnny Delmonico’s calamari

For entrees they offered a NY strip steak, swordfish and gnocchi. Because Johnny Delmonico’s is a steakhouse I had to get the NY strip. The steak was pepper crusted and came with mashed potatoes, crispy onion strips and a gorgonzola bechamel sauce. The steak was perfectly cooked, the potatoes were flavorful, the onions added a good crispiness to the dish, and the sauce was rich and creamy. The dish as a whole was good, but I was pretty disappointed in the portion. For being a steakhouse with a pretty hefty price tag even during restaurant week, I was expecting a bigger portion, especially of the steak itself.

Johnny Delmonico's creme brulee
Johnny Delmonico’s creme brulee

For dessert they offered creme brulee, fruit sorbet and German chocolate cake. I never think fruit sorbet is worth being a dessert on its own and German chocolate cake has coconut in it. So I got creme brulee, which I am usually a really big fan. The creme brulee was the biggest disappointment of the meal. The custard itself was fine, but it wasn’t caramelized enough on the top and was way way way too small. The teeny tiny ramekin was about 1/4 the size it should have been.

Johnny Delmonico's German chocolate cake
Johnny Delmonico’s German chocolate cake

One of my friends got the German chocolate cake, which was a much larger portion than the creme brulee…damn the coconut!

FOOD NOTES: The atmosphere of Johnny Delmonico’s is classy with an upscale twist on a traditional steakhouse. The prices (regular and restaurant week) are way too high for the portion sizes. The quality of the food is great, but the quantity really ruined my experience. When I go to a steakhouse I expect classic flavors and big portions…half of that was missing at Johnny Delmonico’s. All in all…definitely not my favorite Food Fight restaurant.

Good food, atmosphere on Merchant lunch menu

Merchant
Merchant

One of my all-time best meals was the dinner I had with some friends at Merchant during the 2013 Restaurant Week. I think it stands out to me because it was the first time I had mussels and now I love mussels! I also love the atmosphere of the restaurant, which doesn’t lose it’s appeal in broad daylight. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been back since my first visit until the I went to Merchant during the 2014 Restaurant Week for lunch. Merchant serves up classic foodie food for dinner, but for lunch they mostly serve salads and sandwiches.

Merchant buttermilk salad
Merchant buttermilk salad

For restaurant week they offered a soup and three salads for appetizers. I ordered the buttermilk salad that came with golden beets, radish, buttermilk dressing and blue cheese. I’m not a fan of blue cheese so I ordered it with feta instead. The salad was plentiful and fresh. My friend Michelle ordered the Caesar salad, but it was too anchovy-y for her, so we switched. The Caesar salad was pretty simple (romaine hearts, creamy anchovy Caesar dressing and parmesan cheese), but what made it memorable was the flavor of the dressing. What Michelle didn’t like about the salad ended up being my favorite part. The tangy, salty flavor was interesting and something I had never tasted before. It was very good.

Merchant fried chicken sandwich
Merchant fried chicken sandwich

For entrees Merchant was offering about a half dozen sandwiches, but it was a no brainer that we order the fried chicken sandwich. A couple weeks before our visit a local website did a poll for best sandwich in Madison and this sandwich was near the top. There were two options: classic or buffalo-style. Michelle and I decided to order one of each and split the sandwiches to see which one we liked better. The classic fried chicken sandwich came on a brioche bun with coleslaw. It was fresh, tasty and surprisingly not too heavy for a fried chicken sandwich. The batter on the chicken was flavorful, crispy and not greasy. The coleslaw was perfectly creamy and crunchy. But the one thing the classic sandwich was missing was the extra ingredient on the buffalo-style sandwich: buffalo sauce. That little bit of spice and vinegar added a great contrast to the creamy coleslaw and the savory fried chicken. If I were to order the sandwich again I would definitely go with the buffalo-style. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were good.

Merchant brownie sundae
Merchant brownie sundae
Merchant coffee
Merchant coffee

For dessert they were offering sorbet, gelato or a brownie sundae. Of course, I chose the brownie sundae with chocolate sauce, pecans and whipped cream. The brownie was not overly sweet — it tasted almost like dark chocolate. The entire sundae was a fancier version of a classic brownie sundae. It was super good! I also got a cup of coffee, which was surprisingly flavorful and smooth.

FOOD NOTES: Both meals I’ve had at Merchant exceeded expectations. Merchant will always be one of my top picks for places to visit during restaurant week because their food is so good and the price is so right. The Caesar salad was very unique and had a great flavor. The fried chicken sandwich lives up to the hype — especially the buffalo-style version, and the brownie sundae was a great upgraded version of a classic. The only complaint I have is that we had to sit at an awkward table attached to a pillar on high stools — kind of uncomfortable and kind of in the way.

Samba: Sizzling service, endless options

samba signI love Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week. I take advantage of reasonably priced menus at great Madison restaurants during both the summer and winter events every year. This year during the winter week I was lucky enough to enjoy four restaurant week menus. Restaurant week starts on a Sunday, so I always take full advantage of my Sunday nights off and invite my mom. This year we went to Samba for our Sunday-night dinner!

Samba has been on my list for quite awhile, but because of the high prices (it normally costs $50+ per person to eat at Samba) I never put it at the top of the list. With almost 50% off during Restaurant Week it seemed like a good time to go! I had heard two things about Samba before going: the salad bar is amazing, and the servers (gauchos) bring skewers of meat around to the tables. Both of those things are true.

Samba salad bar
Samba salad bar

The large four-sided, three-tiered salad bar features traditional salad fixings, prepared salads, cheeses, nuts, pickled items and other great sides. I’m a huge fan of salads and love it when I can put a ton of interesting stuff on top! I mainly avoided the prepared salads in an effort to save room for the meat delivered by the gauchos. But I loaded up my plate with fresh lettuce, vegetables, pickled beets, croutons, candied nuts, cheese, olives and a great caesar dressing on both of my trips to the salad bar. Samba also offers a couple of hot options near the salad bar. The night I was there they had soup, mashed potatoes, rice and some beef roast. I didn’t go for these options, again, in an effort to save room for the skewered meat.

Samba meat pillar
Samba meat pillar

The meat pillar is a very powerful tool at Samba. It is a small wood pillar with green paint on one side and red paint on the other. It’s simple. When the green side is up, the gauchos will stop at your table. When the red side is up, the gauchos will not stop at your table. Mom and I decided to try everything once, but we only asked for seconds of certain skewers. The pork, chicken, lamb and sausage skewers were all fine, but not great (warning: we are not lamb people!). Because it was restaurant week, the usual eight skewers circulating the dining room was dropped down to six, they cut out two of the beef options. Usually they offer top sirloin, beef tenderloin, seasoned flank steak and beef strip loin. For Restaurant Week we got to sample the flank steak and tenderloin. The tenderloin sprinkled with sea salt was fine, but the seasoned flank steak was spectacular. It was encrusted with a great flavor and was perfectly juicy. Needless to say, we got the flank steak a couple of times and even made friends with that gaucho! At the end, it became a game to get only the gauchos with the food we wanted to stop by flipping our pillar over to green when they were close!

The hardest gaucho to flag down that night was the guy serving up the grilled pineapple. Our server was helpful in tracking down the pineapple gaucho, but he was so much in demand that both times he stopped we asked for two servings! The pineapple is super simple, but super good! It is grilled with cinnamon and sugar, and comes out juicy and warm and super tasty!

Samba menu
Samba menu

FOOD NOTES: Samba is definitely an experience. It is a huge ballroom-type dining room with a second level and low lighting. Scoping out gauchos with the stuff you want is exciting and makes the dinner fun. The salad bar is huge and impressive, but my advice it to stay away from unnecessary fillers like bread, generic pre-made salads and salad-bar hot food. I suggest saving room for the main attraction, especially if you’re paying full price. The mango chicken and parmesan encrusted pork were forgettable. The flank steak was exceptional. The grilled pineapple was simple but stellar. If I could go to Samba and get just the salad bar and grilled pineapple it would become one of my regular stops. But since that’s not an option, and the price is quite a bit higher than my normal dinner out, I probably won’t be back for a while.

Graze offers same great food, atmosphere for lunch

Graze lunch menu
Graze lunch menu

A couple months ago I finally made it a priority to visit Graze on the Square for dinner, and I loved it. So recently when a friend and I were downtown looking for a good lunch I suggested the landmark Madison restaurant. The atmosphere and view is only slightly less impressive in the daylight, but that is overshadowed by the fact that there were actually open tables!

 

Graze pickles review from 12/31/13
Graze pickles review from 12/31/13

Michelle is sort of new to the area and hadn’t been to Graze yet so we had to get the fried pickles. Nothing has changed since my first tasting, and once again the thoroughly enjoyed them!

Graze noodle bowl
Graze noodle bowl

For my entree I wanted to try something new, so I got the Noodle Bowl. It was a huge bowl filled with a perfectly salty broth, braised pork shoulder, pork belly, bok choy, radish, noodles and a soft poached egg. I am 100 percent glad I tried it, but will probably never get it again. I enjoyed the flavors and the different components of the bowl, but it just wasn’t something I loved. The serving was way too big for lunch (I took over half of it home), and some of the pork pieces could have been a little crispier for my taste.

Graze beet walnut burger
Graze beet walnut burger

Michelle got the beet and walnut burger with cheese curds instead of fries…I vote good choice on getting the cheese curds!!

FOOD NOTES: I will always love Graze and the amazing view of my city they offer. I definitely recommend partaking in the view at night, but it is pretty awesome during the day too. The fried pickles and cheese curds are just as awesome during lunch. I’m very glad I got the noodle bowl and enjoyed the different ingredients, but it was a bit heavy for lunch. I really wish they offered the beet salad on their dinner menu for lunch…I loved that salad, and it would be perfect for lunch!

Maybe Persian food just isn’t my favorite

I am always interested in trying new flavors and new types of cuisine, so when the opportunity presented itself to try Persian food I jumped on it. I prefer authentic Mexican food to Tex-Mex, I love Indian food and Mediterranean food and Laotian food and Japanese food. I’m pretty sure I would love Thai food if I could eat coconut and can’t wait to try traditional Korean food. There are a ton of options in Madison for ethnic food, but only one Persian food option – Layla’s.

layla's signLayla’s has taken over the old basement location of Cafe Costa Rice off the Square, but has spruced it up and given it a colorful flare.  There are only four tables and one employee – Laila (yep, she’s the namesake but she changed the spelling to make sure it was pronounced correctly). Laila makes traditional Persian food, which hails from Iran. Layla’s menu offers two standing dishes and  two rotating seasonal options. When I went we got to try the two standing dishes – Fesenjoon and Ghormeh Sabzi, both are served with rice.

layla's fesenjoon
fesenjoon

The Fesenjoon is made with organic chicken cooked in a walnut pomegranate sauce. The chicken was beautifully cooked, but the sweet walnut pomegranate sauce was a little odd. I’ve never been a fan of sweet flavors mixed with savory dishes. On top of the odd flavor the pureed walnut added an equally odd consistency to the sauce. I really wasn’t a fan.

ghormeh sabzi
ghormeh sabzi

The Ghormeh sabzi is made with grass-fed beef, kidney beans and Persian limone slaw. I liked this one more than the Fesenjoon, but it was not impressive. The beef was cooked very well, but the sauce was mostly flavorless. I had high hopes for something with lemon flavor in it, but the sauce was almost nonexistent.

FOOD NOTES: Laila did a good job sprucing up the basement space, but her food was not my cup of tea. I love that she uses organic and grass-fed meat. The first dish was too sweet for my taste, and the second one didn’t have enough flavor. I left thoroughly unimpressed and will not be returning.

The search for Madison’s best Chinese food – Orient House

I have been cautiously trying different Chinese food restaurants in Madison for a while now in search of the best place to go for my Chinese food fix. There are some places I will never go back to and some places that I wouldn’t mind making my go-to place. But I continue to solicit suggestions from friends in search of that perfect place. Thanks to Adam Schrager, I was directed to Orient House on Park Street. He said it is a family favorite and I can see why.

Orient House chicken lo mein lunch special
Orient House chicken lo mein lunch special

A friend and I decided to order Chinese food during the Capitol One Bowl to root on our beloved Badgers, so I suggested Orient House. Their menu is pretty common with a good lunch deal where you get an entree, rice, 2 crab rangoons and you can get an egg roll for $1 extra. My go-to entree is chicken lo mein. Our order took almost an hour to be delivered but I’m sure New Year’s Day is a busier day than normal.

My lunch special was definitely enough for two meals with a large portion of the lo mein and a good amount of fried rice all for under $10 including delivery tip! The fried rice was pretty standard, the egg roll was a little greasy but was very good, and the crab rangoons were crispy with very creamy filling (I’ve had dry crab rangoon filling…not sure how it happens but it’s gross!). Most lo mein tastes the same so I look for things that are bad: not enough chicken, undercooked veggies, greasiness. The lo mein from Orient House definitely passed my test! It had a good amount of chicken, perfectly cooked veggies and wasn’t too greasy. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch special lo mein the first day and on the leftover day!

FOODNOTES: They deliver but only to the downtown and near west side so if I want Orient House I’ll have to drive downtown. Because of that it probably won’t be my normal place, but I wish it could be! The prices (especially lunch prices) are very reasonable. Their menu and portions sizes are pretty standard. I very much enjoyed my lo mein. It had good flavor without extra greasiness. Adam’s recommendation is a win in my mind!

Rigby’s appetizers outshine rest of menu, failed Beatles theme

rigby menuI’m a huge Beatles fan so when I heard a Beatles-themed restaurant opened downtown I had to put it on the list. The Rigby opened over a year ago, but since I hadn’t heard any good reviews on the place I didn’t put it at the top of the list. A friend and I finally decided to go for a late lunch one day and had mixed opinions. I looked at the menu and knew all of the dishes were associated with Beatles songs, so I assumed the restaurant itself would be Beatles-themed, but I was wrong. The restaurant is three levels. The first level is the bar area and it had some records and posters on the wall (not enough in my opinion but it was a good effort). The second level was very odd – it had a lot of non-Beatles decor and a mural that was supposed to represent Beatles songs, but it kind of missed the mark. The basement had a sign above the steps that labeled is ‘The Cavern Club,’ so that went with the theme but I didn’t go down there. The entire building has exposed brick and wood floors that would lend itself very well to Beatles decor and memorabilia, but I was very disappointed. The odd glass light fixtures on the second floor shaped like umbrellas were absolutely awful, and the tacky banquet tables and chairs didn’t suit the feel of the restaurant I was expecting. Moving beyond the atmosphere and decor of the restaurant, the menu was expansive and we ordered a lot of food.

rigby pickles
Rigby fried pickles

As everyone knows, I’m a fried pickle fanatic so when I saw them on the menu I knew I had to order them. The menu is pretty confusing – they have a list of appetizers and then what they call ‘Righteous Additions.’ They are basically the same in concept so I have no idea why they are listed on different parts of the menu. After clarifying that the Please Pickle Me Righteous Additions basket and the And Your Curd Can Sign appetizer would be the same size, we decided to get both. The fried pickle chips were perfectly hot, crunchy, salty and not overwhelmingly battered. I like it when I can see pickle through the batter. The creamy horseradish sauce was unusual (normally fried pickles come with ranch dressing), but very good. The best thing about the pickles was the huge portion that you get – enough to take home leftovers!

rigby cheese curds
Rigby cheese curds

The fried cheese curds were also hand battered and fried fresh. They use fresh cheese curds from Wisconsin, which definitely makes a difference. They were hot and cheesy with the same perfectly fried batter. The creamy buffalo sauce was mostly flavorless and didn’t go well with the cheese curds at all. We used the creamy horseradish sauce that came with the fried pickles for the cheese curds too. The curds also came in the same large portion as the fried pickles – more leftovers!

rigby burger
Eleanor Rigby Burger

For entrees they offer Beatles-themed burgers, sandwiches, wraps and salads. Most of them don’t look too exciting and if they’re as over-the-top as the Eleanor Rigby Burger I got, they probably aren’t worth ordering. The Eleanor Rigby burger comes with Wisconsin cheddar cheese, fried onion straws, a signature sauce, lettuce and tomato on top. The burger patty and bun were absolutely nothing special, and the amount of fried onion straws on top were way to overwhelming. I was really not impressed with my burger. The homemade pub chips that came with the burger were fine.

rigby windowFOODNOTES: The only thing more disappointing than the burger was the lack of Beatles decor in the building and lack of Beatles music overhead (we were there about an hour and we only heard one Beatles song played the entire time). The burger I got had way too many fried onions on top and the rest of it was uninspiring. The best part of Rigby’s is their fried appetizers/righteous additions. The fried cheese curds and pickles were top notch. I would suggest avoiding the creamy buffalo sauce and trade it in for the creamy horseradish sauce when getting the fried cheese curds. The prices are a bit high but if you get just appetizers (the thing I liked the best), it wouldn’t be too bad. I wouldn’t suggest going to the Rigby for a meal, but drinks and appetizers would be a good option.

Brunch Club may need time to excel past donuts

brunch club coffee
Brunch Club coffee

There are a lot of restaurants on my list that have been open since before I moved to Madison, but the new breakfast-focused Food Fight restaurant on campus landed on my must-visit-soon list. Food Fight rarely gets anything wrong so I made a plan with a friend to try it out. The Bassett Street Brunch Club opened this fall in the newly built Hampton Inn on the corner of Bassett and Johnson streets in downtown Madison. The Brunch Club definitely fits into the downtown boutique feel of the Hampton Inn with modern cement floors and walls, fun patterned booths and bright colored accents throughout. The menu consists of traditional breakfast options, coffee, brunch drinks, homemade donuts, and then they have lunch and dinner menu options. I started with a cup of the Colectivo Coffee they serve. I love that it comes in a big mug instead of those tiny cups most diners offer. The coffee was very good and our waitress kept it full the entire time!

brunch club donut
Brunch Club chocolate hazelnut donut

I heard their donuts were homemade and they offer three or four different flavors each day. We decided to split one of the chocolate hazelnut donuts before our breakfasts came. They definitely know what they’re doing on the donut front. The donut itself was perfectly fluffy and not at all greasy. The chocolate topping was better than generic chocolate frosting, but  what made the donut were the huge chunks of hazelnut covering the entire top of the donut. It was definitely worth the $1.50!

brunch club hash
Brunch Club corned beef hash

For breakfast, there are two dishes I use to measure a restaurant’s quality – eggs benedict and corned beef hash. The eggs benedict on the menu has a lot of non-traditional toppings, so I opted for the homemade hash. The hash came with two eggs and toast (I usually splurge on toast at restaurants but their jam was unexpectedly bitter so I didn’t finish my slices). Based on the size of the donut I was expecting the breakfast portions to be a bit larger than the cup of hash and two pieces of toast I got. The eggs were cooked perfectly but the hash was basically flavorless even though it had chunks of red peppers and onions. Basically, other than the donut, I wasn’t very impressed with my breakfast.

brunch club pancakes
Brunch Club lemon ricotta pancakes

My friend got the lemon ricotta pancakes. She liked them but I thought they were too lemony and kind of mushy. She also got a side of breakfast potatoes (we also kind of measure a restaurant’s quality based on the quality of their breakfast potatoes), and these weren’t very good. Like my hash, the breakfast potatoes were practically flavorless too.

brunch club potatoes
Brunch Club breakfast potatoes

FOODNOTES: The Brunch Club is in a great location and has a fun funky vibe. Our waitress was absolutely stellar, but it wasn’t very busy when we were there and the hostess seemed to awkwardly wander and make unnecessary small talk. The donut and coffee were the highlights of the meal. I didn’t like the lemon ricotta pancakes but my friend did, and my corned beef hash was completely flavorless. They have a ton of dishes on their menu and I really hope some of their lunch or dinner options are better. I would like to give their meatloaf, pot pie or the fried chicken and donuts a try. Hopefully they still have homemade donuts to get as an appetizer when I go to try their dinner options! I really want to like this place so I will give it a couple more chances!