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!

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Cafe hidden behind East High School features unique sweet dishes

IMG_3288Hidden behind East High School is a Milio’s sandwich shop and hidden behind that is 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe. The space is small and industrial, but very warm and inviting. There are only a couple tables, but from my understanding students pack those tables every day.

Michelle doing her thing!

Michelle doing her thing!

They have a pretty typical coffee and cafe menu with baked goods, breakfast options and sandwiches. The day Michelle Li and I got to try the place out we had the place to ourselves, and we got to try the chef/owner’s favorites: lemon bread blueberry french toast, and a very interesting turkey sandwich.

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

Lemon bread blueberry french toast

IMG_3292The lemon bread blueberry french toast was quite a dish. They use lemon bread for the french toast and then top it was lemon curd, blueberry compote and fresh cream. I don’t like french toast or super sweet breakfasts, so this dish had two strikes against it before I even tried it. So to be honest, I didn’t like it because of how sweet it was, but there were some up sides. The french toast was crispy, the blueberries were sweet and fresh and the cream added a much needed lightness to the dish. If you like sweet breakfast dishes and lemon curd, you will totally love it.

IMG_3301IMG_3299The  sandwich had all of the regulars: greens, cheese, crispy bread…and cranberry spread on it. I wasn’t sure if I’d like cranberry spread, but it was a good tangy addition to the heavy sandwich. There was also a mustard on it that I really liked. Based on reviews I’ve read online…I would suggest trying their breakfast options before the turkey sandwich. It was interesting, but not something I would get again.

IMG_3294FOOD NOTES: The location of 4 & 20 Bakery is perfect for East High School students and people who live east of First Street, but otherwise you might not know it’s even there. The dining room is super cute and inviting, and I love the succulents on the tables. The lemon blueberry french toast wasn’t my jam, but Michelle liked it and if you like sweet dishes you will also love it. The turkey sandwich was better than I was expecting, but it wasn’t something I’d order again. There are a ton of other things I’d like to try on the menu if I ever make it back over there.

Local sub shop shines on near east side

Everyone loves a good sub sandwich, but sometimes chain restaurants like Subway, Milio’s or Jimmy Johns just don’t cut it. Recently I checked out a small deli/sub shop on the near east side called Crostini.

Crostini Sandwiches

Crostini Sandwiches

Crostini is located in this randomly placed commercial strip mall on the corner of Johnson and North streets in the middle of a very quaint neighborhood. The day I decided to try out Crostini it was the perfect sunny summer day so their front door was propped open and the crew behind the counter was jamming out to music. The small dining room probably had seats for a about a dozen people, but they also had some outdoor seating. The menu features sub sandwiches, paninis, wraps and pasta.

IMG_1720I got the Crostini club with ham, turkey, bacon, veggies, mayo and their signature dressing. The $7 sandwich came with a decent amount of ingredients…it even had some fresh green peppers in it, which wasn’t on the menu. The menu said it was a cold sandwich, but I was pleasantly surprised that the meat was either toasted or warmed up. The tangy dressing worked well with the mayo, but there might have been a bit too much of it because my sub roll was pretty soggy. The other logistical issue was that when they wrapped it up to go, it got very squished, which made it a little tricky to eat.

IMG_1721We also got some of their freshly baked chocolate chip cookies for dessert. They were definitely freshly baked because they were will warm when they handed them to me!

FOOD NOTES: If I lived closer to Crostini it would definitely make it into my regular lunch rotation. So if you live on the near east side or are heading that direction, you should really check it out. Their prices are reasonable…especially because of the quality ingredients that were in my sub. I’ve read some pretty terrible reviews on Yelp about their customer service…most of them pertaining to delivery, so I would avoid delivery and just go get the food.

Brewery surprises with unique, upscale menu

I haven’t had good luck when trying to eat at breweries. The food is usually sub-par and the only reason people keep going back is for the beer. I’m not a beer drinker, so it’s usually not as great of a visit for me as for others. But Karben4 off Stoughton Road by MATC is definitely different than other breweries I’ve been to. Their dining room is literally inches from their brewing and bottling space. And based on my super scientific calculations, their kitchen is about 1/4 the size of their brewing facilities, but it sure does churn out some fantastic dishes.

 

karben4Here’s how I would describe the options on the menu: take normal brewery or bar food — jack the flavor up on steroids, use local ingredients and toss some beer into most dishes for good measure.

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

Karben4 pretzels and horseradish cheddar sauce

When I went with Michelle we got to try a couple different options, but we started with the housemade pretzels and cheddar horseradish sauce. The pretzels were perfect — crusty, salty crust, and a fluffy, butter center. The cheese sauce was so good I wanted to lick the container clean.

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

Karben4 portabella mushroom sandwich

karben4 portabella 2The portabella sandwich is one of the vegetarian options on the menu. It has a balsamic roasted portabella mushroom with mozzarella, basil aioli, spinach, tomato and onion between two pieces of panini-ed bread. The veggie option was good (and I would recommend it to my veggie friends), but I would not choose it over the other sandwich we got to try.

Karben4 ruben

Karben4 reuben

karben4 reubenThe summer sausage reuben just sounds ridiculous. I’ve never heard of anyone making a reuben with summer sausage, but Karben4 does it and they do it well. The sandwich comes out on a housemade pretzel roll (come on!! the sandwich is already winning with that) and has summer sausage, kraut made with their Lady Luck beer, housemade Russian dressing and aged whited cheddar cheese. I’m not quite sure how to explain this sandwich except to use these words: sinful, fantastic, decadent, unique, scrumptious and one more — perfect. The pretzel roll was super soft and moist. The kraut had a great earthy flavor without being too tart. The Russian dressing was smooth and tangy. The cheddar added a great Wisconsin feeling to the sandwich and the summer sausage was not nearly as intrusive or heavy as I was expecting it to be. I’m not sure what more I could ask for in the perfect sandwich.

Karben 4 chocolate tart

Karben 4 chocolate tart

We also go to try their chocolate tart made with one of their beers — I ate it so fast I didn’t get a chance to note which beer it was, but I don’t have to know which beer the tart is made with to know that it was tasty. It wasn’t too sweet and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The drizzle of raspberry was basically useless because I couldn’t taste it over the other strong flavors in the dessert.

FOOD NOTES: If you’re going to Karben4 for the beer, DO NOT skip ordering food. If you’re not a beer drinker…trust me, their menu has enough great things on it to satisfy. Another unique thing about Karven4 is that they don’t serve french fries…all of their sandwiches come with a small side salad, which made me feel better about eating a ruben made with summer sausage!

 

Sujeo’s Korean-fusion dishes are great to share with friends

Almost everyone in Madison knows about Tory Miller’s Graze and L’Etoile, so I knew his newest restaurant, Sujeo, would open to some hype. The Asian-inspired, Korean fusion restaurant is in the new Constellation building on East Wash. On a weekday for lunch it was surprisingly slow, but it meant our food came out pretty fast.

Oolong tea

Oolong tea

It was pretty cold the day we went so we got some Oolong tea, which was sweeter than other Oolong tea I’ve had, but it still had the dark earthy flavor I expect from Oolong.

Sujeo egg roll

Sujeo egg roll

I went with two friends (Michelle and Krista), so the amount of food I’m about to show you is…well it was still a lot for three of us, but we couldn’t narrow down what we wanted! We started by splitting one of their larger-than-normal egg rolls. The outside was crispy and the cabbage inside was seasoned well and tasted fresh…it was basically a less-greasy version than something I would get at a Chinese take-out place.

Sujeo banchan

Sujeo banchan

The other starter we couldn’t pass up was banchan, which is small plates of food usually served alongside Korean food. Sujeo’s banchan ended up being six different type of pickled items and some odd little bowl of pasta salad. The pasta salad was good, but completely out of left field at a Korean-fusion restaurant (and also completely unnecessary – the pickled banchans were more than enough). From what I remember, we got pickled radish (pink ones in the far left corner), cabbage kimchi (middle on the right), cucumbers, the black things in the back were some sort of pickled part of a vegetable and I don’t remember what the first two on the left were…but they were also pickled. An order of banchan also comes with soup. I don’t remember what kind we got, but I remember really liking it.

Sujeo ddeokbokki

Sujeo ddeokbokki

We also got the ddeokbokki, which is spicy rice cakes (they look like thick, round noodles) and fish cakes. The red sauce had a good flavor, but wasn’t as spicy as other ddeokbokki I’ve had. Every time I try this dish I’m hesitant because it has some interesting ingredients in it (fish cakes!?), but I always end up loving it.

Sujeo bibimbap

Sujeo bibimbap

Krista got the bibimbap, which actually came with the raw egg, and was big enough to feed a couple people. Krista also noted it was spicier than she expected.

Sujeo ramen

Sujeo ramen

I got the ramen, which was a pretty big disappointment. It was rice noodles in a clear, almost flavorless broth with some pork and vegetables on top. I liked the soft-boiled eggs with the pork, but I barely touched the noodles and broth since they didn’t really have any flavor. I was expecting something so simple served at such a unique restaurant to be super flavorful and unique, but this was definitely neither flavorful or unique.

I had originally considered ordering the japchae, but changed my mind for some reason, which was a bad decision. Michelle got the japchae so at least I got to try it, but I wanted the entire thing (unfortunately I forgot to snap a pic). The japchae is sweet potato noodles, veggies, beef and bacon. I really liked the hearty flavor and the al dente veggies helped keep it from being too heavy. Michelle said it was not the traditional version of japchae, which I’m guessing was the reason I liked it so much…because it had bacon and other fusion flavors in it.

FOOD NOTES: Sujeo was a fun place to grab lunch with some girlfriends and get to share a bunch of new dishes. I wouldn’t recommend it for someone who is looking for traditional Korean food, but if you’re looking for some good food with some new flavors and options — Sujeo is a good place! Avoid the ramen, period. When I go back I’ll be getting the japchae, but I would also like to try their dim sum carts on the weekends.

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.

The Spot Restaurant is well-kept neighborhood secret

The Spot

The Spot

Driving down Johnson Street always involves a mixture of emotions for me: I really want to go to Forequarter, I really don’t like how close together the lanes are, is this what all of the construction was for over the summer, I wish I lived closer to this neighborhood to visit the Johnson Public House, etc. But I never noticed The Spot Restaurant on the south side of the road smooshed in between a couple other odds-n-ends stores. After getting to take a look around and try two entrees, I have to say: It’s small name and unimpressive curb appeal definitely hides a neighborhood treasure.

The Spot dining room

The Spot dining room

the spot boothWalking into The Spot I didn’t expect much because the exterior of the building looked a little rough and the entryway wasn’t much better. But once inside the main door I was blown away. The entire front dining room consists of seven beautiful wood booths. The two front booths offer great corner seats with a full view of the dining room and an elevated view of Johnson Street — perfect for people watching. There’s a little bar in the back of the building, but the front seats are definitely the primo spots. The deep red walls, black and white photography on the walls, and the beautiful two-toned wood floors all made the tiny space feel upscale, but still warm and welcoming.

Now on to the food: Head Chef David Post Jr. describes the food as mediterranean and eclectic with some gluten free and vegan options sprinkled throughout the menu. We got to try two dishes, a vegetarian option from the menu and a great special he’s been trying out.

The Spot pulled pork

The Spot pulled pork

We started with a pulled pork sandwich with bacon braised cabbage and tomatoes on top. The sandwich was pretty close to perfect. The barbecue sauce was tangy and had a great spicy kick to it. The tomatoes added a freshness to the sandwich, and the bread was sturdy enough for the ingredients, but not overly crusty. The one thing that I noticed was the pork could have been shredded a bit more, but the big pieces were so tender it didn’t really matter that much. The braised cabbage was good on it’s own, but it was lost in the sandwich under the spicy barbecue sauce. The sandwich came with some sauteed kale, which was a bit too salty. I would actually have preferred the bacon braised cabbage as a side instead of the kale.

The Spot risotto

The Spot risotto

The butternut squash risotto, which is on the menu and can be made vegan, was a surprising dish. I usually don’t order butternut squash dishes from restaurants because they tend to be made with sweet flavors and spices, and I’m not a fan of sweet vegetables. But this dish was as hearty and savory as you can get without adding meat. The barley and brown rice were cooked perfectly (almost to a creamy consistency), the spinach was hidden well by other flavors (just the way I like spinach in savory dishes…there for the nutrients but you can’t really taste it!), and there were hearty chunks of butternut squash throughout the dish. I can’t really explain the flavor, other than to say that it was creamy (but not heavy), rustic, hearty, perfectly seasoned and probably one of my favorite new dishes I’ve tried in a while.

FOOD NOTES: I learned something today during my visit to the Spot Restaurant: The saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” also applies to restaurants. The Spot is an extremely well-kept secret in the Johnson Street neighborhood that I wish I knew about sooner. The butternut squash risotto is a fantastic dish, but next time I go I want to try the paella…unless I go for brunch in which case I want to try the Rumchata French Toast and the PB&E…who wants to go with me?!