Verona Woods shouldn’t be overlooked for lunch

Have you seen that new development just south east of Verona on Highway M across the street from Wisconsin Brewing Company? Well if you haven’t it’s because you haven’t been over there. On my last pass through that area there were at least five buildigs, most of them housing multiple businesses, and a couple still being built. I believe there are two new restaurants and a winery. The Verona Woods is one of those new restaurants over there.

front seating

When I met a friend over there for lunch a couple months ago the bar area and most of the dining room was empty — except a large group of ladies having some sort of luncheon/meeting. We were seated fast and our waiter was extremely helpful and friendly, but with that large group they could have used more staff.

dusty fries

The lunch menu is pretty standard…appetizers, soup, salad, sandwiches and burgers. We both decided to get a salad and split an order of dusty fries — fries dusted in house dry rub served with remoulade dipping sauce. The fries were very tasty — crispy and hot with a good spice from the dry rub. The dipping sauce was a good creamy balance for the dry rub with a touch of sweetness. The fries were definitely a good addition to our salad choices.

charred beet salad with chicken

I got the charred beet and goat cheese salad — minus the goat cheese and add chicken. The half salad itself is a bit small, but the amount of chicken you get makes up for it. The salad was arugula, baby spinach, charred red and golden beets, shaved fennel, honey dipped almonds, chickpeas and a toasted almond vinaigrette. It all worked very well together — the spiciness from the arugula, the sweet from the honey dipped amonds and the tang from the vinaigrette. The chicken breast was juicy and well worth the extra $3 to add.

My friend also ordered a cup of soup, but she never got it so our server brought us this tasty dessert. I don’t 100% remember what it was, but I do remember none of it was left when we were done.

FOOD NOTES: The Verona Woods is a great addition to the Verona area. Keep it in mind for a lunch spot if you need something out in that area. I’d like to give some of their entrees — like a pasta or steak dish — a try. Also…huge props to our waiter for managing that big group and then making up for the forgotten soup with an amazing dessert!

Waunakee brewery has potential with unique menu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hidden atop downtown hotel, The Blind has many something specials

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

Reasons I love The Madison Blind:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New brewery partners with tap haus for awesome Wisconsin favorites

IMG_3202In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.

WBC beer cheese soup
WBC beer cheese soup

The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.

WBC fish fry
WBC fish fry

The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.

IMG_3203FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!

Too many toppings to list for burgers at Mooyah

Sometimes you just want a burger, and a decent place to get one on Madison’s far west side is Mooyah. Mooyah is in a strip mall in the parking lot of the Super Target in Fitchburg. The dining room isn’t huge and fills up fast during lunch, but they do have additional outdoor seating during the summer.

IMG_1965You order either a single or double Mooyah burger, then you can add cheese, bacon or avocado. But the best part are the extras. You can add anything from lettuce, tomatoes and pickles to grilled onions, fried onion strings or jalapenos. They also have a dozen sauce options.

IMG_1966I got lettuce, tomatoes, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms and jalapenos. It was a great custom burger. The one downfall is that with all the extra toppings and the soft buns, the burgers get pretty messy. The regular fries are decent, but rumor has it the sweet potato fries are way better.

FOOD NOTES: I don’t usually go for burgers and fries, but if you’re looking for a decent burger and fries with a lot of topping options, Mooyah is a good spot. They’re not the greatest burgers you’ll ever find, but they’re on par with Five Guys with the amount of options and tasty fries. The metal lunch trays they’re served on are also pretty fun.

Stamm House needs to work out menu kinks to be great

1847 at the Stamm House
1847 at the Stamm House

IMG_1955I’ve lived in Middleton over four years and the Stamm House has been an empty shell that entire time. That is, until this summer when it opened as a restaurant. The building itself is extremely old and historical, so I can only imagine how bad the inside was, but their remodel doesn’t seem to go with the historical nature of the building. They put up pine panelling on the walls and some of the booths are made of the same panelling. The bar is stark and cold, and the lack of decor doesn’t fit with the warm stone building. We sat outside, which had the best atmosphere. It was simple outdoor seating with a white picket fence and some small lights.

Cheese and charcuterie plate
Cheese and charcuterie plate

Their menu is pretty small, which is good because it means they’re focusing on getting what they’re serving right. We started with a cheese and charcuterie plate that came with three cheese, a liver paste and some tasty pairings. I liked the option of four items for $17 because we could get three cheeses and one meat. That’s also a very reasonable price for the amount of food we got. The options change, so you can probably never build the same cheese/meat board twice. Ours came with pickled veggies, two different types of preserves, nuts and bread. I could make an entire meal out of charcuterie, so this was my favorite part of the meal.

Stamm House sirloin
Stamm House sirloin

I got the sirloin entree, which isn’t on the menu anymore. The sirloin dish I got came with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and onions. It also came with a sweet and savory sauce that I didn’t like. The steak was perfectly cooked, had a great flavor and was tender. The serving of sirloin was also about twice as much as I was expecting. In general, the dish was good, but in true American fashion I wanted a potato. And ironically, the new sirloin dish posted on the Stamm House’s online menu has a potato listed with it.

Stamm House burger and frites
Stamm House burger and frites

My mom got the burger, which was a standard burger that had one interesting topping — mornay sauce. I love mornay sauce. It’s a creamy, cheesy white sauce that usually accompanies eggs or steak, but putting it on a burger is a great idea. If you’re looking for a good burger that’s a little different than the norm…this is it. The frites and aioli were also top notch.

IMG_1960My mom and I aren’t dessert people, but they had French press coffee on the menu and we wanted something sweet to go with it. So we got the set of three pastries. The crispy shells were filled with a not-too-sweet custard and the crunchy hazelnuts were perfect. They were just sweet enough to compliment the strong coffee perfectly, but not too sweet to be overwhelming.

FOOD NOTES: I loved the cheese and charcuterie board (because those are hard to get wrong), but my sirloin entree could have been better. Based on the menu changes, I would definitely give the Stamm House another chance because the hardest part — the steak — was the best part of my meal. I was just disappointed with the sauce and vegetables. I love that they offer French press coffee with their perfectly balanced desserts. I don’t love the remodeled inside, but once their outdoor patio opens back up for the summer, I’ll give Stamm House another chance.

Atmosphere, prices worth trip to Village Bar

Village Bar
Village Bar

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

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

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

village bar burger
Village Bar pepper jack cheeseburger
Village Bar french fries
Village Bar french fries

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

Village Bar cheeseburger
Village Bar cheeseburger

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

Steenbock’s difficult location overshadows tasty lunch dishes

steenbock'sSteenbock’s on Orchard has been a mystery to me since it opened. It’s a Food Fight restaurant located inside the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery research building right in the middle of campus. The building is beautiful and open and feels very academic with a ton of UW pride dotted throughout the main floor. The website describes the menu as “designed to highlight local and seasonal ingredients at their best.” They serve “local meats, cheeses and vegetables while making our own jams and curing our own meats in our preservation kitchen.” The mix between academic research labs and this restaurant has always seemed odd, but intriguing.

Steenbock's dining room
Steenbock’s dining room

I’m torn about the location. The building was beautiful and I love being on campus, but getting there was painful. All three lots somewhat near the WID building were full and we were extremely lucky to get a parking spot on the street by the business school. If I’m ever back on campus regularly or for a special occasion I would totally go to Steenbock’s, but I won’t go back just for the food…it’s just too hard to get to!

Steenbock's spinach salad with warm bacon dressing
Steenbock’s spinach salad with warm bacon dressing

My restaurant week meal started with a spinach salad that came with warm bacon dressing. The hearty spinach was the perfect base for the bacon dressing and the roasted tomatoes added a much-needed tangy flavor. I didn’t love the blue cheese on top, but I’m not a fan of blue cheese to begin with.

Steenbock's Korean ribs
Steenbock’s Korean ribs

My friend Nicole got the Korean BBQ ribs with french fries for her entree. The ribs were a little tough, but the sauce was tangy and had a good spice. I didn’t necessarily think it tasted like Korean BBQ, but they were good. The french fries were my favorite part of her dish! They were crispy, hot and perfectly salted.

Steenbock's chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon
Steenbock’s chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon

I decided to go with the chicken, which is odd because I usually don’t get chicken at restaurants because I make it so much at home. The best part of the chicken dish I got was the plentiful amount of bacon that came with it. The brussel sprouts and potatoes came in a light olive oil sauce with crispy pancetta…I usually like brussel sprouts, but adding pancetta makes them so much better! The chicken was moist and the skin was crispy, but the bacon crumbles between the meat and the skin was what made it special. I’m not sure what was in the crumble other than bacon, but it was super savory and good enough to make me want to order the chicken dish again. Bacon makes everything better!

Steenbock's croissant bread pudding
Steenbock’s croissant bread pudding

They only had one dessert option, but it was so good I wasn’t upset with the lack of choices. The marble croissant bread pudding was something so unique I’m not sure how to start explaining it, but I’ll try — it was bread pudding made with flaky, buttery chunks of plain and chocolate croissants. There was some sort of sweet sauce on top, some powdered sugar and two raspberries. The bread pudding itself was so good, it didn’t need the toppings. The plain croissant was sweet and buttery, while the chocolate croissant was rich and slightly bitter — the combination made for a substantial, but not too sweet dessert!

FOOD NOTES: The difficulty level of getting to Steenbock’s if you’re not already on campus really overshadows the tasty food. My Restaurant Week appetizer was an unimpressive salad, but my chicken entree was stellar and my dessert was probably one of the top 3 Restaurant Week desserts I’ve had over the last 6 years. If you’re on campus and looking for a great lunch…check out Steenbock’s, if you’re not already on campus look somewhere else.

Turns out a chicken sandwich is just a chicken sandwich

chik sandwichesThere are three very distinct sides of the Chick-fil-A debate: It is the best chicken sandwich even, it isn’t a big deal and politically-charged avoidance. After two opportunities to try their infamous chicken sandwiches I am in the second camp. I wasn’t impressed and was actually disappointed on my second visit.

I had high hopes for the new chain that opened near West Towne Mall at the beginning of winter, but my meal was less than impressive in mid-December. My mom and I went for lunch on a Friday. There was an extremely long line and tons of people, but the line moved fast and we were able to stealthily secure a table.

Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich
Chick-fil-A spicy chicken sandwich

We decided to order a regular chicken sandwich, a spicy chicken sandwich and an order of waffle fries. Both sandwiches came with a bun, a fried chicken filet and a pickle. The buns were typical, bad fast food quality, and the pickle was pointless. The chicken was definitely a higher quality than other fast food restaurant sandwiches, but it wasn’t spectacular. The batter had a good flavor, but it was soggy and I wanted it to be crispy. The spicy sandwich had a good spice, but the batter was also soggy. Both sandwiches were pretty dry and benefited from the addition of mayo.


As for the waffle fries — they were edible at best. They were lukewarm, barely seasoned and also slightly soggy. All three of those qualities add up to a failing grade for the waffle fries in my book.

FOOD NOTES: I’ve decided I most likely won’t be going back to Chick-fil-A for a while. I wasn’t impressed with the sandwiches and the waffle fries were a big letdown. The one high note of our visit was how nice the staff was even though they were extremely busy. While the sandwiches are a higher quality than other fast food options, they weren’t tasty enough to bring me back. Do you like Chick-fil-A? What’s your favorite fast food restaurant?

Good wings, mediocre entrees the norm at Quaker Steak

OK…I’m going to say it: The only difference between Quaker Steak & Lube and Buffalo Wilds Wings is that they give you licorice at the end of the meal at Quaker Steak. Other than that little perk, they basically have the same menu, the same sauce options and the same loud atmosphere. My mom and I went there on a Friday night and the Middleton location was pretty busy. I was super hungry so the short 10 minute wait was very much appreciated. We got a table in the middle of the dining room, which is not my favorite place to be but it was busy and someone had to sit there.

Quaker Steak and Lube pickles
Quaker Steak and Lube fried pickles

We started with an order of fried pickles and what came out was exactly what I was hoping for. There are these fried pickles (I’m assuming they are from Sysco) that a lot of chain restaurants serve. They were the first fried pickles I ever tried and even though they come frozen in a box, they have a great crispy batter and the pickles are always crunchy and flavorful. I’ve had them where they weren’t fried long-enough, but the ones at Quaker Steak were perfect!

Quaker Steak and Lube wings
Quaker Steak and Lube wings

My mom and I decided to split an order of wings and a grilled chicken wrap. The traditional wings at Buffalo Wild Wings come in portions of six, but the portions at Quaker Steak are a little odd. I believe the sprintster comes with 6, the single order comes with 10, the supersize single comes with 15, the compact bucket comes with 20 and the full bucket comes with 30. We went with the single order (leftovers are always great!) and got them with the boom boom sauce. Boom boom sauce is a garlic, red pepper sauce just at the bottom of the medium-spiced sauces. The wings were bigger and meatier than the wings at Buffalo Wild Wings, but the sauce was not as good. The boom boom sauce was spicy but didn’t have as good of a flavor as compared to the spicy garlic sauce at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Quaker Steak and Lube grilled chicken wrap
Quaker Steak and Lube grilled chicken wrap

I always like to get the grilled chicken wrap because it is filling, but feels healthier than additional wings. Plus you get to pick any of the sauces to go on the chicken in the wrap. The wrap comes with lettuce, carrots, celery, chicken and we got it without the blue cheese crumbles and with ranch dressing and fiery BBQ sauce. The wrap had crunchy veggies, grilled chicken and too much sauce. I didn’t notice that it comes with sauce and ranch dressing, so ours had a lot of sauce on it. I would suggest getting either ranch dressing or a sauce…not both. The french fries (presumably out of a box) were crispy, hot and salted just right.

FOOD NOTES: Quaker Steak and Lube is an extremely similar, but slightly better option than Buffalo Wild Wings. The wings are bigger, the french fries are better and the wrap is basically the same. Once I get a chance to try some more sauces, hopefully I will find my go-to sauce. I would suggest only getting one sauce on the wrap otherwise it is kind of messy and the sauce combo overpowers the rest of the ingredients. The fried pickles are the best possible fried pickles you can get that come frozen out of a box, and they totally give you licorice with your bill!