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!

DLux: Aptly describes burgers, fries, drinks at downtown eatery

DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)
DLux (Photo: Jessica Omdahl)

If you’re lucky enough to get one of the coveted half-dozen tables outside looking up at the Capitol at DLux, you’re experience will be just a great as mine. I’ve been to DLux three times now, and all three times I have sat outside. Their outdoor seating is just one block down from the Capitol, and if you’re facing the right way you will get a glimpse of Monona Terrace. It’s a great way, even on a hot afternoon, to enjoy their great food.

Dlux Hawaii 5-O
Dlux Hawaii 5-O

DLux has a pretty simple menu. They have a couple appetizers, a couple salads, about a dozen burgers and sandwiches and then a la carte sides. In addition to their drink menu, they also have shakes that can be ordered with or without alcohol. When I went with friends we decided to make dinner an event and get some drinks. I got the Hawaii 5-O with vodka, pineapple juice and house-made strawberry and ginger soda. Despite the drinks odd name, it is exceedingly refreshing and dangerously tasty. I definitely recommend any of their cocktails made with their house-made soda.

DLux fried pickles
DLux fried pickles

We also got the fried pickles to enjoy with our drinks. They weren’t the greatest fried pickles I’ve ever had, but they were definitely tasty. The breading was a little heavy, but they were surprisingly not greasy. The serving was just enough to keep my friend and I happy while waiting for the rest of our food.

DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries
DLux couch potato burger, parmesan and truffle cream fries

Their burger choices range from a normal burger with lettuce, tomatoes, onion and pickles to more interesting options. I got the couch potato burger, which comes with house-made french onion dip, pepper jack cheese and potato chips. The combination sounded great and it definitely didn’t disappoint. The pepper jack cheese added just enough spice to the burger. The french onion dip and potato chips are a great combo on their own, and are also pretty great on top of a burger. I know I’m not the only person who has put potato chips on the inside of a sandwich…well, DLux does it for you on a pretty great burger!

I’m a huge fan of French fries and they have been known to make or break a restaurant for me. At DLux, their french fries definitely do not disappoint. The french fries themselves are pretty standard — super fluffy, not greasy, and they look hand cut. The sauce options are what put their French fries over the top. This time I got the parmesan and truffle fries. The white truffle sauce was perfectly rich and creamy, and the parmesan added a good sharp, nutty flavor. But the other two times I’ve been there I got the sharp cheddar and green onion fries. The sharp cheddar sauce is pretty spectacular. It looks like bad nacho cheese sauce, but it’s amazingly cheesy and creamy, and not at all greasy. It is shocking how much flavor is in this sharp cheddar sauce. The sliced green onions cut through the heaviness of the sharp cheddar sauce perfectly. There really isn’t much that compares to a good French fry covered in cheese sauce goodness.

FOOD NOTES: In my three visits to DLux I have never been disappointed. The couch potato burger is a great combination of good ingredients and interesting flavors. The fried pickles are a good starter and go well with the great drinks made with house-made sodas. And their French fries with spectacular sauces are awesome. Their menu is so simple. How much simpler can you get than French fries, burgers, house-made sodas and milk shakes? But their interesting combinations, quality ingredients, great flavors and awesome outdoor patio put the dining experience over the top. I highly recommend DLux for classic food made in interesting ways with quality ingredients.

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!!!).

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!

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.