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!

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Don’t fail like me…get the BBQ at the Thirsty Goat

Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main

So there’s a new barbecue restaurant in Fitchburg and I hate to admit that I didn’t actually get BBQ on my first visit. The good news — everything I got was tasty so I’ll be heading back soon to try the BBQ. The Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main in Fitchburg took over an old Mexican restaurant spot I think. The building is rustic and cozy inside, but the fire pit in the back is what caught my attention. There’s a deck off the back of the building overlooking Fish Hatchery Road, and my friend Nicole and I definitely spotted a fire fit back there…I’m thinking this place will be a regular stop on my patio rotation this summer!

Cheese curds

On to the food…that isn’t BBQ (sorry!) but was still good. I must have forgotten where I was and what type of restaurant I was in when looking at the menu because we ordered broasted chicken and the sausage plate…and no barbecue. But because we work hard and deserve a treat…we started with the cheese curds. The almost overflowing basket came with what were obviously hand-breaded cheese curds. Here’s your clue: If the curds are all the same shape and size…they came out of a freezer box — if they’re random shapes and sizes…they were probably hand-breaded. These were hand-breaded, fried to a perfect golden brown, just salty enough and came with the perfect dipping sauce — housemade ranch! Nothing bad to say about the curds!

img_3837Nicole and I decided to each get an entree and split it. I got the sausage plate with mac and cheese and coleslaw. It also came with corn bread. Their sausage that week was an Italian sausage. It was perfectly grilled with crispy grill marks on the outside and had a good flavor. I appreciated that it wasn’t too greasy and you get enough to feed two! BBQ restaurant mac and cheese is never anything special and the Thirsty Goat’s was right on par with that. The coleslaw wasn’t unique, but it was good. I don’t remember much about the corn bread, but only because I ate it so fast!

img_3836Nicole got the half chicken and it was good…but it was chicken. I have zero complaints about the chicken…except that it wasn’t BBQ brisket!

FOOD NOTES: Good ahead…get the cheese curds at this BBQ restaurant…you won’t be disappointed! Our lunch at the Thirsty Goat was very good, but I do regret not getting BBQ…guess it’s just a good reason to go back again! Oh, and don’t forget about the fire pit for this summer! If it’s a Friday night, you might find me there!

Never judge a cafe by its strip mall

La Petit Croissant

La Petit Croissant

From what I’ve heard, the owners or bakers or cooks or someone involved in the new bakery where Midvale Boulevard, Verona Road and the Beltline collide came from La Baguette. La Petit Croissant is probably the best hidden secret I’ve ever found. I went with my friend Nicole and her daughter for lunch, and I got there a couple minutes early…which was good because I snagged the last table just before a bunch of people walked in. The small shop is in a rundown strip mall between a Tae Kwon Do school and a random Mexican restaurant with Dorn Hardware at the end. Based on La Petit Croissan’ts location I had no expectations, but that was a mistake.

La Petit Croissant bakery case

La Petit Croissant bakery case

As soon as I walked in and almost all the tables were full and saw a very promising cinnamon roll in the bakery case I knew I had found something special. The girl at the counter was super nice, and between her and another guy they kept the place running smoothly with smiles on their faces. Their bakery case and menu are small, but based on my first visit it’s because they focus on quality over quantity.

La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll

La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll

I’m a big fan of cinnamon rolls and this one did not disappoint. It was just big enough to share, and was obviously made that morning. The dough was light and flaky, and the cinnamon swirl was a good balance of cinnamon and sugar. The frosting was cream cheese, which is the ONLY appropriate topping for a cinnamon roll. The La Petit Croissant cinnamon roll definitely gives La Baguette’s a run for its money.

La Petit Croissant spicy turkey sandwich

La Petit Croissant spicy turkey sandwich

LPC spicy turkeyI got the spicy turkey sandwich. The sandwich came with a very fresh green salad with a light vinaigrette, and the sandwich itself was just as surprising as the cinnamon roll. The bread, jalapeno cheddar ciabatta, was crusty but not too thick. The turkey was lean and there was a lot of it. The rest of the toppings really made the sandwich — chipotle mayo, avocado, lettuce, onions and pepper jack cheese. The sandwich isn’t super fancy, but it was so good because of the quality ingredients.

La Petit Croissant molasses cookie

La Petit Croissant molasses cookie

I also got a molasses cookie for “later,” but “later” ended up only being a couple hours after lunch! Their molasses cookie had the two qualities that make a good molasses cookie — crispy edges and a soft middle, and the molasses is balanced out by a good sweetness. It also had that great sprinkle of sugar on top!

FOOD NOTES: I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about this place because I don’t want to give up my new secret spot, but I really want this place to succeed! The cinnamon roll was the best I’ve had in a while (cream cheese frosting really does make a difference!). The spicy turkey sandwich is extremely impressive – everything worked so well together. The turkey and bacon were amped up with avocado and chipotle mayo, and the bread was great. This place is a diamond in the rough.

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.

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.

Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A

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?

Traditional Italian deli does not disappoint

Gino's Italian Deli

Gino’s Italian Deli in Middleton

When I think of an Italian deli I think of hot beef, meatball subs and cannolis. And that’s exactly what I got at Gino’s when my parents and I grabbed lunch there a couple weeks ago. I had stopped in before and gotten Italian sausage and some pasta salad, but this time I wanted to go all out. Gino’s isn’t a fancy place to eat (the Middleton store only has a couple small tables behind some room dividers), but it is the perfect place to grab a good sub and take it to go.

Gino's meatball sub

Gino’s meatball sub

I got the large meatball sandwich, and probably should have gotten the small size. The large size seemed about the same size as a footlong sub at Subway. The bread was super fresh, with a crusty outside and a fluffy inside. The sauce was chunky and had a good level of salty flavor without overwhelming the tomatoes. The meatballs were also perfectly flavored and the perfect size for the bread. I’ve seen people each meatball subs from other places and everything falls out all over the wrapper, but Gino’s crusty bread was the perfect vehicle for the Italian-spiced meatballs and the zesty tomato sauce. It wasn’t a napkin-less sandwich experience, but I didn’t lose any of my filling to the table.

Gino's hot beef sub

Gino’s hot beef sub

My dad got the hot Italian beef sandwich. It came on the same super crusty bread, and was filled with a substantial amount of Italian beef. The super tender and perfectly seasoned hot beef came piled high with just the right amount of hot beef juices to soften up the crusty bread. The provolone cheese was a great addition, but it could have also used some spicy peppers.

Gino's roast beef sub

Gino’s roast beef sub

My mom got the concerts beef sub with sliced roast beef, lettuce and horseradish mayo. This sandwich was much lighter than the other two, but it was still extremely good. The roast beef was tender and lean, and the horseradish mayo added a great kick. The cold sandwiches don’t come on the super good crusty bread that the hot sandwiches come on, but the wheat bread was still pretty good in it’s own way.

Gino's cannolis

Gino’s cannolis

The day we went there was a little sign on the top of the counter saying they had homemade cannolis. So of course we got three. They were traditional cannolis, but they were not exceptional. The filling was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, but instead of putting pistachios on the end they put chunks of maraschino cherries. I didn’t love the cherries in place of the nuts, but they weren’t terrible. I liked the cannolis, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had.

Gino's subs

Gino’s subs

FOOD NOTES: Gino’s Deli definitely serves up quality Italian subs. The meatball sub was the perfect combination of crusty bread, zesty tomato sauce and amazing meatballs. The hot beef and roast beef subs were also extremely good, but not good enough to deter me from getting the meatball sub whenever I go back.  The prices are reasonable for the quality of the ingredients and the size of the portions you get at Gino’s. If you don’t mind not getting a ton of ingredients I would definitely suggest going to Gino’s instead of any other sub shops in town.

Hilldale sushi restaurant serves up quality, tasty lunch for a bargain

I went to Sushi Muramoto with a friend who really wanted me to try the chicken lettuce wraps. She loves them and had talked about them so much I figured we couldn’t go wrong making them part of our lunch plans.

sushi muramotoThe modern sushi restaurant is pretty small with a sushi bar and a regular bar flanking a dozen tiny tables. The problem with the design is that we were basically sitting on top of the people at the next table and every time a waitress had to walk past me I was afraid either me or the person next to me would get hit with a plate.

Now on to the lettuce wraps. They were so good we ate the entire serving before I even thought about taking a picture. The chicken mixture has pecans and a sweet soy sauce that you eat wrapped in large pieces of iceberg lettuce. The pecans add a great texture to the chicken mixture, and the sauce was perfectly sweet, savory and salty. The chicken chunks were a little big and made it kind of difficult to wrap them in the lettuce, but my friend said the chicken usually comes in smaller chunks. But even though it was hard to eat, the chicken was perfectly cooked and the pecans were an awesome addition.

Sushi Muramoto flank steak lunch special

Sushi Muramoto flank steak lunch special

The lunch special Sushi Muramoto offers is a great option for non-sushi lovers, especially for the price. For $9 I got a salad, rice, beef hanger steak and honey wasabi potato salad. The rice was basically unnecessary, but the rest of it was fantastic. The salad was good, but nothing more than a typical green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. The steak had a great asian BBQ sauce on it with just a hint of spice. I really enjoyed my lunch, but the steak was a little tough for supposedly being cooked medium rare. The honey wasabi potato salad had a great flavor, and came in a very large serving. The potato salad was pretty rich, but it complemented the salty steak very well.

FOOD NOTES: Based on my experience with lunch, I would venture to say that their sushi is probably pretty good. The chicken lettuce wraps are a must, with an amazing sauce, great ingredients, a fun do-it-yourself presentation and the exciting addition of pecans. The lunch specials are amazing deals that come with some great ingredients and a lot of food.