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.

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Cheese on sushi? We must be in Wisconsin!

I’ve been on and off the sushi train a couple times — In college I ate sushi weekly with a group of friends, but I hadn’t had sushi in a couple years because of some unfortunate food poisoning. Luckily, my lunch at Takara 88 in Middleton with Michelle was the perfect transition back onto the sushi train.

Takara house salad

Takara house salad

We started with the traditional sushi restaurant house salad with ginger dressing. I forgot how much I loved ginger dressing. Each sushi restaurant has it’s own version of the orange dressing, and Takara 88’s was just as good as all of the other versions I’ve had.

Shrimp and veggie tempura

Shrimp and veggie tempura

After the salad we tried their tempura with shrimp and bigs chunks of vegetables. The shrimp and the vegetables were perfectly cooked and the tempura was light and crispy. Sometimes tempura can be heavy and greasy, but Takara 88’s wasn’t.

Now on to the sushi. We got to try two of their special rolls and both of them were good, but I preferred the BMW roll.

BMW roll

BMW roll

BMW roll

BMW roll

The BMW roll comes with tempura shrimp and avocado and is topped with seared salmon, cheese, caviar and a special sauce. This was the perfect roll to ease back onto the sushi train. The cooked shrimp and avocado went great with the seared salmon. The BMW roll was my first introduction to sushi caviar. I could barely tell it was on the roll, but it did add a good salty flavor. The cheese is what made this roll a lot more interesting. I’ve never seen cheese on a sushi roll before, and I don’t think Michelle had either. The ingredients in the BMW roll sounded like everything and the kitchen sink, but they ended up working really well together.

"V" roll

“V” roll

"V" roll

“V” roll presentation

"V" roll

“V” roll

"V" roll presentation

“V” roll martini glass

The second roll we tried was the “V” roll, which is spicy tuna and crab, lettuce, avocado and asparagus wrapped in rice paper and topped with a spicy sauce. The presentation of the “V” roll was crazy pretty and used a martini glass. The “V” roll was good and the lettuce added a much-needed crunch.

FOOD NOTES: Sushi will probably never be my first choice, but Takara 88 in Middleton has some great special sushi rolls. The tempura is a great substitute for sushi, but if you’re OK with raw fish, the BMW roll is the way to go.

Bakery treats fall short at Lane’s on south side

Lane's Bakery

Lane’s Bakery

I have been a devoted lover of Scott’s Pastry Shoppe for a couple years now…I always have to get a cheese danish, and I usually get another donut or some donut holes. Over my years of visiting Scott’s I always had this little voice in the back of my head telling me I needed to compare it to Lane’s Bakery on Park Street, so when it reopened a couple years ago I knew I needed to go.

Lane's bakery case

Lane’s bakery case

My mom and I went on a Friday morning and the place was packed. The Villager Mall houses a lot of other things, but I’m pretty sure most of the cars in the parking lot were for Lane’s. There were two long cases filled with everything from cakes and kringles to donuts and cookies. My mom and I decided to split three things and then she got something to take home and two things for my dad.

Lane's cookies

Lane’s cookies

My mom and I split a sugar donut, a cheese danish (obviously) and a powdered sugar rossette. We got my dad a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut donut, and my mom took home an apple pie pastry.

lanes boxThe sugar donut was probably the best of the bunch, which doesn’t bode well for my return. The donut was fresh, crispy on the outside and perfectly fluffy and sweet on the inside. The cheese danish was not great. There was too much pastry, not enough cheese filling, and there was way too much of the super sweet, hard frosting. Scott’s sugar donuts and cheese danishes are way better than Lane’s. The rossette was something new for me (and I think it was a seasonal specialty). It was a crispy, fried cake that broke into tiny pieces when I tried to break it apart and eat it. It didn’t have any real flavor other than fry oil and the texture of the batter was either burnt or super oily…I couldn’t tell.

As for the stuff my mom took home, she said the apple pie pastry looked and smelled better than it actually tasted. She said the apples and cinnamon mixture tasted good, but it was overpowered by way too much of the dough. And the peanut donut and chocolate chip cookie didn’t get rave reviews from my dad.

FOOD NOTES: Considering this less than stellar first visit and the fact that Lane’s is all the way on the south side, I probably won’t be back. Their cheese danish was nowhere near as tasty as Scott’s and that’s what I crave when I visit bakeries, so Lane’s did not pass my test. We did not try their kringles (which is something they say they specialize in), but I have tried Scott’s and they are very good, so I think I’ll stick with my Middleton fave. What’s your favorite bakery in the Madison area?

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!

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.

Dhaba Indian restaurant tops all other Madison options

Plate of food

Dhaba food

I am not going to claim to be an expert on Indian food but I do really enjoy it. I love everything from the standard chicken tikka masala and samosas to less traditional options like my favorite dish, malai kofta. I have reviewed a couple other Indian restaurants in the Madison area, but Dhaba is by fay my favorite. It opened in 2012, and doesn’t offer a buffet. When I first went I was disappointed they didn’t a buffet, but now I love it. The food you get at an Indian restaurant that isn’t off a buffet is a lot more fresh, and you can customize the spice level.

Dhaba Indian Bistro

Dhaba Indian Bistro

At Dhaba they offer a bunch of different chicken, veggie, meat, lamb and seafood options. When I went with a friend we got to try five different dishes, and all of them were amazing. The veggie korma is basically vegetables in a creamy curry sauce. The tandoori mixed grill is a plate of chicken and seafood grilled with curry seasoning. The spinach paneer is a cooked spinach sauce with chunks of paneer (paneer is a firm cube of fresh cheese). The chicken tikka masala had perfectly tender chicken in a slightly spicy masala sauce. And then my favorite was the malai kofta, because I absolutely love the tender veggie meatball in that same flavorful masala sauce.

Veggie korma

Veggie korma

Tandoori mixed grill

Tandoori mixed grill

Spinach paneer

Spinach paneer

Chicken tikka masala

Chicken tikka masala

Malai kofta

Malai kofta

FOOD NOTES: There is probably not a single dish Dhaba serves up that isn’t good. I love that they don’t have a buffet because it guarantees the food is fresh and hot. Not having a buffet has also convinced me to start experimenting with the different spice levels they offer (so far I’ve only gotten up to Medium+). If you’re in the Madison area there really isn’t a better place to get your favorite Indian dishes and try something knew. Oh, and their naan is fantastic, especially the garlic flavor!

Middleton townie bar’s food surprises, surpasses expectations

club tavern signYou’ll notice I use the term “townie” on my headline. Some people may take that negatively, but I mean that affectionately. There are a ton of amazing townie bars in Wisconsin, and I love visiting them!. What it basically means to me is that all of the locals go there, and they go there for a reason. Townie bars are usually a little off the beaten path, and typically don’t have amazing food. After looking at the menu at Club Tavern in Middleton my expectations were pretty low for their food because it seemed like a quintessential townie bar menu with generic appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and the token salad listings.

Club Tavern dining room

Club Tavern dining room

When we walked in to Club Tavern the expectations for the food went down even more. The door to the grungy storage room was open and 100 percent visible right when we walked in, we had to wait at the front door for a decent amount of time (as employees walked right by) to be told we could sit anywhere, the booth we chose to sit at was sticky and my seat was crooked, it was super dark inside and the decor was definitely odd. The highlights of the dining room were the tin ceilings, the exposed brick (except the brick right by my seat that had a bunch of garbage shoved in it) and the cool round booths in the front.

Ragin' Cajun burger

Ragin’ Cajun burger

I decided to go with the Ragin’ Cajun burger that had “haystack onions,” bacon, pepper jack cheese and Bourbon Street mayo on top. Again, I wasn’t expecting much with this burger, but when the massive portion arrived my expectations got a little higher. The burger was massive with a great blackened, spicy, crispy outside. The downfall to the burger were the “haystack onions,” which was a pile of generic fried onions on top. The onions were not exceptionally good, and were completely unnecessary. Once they were removed, the burger was pretty fantastic. The bun was soft, the rest of the toppings were fresh and in good proportion with each other. The fries absolutely sucked. They were barely seasoned, not crispy and definitely came out of a box. The shining glory on the plate was a completely unexpected tomato and red onion relish with a housemade balsamic dressing on top. The chef who delivered our lunch seemed extra excited to explain it to me when I asked him what it was. The relish was a great compliment to the heavy burger.

club tavern booth

2-person booth at Club Tavern

The service was kind of 50/50. Our waitress didn’t seem to care at all that she had a table, and it really wasn’t busy. My water was only filled after it had been empty for quite a few minutes, and she was very absent between taking our order and bringing our bill. The other 50 percent of that equation were the two visits from what I can only assume was the chef and the owner. The guy who brought our food out was super nice and answered my questions about the relish with excitement. Another guy came to ask us how our food was and was also super nice. Our waitress could learn a thing or two from those two.

FOOD NOTES: Don’t discount this townie bar in the middle of Middleton. I can’t vouch for their entire menu, but based on the specks of glory in my meal, there are probably some pretty impressive things hiding amongst the traditional bar food. The fries were the most disappointing part of the meal. I am a french fry lover to the end, and it takes a truly special burger to overshadow poor fries. The Ragin’ Cajun barely makes up for the dumpy french fries I was served, but I would go back to try other options on the menu. Club Tavern needs to amp up it’s sides and appetizers to the level of their amazing burger and that unexpectedly amazing side of relish.