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.
You 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.
I 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.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
If fall isn’t your favorite season…you’re basically wrong. The weather is great, the clothes are great, the food is warm and comforting, and then there’s Halloween and Thanksgiving. My friend Riju loves Halloween and in an effort to keep me very busy during the month of October, she sent me the “31 Days of Halloween to do list” to do. This blog will be my recap…with one caveat: some of the items were modified but totally still count!
No. 1 – Bake Halloween cookies. Krista, Nicole and the cookie-decorating master Avery helped out with this one.
No. 2 – Drink cider
No. 3 – Watch a classic monster movie. This one was completed…just not documented. I watched some freaky movie about Halloween.
No. 4 – Make pumpkin bread with fresh pumpkin. This one was also completed with help from Krista.
No. 5 – Collect different color fall leaves. I didn’t know what I would do with a handful of leaves, so I just took pictures during a hike.
No. 6 – Eat a caramel apple. I got this one at Treinen Farm in Lodi.
No. 7 – Build a fire. This one was very unconventional…but fire is fire right?
No. 8 – Go on a hay ride. The hay ride at Treinen Farm was pretty interesting. It was one of the only cold and rainy days in October, but Nicole, miss Avery and I made the best of it!
No. 9 – Eat a Halloween Oreo. They don’t taste different, but I feel like they should!
No. 10 – Wear orange. I don’t own anything orange, so this scarf will have to do.
This picture also qualifies as No. 21, which is eat a caramel apple Milky way…but they don’t make those anymore, so I had a caramel apple pop instead!
No. 11 – Watch Hocus Pocus. Thanks to Mary and Kevin Arbuckle for the movie access and the prop!
No. 12 – Drink a pumpkin spice latte.
No. 13 – Eat candy corn. This nasty Halloween treat goes pretty well with coffee!
No. 14 – Play in the leaves…see No. 5.
No. 15 – Drink spicy tea. The Trader Joe’s version I got was not good.
No. 16 – Bake an apple pie. I thought this was going to be one of the hardest ones on the list…but Krista and I made a pretty great pie!
No. 17 – Carve a pumpkin. Steph and I carved Frank the Pumpkin…harvested at Treinen Farms for No. 23.
No. 18 – Host a spooky movie night. I’d say mine was technically a movie afternoon…but it totally counts.
No. 19 – Eat Frankenberry, BooBerry or Count Chocula. I chose BooBerry…
No. 20 – Drink pumpkin ale or beer. Thanks Marissa for sharing your pumpkin beer!
No. 21 – Eat a caramel apple Milky Way. See No. 10.
No. 22 – Roast pumpkin seeds. Steph and I roasted the shit out of Frank’s seeds!
No. 23 – Visit a pumpkin patch. Nicole, miss Avery and I braved the rain and cold to find Frank the Pumpkin at Treinen Farm.
No. 24 – Dance to Thriller. Mary Arbuckle and I got our groove on. A short, yet extremely entertaining video, is available on Facebook.
No. 25 – Visit an OctoberFest…was replaced with “drink an OctoberFest beer.” Thanks Kevin Arbuckle for the beer!
No. 26 – Collect cool pumpkins. Thanks for the pumpkins dad!
No. 27 – Sit on the porch and smell the rain…this one seemed odd, but here’s a rainy picture from my balcony.
No. 28 – Visit a haunted house. I hate haunted houses, but Mary Arbuckle found one for little kids…so I consented. Favorite quote of the night: “Hannah…stop screaming, you’re scaring the giraffe (who was probably about 2 and being carried by her dad).”
No. 29 – Make a Halloween playlist.
No. 30 – Decorate the house – inside and out. Thanks to the instigator of all of this, Riju, for the new Halloween owl!
No. 31 – Go trick or treating. I gave away candy at Kevin and Mary’s…I also got trick-or-treat candy at the haunted house…all of this counts…none of it is documented.
There are a lot of options for steak in Madison and the surrounding area, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a place that has as much history as Wonder Bar. I’m not going to get into too much detail, but if you like gangster history and don’t mind eating on the other side of a dead body (what? yeah…that’s what their website says), then Wonder Bar is a great place to check out.
My mom and I went on a Friday night and got seated upstairs. There’s nothing super impressive about the decor or the dining areas, but if you read up on the history of the place, it is pretty cool. We decided to start with the BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp. The BBQ was tangy and had a little spice, the bacon was thick and the shrimp were huge. Combine all those ingredients and we had a great appetizer.
Steaks come with a salad, and of course both of us got steak. Even though our waiter warned me the wedge salad could probably be a meal on its own…I decided to go with that. And boy was he right. It was legitimately 1/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce, an entire tomato (cut in half), probably a full cup of blue cheese and a ton of dressing. I don’t usually love blue cheese, but I usually like it on a wedge salad…this time it was good, but I didn’t eat even half the blue cheese that was on the plate.
My mom and I both got the house filet with hash browns…because what else do you get when you go to a steak house?! Both filets were perfectly cooked and had a great flavor. They were also super tender and had that great grill char. The hash browns were crispy and had onions mixed in…winning!
Needless to say…we skipped dessert and took home doggy bags.
FOOD NOTES: If you’re looking for a place to get a stiff drink and some classic steakhouse food…Wonder Bar is definitely your place. My mom and I had a great meal…but keep in mind that classic steakhouse food usually comes with a higher price tag. Another thing to note…if you’re trying to find Wonder Bar…it’s the super tiny brick building right behind the Coliseum Bar. If you’re not looking closely…you might drive right by.
The saying ‘Location, Location Location’ is popular for a reason, but every location has to be backed up by quality product — in my opinion. Waypoint Public House in Monona definitely has the location, but the food needs a little work. The dining room and decor are the perfect mix of industrial and cozy with some local charm thrown in. I loved the mismatched chairs, different types of wood and funky decorations. The restaurant is at the end of a new apartment building on West Broadway, which is where the location factor comes in. Some people might not like it, but I think that spot is cool because you get the hustle and bustle of the Beltline and the calm and relaxing feel of the Yahara River. It was raining the day I went with a friend so we didn’t get to try out their patio, but it looks like it has the best seats in the house.
Now on to the food. We got the cheese curds and jalapeno poppers. Both of them could have been better. The cheese curds were fresh and should have been good, but they were super super greasy. I always expect cheese curds to be at least somewhat greasy because they’re fried, but these were so greasy I didn’t want to finish them. The homemade ranch was pretty stellar though.
The jalapeno poppers were not traditional poppers, and while I get what they were going for, I didn’t like them. When I order jalapeno poppers I want the crispy, fried jalapeno bites. But at Waypoint their jalapeno poppers are grilled instead of being breaded and fried. They might be healthier, but I wanted the unhealthy ones (to be fair — our waitress told us what to expect when ordering them). Besides not being breaded, the cream cheese filling didn’t have any flavor…every bite basically tasted like jalapeno.
Their main menu had a lot to offer, but I couldn’t decide what to get so we asked the waitress and she suggested the pulled pork quesadilla. The quesadilla has house smoked pork, queso fresco, jalapeno, tomato, onion, sour cream and guac. The quesadilla had all the right ingredients (including a ton of tender pork) to be good, but a couple factors derailed it. 1) The smokiness of the pork overpowered all of the other ingredients so I couldn’t taste any of them. 2) It was super greasy…greasier than the cheese curds. It was so greasy the first thing I noticed when picking it up was grease dripping out of it. And 3) The guac was really bad…like out of can bad. I only ate one of the wedges, but the other three were OK the next day for cold leftovers.
FOOD NOTES: In the case of Waypoint Public House, it isn’t all about the location. They do really have the location part down, but their food leaves something to be desired. Everything was way too greasy and didn’t have great flavor. I’m not sure exactly when they opened, but I know they hadn’t been open very long when I went in August. I will probably give them a second chance, but not anytime soon.
The amount of food and beverage options downtown keeps growing, but there are always some standouts. Over the summer about a dozen new places opened downtown, but one place’s atmosphere, location and food should be noticed. Portage Pi is in the lobby of the new Graduate Hotel on the corner of Francis and Langdon streets. It’s the perfect location for students needing sustenance either walking to or from classes, but students shouldn’t be the only people enjoying this new gem. When I visited with my friend Michelle Li, they said they’d be opening a cafe and walk-up counter for quick ordering. But if you walk up, you don’t get to experience the great decor and atmosphere inside.
I’m not really sure how to explain the decor, other than saying there’s probably something for everyone. It’s cute, eclectic, cozy and has some local flair. The menu has hand pies, salads, sandwiches, coffee, smoothies and juice.
We got to try two of their hand pies — the banana s’mores pie and the short rib pie. Both hand pies were super good, but I liked the savory one better. They would be great to take to class and secretly eat in the back row of a lecture hall! The crust was flaky and didn’t overwhelm the filling. The inside was flavorful and filled with quality ingredients.
The banana s’mores pie was also good, but unless you’re a huge dessert fan, I wouldn’t pass up the savory pies for the dessert pies. They are a bit too sweet for my taste.
I also got to try one of their housemade juices — the Thornton Melon with honeydew, mint, lemon, ginger and cucumber. It was super refreshing and even though it was technically juice, didn’t feel sugary…it tasted like infused water.
FOOD NOTES: I lived three blocks from this place when I was in college and it would have been a regular stop on my way back from class. A place where I can get good coffee, a quick lunch and a juice or snack for later would have been at the top of my list of regular stops…right up there with Med Cafe, Amy’s and Chipotle. I wouldn’t recommend getting the juices every day, but it would have been a good treat on some of those hot days at the beginning of the school year.
When it’s sunny, feels like it’s 130 degrees and you’re walking around on blacktop the last thing you want to do is eat something heavy and greasy…well it’s the last thing I wanted to do during Atwood Fest at the end of July. Everyone else seemed perfectly fine eating hot, fried food, but my friend and I went for a mediterranean option from the Banzo food cart.
The food cart offers a couple different ways to get their falafel, chicken or kebabs. You can get them in a pita, on a hummus plate, over rice with hummus on a platter or as a salad. I got the falafel and chicken combo platter, which comes with mediterranean chicken, falafel, rice, hummus, salad and pita. The salad was fresh and crunchy…a fantastic, fresh option on a hot day. The rice wasn’t anything special, and the chicken was good…but the stars of the platter were the falafel and the hummus. Everything was better dipped in the garlicky, creamy, earthy hummus and the falafel was crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and had a great flavor.
FOOD NOTES: Anything Banzo serves would be a great option to other festival food, especially when it’s hot and steamy out. Next time I’ll get the full falafel platter instead of doing the chicken combo. I’d also like to try the salad with falafel.
There are a handful of places in Madison that make you feel like you’re not in the middle of a city of a quarter of a million people — picnic point, the UW Arboretum, Wingra Park and the docks on the north side of Lake Mendota. Luckily for us, the Von Rutenberg family put a very nice Wisconsin supper club right on the north shore so we could enjoy some good food with that great view.
The Mariner’s Inn really is a classic steak and seafood restaurant, but what makes it special is the outdoor patio and the view. I went on a beautiful Sunday night with a friend for Restaurant Week in July. The patio was the perfect spot to enjoy our three-course meal.
Their clam chowder was the perfect starter. It was creamy and peppery, and had big chunks of potatoes and clams. I’ve had clam chowder that tastes fishy, but this one had the right amount of saltiness without being fishy.
For entrees they had surf and turf, shrimp, salmon and a tenderloin dish. The tenderloin of romance, as they called it, was a tenderloin, three scallops and crab meat served with a béarnaise sauce and asparagus. The tenderloin was perfectly cooked and it paired really well with the sauce. I thought the crab meat might be too much with the bearnaise sauce, but it was pretty good. The asparagus was also really good with the crab meat and sauce. I’m not a huge fan of scallops, but these were perfectly cooked, which means they were buttery and delicious. We also got an order of hasbrowns, which were hot and crispy, but a little salty.
For dessert we got the cheesecake and the key lime pie. The key lime pie was fantastic. It was sweet and tart, but not too tart and the crust was buttery and crumbly. The cheesecake was also very good. I don’t like cherry desserts, but the sauce was the perfect combo of sweet and tart.
FOOD NOTES: The food at the Mariner’s Inn is classic supper club food. It’s good, but the view from the patio is what makes the experience at the Mariner’s Inn special. The clam chowder was the best I’ve ever had, and the rest of the meal followed suit, but I would highly suggest all Mariner’s Inn dining experiences be out on the patio.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
I 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.
We 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.