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.

Brocach #restaurantweek meal peaked at appetizers

Brocach on the square
Brocach on the square

To kick off this winter’s Madison Magazine Restaurant Week I headed to the Capitol Square with a friend on a Sunday night that already had one bad thing against it — the Packers lost in overtime to the Seahawks in the third round of the playoffs. While the Packers were giving their Superbowl spot to the Seahawks, I was driving to Brocach on the square for a three-course Restaurant Week meal.

Brocach scotch egg
Brocach scotch egg

Before our Restaurant Week courses started I wanted to try their version of the Scotch egg because the one at Cooper’s Tavern was so good. Brocach’s Scotch egg was not as good as Cooper’s Tavern. The biggest problem was the thick batter covering the egg and sausage. The batter was lacking any distinct flavor and so was the sausage. It’s hard to mess up a sausage-wrapped hard-boiled egg, but this one wasn’t great. The pickled vegetables were forgettable.

brocach croquettes
Brocach croquettes

The single best part of the meal  came next — the potato croquettes with aged cheddar sauce. Both of us got the croquettes and both of us loved them. The three golf-ball-sized croquettes were perfectly warm and soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. And the aged cheddar sauced was so good I could have licked my plate…I didn’t, but I did wipe it up with my finger — you know, to try and keep is classy!

Brocach salmon
Brocach salmon

That’s when the meal went down hill. I got the salmon which was crispy, but needed some sort of seasoning and the salad was literally two sprigs of greens. The tangy dressing was good, but considering how cheap greens are I was expecting the salad to be a bit bigger. The puree on the bottom was sweeter than I was expecting (and I don’t remember what it was made of), but it went well with the unseasoned salmon.

Brocach pork belly
Brocach pork belly

My friend got the pork belly and I got to eat the brussel sprouts that came with it. The sprouts were fine…I’ve had better and I’ve had worse. Her pork belly came with a similar sweet puree under it (did they use the same puree for two Restaurant Week dishes?) and sliced apples on top. It was an interesting dish, but not good enough to bring me back.

Brocach flourless chocolate cake
Brocach flourless chocolate cake

The dessert options sounded promising, but they were pretty disappointing. I got the flourless chocolate cake, which was harder than fudge and was almost — brace yourselves — too chocolatey. It was so chocolatey, it was bitter. The berry sauce tasted like bitter, watered-down jam.

Brocach mint sundae
Brocach mint sundae

My friend got the mint sundae, which was mint ice cream that came with a shot of Bailey’s you were supposed to pour over the top. I think she liked it, but I say it should have had some hot fudge on it too. FOOD NOTES: Brocach has been on my “places to eat list” for quite a while and now it’s headed to my “places to avoid list.” The Restaurant Week meal wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great. The croquettes were pretty great, but the entrees were OK and the desserts were disappointing. Maybe the negative feelings of the Packers’ season ending loss to the Seahawks influenced the dinner…or maybe Brocach just isn’t that great.

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.

Freshii concept is good, execution could be better

freshii green wallfreshii wallI’m always looking for healthier options when it comes to getting food on the go, so the prospect of a super healthy restaurant right off the main road I drive every day was really exciting. The two concerns I had about Freshii when I went to try it with Michelle was that the food would basically be a more expensive version of what I already make at home, and it wouldn’t actually be as healthy as I wanted it to be. And unfortunately, Freshii had issues with both of these concerns.

Freshii dining room
Freshii dining room

In general, everything we got had high and low points (some had lower points than others) and everything had a focus on healthy ingredients. However, everything was also a lot higher in calories than if I had made it myself at home, and everything was also pretty pricy. Don’t get me wrong…if I’m in a pinch and need something to eat, I will definitely choose Freshii over the other options on the west side.

Freshii teriyaki bowl
Freshii teriyaki bowl

Freshii offers soups, salads, wraps, burritos, bowls, smoothies and juices. We got to try a couple different dishes and by far, my favorite was the teriyaki bowl. It has brown rice, broccoli, carrots, edamame, green onions, crispy wontons, chicken and teriyaki sauce. I believe most of the options come vegetarian and you can add tofu, chicken, steak, shrimp or falafel…but another thing to note is that adding a protein does cost extra. The teriyaki bowl has over 600 calories without the chicken…that’s a little high for something that’s supposed to be super healthy. But I did enjoy the brown rice, edamame, al dente veggies and the teriyaki sauce. The bowl was filling and the ingredients were indeed fresh.

Freshii pangoa bowl
Freshii pangoa bowl

We also got to try the pangoa bowl which has brown rice, avocado, black beans, shredded cheese, corn, grape tomatoes, cilantro, hot sauce…and ours had chicken in it. This one was basically a smaller, less flavorful version of a Chipotle burrito bowl, plus their hot sauce was thick and not very flavorful, and their avocado was hard as a rock.

Freshii cobb salad
Freshii cobb salad

The cobb salad looked promising when we started digging in, but the heavy honey dijon dressing and lettuce slightly past its prime did not impress me. In addition to also having rock-hard avocado, it had blue cheese, which I really don’t like.

Freshii smoehouse burrito
Freshii smoehouse burrito

The smokehouse burrito was also a sub-par version of something you could get at Chipotle. It had brown rice, black beans, red onions, tomatoes, corn, shredded cheese and what the menu called “fiery barbeque.” I’m not sure there was even any barbeque sauce on the wrap…and if it was on there, there was nowhere near enough of a flavor to call if fiery. It was basically a brown, mushy wrap with no distinctive flavor…all for more than 730 calories.

Freshii green smoothie
Freshii green smoothie

The other thing that I very much enjoyed was the Freshii green smoothie with kale, spinach, pineapple, avocado and low-fat frozen yogurt. It was surprisingly refreshing and light…and tasted nothing like the green ingredients that were in it. The smoothie has just over 250 calories in it, and I’m told they can add protein powder…which also probably costs more.

FOOD NOTES: I had high hopes for Freshii, but some of those hopes were dashed during my first dining experience. Some of the ingredients (lettuce, avocado) were less than fresh (bad lettuce, rock-hard avocado), some of their dishes are not as healthy as I’d like them to be (the salads) and the prices are a bit high since you have to pay extra to add protein to your meal. The smoothies are good and I’d like to give their breakfast options a try, but their hours are a little limited (they close at 7pm and aren’t open Sundays), so I probably won’t be able to make it back for a while. If you go to Freshii — just ask yourself, “Can I make this at home or get a better version at Chipotle?”

Forequarter’s focus on mixing simple with spectacular lives up to hype

When my mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I only asked for one thing — a dinner at Forequarter. When I was in college a friend and I got a chance to eat at Underground Kitchen, and when it had to close because of a fire in the apartments above it I was very sad. I loved their dishes full of fresh, unique ingredients cooked and served in a very simple way. When Underground Food Collective decided to open another restaurant under a different name I knew I would love it. Unfortunately, because of its location, prices, size and the fact that it doesn’t take reservations, it took me a while to get to Forequarter. (NOTE: sorry about the bad pictures…it was very dark in the dining room)

Forequarter
Forequarter

I know other people don’t like the no-reservation policy because when we got out of our vehicle a 4:58 pm groups of people from two other vehicles followed suit. We were all seated promptly at 5 pm and the tiny dining room that seats less than 20 filled up within the hour. The menu changes regularly, but based on what we got I can only assume I’d love anything they’d offer. Their menu seems to be broken into three categories — appetizers, small plates and entrees.

Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich
Forequarter braunschweiger sandwich


We decided to go all out and get an appetizer, a small plate, two entrees and a dessert. For our appetizer we had to get the braunschweiger sandwich because both of us genuinely like braunschweiger. The open-faced sandwich comes on toast with caramelized onion jam, mustard and radish. Braunschweiger can be fatty, greasy and sometimes the flavor can be a little sour or oddly seasoned, but Underground Meats clearly knows what it’s doing. Their braunschweiger was creamy, and was seasoned perfectly (not too salty and just enough garlic). The radish added a nice crunch and the peppery flavor worked well with the extremely rich braunschweiger. The onion jam and mustard took the sandwich to another level. The onion jam was that perfect combination of sweet and savory, and the seedy stout mustard was perfection. I loved how truly Wisconsin the sandwich was.

Forequarter warm potato salad
Forequarter warm potato salad

For our small plate we got a warm potato salad with a fried egg vinaigrette, pea shoots and pickled mushrooms. The super simple fried potatoes were elevated by the toppings. The vinaigrette was rich, creamy and tangy. I’d love to learn how to make the dressing so I could have it on my salads at home. The pea shoots’ crunchiness and freshness went great with the warm potatoes and rich dressing. The last (but definitely not least) components of the dish were the tiny pickled mushrooms. The pickled, savory beech mushrooms helped to balance the warm potatoes and rich dressing to keep the salad lighter. It was the tastiest and most unique potato salad I’ve ever had.

Forequarter steelhead trout
Forequarter steelhead trout

The first entree we decided to try was the Steelhead trout with black lentils, radish, burnt orange and herb butter. This dish was still very good, but less successful than the first two. The trout was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the skin was crispy…which is the best way to eat fish! The black lentils were perfectly seasoned, but may have been slightly overcooked. The roasted radishes were an interesting touch and added a great pepper flavor to the rich dish, but the burnt orange and herb butter did not impress me. The butter was not only an unappealing color (black), but it tasted like rotten citrus and dirt…we avoided it. The random pieces of mandarin orange were also oddly out of place.

Forequarter hanger steak
Forequarter hanger steak

Our second entree was the hanger steak with parsnip puree, smoked carrots, soubise and beef tendon. This dish was pretty special. To start, the hanger steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and was very tender. Sometimes parsnips are prepared sweet, but this puree was perfectly savory. I’m not sure what the flavors were (nothing stood out to me), but it went very well with the steak. The other three components are what took this dish up 10 notches. The smoked carrots were an extremely unique flavor and I loved them. The soubise was fantastic – I had to look up what soubise was and it is described as an onion bechamel sauce. I’m not sure why an onion sauce was so good, but I wanted more of it to eat with the steak. And then the beef tendon — it was basically a pork rind. I don’t love pork rinds, but this crispy fried pork tendon was a surprising and decadent addition to the dish.

Forequarter cookie plate
Forequarter cookie plate

For dessert we had to get the cookie plate (seriously…everyone I had talked to about Forequarter said we needed to get the cookie plate). We got four items on our cookie plate. Two of them were cookies – a salted pecan macaroon and a ginger molasses cookie. Two of them were candies – pepita toffee and chocolate covered bourbon caramel. The salted pecan macaroon was as good as macaroons can get. The cookie had a crunchy shell but a soft inside and the filling was the perfect balance of salty and sweet. The ginger molasses cookie was pretty special — it tasted exactly like my grandma’s gingersnap cookies, which means it had her special ingredient in it: bacon grease. There’s nothing better than a gingersnap cookie, except a gingersnap cookie with bacon grease. I don’t usually like candies, ironically I don’t actually like toffee or caramels, but these two were fantastic. The pepita toffee was crunchy, salty and buttery. I’ve never had toffee I liked, but I loved this one. The chocolate covered bourbon caramel was the same. Caramels usually just taste like sugary, chewy messes to me, but this one was not too sweet and the chocolate and caramel had a melty consistency. I loved all four of them.

FOOD NOTES: I had extremely high hopes for Forequarter and they were all justified. The braunschweiger sandwich and warm potato salad were impeccable. The trout was perfectly cooked, but some of the components of the dish were not great. The hanger steak was great and the extra components were spectacular. The cookie plate lived up to all the hype. The prices are a tad higher than the average restaurant, but not out of the question for the quality of the food and the creativity of the dishes. I offer two suggestions when visiting Forequarter — go hungry and order small plates and appetizers over entrees.

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?

Best breakfast award goes to hidden gem on Park Street

The Curve on Park Street
The Curve on Park Street

I’ve driven past The Curve, an extremely tiny restaurant on Park Street, many times, but I never really wanted to try it because it looks a little rundown. After hearing through the foodie grapevine that I was missing out, I decided to try it out for breakfast the weekend before Christmas.

Since the tiny (8 tables, plus a counter) restaurant is right on South Park Street I was worried about parking, but we got a spot on the same block looking toward Monona Bay. The Curve’s exterior and interior presentation is a little unsettling (it’s dirty, outdated and could clearly use some repairs), but don’t let that stop you from ordering. The menu is simple and the staff (two or three people max) are probably the nicest I’ve dealt with ever. The red tile floors partnered with the chatty regulars really give this place a neighborhood feel!

Coffee at The Curve
Coffee at The Curve

We were brought two large cups of coffee before we even had a chance to open a menu. Sometimes diner coffee can be bad — weak, bitter, too strong, lukewarm, only drinkable with cream — but not at The Curve. The coffee was hot, smooth and best consumed black. Good coffee is the first mark of a good breakfast place!

Homemade corned beef hash
Homemade corned beef hash

Now here’s where this review is going to get a little confusing. I was planning on ordering the corned beef hash off the menu, and that’s when the woman told me the special was corned beef hash. I immediately said I’d get the special, but after she walked away I realized the corned beef hash on the menu was $2 less than the special…which didn’t make a lot of sense. And when I asked — the difference does make a huge difference! The hash on the menu is out of a can, but the special hash is homemade. And apparently they only have it every other weekend. I’ve had corned beef hash out of a can and it tastes like dog food. DO NOT get the corned beef hash if it isn’t the special. The homemade corned beef hash special was crazy good! It had a spicy, garlicky heat to it with tender corned beef, crispy potatoes and onions. Corned beef hash is one of my favorite breakfast dishes (thanks Dad!), and this is the best one I’ve had. Normally I need the egg yolk to make the dish perfect, but this hash was so good I could definitely eat it without the egg — but I won’t because eggs make everything better! The serving size is also something to mention — it wasn’t too small or too big…it was perfect! I was full when I finished off my plate, but not gross full and it kept me filled the rest of my day.

The Curve omelet
The Curve omelet

My mom got some sort of omelet that I don’t even remember trying because my hash was so good! I do remember bringing half of her omelet home, because it was so large!

FOOD NOTES: There are three take-aways from this review.

  1. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” really applies to The Curve. Don’t let the peeling paint and dusty window ledges scare you away.
  2. The employees (and diners the day we were there) are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a restaurant. The woman who works there even invited us back the next week on a day that she brings in Christmas cookies for all of their customers!
  3. The corned beef hash special is so good I’m craving it now just writing about it and looking at the picture. It is a perfectly seasoned, crispy pile of potatoes and corned beef only made better by the gooey eggs! Remember: I wouldn’t suggest ordering the corned beef hash off the menu.

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?

Edgewater view, menu impresses — kinks disappoint

state house edgewaterI wanted to try breakfast at the Edgewater for two reasons: the menu and the view. And neither of them disappointed. What did disappoint was the various levels of disarray the Edgewater was in the weekend we went. My mom and I stayed at the old Edgewater so both of us recognized the amazing view of Lake Mendota when we walked into the State House for breakfast a couple weeks ago.

The State House at the Edgewater
The State House at the Edgewater
State House dining room
State House dining room

Other than the view, the State House had some other interesting atmosphere quirks — like the odd teal velvet chairs with studs and wings. Those were probably the ugliest chairs I’ve ever seen…and yes, they did detract from the dining room’s ambience. The extremely upscale kitchen and menu were overshadowed by the nice but untrained and awkwardly overattentive servers. And the plastic wrap and paint supplies we had to walk around to get into the dining room were pretty surprising to see.

state house sign 2Now on to the menu. Everything listed seems to have at least one thing that made it intriguing and hard to decide what to get– whether it be something homemade or an interesting ingredient. It also made the menu slightly unapproachable.

Savory croissant bread pudding benedict
Savory croissant bread pudding benedict

I eventually decided to get savory croissant bread pudding even after our waiter had no idea what it was and didn’t offer to go find out. The dish came with two perfectly poached eggs on top, a lighter-than-normal hollandaise sauce, a couple stalks of asparagus and some thinly-sliced ham on top of the savory croissant bread pudding. The bread pudding was what I had questions about when reading the menu and after trying it all I can say is — get the savory croissant bread pudding. It is chunks of croissant stuck together (I’m not sure with what) to make a base for the toppings, which are basically eggs benedict. The croissant bread pudding was surprising because it was still super flaky and had that dense, buttery flavor that everyone looks for in a croissant, but it was seasoned with savory spices…I picked out salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. It was one of the best breakfast dishes I’ve had in a while…if the hollandaise had a better flavor it might have been the best.

Poached egg crostone
Poached egg crostone

My mom got the crostone which was kind of also like eggs benedict. It had a grilled piece of sourdough bread as a base and asparagus, prosciutto, a basil emulsion and two poached eggs on top. This version of eggs benedict was lighter than mine, but equally as good. The prosciutto added a much-needed saltiness to the eggs and the basil emulsion was super light and flavorful. And then the sourdough bread tied it all in with a great tang and char from being grilled. My mom loves sourdough bread so this one was her favorite, but mine was my favorite!

FOOD NOTES: After reading and hearing a couple other reviews of the State House’s dinner I was a little worried about their breakfast, but the two versions of eggs benedict we got were great. A savory croissant bread pudding? I’ve never heard of it, but now I crave it! The coffee was also notably good. As I already mentioned, the dining room decor seemed like it was trying too hard and the fact that parts of the building were still under construction was awkward. However, I really hope the State House is able to stay open because when we were there on a Friday morning there was only one other table of people and the prices are a bit higher than comparable places (minus the view!).

Jason’s Deli tops other chain restaurants on west side

Jason's Deli
Jason’s Deli

I always walk into chain restaurants with low expectations in an effort to not be extremely disappointed by my meal. Usually it works, but when I went to Jason’s Deli with a friend the food and dining experience actually far exceeded my chain restaurant expectations and met most of my regular expectations for a good meal.

Jason's Deli dining room
Jason’s Deli dining room

Jason’s Deli opened a couple weeks ago and on my first visit I was pretty impressed. The building behind West Towne Mall just off Mineral Point Road has a large dining room with Madison-themed pictures, an open kitchen and a great outdoor seating area. The staff seemed very green (I did just open), but they were extremely nice throughout our entire visit.

The menu has a lot of different options, including soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis, a couple pasta options and baked potatoes. They also have a nice-sized salad bar and free ice cream when you dine in (one of the super nice employees told us they deliver, and we noticed they have a drive through!). Everyone who eats there also has access to their free dry bar, which includes bread, mini corn muffins, crackers and pickles. I love pickles and corn muffins, so this was an awesome perk to find out about!

Jason's Deli Cuban panini
Jason’s Deli Cuban panini

My friend got the Cuban panini and it got a thumbs up. All sandwiches come with chips, even when you get the manager’s half-sandwich special, which means you get a half sandwich with either a cup of soup, fruit or salad bar.

Jason's Deli salmon salad
Jason’s Deli salmon salad

I decided to try the Mighty Wild Salmon Salad. The description has a special box around it on the menu denoting it as something developed with the MD Anderson Cancer Center…I know it sounds kind of gimmicky but it was also the only thing on the menu that had the calories listed. The salad is a mix of organic field greens, beets, beans, nuts…and more, topped with grilled, wild Alaskan salmon for 610 calories with the oil and vinegar dressing. Everything on that list sounded great except for the ‘and more.’ I was concerned the ‘and more’ would be some sort of goat or blue cheese but the guy taking my order said it was a mix of craisins and seeds! When the salad came out I was pretty happy with the size and extremely happy with the quantity of ingredients on top. The lettuce was fresh, the beets were…well they were beets and would have been better pickled…but I like beets! The salmon was a good size, but it was a little dry. But because it was a little dry and didn’t have a lot of seasoning it went well with everything on top of the salad. The beans consisted of lima, garbanzo and kidney from what I remember and the nuts included sunflower, pepitas, and walnuts. There were also large florets of broccoli and a couple tomatoes! The light oil and vinegar dressing mostly helped keep the salmon from tasting too dry, but I didn’t need any more flavor assistance from the dressing because the rest of the toppings had so much flavor!

Jason's Deli potato and broccoli, cheese soup
Jason’s Deli potato and broccoli cheese soup

Both of us decided to get a cup of soup. I got the broccoli cheese and my friend got the potato. Both of them were pretty typical restaurant soups…nothing special, lukewarm, heavy with not a really great flavor, but still good. The best thing about my soup was dipping the crispy chunks of bread in it from the dry bar!

FOOD NOTES: Jason’s Deli has a ton of different menu options — it seems they have something for everyone! The food was a little pricey, but in comparison to Panera I felt like I got more food — and better quality food — for my money. The extra freebies diners get are super fun and were really unexpected. The Mighty Wild Salmon was tasty, pretty healthy for a dinner out and not too high in calories for what you get. The soup was forgettable. While we were there I did notice one thing being delivered to tables that I want to try next time I go — the  Plain Jane baked potato. It comes stuffed with cheddar, sour cream, butter, bacon and green onions. That doesn’t sound plain Jane to me!!