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.

Short Stack Eatery’s breakfast comes up short

Short Stack Eatery counter
Short Stack Eatery counter

In my opinion breakfast food is the best type of food. I have never been and will never be the person who “just doesn’t eat breakfast.” On busy mornings I still make time for oatmeal and a banana, but I love all types of breakfast options – eggs, toast, bacon, pancakes! And because I love breakfast food so much I love brunch and breakfast for dinner! I know I’m not alone in my love for breakfast food, which is why I was always a little disappointed by the breakfast offerings downtown. Recently, the Bassett Street Brunch Club opened, but there aren’t other places that serve breakfast all day downtown. So when I heard that the Short Stack Eatery opened right in the middle of State Street and would be serving breakfast all day, every day I thought I’d love it. Well I love the theory, but the execution didn’t work for me.

Short Stack Eatery
Short Stack Eatery
Short Stack Eatery table, number
Short Stack Eatery table, number

Short Stack Eatery is in a corner building so it has a ton of windows and is super bright and cheery. The brightly colored teal walls also add to the cheeriness. Table numbers are made with old license plates and tables are littered with old letters, maps and clippings, which is a cute way to bring in some nostalgia and Wisconsin pride. There’s a big counter in the middle that serves as a place for staff to huddle and diners to sit around. The huge chandelier made of whisks was my favorite!

Short Stack Eatery chandelier
Short Stack Eatery chandelier

We went on a busy Saturday morning after the farmer’s market and actually got a table right away, but only after we ordered at the counter. That was strike number one – I don’t like having to order and pay at a counter and then fight for a table while waiting for my food. Ordering at a counter also means we had to brave the busy drink station to get our own waters, silverware and even build a bloody Mary. I realize this makes me sound lazy, but the space Short Stack Eatery is in is way too small to make diners conglomerate around a small table for their drinks and utensils.

Short Stack Eatery Pick Three
Short Stack Eatery Pick Three

Their menu has all of the usual breakfast suspects: eggs, pancakes, french toast, etc. But then it has two unconventional options. A Pick Three option, which is exactly what it sounds like – they have a list of options and you get to pick three. The other one is a blind special, which again is exactly what it sounds like…but if you want to know what’s in it you get charged $12.95 and if you order it in blind faith it only costs $6.95, which in theory sounds good but you really have to be open for anything. The next strike against the Short Stack Eatery was the prices. A glass of orange juice is $4.25 – it is fresh-squeezed, but holy crap that is an expensive glass of orange juice. My meal was $8.95, which isn’t bad for breakfast, but the portions were just so freaking small it wasn’t a good deal.

Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery pancakes
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon
Short Stack Eatery eggs and bacon

So my $8.95 meal was the Pick Three option on the menu. I chose bacon, scrambled eggs and pancakes from a list that also had breakfast potatoes, toast and a couple other things. I was shocked when my order came out. The two eggs barely seemed like one large egg, the two small pieces of bacon were laughable and the three pancakes were about the size of a coffee mug. Everything was good – the bacon was cooked just right, the eggs were fine and the pancakes were actually pretty good, but almost $10 for a couple bites of egg, two pieces of bacon and three small pancakes? I was very disappointed in the price for what I ended up getting. And even though their orange juice was fancy and fresh squeeze, nothing on my plate warranted the price tag.

FOOD NOTES: I really wanted to be excited about a fun new breakfast place downtown, but unless Short Stack Eatery drops their prices or increases their portion sizes I won’t be back. I was shocked with the small amount of food I got, but the food I did actually get served was decent. Unfortunately, because people who live downtown like trendy places like Short Stack Eatery they probably won’t be changing their prices or portion sizes anytime soon, and will probably be pretty successful. The decor was cute, but I really don’t like having to order at a counter and fight for a glass of water and a napkin at a drink station.

Monk’s doesn’t joke about portion sizes

monks menu
Monk’s menu

For a burger place that originated in the tourist-driven Wisconsin Dells I wasn’t expecting much in the way of quality at Monk’s Bar in Grill. The local chain has four locations – two in the Dells, one in Baraboo and the newest one in Middleton. The fact that the parking lot was almost completely empty on a Friday night in the fall made me nervous, but the waitress told me Middleton High School was playing in some high school football playoff game that night so they had been very slow all night. The menu wasn’t a surprise – mostly burgers and fried appetizers with a couple wraps and salads.

monks pickles
Monk’s fried pickles

I’m a big fan of fried pickles and tend to judge a restaurant on the quality of their fried pickles if they have them on the menu. So when I saw Monk’s had them on the menu I had to get them. There must be some food distributor in Wisconsin that sells frozen fried pickles to restaurants because I’ve had them at a couple different places. Unfortunately, that’s what Monk’s pickles are. They are the same thin spears with the dill batter that any restaurant with hot fryer oil can perfect. They were good (they always taste the same) but disappointing at a local chain. The surprising thing is the order came with a lot more than normal. An order of pickles (if they’re spears) usually comes with five or six; at monk’s you get 10!

monks burger
Monk’s jalapeno bacon burger

For main-meal options, I figured I had to get a burger since that’s what they’re known for and there were a lot of options to choose from. I like spicy food so I got the jalapeno bacon burger, which is an original Monk’s burger (a fancy name for a generic burger) topped with jalapeno bacon, cheddar cheese, grilled jalapenos and spicy ranch dressing. When the burger came out the first thing I noticed was how big it was. The spicy ranch was a good compliment to the grilled jalapenos. The bacon was perfectly cooked and the burger itself was cooked nicely. The burger was so big I took half home and ate it the next day for lunch.

monk's monkey fries
Monk’s monkey fries

The best part of the Monk’s menu is that you can upgrade your side to a premium side of cheese curds, onion rings or monkey fries. The monkey fries appetizer description says they are premium beer battered fries loaded with gooey melted Wisconsin cheddar cheese and crispy chopped bacon, served with a side of ranch – “enough to share.” So when I upgraded my side I was expecting a smaller version of that and hoping the cheese was “gooey” as the description promised. Well…I was wrong about one thing – the size. The plate that came out full of fries was enough to feed three, and the cheese was perfectly melty and gooey like I had hoped. The fries were crispy and the topping was actual melted cheese (not something synthetic and tasteless) with bacon. Other than being overwhelmed by the portion size I was super happy with the upgrade!

FOODNOTES: Don’t go to Monk’s if you want something healthy. If you’re looking for a decent burger and a lot of food – head to Monk’s. This would be a great place for a family to come and split a couple appetizers and upgraded sides for cheap…that’s how big these portions are. I was too full for dessert so I’m not sure if they’re worth it, but based on the frozen, pre-prepared fried pickles, the desserts probably come in the same way. The service at the Middleton location was good but we were one of three tables at the time. I probably won’t be back because nothing was super impressive, but it would be a good spot to watch a game and munch of some monkey fries!