Great atmosphere, overrated food at Buck and Honey’s

buck and honeys signI’ve been hearing about Buck and Honey’s in Sun Prairie for a couple years and the outside seating area lived up to the hype, but the food definitely did not. The large outdoor seating area features patio furniture, a fire pit, a grassy area with bean bag toss games and a small stage (the night I was there a spirited guy was singing and playing the mandolin). It would be nice if the outside patio faced something other than the back of a building and a parking lot, but it is still a nice feature and a great place to chat with a good friend!

Buck and Honey's fried cheese curds

Buck and Honey’s fried cheese curds

We got the fried cheese curds to start, and I was immediately disappointed when they got to our table. For $9 you get like eight cheese curds and two sub-par dipping sauces — ranch and pizza sauce. The curds had potential, especially with the shaved parmesan on top, but that’s as far as it went. They were lukewarm in the middle, the batter was a bit too heavy, and they kind of tasted a little funny — like the oil was old. The curds were definitely  not worth the price or the calories.

Buck and Honey's brisket dinner

Buck and Honey’s brisket dinner

Their regular menu didn’t have a lot of promising things on it, so I was happy when our server sat down a specials menu. I got the brisket dinner with sliced brisket, roasted potatoes and onions in a red wine reduction. The serving was massive, which was surprising considering the curd serving. The slices of brisket could have been more tender and  they didn’t have any of the smokey flavor I expect with brisket. The potatoes were edible, but could have been seasoned better, and the onions needed some more time in the pan to caramelize. The most disappointing part of the dish was the red wine reduction, which tasted and looked more like a sweet mixture of BBQ sauce and ketchup. The dish was good, but nowhere near the quality I expect when paying $18 for dinner.

FOOD NOTES: The public really likes restaurants that trick them into thinking their food is good just because the atmosphere is fancy and the prices are high. Buck and Honey’s in Sun Prairie perfectly fits that description. While the outside seating is very enjoyable, the cheese curds were disappointing, and the brisket dish was barely what is usually considered brisket and the sauce was amateur. I’m not sure I’d go back to even give other things on the menu a chance because none of the descriptions on the menu seem to warrant the prices.

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That BBQ Joint must serve up good food if vegetarians eat there too

That BBQ Joint

That BBQ Joint

Living in Wisconsin my entire life I can’t say I’ve been exposed to really good BBQ a lot, but when I do find it I really enjoy it. I wish there were more quality BBQ options in the midwest. I also wish I knew if what I was eating would be considered good southern BBQ, but all I know is that the food at That BBQ Joint on Willy Street was very good. One of my vegetarian friends asked if I wanted to go, which was an odd conversation to begin with but she said their vegetarian options sounded good so we went.

That BBQ Joint seating

That BBQ Joint seating

The tiny building that used to house Batch Bakehouse has three small tables and two counters along the side and back walls. When we walked in it smelled like a smoker, which is a pretty good indicator that they are actually smoking their BBQ. You order at a counter, grab a seat in the dining area, and the girl behind the counter brings out your food. I got the rib basket that comes with three ribs, a dinner roll and two sides for $8.99. For sides they have vinegar slaw, creamy slaw, three-bean salad, greens, brisket chili and baked beans.

That BBQ Joint counter

That BBQ Joint counter

The amount of ribs was perfect for the price, but I would have liked my sides to be a little bigger. The three ribs had a great char on them, and I could see and taste the smoke ring, but they were a little tough. The ribs had a good flavor on their own, but there were three sauce options on the table I had to try. The yellow mustard sauce had a good flavor that balanced out the saltiness of the ribs. The Caribbean sauce was awful. It tasted kind of like burned BBQ sauce with a random tang that didn’t work well together. The regular BBQ sauce was good, but nothing special. I would have liked to see a spicy sauce option. My meal came with a roll, which was forgettable and was served without butter.

That BBQ Joint rib basket

That BBQ Joint rib basket

For my sides I chose the creamy coleslaw and the brisket chili. The brisket chili was fantastic. I can safely say it was the highlight of the meal and was even better than the ribs. It had a fantastic flavor, a good consistency and massive chunks of tender brisket. The quality of the chili made me want to try their brisket next time I go. The creamy coleslaw was pretty good except for the fact that they added craisins. The coleslaw is already sweeter thanks to the creamy dressing, it doesn’t need more sweetness. Plus I generally don’t like craisins. I did really enjoy the almost minced texture of the coleslaw. It made it easier to eat and held the sauce well.

That BBQ Joint Boca Mo'

That BBQ Joint Boca Mo’

My friend got the Boca Mo’ which is basically a sloppy joe made with Boca crumbles. She definitely enjoyed it, and I even thought it tasted pretty good, not good enough to pass up ribs but good enough to bring vegetarians to a BBQ restaurant.

That BBQ Joint cornbread muffins

That BBQ Joint cornbread muffins

We also ordered some cornbread. An order of two jalapeno cornbread muffins is only $1.50 and the muffins were a pretty good size. The muffins had actual chunks of corn in them that I really loved, but I didn’t taste any jalapeno flavor. They were also not served with butter, and normally that’s not a problem because cornbread is good enough without butter, but these were a little dry and the butter would have made them better.

FOOD NOTES: I don’t know if this place is southern-BBQ quality, but I definitely enjoyed my meal. The ribs had a great smokiness and flavor, but were a little tough. I would expect better sauce options at a BBQ place, but their yellow mustard sauce had great flavor. I really enjoyed my side of brisket chili and look forward to trying their other brisket options. I’m always about mixing up traditional dishes with new ingredients, but their creamy coleslaw would be a lot better without the craisins. The jalapeno cornbread muffins need more jalapeno kick and could be more moist. The entire place felt very simple and down-home. I look forward to going back sometime soon to try more on their menu, especially the brisket!

Alchemy makes up for Friday nights without sweet potato fries with mind-blowing sandwich

Alchemy

Alchemy

I have been trying to eat at the Alchemy at the north end of Atwood Avenue for a couple years now, but because they don’t take reservations the wait time was always 30 minutes or more, and during previous visits that didn’t work with our plans or our stomachs. This time, I decided I had waited long enough to try their lauded sweet potato fries so we waited the 30 minutes or so for a table. The restaurant itself is smaller than I think it should be, considering how long their wait times usually are, and it is extremely crowded with nowhere to wait for a table except directly in front of the door, in the main walkway for servers, basically on top of a full table or right next to the ATM. Oh yeah…they have an ATM in the restaurant because they only take cash. While I understand that credit card machines and fees are expensive, I think that in 2014 all businesses should take plastic, especially with so many options to take them via a smartphone or tablet. Usually a restaurant looses my business if they don’t take plastic, but we awkwardly waited by the ATM for our table anyways — luckily I had cash with me!

I already knew I wanted to order the house-made sweet potato fries so when our menu didn’t have them listed I was super confused. When I asked the waitress she explained (in an annoyed tone) that they don’t serve the sweet potato fries after 5 p.m. on Fridays. What!?? How does that make any sense!? I’m assuming it’s because they use their sweet potato fryer to make their fish fry, but that little tidbit of information is not posted online anywhere, and it really doesn’t make any sense at all. Why can’t the sweet potato fries be fried in the same frier as normal fries, which we were able to readily get at 6:30 on a Friday night. Needless to say, I was very disappointed.

Alchemy brisket sandwich, fries

Alchemy brisket sandwich, fries

The only thing that could make up for my extreme disappointment in Alchemy’s odd business decision regarding their sweet potato fries would be a great meal. Well, they delivered. I ordered the brisket sandwich and the picture I have doesn’t do it justice. The description of ingredients is what got me. It says the beer braised brisket from Black Earth Meets comes with mustard BBQ sauce, a house made pickled egg, swiss cheese, mixed greens and red onion. I love every single one of those ingredients and especially love pickled eggs. I know, they sound absolutely disgusting but they are actually really great. They are very popular at bars in Wisconsin, yet I have never seen one on a sandwich anywhere. The sandwich came with a couple of side options, but of course I went for the Alchemy fries in hopes that they might resemble the sweet potato fries. The Alchemy fries were large chunks of potato cooked to a perfectly fluffy consistency, and were seasoned perfectly. I’m not sure if they were baked or fried, but if they were fried they weren’t greasy at all. The sandwich itself was a huge success. The soft, toasted bun could barely contain the serving of perfectly smokey and flavorful brisket on the sandwich. The mustard BBQ sauce helped cut through the heaviness of the brisket, but the real show-stopper of the sandwich was the sliced up pickled egg. That tangy, rich flavor really added a great contrasting flavor. The fresh greens and red onions added a much-needed freshness to the massive sandwich. I loved it. My one suggestion would be to add a bit more of the mustard BBQ sauce.

Alchemy menu

Alchemy menu

FOOD NOTES: Despite being very crowded and not taking reservations or credit cards, I loved my food at Alchemy. Their odd cessation of making sweet potato fries after 5 p.m. on Fridays really angered me, but the brisket sandwich made up for it very quickly. I’m going to say something bold: I haven’t had every sandwich in Madison, but the Alchemy’s brisket sandwich is the best one I’ve had so far and it is going to take a masterpiece to dethrone this sandwich. I will 100 percent be back for that sandwich, and one of these days I will get to try their sweet potato fries! What do you think the best sandwich in Madison is?

Stalzy’s beet salad is perfect side for flavorful sandwiches

I’ve been to Stalzy’s on the near east side multiple times but this time their special was so good I decided I needed to post about it again! I’m not sure how to describe Stalzy’s other than say they serve fresh homemade deli food. I’ve had great soups and amazing sandwiches every time I’ve been there. And their beet salad is so epic that I took some home the last time I was there.

stalzys brisket rachel

Stalzy’s Rachel sandwich with brisket

Usually when I go I get the Rachel with pastrami, swiss cheese, coleslaw and Russian dressing on rye. It is so good that I’ve had cravings for it. It is probably a good thing that I live on the completely opposite side of town. On my most recent visit their special was the Rachel with beef brisket instead of pastrami. I’m a huge brisket fan so I had to get it. The brisket’s smokiness added another flavor profile to this already amazing sandwich. Also, by itself, the brisket was one of the best briskets I’ve ever had!

stalzys pickled beets

Stalzy’s picked beet salad

My other go-to favorite at Stalzy’s is their beet salad. The beets are the perfect texture and have a good combo of spices on top of the pickling. They are an amazing compliment to the salty sandwiches at Stalzy’s. I haven’t tried any of their other sides because the beet salad is so good!

FOODNOTES: The special Rachel with brisket was the best sandwich I have ever had…ever! My goal is to visit Stalzy’s more often so I can try more of their sandwiches, sides and their brats/sausages. The one thing I will get every time I go is the beet salad. During this last visit I also found out they serve breakfast and really want to try that. They have a small deli counter and I would like to get some of the house-smoked meat at least once. FYI – they only take cash.