Don’t fail like me…get the BBQ at the Thirsty Goat

Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main

So there’s a new barbecue restaurant in Fitchburg and I hate to admit that I didn’t actually get BBQ on my first visit. The good news — everything I got was tasty so I’ll be heading back soon to try the BBQ. The Thirsty Goat on Cahill Main in Fitchburg took over an old Mexican restaurant spot I think. The building is rustic and cozy inside, but the fire pit in the back is what caught my attention. There’s a deck off the back of the building overlooking Fish Hatchery Road, and my friend Nicole and I definitely spotted a fire fit back there…I’m thinking this place will be a regular stop on my patio rotation this summer!

Cheese curds

On to the food…that isn’t BBQ (sorry!) but was still good. I must have forgotten where I was and what type of restaurant I was in when looking at the menu because we ordered broasted chicken and the sausage plate…and no barbecue. But because we work hard and deserve a treat…we started with the cheese curds. The almost overflowing basket came with what were obviously hand-breaded cheese curds. Here’s your clue: If the curds are all the same shape and size…they came out of a freezer box — if they’re random shapes and sizes…they were probably hand-breaded. These were hand-breaded, fried to a perfect golden brown, just salty enough and came with the perfect dipping sauce — housemade ranch! Nothing bad to say about the curds!

img_3837Nicole and I decided to each get an entree and split it. I got the sausage plate with mac and cheese and coleslaw. It also came with corn bread. Their sausage that week was an Italian sausage. It was perfectly grilled with crispy grill marks on the outside and had a good flavor. I appreciated that it wasn’t too greasy and you get enough to feed two! BBQ restaurant mac and cheese is never anything special and the Thirsty Goat’s was right on par with that. The coleslaw wasn’t unique, but it was good. I don’t remember much about the corn bread, but only because I ate it so fast!

img_3836Nicole got the half chicken and it was good…but it was chicken. I have zero complaints about the chicken…except that it wasn’t BBQ brisket!

FOOD NOTES: Good ahead…get the cheese curds at this BBQ restaurant…you won’t be disappointed! Our lunch at the Thirsty Goat was very good, but I do regret not getting BBQ…guess it’s just a good reason to go back again! Oh, and don’t forget about the fire pit for this summer! If it’s a Friday night, you might find me there!

Hidden atop downtown hotel, The Blind has many something specials

It takes something special for new restaurants in downtown Madison to last, and the new one on top of the Graduate Hotel has a couple something specials.

Reasons I love The Madison Blind:

  1. It’s on a roof where you can see State Street, Lake Mendota and the Capitol.
  2. No matter where you sit, inside near the wall of windows or outside on the patio, you have a great view!
  3. The drinks a great. They do the classics well and their specials are super tasty.
  4. The fries are extra crispy and served with great aioli.
  5. The beet salad is an A+.

Those are some pretty great reasons to check out the Blind, but I can’t say enough about the view, especially on the patio…I have repeatedly forgotten to take a picture of the view because I was too busy enjoying it in real time!

IMG_3316The food is also pretty great. I’ve tried most of their appetizers and none of them disappointed. The poutine is phenomenal. I’m usually not a fan of poutine because it usually tastes like a pile of mush, but the poutine at the Blind is cheesy, the fries are crispy and the gravy is super flavorful. The fish tacos are super fresh and light, but they are very tiny. The cheese curds are a great version of the Wisconsin classic.

IMG_3314Like I said, the beet salad with chicken is top notch. If you get the poutine and cheese curds to start, the beet salad is a great entree option. It’s tasty and hearty, but not heavy.

IMG_3318As for dessert, they serve the hand pies sold downstairs in the hotel’s cafe Portage Pi. I got the apple pie a ‘la mode. The turnover-like pie was hot and crispy, but the crust was a little dry and there could have been more filing and ice cream

Based on its location, the corner of Langdon and Francis, and it’s great drinks and food, it’s not a surprise the Blind is usually very busy. I’ve had to wait for a table every time I’ve been there, but the view and food are worth the wait. It is a small dining room, but based on my experience I think part of the wait time has to do with the service. Every time I’ve been there our waiter has either taken forever to come to the table the first time or disappeared halfway through. It also feels like there are no assigned tables because all three times I’ve gone I had a couple different servers.

FOOD NOTES: The Blind is one of my new favorite places in Madison. If the food and drinks don’t keep you coming back, the view should. The service could be faster and more organized, but there are too many other goods things at the Blind that will keep me going back. I’m a sucker for their beet salad so I’ve never tried their burgers, but they look and smell amazing!

Estrellon tapas are surprisingly filling for the price

I heard two things about Estrellon when it first opened:

  1. The food (both the paella and the tapas) is amazing
  2. The prices are a bit high

But a girls night out at a bar downtown seemed like the perfect time to try tapas for dinner at Estrellon. We got one of the last tiny tables on the tapas side of the restaurant and after waiting a little too long for a waiter, we ordered a half dozen tapas to start with. But those ended up being surprisingly filling and a perfect mix of fun food for dinner.

Here’s what we got:

deviled eggs

Estrellon deviled eggs

The deviled eggs were too mustardy for me…I like my deviled eggs traditionally chocked full of mayo.

Estrellon cheese curds

Estrellon cheese curds

This was the worst thing we got. I’m not sure what I was expecting because the menu didn’t say fried cheese curds, but fresh cheese curds (that weren’t even squeaky so they couldn’t have been that fresh) with some dressing and sesame seeds on top was a very underwhelming dish. Definitely not worth ordering.

Toast pieces with different toppings

Toast pieces with different toppings

The toast pieces come with a bunch of different topping options. I got the summer sausage with raw milk cheddar and pickles; the charred beets with manchego cheese and pine nuts; and the jamon iberico with tomato jam and relish. My friend got the sweet pears with candied walnut butter and feta cheese; brie with artichoke, tomato and caviar; and the smoked sockeye salmon with greek yogurt, caviar and truffle honey. They were a lot smaller than I expected, but they were extremely tasty. My favorite was the summer sausage one with the housemade pickle!

Estrellon croquetas

Estrellon fried mushrooms

These were the best thing we ordered. They were fried mushrooms, but what made them special was that they were stuffed with cheese and came with a great aioli sauce drizzled on top. They were hot, crispy and had a great flavor. And since the cheese and sauce were so rich, the serving size was just enough.

Estrellon papas fritas

Estrellon papas fritas

These were pretty much what I expected — crunchy, salty frites with yummy aioli. I always go for papas fritas because they’re easy to do well. Always a good standby.

FOOD NOTES: Once we got everything we ordered, we decided we wouldn’t need another round of food, which was good. Our bill (split two ways) ended up being about the same as if we had gone to another pricier restaurant downtown, which was pleasantly surprising. After we listed off our entire order, I thought it was going to be about double what it ended up being. Estrellon is definitely a fun place to go, and if you drink wine they have a happy hour deal where you buy a glass of house wine and get a free tapa…which would be a great way to check out Estrellon.

Great location doesn’t = great food at Waypoint Public House

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.

Waypoint Public House cheese curds

Waypoint Public House cheese curds

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.

Waypoint Public House jalapeno poppers

Waypoint Public House jalapeno poppers

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.

IMG_1942Their 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.

O.S.S.: Obviously stellar sausages

O.S.S.

O.S.S.

O.S.S. opened this year in a little brick building on Regent Street that has been vacant for a while. O.S.S. by all technical definitions is a sausage shop and the name can mean whatever you want it to mean – Old School Sausages, Open Source Sausages…they even take suggestions from customers. But no matter what O.S.S. means to you, it will also mean awesome sausages, fresh cheese curds and perfectly crispy hand-cut french fries. Plus, the menu uses locally sourced sausages and cheeses, which I absolutely love!

O.S.S. dining room

O.S.S. book table

O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street

O.S.S. dining room overlooking Regent Street

The tiny brick building is conspicuously signed with a side entrance and a hidden back patio. The dining room is flanked on both sides by long, communal tables with a mix of chairs and stools. The entire place has a unique, industrial feel to it with warm touches — the legs on one of the long tables is made out of a stack of books! There’s also a whimsical feeling because they won’t really tell you what O.S.S. stands for, yet you can find the initials and possible definitions scattered throughout.

O.S.S. bahn mi

O.S.S. bahn mi

O.S.S. bahn mi

O.S.S. bahn mi

The bahn mi sausage, which the manager said is one of their best sellers, had some real potential. The sriracha mayo added a great spice to the heavier sausage, and the cabbage slaw gave the entire thing a much-needed crunch. I could have done without the cilantro, and the whole jalapeno slices could have been cut smaller as to avoid an entire mouthful of unbalanced spice. But the slaw mixed with the mayo and sausage was a great combination.

O.S.S. Chicago dog

O.S.S. Chicago dog

The traditional Chicago dog was pretty awesome. It is a traditional hot dog with tomatoes, onions, relish, a pickle, celery salt, sport peppers and mustard. The hearty bun was just the right size to contain all of the top-notch ingredients. The peppers and the pickle added a great spice and saltiness to the dog, and the freshness of the tomatoes and onions was very welcome. I’ve never had a Chicago dog in Chicago, but I can’t imagine they could be any better.

O.S.S. fried cheese curds

O.S.S. fried cheese curds

O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard

O.S.S. curds with special sweet mustard

The hand-battered cheese curds were pretty phenomenal. They were stringy and melty with a perfectly light and crunchy batter. They were probably the freshest fried cheese curds I’ve ever had. The manager told us you can also order them spun in sauces, like chicken wings…which sounded very interesting, but we opted for the traditional curds. The curds came with a special sweet mustard from the National Mustard Museum. The mustard was sweet and a little tangy, but the curds were good enough on their own.

O.S.S. fries

O.S.S. fries

The hand-cut fries were just as prefect as french fries can get. The fries still had the skins on them, and all of them were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The entire batch had just the right amount of salt, and they even came with a stray cheese curd!

FOOD NOTES: This sausage shop is an awesome addition to the Regent Street area. Regent Street has never been a food destination for me, and O.S.S. really changes that. Their take on traditional cheese curds and hand-cut french fries shows that making fried sides fresh and with quality ingredients really pays off. I enjoyed both sausages I’ve tried, but I really want to try some of their special dogs they’ve posted on Facebook (Swissco Bacon Mac Dog, the Assadura and the Tikka Masala…yum!).

Near east side’s Harmony not my idea of great neighborhood bar

There is definitely something to be said about good bar food, but it is rare and hard to find. And once again a Madison bar’s bar food has disappointed me. I put a decent amount of stock into public polls like the Isthmus’ Madison Favorites and Madison Magazine’s Best of Madison list, but those voters led to astray this time. The Harmony Bar on Atwood Avenue has been recognized for best neighborhood bar and a couple other things over the years, but I definitely don’t agree. As far as dive bars go, this one is pretty high on the totem pole of dives I’ve been to lately. The building itself needs some updating and TLC to be anywhere near what I would consider a charming dive bar. The paint was peeling, the floors were dirty and I don’t even want to go into detail the disaster that was the bathroom.

As for the food, they list “specialty pizzas” as a feature on their website. The picture on the website depicts a thin crust pizza with generous toppings and cheese. The pizzas we were served had super doughy and chewy crust, almost non-existent toppings, a sauce with zero flavor, and more grease than pizzas that are served out of cardboard box and cost $5. I barely ate the two small pieces I grabbed.

Harmony cheese curds

Harmony cheese curds

Because the pizzas were so disappointing we decided to order some food off the regular menu. I am a Wisconsinite through and through so for me to leave cheese curds on the table when I leave, they have to be pretty bad. Not only did I not like the Harmony’s cheese curds, more than half of our order was left behind when we got up. The batter was super heavy, the curds were solid when they should be soft and stringy, and I can pretty much guarantee you they came out of a box from the freezer. The curds were extremely disappointing.

Harmony pub chips

Harmony pub chips

Their pub chips and blue cheese were probably the best thing we had that night. The chips were the perfect thickness with a good crunch, and tasted house made. The blue cheese dressing was so mild it could have passed as ranch, but it was still a good pairing with the salty, crispy potato chips.

Harmony cheeseburger

Harmony cheeseburger

The burger was certainly nothing special. It was nowhere near as awful as the cheese curds, but I wished it was better. The cheese looked like it had been melted in a microwave, but the lettuce, tomato and onions on top were fresh. The one note I have about the burger is that it was huge. The actual patty was much larger than I was expecting. It didn’t have a ton of flavor or good char, but it wasn’t a terrible burger.

FOOD NOTES: The Harmony has so much potential, but the building needs some TLC, and the kitchen and menu need to be revamped. The pub chips are the exception. They are perfectly thick and crisp, and aren’t too greasy. The cheese curds were laughable for a Wisconsin bar, but the burger was edible. I wouldn’t even bother with the horrible “specialty pizzas.” They do have live music some nights, so that might be a draw but I would suggest eating somewhere else before heading to the show.

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.