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!

Everything’s better dipped in Banzo’s hummus

Banzo food cart
Banzo food cart

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.

Banzo falafel and chicken combo
Banzo falafel and chicken combo

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.

Revamped menu at The Wise features upscale ingredients

I’ve been to The Wise twice — once for lunch during restaurant week and once for brunch on Game Day. Both times I enjoyed my meal, but the third time I went was after the new chef released a revamped menu and it was even better than the first two visits. The revamped menu also came along with a revamped dining room — they made it bigger and homier.


We started with a tray of snacks on a stick. We got the date stuffed with chorizo wrapped in bacon; jamon iberico de bellota with tempura ramp; and prosciutto, Carr Valley cocoa cardona, strawberry and mint. The bacon-wrapped date was good. I liked that it was stuffed with chorizo instead of cheese, but the other two out-shined the date. The prosciutto and cheese was sweet, salty and refreshing. It was one perfectly balanced bite. The star of the tray was the ham with a tempura fried ramp. The garlicy ramp wrapped in fancy, imported ham was something spectacular! I loved it.

asparagus salad
asparagus salad

We also got the asparagus salad with arugula, poached egg yolk, croutons and crispy bacon. The salad also has a light vinaigrette on it. This one was good, but a little disappointing based on the ingredients. I thought with bacon, egg yolk and arugula it would be a very flavorful salad…but it was just missing that something special. Maybe the egg yolk was too poached…maybe the bacon was too crispy…I’m not sure, but I wasn’t blown away.

smoked half chicken
smoked half chicken

The last thing we got to try was the smoked half chicken. This dish was pretty special. It comes with a BBQ jus, cheddar spiked polenta (hiding under the chicken) and honey glazed carrots. The polenta was creamy and had the perfect amount of cheesy flavor. And the carrots were great — spring carrots are super sweet and there was just enough glaze to work well with the smokiness of the chicken. The chicken was juicy and the smoky flavor was great — not overwhelming, but just enough to make the chicken super flavorful. The one downfall is that it’s a little hard to eat…you literally get half a chicken and a knife…so your plate looks a little like a massacre when you’re done.

FOOD NOTES: I’m glad I got to eat at The Wise before the revamp because it gave me a good base for comparison. The revamped menu definitely offers higher-quality dishes with special ingredients and flavor combinations. Tapas, salads and chicken are pretty common menu options, but these were elevated with fancy ingredients and unexpected flavor combinations. When you go to The Wise, go with an open mind and don’t be surprised if  you come across something that sounds weird on the menu but that actually tastes great!

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.

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.


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?

Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano is definitely a NO NO

Nonno’s Ristorante Italiano opened last December in a spot on Whitney Way that used to be a Mexican restaurant. I’m not sure why the Mexican restaurant closed, but I never ate there and I never heard anything good about it. But I had heard some decent things about Nonno’s after it opened. I figured lunch would be good opportunity to try it, because hopefully it wouldn’t be too busy and the prices would be lower.

The decor at Nonno’s feels a little strange. S0me of the dining room is brightly colored, and basically seems like they didn’t paint after the Mexican restaurant closed. There are booths by the windows with big built-up archways that make the rest of the dinning room super dark.

Nonno's bread
Nonno’s bread

They brought out a basket of hot bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip it in. It was an odd type of bread, that basically had the consistency of thick, super soft breadsticks. The olive oil and vinegar was nothing special, but the bread with the mixture was a nice touch.

Nonno's farfelle rustico
Nonno’s farfelle rustico

I ordered the farfelle rustico ($10), which is bow tie pasta with olive oil, garlic, grilled chicken, mushrooms, peas, onions, bell peppers, parmesan cheese and white wine. The pasta came out super fast and was extremely hot, but it cooled down so fast that it made me think it was microwaved. The sauce was light, but had absolutely zero flavor (I didn’t taste the garlic mentioned on the menu). The noodles tasted like they were out of a box, so if they were homemade they were done super poorly. Some of the noodles on the menu say they are homemade, but the farfelle does not say that. The chicken was OK…not amazing, but not super processed. It was probably taken out of a package precooked and they just reheated it. There were a couple chunks of mushrooms and a couple peas, definitely not enough to make them a substantial part of the dish. The bell peppers and onions were just as sparse. The portion size was pretty decent (I took enough home for lunch the next day), but the quality of the product wasn’t great.

FOOD NOTES: The decor and location of Nonno’s is a bit off. The prices weren’t bad for the portion sizes, but they were a bit high for the quality of the product (microwaved pasta?). I was very unimpressed with the noodles and the processed chicken, but the flavorless sauce and lack of veggies listed on the menu put me over the edge. I will probably not be going back to Nonno’s.

Pinterest helped me make Chipotle at home!

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copycat Chipotle pin

Chipotle is by far my favorite fast-food/to-go restaurant, but it is kind of pricey and pretty high in sodium. So I decided to try and recreate my favorite Chipotle burrito at home to hopefully make it healthier and taste close to the real thing. My first stop in this plan was Pinterest. I found a pretty great webpage that had copycat recipes for all of the components I wanted.

homemade Chipotle chicken burrito bowls
homemade Chipotle chicken burrito bowls

The chicken copycat recipe looked too complicated for me so I just cooked mine on my George Foreman grill. I also bought my guacamole in 100 calorie packs and used canned (no salt added) black beans. I don’t like cilantro and rice has always seemed like an unnecessary filler, so I skipped the cilantro lime rice.

I did use the recipe for corn salsa and it was very good! Corn salsa is my favorite and it is surprisingly super simple to make.

FOODNOTES: All in all, my homemade Chipotle burrito bowls were nothing like the actual Chipotle bowls, but they were very good! They were also only 430 calories compared to the real Chipotle bowls, which hover around or over 600 calories. I definitely plan to make this a regular addition to my recipe rotation!

Macro bowls: Big taste, big flavor, small calories

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Macro bowl pin on pinterest

In my quest to be healthy and eat healthy I found a recipe for Macro Bowls on Pinterest about a month ago. Well, it wasn’t really a recipe, it was more of an idea to make lunches for your work week with five or six really heathy ingredients put together. I’ve been cooking food for the week all at once since I’ve lived by myself in college, but the idea of a macro bowl was new to me. I usually make a dish – lasagna, turkey meatloaf, something in the crockpot – and pack sides like an apple, veggies, etc. The website I found on Pinterest basically says to cook up two vegetables, a starch, a bean and a protein. They used kale, sweet potatoes, black beans, quinoa and tofu. Other than making lunches super easy, the goal of a macro bowl seems to be making lunches super tasty and healthy too. I’m not sure on the calorie count of the macro bowls on the website but it couldn’t have been very high.

macro bowl 4
macro bowls

When I decided to try making macro bowls I didn’t follow their recipe. I just focused on what super healthy ingredients I actually like and my favorite flavors (garlic, olive oil). My first set of macro bowls had sauteed kale with zucchini, onions and garlic, quinoa cooked in water with garlic salt, sweet potato wedges roasted with olive oil and garlic, and some low-fat chicken sausage cooked with black beans and garlic. The sauteed vegetables were super easy and very tasty. The quinoa added a good base for the dish. Sweet potato wedges are one of my favorite foods! Most people eat them sweet with sugar or brown sugar, but I think they are best with a little garlic salt and olive oil. For the chicken sausage I peeled off the casing and cooked the chicken like it was ground beef with the black beans. I layered all of these different pieces in to-go lunch containers and had five lunches for the week.

macro bowl 1
quinoa, sauteed kale and zucchini
macro bowl 3
chicken and black beans, sweet potato wedges

As for the details: I used one pan to cook the three stove-top layers and then roasted the sweet potato wedges in the oven, which was great because who likes to do dishes!!?? When I divvied out the ingredients I measured how much was going into each bowl so I could plug that information into my calories app on my phone to see what I was eating in numbers. According to my app, each bowl I made had 280 calories and 22 grams of protein. I work nights so my “lunches” are actually my dinners and typically you want to eat a high-protein low-calorie dinner to keep you full but not weigh you down. The best part of the macro bowl was how easy it was. The longest part was cooking the quinoa – it takes about 20 minutes on the stove, but now you can buy precooked quinoa that you just have to heat up, so that could decrease the time it takes to make the bowls.

macro chicken
chicken, peppers, black beans
macro bowl attempt 2
macro bowls with squash, brussel sprouts, chicken, kale

For my second attempt at making the bowls I eliminated the quinoa (mainly because I didn’t have any in my cabinets). Instead of chicken sausage I sliced up chicken breasts and cooked them with onions, spicy banana peppers, garlic and black beans. Instead of sweet potato wedges I steamed a small butternut squash and then mashed it with garlic and olive oil – very similar in taste and health benefits! I made the kale the same way but instead of including zucchini I steamed some brussel sprouts sprinkled with garlic salt – I love brussel sprouts! My second attempt took less time because I didn’t make the quinoa, and I still only used one pan to limit the amount of dishes. This time, my macros had 225 calories and 17 grams of protein.

macro bowl 5
macro bowls to go

FOODNOTES: The goal of a macro bowl is to make lunches super easy and super healthy. The best part about the macro bowl is you can make it however you want. If you don’t eat meat use tofu. If you don’t like kale use broccoli. If you don’t like quinoa use brown rice or eliminate it all together. Macro bowls could also follow different flavor profiles. Obviously I’m a garlic girl but you could make a miso dressing or  a peanut sauce to drizzle over the bowl for an Asian feel – both of those usually have low calories and the peanut sauce would add protein! I love how customizable these are, and that they ideally have less than 300 calories for so much food!