Stamm House needs to work out menu kinks to be great

1847 at the Stamm House

1847 at the Stamm House

IMG_1955I’ve lived in Middleton over four years and the Stamm House has been an empty shell that entire time. That is, until this summer when it opened as a restaurant. The building itself is extremely old and historical, so I can only imagine how bad the inside was, but their remodel doesn’t seem to go with the historical nature of the building. They put up pine panelling on the walls and some of the booths are made of the same panelling. The bar is stark and cold, and the lack of decor doesn’t fit with the warm stone building. We sat outside, which had the best atmosphere. It was simple outdoor seating with a white picket fence and some small lights.

Cheese and charcuterie plate

Cheese and charcuterie plate

Their menu is pretty small, which is good because it means they’re focusing on getting what they’re serving right. We started with a cheese and charcuterie plate that came with three cheese, a liver paste and some tasty pairings. I liked the option of four items for $17 because we could get three cheeses and one meat. That’s also a very reasonable price for the amount of food we got. The options change, so you can probably never build the same cheese/meat board twice. Ours came with pickled veggies, two different types of preserves, nuts and bread. I could make an entire meal out of charcuterie, so this was my favorite part of the meal.

Stamm House sirloin

Stamm House sirloin

I got the sirloin entree, which isn’t on the menu anymore. The sirloin dish I got came with roasted tomatoes, asparagus and onions. It also came with a sweet and savory sauce that I didn’t like. The steak was perfectly cooked, had a great flavor and was tender. The serving of sirloin was also about twice as much as I was expecting. In general, the dish was good, but in true American fashion I wanted a potato. And ironically, the new sirloin dish posted on the Stamm House’s online menu has a potato listed with it.

Stamm House burger and frites

Stamm House burger and frites

My mom got the burger, which was a standard burger that had one interesting topping — mornay sauce. I love mornay sauce. It’s a creamy, cheesy white sauce that usually accompanies eggs or steak, but putting it on a burger is a great idea. If you’re looking for a good burger that’s a little different than the norm…this is it. The frites and aioli were also top notch.

IMG_1960My mom and I aren’t dessert people, but they had French press coffee on the menu and we wanted something sweet to go with it. So we got the set of three pastries. The crispy shells were filled with a not-too-sweet custard and the crunchy hazelnuts were perfect. They were just sweet enough to compliment the strong coffee perfectly, but not too sweet to be overwhelming.

FOOD NOTES: I loved the cheese and charcuterie board (because those are hard to get wrong), but my sirloin entree could have been better. Based on the menu changes, I would definitely give the Stamm House another chance because the hardest part — the steak — was the best part of my meal. I was just disappointed with the sauce and vegetables. I love that they offer French press coffee with their perfectly balanced desserts. I don’t love the remodeled inside, but once their outdoor patio opens back up for the summer, I’ll give Stamm House another chance.

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Portage Pi is hidden gem between State and Langdon

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Canoes hang from the ceiling of the Graduate Hotel’s lobby

Portage Pi dining room

Portage Pi dining room

Portage Pi communal table

Portage Pi communal table

The amount of food and beverage options downtown keeps growing, but there are always some standouts. Over the summer about a dozen new places opened downtown, but one place’s atmosphere, location and food should be noticed. Portage Pi is in the lobby of the new Graduate Hotel on the corner of Francis and Langdon streets. It’s the perfect location for students needing sustenance either walking to or from classes, but students shouldn’t be the only people enjoying this new gem. When I visited with my friend Michelle Li, they said they’d be opening a cafe and walk-up counter for quick ordering. But if you walk up, you don’t get to experience the great decor and atmosphere inside.

Lamp base

Lamp base

IMG_1804IMG_1808 IMG_1807 IMG_1806I’m not really sure how to explain the decor, other than saying there’s probably something for everyone. It’s cute, eclectic, cozy and has some local flair. The menu has hand pies, salads, sandwiches, coffee, smoothies and juice.

IMG_1817 IMG_1815 We got to try two of their hand pies — the banana s’mores pie and the short rib pie. Both hand pies were super good, but I liked the savory one better. They would be great to take to class and secretly eat in the back row of a lecture hall! The crust was flaky and didn’t overwhelm the filling. The inside was flavorful and filled with quality ingredients.

Banana s'mores hand pie

Banana s’mores hand pie

IMG_1813The banana s’mores pie was also good, but unless you’re a huge dessert fan, I wouldn’t pass up the savory pies for the dessert pies. They are a bit too sweet for my taste.

housemade juices

housemade juices

I also got to try one of their housemade juices — the Thornton Melon with honeydew, mint, lemon, ginger and cucumber.  It was super refreshing and even though it was technically juice, didn’t feel sugary…it tasted like infused water.

FOOD NOTES: I lived three blocks from this place when I was in college and it would have been a regular stop on my way back from class. A place where I can get good coffee, a quick lunch and a juice or snack for later would have been at the top of my list of regular stops…right up there with Med Cafe, Amy’s and Chipotle. I wouldn’t recommend getting the juices every day, but it would have been a good treat on some of those hot days at the beginning of the school year.

Monona Drive has better lunch options than Rosie’s Cafe

Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery

Rosie’s Coffee Bar and Bakery

Small cafes that serve up homemade pastries, quality coffee and great sandwiches are some of my favorite places, but sometimes they can be hard to find. A couple months ago I had a great lunch at Crema Cafe on Monona Drive and I was hoping to find another great place in Monona, but Rosie’s Coffee Bar and Bakery was a let down.

bakery case

bakery case

doughnut

doughnut

cinnamon roll

cinnamon roll

I went there with my friend Nicole and her daughter. The coffee was decent, but their bakery items weren’t great. My cinnamon roll was thick and crusty, not flaky and sweet like I expect from cinnamon rolls. And it was frosted with a thick, sugary glaze instead of a cream cheese frosting. It was one of the only times I’ve ever not finished a cinnamon roll.

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

tuna salad sandwich

They serve breakfast and lunch, but I decided their tuna salad with sprouts and tomato on a wheat roll sounded good. The tuna salad was good — not too much mayo and just the right amount of chopped onion for a good crunch. The sprouts were a nice touch, but there weren’t enough of them to matter and the bread was a little too thick.

FOOD NOTES: I had a good lunch at Rosie’s, but the company was better than the food. I would skip their cinnamon rolls all together and if you’re looking for a sandwich, go another mile down Monona Drive to Crema. There’s nothing wrong with the food at Rosie’s, there’s just a better option nearby. I’m not sure how their breakfasts are (quiche, breakfast sandwich, oatmeal), but I’d give it a chance.

Coppertop off Beltline is hidden ‘breakfast-all-day’ gem

Even though I love going to great places like Forequarter, Tornado Room and Heritage Tavern, some of my favorite places are those hole-in-the-wall, secret neighborhood places. There’s something I love about diner coffee, dining rooms that haven’t been redecorated since the early 90s and the regulars chatting in the corner. It’s an added bonus when the food is as good as it is a Coppertop Family Restaurant.

coppertopCoppertop fits all of the qualifications of a quirky neighborhood spot – the regulars were chatting in the corner booth, the coffee was hot and fresh, and the dining room looks like a funeral parlor from the 90s (think floral patterns, mauve paint, a lot of vinyl, mirrors on the ceilings…). They serve standard breakfast options; sandwiches, salads and soups at lunch and they also have dinner entrees. Big bonus: they serve breakfast all day!

Wisconsin skillet at Coppertop Family Restaurant

Wisconsin skillet at Coppertop Family Restaurant

Thanks to a suggestion from a friend familiar with Coppertop, I got the Wisconsin skillet, which has ham, green peppers, cheese, onions and mushrooms. It comes with two eggs done however you want, American fries (read: breakfast potatoes) and toast or pancakes. In my breakfast-eating experience, the ingredients in scrambles or skillets can come out one of two ways — mushy and only slightly cooked or crispy — and the latter is definitely preferable. Coppertop’s skillet definitely fit into that second category. The ham, mushrooms and peppers were all crispy…not to mention the super crispy breakfast potatoes. I also loved the sprinkle of cheese on top. The surprising part of my breakfast was that it was barely greasy — grease is usually a staple on the plates of most neighborhood diners.

coppertop coffee

Coffee (and that super awesome booth!)

FOOD NOTES: I was very happy with my breakfast for lunch, and with any place that serves breakfast all day…I will probably never try any of their lunch or dinner options. I love breakfast too much to pass it up if it’s an option! Some people might let the decor stop them from going back, but I think it’s endearing…it gives the place a towny, “we don’t take ourselves too seriously” feel. The view of the Beltline from the front windows is also pretty great!

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.

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!).

Mt. Horeb diner shines with twist on classic breakfast dish

Schubert's

Schubert’s

Driving to Mt. Horeb for breakfast seems like a stretch, but I figured a friend and I could make a day of it and go antiquing after breakfast. Schubert’s in downtown Mt. Horeb was a recent addition to my list of places to visit, but it fit perfectly with our plans to dig through some antique stores so we decided to go.

schubert's doorThe super cute diner has a bakery case right by the door that anchors a counter that’s the length of the dining room. The counter has tiny, old-fashioned stools and features chalkboard menus and old malt machines. I loved the classic copper ceiling and glass, drop pendant lights. There are booths on the side and down the middle of the dining room, which adds a unique and cozy feel to the diner.

schubert's counter

Schubert's donut

Schubert’s donut

The bakery case got us as soon as we walked in, so we split one of their sprinkle donuts. The icing was perfectly sweet and complemented the fluffy and super thick donut. My friend and I definitely enjoyed our donut appetizer! It also went really well with their old-fashioned diner coffee. Their black coffee wasn’t anything fancy, but it sure was good, hot and strong.

Schubert's corned beef hash

Schubert’s corned beef hash

I got the house-made corned beef hash with sunny side up eggs. The potatoes and corned beef were crispy, crunchy and super fresh. I love that they drizzle the hash with hollandaise sauce. Hash tends to be a little dry, but a little bit of hollandaise really adds a lot of flavor to the dish. I can’t believe other restaurants don’t do that. The eggs were perfectly cooked with great crispy edges, and the toast was fresh. I would have liked to see homemade jam on the table, but I wasn’t annoyed with the individual packs of Smuckers.

Schubert's biscuits and gravy

Schubert’s biscuits and gravy

My friend got the biscuits and gravy. Fair warning: she got the full order but probably should have gotten the half order. The massive biscuits came smothered in great white gravy filled with spicy sausage. Sometimes biscuits and gravy can be greasy, bland and super heavy. The biscuits had a great flaky consistency and a good butter flavor. I’m usually not a big fan of sausage gravy, but this one was deceptively flavorful with a lot of sausage in a great peppery sauce.

Schubert's hasbrowns

Schubert’s hasbrowns

She also got hash browns, but they weren’t anything special. They were nice and crispy, but could have used some seasoning.

schubert's inside signFOOD NOTES: Mt. Horeb is a good 30 minute drive from my apartment so Schubert’s will not be my go-to breakfast stop, but if I’m ever in the neighborhood again I will definitely go back. The donut and coffee were great. The corned beef hash was quality, but was elevated to amazing with the simple addition of hollandaise sauce! I still can’t figure out why more diners don’t do that! The biscuits and gravy were pretty great. The biscuits were fresh and flaky, and the gravy was peppery with a great flavor and tons of sausage. I’m usually not a biscuits and gravy fan, but Schubert’s homemade version was great. With all of the great homemade options on the menu I wold have liked to see homemade jam on the table, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.