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!

You might have to Google stuff on Freiburg Gastropub’s menu, but it’s worth it

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Joining a decent-sized list of restaurants on Monroe Street by Wingra Park, Freiburg Gastropub opened last year and is a good addition. The German-stye pub is dark and cozy even with the big windows at the front of the building. The bar takes up an entire wall, probably to accommodate the large beer menu they have.

About 1/3 of the massive pretzel

About 1/3 of the pretzel

I went with some friends and, after Googling half of the menu to make sure we knew what our options were, we got a pretzel with house mustard and cheese spread to start. The pretzel had a bit too much salt on top, but after scraping about half of it off it was perfect…dense and rich on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside. The mustard had the perfect level of heat, but the cheese spread was hard to eat with the soft pretzel. I’d prefer the cheese to be dip-able, and this stuff was definitely not dip-able.

pretzel roll

pretzel roll

TIP: You also get pretzel rolls with your meal that are just as amazing, so ordering the pretzel probably isn’t necessary.

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Freiburg fish fry

Since it was Friday, I decided to get the Freiburg fish fry — panko breaded rainbow trout, a potato pancake and coleslaw. I loved that the trout wasn’t heavily breaded…it was just enough to add a good crisp. The potato pancake was good, but was basically just a hash brown, and the coleslaw was good, but nothing special. All-in-all it was a very good meal.

Schweinshaxen

Schweinshaxen

Huhn

Huhn

My friends got the Schweinshaxen — beer braised pork shank with mashed potatoes and mustard — and Huhn — oven roasted half chicken, sauteed spaetzle, vegetables and riesling butter sauce. The most memorable thing about the Schweinshaxen was the size! It was probably one of the largest pieces of pork I’ve seen on a plate. I tried the spaetzle that came with the Huhn and it was what I was expecting — soft and buttery…like buttered noodles!

FOOD NOTES: If you’re willing to Google most of the items on the menu, you’ll get a great meal at Freiburg Gastropub. If you’re hungry for a good pretzel, pass on ordering one and wait for the pretzel rolls they’ll bring to your table. If you’re not super hungry, split a dish with someone because they’re huge servings. I want to go back and try their Reuben sandwich and the cheesy spaetzle with sausage. They also have a deli-style lunch menu and a brunch menu that both sound very promising.

New brewery partners with tap haus for awesome Wisconsin favorites

IMG_3202In Wisconsin one of the best things someone who loves food can hear is that a brewing company is opening a restaurant. Inevitably the menu will feature some great Wisconsin favorites, lightly-fried beer-battered goodies, great sandwiches and a great beer cheese soup recipe. Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus fits that bill perfectly. The former Capital Tap Haus on State Street reopened in January as the Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus, with Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona. I ate at Capital Tap Haus a couple times and didn’t think the food was particularly memorable, but my first meal at Wisconsin Brewing Co. Tap Haus definitely was.

WBC beer cheese soup

WBC beer cheese soup

The menu looked pretty standard for a tap haus, but the two things I tried were better than standard. I started with the beer cheese soup. Sometimes beer cheese soup can be way too cheesy and sometimes the beer can be way too strong. But the bowl I had at WBC Tap Haus was just right — it had a creamy, cheese flavor and texture, and the beer was just strong enough to cut the heavy cheesiness. The popcorn on top added a great salty crunch, but I would have liked a couple more kernels.

WBC fish fry

WBC fish fry

The fish fry, offered every day of the week BTW, was also good. The coleslaw wasn’t as creamy is traditional fish fry coleslaw is, but it was light and refreshing and crunchy. The fish, which is a pretty big serving for lunch, was hot and crispy and had a great beer-battered flavor, but I would have liked the batter to be a little lighter. And even though the fries weren’t as crispy as I’d like, the skins added a great flavor and they were perfectly salted.

IMG_3203FOOD NOTES: The change over from one brewery to another at the tap haus at the top of State Street was pretty seamless. I didn’t even know the brewery had changed, but the menu definitely tipped me off. There’s a good variety of dishes, but I’d stick with the Wisconsin favorites because nothing goes better with Wisconsin food than beer!

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!

Quality fried chicken hidden in sketchy strip mall

Harold's Chicken Shack

Harold’s Chicken Shack

I have a soft spot for fried chicken. I’m not sure why, because my family didn’t eat it a lot and it’s not something either of my grandmothers ever made for me, but there’s something special about a good crispy fried piece of chicken. And when you pair it with good french fries and coleslaw…comfort food just doesn’t get any better than that. I’ve had some decent fried chicken in Madison, but probably nothing compared to good down-home southern fried chicken. I’m not sure if Harold’s Chicken Shack is the best fried chicken, but it sure is good.

Harold's Chicken Shack

Harold’s Chicken Shack

First I have to start with the location and the rumors. Harold’s Chicken Shack is in the middle of a rundown strip mall by Woodman’s on the west side. I’ve driven past it probably thousands of times, but couldn’t get up the courage to go in because of what I’d heard about it. Many reviewers say the food is good, but there’s a rude guy who sits right by the door and tries to sell you DVDs, and they say people who work there aren’t very nice. When I finally decided to try it out, I was not surprised by the small, slightly dingy restaurant when I walked in. However, I was surprised by how nice the two people behind the counter were. Almost every review online said no one was nice and they felt more like they were bothering them than appreciated customers. I had the exact opposite experience. Both people were super nice and explained the 1/4 and 1/2 chicken dinners to me.

Harold's Chicken Shack to-go

Harold’s Chicken Shack to-go

I do recommend ordering ahead of time, because even after I ordered over the phone and came in 15 minutes later I still had to wait 5 minutes. But that wait is good, because it means my food was being cooked to order and was extremely fresh. Their menu is pretty basic. They have fried chicken, fries, fried catfish and chicken wings.

Harold's Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal

Harold’s Chicken Shack 1/4 chicken meal

I opted for the quarter breast meal, which comes with a fried breast and wing, french fries and coleslaw for $5.99. It also comes with two pieces of bread at the bottom of the cardboard container the food comes in, but I did not eat them. The coleslaw was good but the portion size was extremely tiny. The french fries weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were hot and fluffy on the inside, and were seasoned with a good amount of salt and pepper. Th chicken was the highlight of the meal, which is what I’d expect from a chicken shack. It was hot and juicy on the inside, and crispy on the outside. The best part of the fried chicken was that the batter was filled with black pepper. Harold’s Chicken Shack definitely uses black pepper a lot and knows how to do it well. I love black pepper so I really liked the fried chicken batter.

Harold's Chicken Shack

Harold’s Chicken Shack

FOOD NOTES: I needed to look past the sketchy strip mall and reviews of rude employees, and so do you. The chicken was stellar and the sides were definitely quality. Everything could definitely be improved, like a bigger serving of the coleslaw, but the prices 100 percent make up for that. There’s nothing quite like cheap food done well. Make sure you order ahead of time and give them about 20 minutes to complete your order. I’ll definitely be back for their perfectly peppery fried chicken and french fries!