Jason’s Deli tops other chain restaurants on west side

Jason's Deli
Jason’s Deli

I always walk into chain restaurants with low expectations in an effort to not be extremely disappointed by my meal. Usually it works, but when I went to Jason’s Deli with a friend the food and dining experience actually far exceeded my chain restaurant expectations and met most of my regular expectations for a good meal.

Jason's Deli dining room
Jason’s Deli dining room

Jason’s Deli opened a couple weeks ago and on my first visit I was pretty impressed. The building behind West Towne Mall just off Mineral Point Road has a large dining room with Madison-themed pictures, an open kitchen and a great outdoor seating area. The staff seemed very green (I did just open), but they were extremely nice throughout our entire visit.

The menu has a lot of different options, including soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis, a couple pasta options and baked potatoes. They also have a nice-sized salad bar and free ice cream when you dine in (one of the super nice employees told us they deliver, and we noticed they have a drive through!). Everyone who eats there also has access to their free dry bar, which includes bread, mini corn muffins, crackers and pickles. I love pickles and corn muffins, so this was an awesome perk to find out about!

Jason's Deli Cuban panini
Jason’s Deli Cuban panini

My friend got the Cuban panini and it got a thumbs up. All sandwiches come with chips, even when you get the manager’s half-sandwich special, which means you get a half sandwich with either a cup of soup, fruit or salad bar.

Jason's Deli salmon salad
Jason’s Deli salmon salad

I decided to try the Mighty Wild Salmon Salad. The description has a special box around it on the menu denoting it as something developed with the MD Anderson Cancer Center…I know it sounds kind of gimmicky but it was also the only thing on the menu that had the calories listed. The salad is a mix of organic field greens, beets, beans, nuts…and more, topped with grilled, wild Alaskan salmon for 610 calories with the oil and vinegar dressing. Everything on that list sounded great except for the ‘and more.’ I was concerned the ‘and more’ would be some sort of goat or blue cheese but the guy taking my order said it was a mix of craisins and seeds! When the salad came out I was pretty happy with the size and extremely happy with the quantity of ingredients on top. The lettuce was fresh, the beets were…well they were beets and would have been better pickled…but I like beets! The salmon was a good size, but it was a little dry. But because it was a little dry and didn’t have a lot of seasoning it went well with everything on top of the salad. The beans consisted of lima, garbanzo and kidney from what I remember and the nuts included sunflower, pepitas, and walnuts. There were also large florets of broccoli and a couple tomatoes! The light oil and vinegar dressing mostly helped keep the salmon from tasting too dry, but I didn’t need any more flavor assistance from the dressing because the rest of the toppings had so much flavor!

Jason's Deli potato and broccoli, cheese soup
Jason’s Deli potato and broccoli cheese soup

Both of us decided to get a cup of soup. I got the broccoli cheese and my friend got the potato. Both of them were pretty typical restaurant soups…nothing special, lukewarm, heavy with not a really great flavor, but still good. The best thing about my soup was dipping the crispy chunks of bread in it from the dry bar!

FOOD NOTES: Jason’s Deli has a ton of different menu options — it seems they have something for everyone! The food was a little pricey, but in comparison to Panera I felt like I got more food — and better quality food — for my money. The extra freebies diners get are super fun and were really unexpected. The Mighty Wild Salmon was tasty, pretty healthy for a dinner out and not too high in calories for what you get. The soup was forgettable. While we were there I did notice one thing being delivered to tables that I want to try next time I go — the  Plain Jane baked potato. It comes stuffed with cheddar, sour cream, butter, bacon and green onions. That doesn’t sound plain Jane to me!!

ZuZu Cafe may not be best option during trip to Zoo

zuzu's signIn college I made it to the Henry Vilas Zoo a couple times a year and always wanted to try the cute cafe just across the street from the main entrance. During warm months the large amount of outdoor seating seemed to welcome neighbors, but the colorful building was also quaint and welcoming on cold fall afternoons. ZuZu Cafe and Market seems like a slightly misleading name because to me, a market sells food, goods, drinks…I usually associate a cafe and market with artisan cheeses, micro brews, baked goods and locally made products. This is definitely a cafe, but the market (as far as I could see) only sells beer. The dining room is open and bright, and is very child friendly (it has kid tables and chairs, and a play area). I feel like the entire cafe could use a little facelift (the displays could be updated, most of the signs are handwritten and posted with peeling tape, and everything seemed like it could use a new coat of paint or a good cleaning).

zuzu's panini
Jefferson panini

The menu options basically include sandwiches, soups, salads and a small selection of baked goods. They also have what appeared to be a full-service coffee bar. All of the sandwiches have local names like the Wingra, the Randall, the Henry and the Vilas. I got the Jefferson panini with marinated roast beef, italian relish and mozzarella cheese. I didn’t see a bread option listed anywhere so I was pleasantly surprised to have my panini arrive on sliced pita. The pita made for a sturdy but not heavy sandwich ingredient. My panini was obviously fresh because it was very crispy and steaming hot. The marinated beef in the sandwich was tangy and slightly spicy! It was tender, juicy and had a very good flavor. Ironically, I’ve made this type of marinated beef in my crockpot and it is super simple. The sandwiches come with a side of chips, which is fine but I would prefer a choice of a small salad instead of the chips.

zuzu's peanut butter cookies
peanut butter cookie

Off to the side of the main counter there is a display of baked goods. I’m not sure how fresh they are because they were all covered in plastic wrap, but I decided I wanted a peanut butter cookie. The cookie was good but nothing special. It was soft, chewy and had a good peanut butter flavor.

FOODNOTES: One of the things that threw me off about the entire place is that the prices are equivalent to any other Madison cafe but everything about the place seemed a little cheap. The food was fine, nothing special, but it was all served in plastic carnival-food baskets. You know the ones – they are bright red basket-weaved plastic oval bowl things. Even my cookie was served in one, which didn’t work out too well because the cookie kept tipping the basket over. The walls, displays, seating and signs could all use a good cleaning and/or be updated. I was also disappointed in the “market” aspect they advertise on their sign. I didn’t have coffee so I can’t vouch for or against it.