Traditional Italian deli does not disappoint

Gino's Italian Deli
Gino’s Italian Deli in Middleton

When I think of an Italian deli I think of hot beef, meatball subs and cannolis. And that’s exactly what I got at Gino’s when my parents and I grabbed lunch there a couple weeks ago. I had stopped in before and gotten Italian sausage and some pasta salad, but this time I wanted to go all out. Gino’s isn’t a fancy place to eat (the Middleton store only has a couple small tables behind some room dividers), but it is the perfect place to grab a good sub and take it to go.

Gino's meatball sub
Gino’s meatball sub

I got the large meatball sandwich, and probably should have gotten the small size. The large size seemed about the same size as a footlong sub at Subway. The bread was super fresh, with a crusty outside and a fluffy inside. The sauce was chunky and had a good level of salty flavor without overwhelming the tomatoes. The meatballs were also perfectly flavored and the perfect size for the bread. I’ve seen people each meatball subs from other places and everything falls out all over the wrapper, but Gino’s crusty bread was the perfect vehicle for the Italian-spiced meatballs and the zesty tomato sauce. It wasn’t a napkin-less sandwich experience, but I didn’t lose any of my filling to the table.

Gino's hot beef sub
Gino’s hot beef sub

My dad got the hot Italian beef sandwich. It came on the same super crusty bread, and was filled with a substantial amount of Italian beef. The super tender and perfectly seasoned hot beef came piled high with just the right amount of hot beef juices to soften up the crusty bread. The provolone cheese was a great addition, but it could have also used some spicy peppers.

Gino's roast beef sub
Gino’s roast beef sub

My mom got the concerts beef sub with sliced roast beef, lettuce and horseradish mayo. This sandwich was much lighter than the other two, but it was still extremely good. The roast beef was tender and lean, and the horseradish mayo added a great kick. The cold sandwiches don’t come on the super good crusty bread that the hot sandwiches come on, but the wheat bread was still pretty good in it’s own way.

Gino's cannolis
Gino’s cannolis

The day we went there was a little sign on the top of the counter saying they had homemade cannolis. So of course we got three. They were traditional cannolis, but they were not exceptional. The filling was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, but instead of putting pistachios on the end they put chunks of maraschino cherries. I didn’t love the cherries in place of the nuts, but they weren’t terrible. I liked the cannolis, but they weren’t the best I’ve ever had.

Gino's subs
Gino’s subs

FOOD NOTES: Gino’s Deli definitely serves up quality Italian subs. The meatball sub was the perfect combination of crusty bread, zesty tomato sauce and amazing meatballs. The hot beef and roast beef subs were also extremely good, but not good enough to deter me from getting the meatball sub whenever I go back.  The prices are reasonable for the quality of the ingredients and the size of the portions you get at Gino’s. If you don’t mind not getting a ton of ingredients I would definitely suggest going to Gino’s instead of any other sub shops in town.

This place put a sandwich on Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread!!!

brasserie menu
Brasserie V

I thought the novelty of Brasserie V (pronounced “V,” not five) on Monroe Street would be lost on me because they’re known for their beer selection, specifically Belgian beer. But when I went there for lunch with a friend before the holidays I was pleasantly surprised by the menu options. The restaurant specializes in mussels, french fries, steak and duck. A couple years ago I was very reluctant to try mussels at a Restaurant Week dinner I was at, but ever since jumping in with both feet I usually get mussels when I see them on the menu. Their menu also has sandwiches, burgers, salads and pub-style appetizers.

brasserie moules et frites
moules et frites

My friend got the Moules et Frites (mussels and french fries). The mussels came out in a huge crock covered in steaming garlic and wine sauce. Mussels aren’t really special unless the sauce they are cooked in is special. This light, garlicky broth was good but nothing I haven’t had before. The frites were super good. They were crispy, fried to perfection and were perfectly salted. I have a weak spot for french fries and probably always will, so they were my favorite part of the meal. The aioli was a good combination of creaminess and garlic flavor. All in all, the Moules et Frites were good and for $11 at lunch, not a bad deal either.

brasserie roast beef
roast beef sandwich on Stella’s spicy cheese bread

I’m glad my friend got the Moules et Frites for two reasons – one: because I really wanted to try them, and two: because I had my eye on something else. I’ve lived in Madison for a little over six years now and definitely consider myself a Madisonian, so the list of ingredients on the roast beef sandwich got my attention. The sandwich is made with Stalzy’s roast beef (I’ve given them rave reviews multiple times), house-made giardiniera (I love spicy, pickled peppers and veggies!) and dill sour cream on STELLA’S SPICY CHEESE BREAD. I mean, come on! Any sandwich would be 100% better on spicy cheese bread! Without all of those amazing ingredients the sandwich probably wouldn’t have been as good. The roast beef was perfectly seasoned and lean. The giardiniera had  good pickle, but could have been spicier and there could have been more of it on the sandwich. Same thing with the dill sauce – it was good but there could have been more of it. And then there’s the Stella’s spicy cheese bread. That’s definitely what takes this sandwich over the top! Any other bread just wouldn’t do. With the amazing ingredients this sandwich could be my favorite in Madison – they just need to put more giardiniera and dill sauce on it, otherwise it is a bit dry. The price for the sandwich ($12) was a little high considering all of the ingredients on my sandwich came from Madison and the $11 mussels had to be flown here. The couscous salad I got as a side (probably should have gotten the pub chips or salad) was forgettable.

brasserie bar
bar in 2nd room

I can’t speak for the beer selection because I don’t drink beer, but the atmosphere of the place was nice. There are two rooms. The first one is a smaller room with a small bar, about a dozen tables and is cozier. The second one (a recent addition according to the owner) is bigger, with a large bar, more space for mingling and additional tables.

FOODNOTES: If you’r craving mussels and wonderfully prepared french fries, Brasserie V would be a good choice. It’s in a good location (usually easier to get to than downtown restaurants that offer moules et frites). The roast beef sandwich could be a crave-able sandwich with two small tweaks – but the Madison ingredients really make the sandwich special. Whoever thought about putting a generic roast beef sandwich on Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread deserves an award! The prices are a bit high, especially the lunch prices. I got a gift card for Brasserie V from my Secret Santa this year, so I will return – probably to try their steak and frites this time.

Coffeehouse serves up exceptional espresso, granola

jph sign 2There’s something novel about a coffee shop that brews each cup of coffee to order and serves fantastic homemade food. Johnson Public House does just that. Even the best coffee shops in Madison can’t compete with the neighborhood feel of this near east side coffeehouse. The welcoming and homey space is accented by a large coffee bar, mismatched furniture and local art hanging on the wall. Both times I went to JPH there were half a dozen people visiting and hanging out on their computers. My favorite part of JPH was, what else, their focus on quality coffee!

I have been a coffee drinker since high school. I love most types of brewed coffee, but generally don’t like espresso because in my experience, espresso usually has a bitter flavor. JPH baristas told me they specialize in a cortado – two shots of espresso with a little bit of warm milk added in. I was extremely skeptical about trying one but now I crave them. The cortados at JPH are extremely creamy and have a perfect roasted coffee flavor – no bitterness in sight. I had two the first time I went and wished I had time to get a second one on my second visit! The JPH cortado definitely changed my mind about drinking quality espresso.

jph roast beef breakfast sandwich
roast beef breakfast sandwich

On top of that amazing espresso drink their pour-over coffee is fantastic. I tried a couple different types of coffee they had that day, and all of them exceeded any brewed coffee I’ve ever had. I’m not sure I’d ever pass over a cortado for their brewed coffee but it was very good.

jph breakfast sandwich
JPH breakfast sandwich

They have a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwich options. I was with a friend and we decided to try their original breakfast sandwich and their roast beef breakfast sandwich. The original breakfast sandwich has a hardboiled egg, local ham, mozzarella, tomato and pesto on wheat bread. I love that the sandwich has hardboiled eggs on it – it makes it very portable and hearty. But the real winning sandwich was the roast beef breakfast sandwich with a hardboiled egg, provolone cheese, local roast beef, sriracha mayo and caramelized onions on wheat bread. The hardboiled egg and roast beef pair perfectly  with the spicy and creamy sriracha mayo and crunchy onions. Sandwiches come with either potato chips or greens. The chips were a good salty addition to the hearty sandwiches but I would recommend getting the greens. The actual greens are a nice, fresh spring mix but the dressing is what makes the side fantastic. I’m not sure what is all in it, but it was a light vinaigrette with small tidbits of salt and pepper throughout. The dressing made those  greens ridiculously good!

jph granola
JPH granola

To top off the great coffee and unique sandwiches, we got a small cup of the yogurt and granola. The locally-made yogurt was extremely creamy and paired very well with the fresh berries. But the shining star of the bowl was the homemade granola. The crispy oats and cashews had a fantastically sweet flavor. I loved the granola so much I asked if they would sell it to go (apparently they are working on it!). On my second visit I even passed up the roast beef breakfast sandwich for a large bowl of the yogurt, granola and fruit – of course I also got a cortado. I can’t really describe why such a simple dish was so good, but the homemade granola and the drizzle of honey on top is probably part of it!

jph sign 1FOODNOTES: If I lived closer to Johnson Public House I would be a very regular customer. If not for the cortados, I would stop in for a sandwich or a huge bowl of the granola. The cortado changed my opinion of quality espresso drinks. It will definitely be difficult to drive through that neighborhood without stopping for my new favorite coffee drink! Their breakfast sandwiches are great, especially the one with roast beef and sriracha mayo. Their homemade granola makes a traditionally simple and unexciting dish exceptional! My recommendation – a cortado and a bowl of granola!