Waunakee supper club doesn’t stray from tradition

After writing a couple posts about my love for supper clubs, I started getting suggestions for great places in the area. A couple people suggested Rex’s Inkeeper in Waunakee, and after my long lost food date partner Michelle Li sent me a gift card she still had after moving to Seattle, I decided to take my mom to check the place out.

When you walk in you immediately know you’re in an old-school supper club and that you’re probably the only people the bar tender doesn’t know by name. The random floral decorations, leather bar stools and padded dining room chairs are pretty standard was far as supper clubs go. The biggest difference between Rex’s and most other supper club’s were the large TVs on all four walls of the dining room. I wasn’t mad at…it just wasn’t necessary.

Dirty Shirley at Rex’s
Grasshopper at Rex’s

Let’s start with the drinks. Both of us got a mixed drink. My mom’s was way stronger than mine, which was odd because usually supper clubs serve some pretty stiff drinks. The grasshopper we got after dinner was pretty tasty, but not very strong either.

The salad bar…that’s one of the main reasons to hit up a supper club on a Saturday night. Rex’s salad bar didn’t disappoint. They had all the salad fixings I wanted…including those tasty bar pickles…plus some premo pasta salad and potato salad. No complaints here!

Rex’s prime rib

It was Saturday…so I got the only option in my mind…prime rib. Here’s the thing about prime rib in my opinion…it’s great, but it tastes the same everywhere (Maybe that means I’m lucky and have never had bad prime rib? I don’t know!). Rex’s fits that description to a T. My prime rib was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it was very tender. The hash browns were what they’re supposed to and what I love…hot, crunchy and salty.

FOOD NOTES: As far as fancy drinks and nice decor…Rex’s Innkeeper does not cut it, but that’s not what they do. Rex’s does what it does right…supper club favorites. I’m a sucker for some 80s decor, a salad bar and a steak, so I’ll probably be back to Rex’s. My one and only tiny issues was that the drinks could be stronger.


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!!

Samba: Sizzling service, endless options

samba signI love Madison Magazine’s Restaurant Week. I take advantage of reasonably priced menus at great Madison restaurants during both the summer and winter events every year. This year during the winter week I was lucky enough to enjoy four restaurant week menus. Restaurant week starts on a Sunday, so I always take full advantage of my Sunday nights off and invite my mom. This year we went to Samba for our Sunday-night dinner!

Samba has been on my list for quite awhile, but because of the high prices (it normally costs $50+ per person to eat at Samba) I never put it at the top of the list. With almost 50% off during Restaurant Week it seemed like a good time to go! I had heard two things about Samba before going: the salad bar is amazing, and the servers (gauchos) bring skewers of meat around to the tables. Both of those things are true.

Samba salad bar
Samba salad bar

The large four-sided, three-tiered salad bar features traditional salad fixings, prepared salads, cheeses, nuts, pickled items and other great sides. I’m a huge fan of salads and love it when I can put a ton of interesting stuff on top! I mainly avoided the prepared salads in an effort to save room for the meat delivered by the gauchos. But I loaded up my plate with fresh lettuce, vegetables, pickled beets, croutons, candied nuts, cheese, olives and a great caesar dressing on both of my trips to the salad bar. Samba also offers a couple of hot options near the salad bar. The night I was there they had soup, mashed potatoes, rice and some beef roast. I didn’t go for these options, again, in an effort to save room for the skewered meat.

Samba meat pillar
Samba meat pillar

The meat pillar is a very powerful tool at Samba. It is a small wood pillar with green paint on one side and red paint on the other. It’s simple. When the green side is up, the gauchos will stop at your table. When the red side is up, the gauchos will not stop at your table. Mom and I decided to try everything once, but we only asked for seconds of certain skewers. The pork, chicken, lamb and sausage skewers were all fine, but not great (warning: we are not lamb people!). Because it was restaurant week, the usual eight skewers circulating the dining room was dropped down to six, they cut out two of the beef options. Usually they offer top sirloin, beef tenderloin, seasoned flank steak and beef strip loin. For Restaurant Week we got to sample the flank steak and tenderloin. The tenderloin sprinkled with sea salt was fine, but the seasoned flank steak was spectacular. It was encrusted with a great flavor and was perfectly juicy. Needless to say, we got the flank steak a couple of times and even made friends with that gaucho! At the end, it became a game to get only the gauchos with the food we wanted to stop by flipping our pillar over to green when they were close!

The hardest gaucho to flag down that night was the guy serving up the grilled pineapple. Our server was helpful in tracking down the pineapple gaucho, but he was so much in demand that both times he stopped we asked for two servings! The pineapple is super simple, but super good! It is grilled with cinnamon and sugar, and comes out juicy and warm and super tasty!

Samba menu
Samba menu

FOOD NOTES: Samba is definitely an experience. It is a huge ballroom-type dining room with a second level and low lighting. Scoping out gauchos with the stuff you want is exciting and makes the dinner fun. The salad bar is huge and impressive, but my advice it to stay away from unnecessary fillers like bread, generic pre-made salads and salad-bar hot food. I suggest saving room for the main attraction, especially if you’re paying full price. The mango chicken and parmesan encrusted pork were forgettable. The flank steak was exceptional. The grilled pineapple was simple but stellar. If I could go to Samba and get just the salad bar and grilled pineapple it would become one of my regular stops. But since that’s not an option, and the price is quite a bit higher than my normal dinner out, I probably won’t be back for a while.