Steenbock’s difficult location overshadows tasty lunch dishes

steenbock'sSteenbock’s on Orchard has been a mystery to me since it opened. It’s a Food Fight restaurant located inside the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery research building right in the middle of campus. The building is beautiful and open and feels very academic with a ton of UW pride dotted throughout the main floor. The website describes the menu as “designed to highlight local and seasonal ingredients at their best.” They serve “local meats, cheeses and vegetables while making our own jams and curing our own meats in our preservation kitchen.” The mix between academic research labs and this restaurant has always seemed odd, but intriguing.

Steenbock's dining room
Steenbock’s dining room

I’m torn about the location. The building was beautiful and I love being on campus, but getting there was painful. All three lots somewhat near the WID building were full and we were extremely lucky to get a parking spot on the street by the business school. If I’m ever back on campus regularly or for a special occasion I would totally go to Steenbock’s, but I won’t go back just for the food…it’s just too hard to get to!

Steenbock's spinach salad with warm bacon dressing
Steenbock’s spinach salad with warm bacon dressing

My restaurant week meal started with a spinach salad that came with warm bacon dressing. The hearty spinach was the perfect base for the bacon dressing and the roasted tomatoes added a much-needed tangy flavor. I didn’t love the blue cheese on top, but I’m not a fan of blue cheese to begin with.

Steenbock's Korean ribs
Steenbock’s Korean ribs

My friend Nicole got the Korean BBQ ribs with french fries for her entree. The ribs were a little tough, but the sauce was tangy and had a good spice. I didn’t necessarily think it tasted like Korean BBQ, but they were good. The french fries were my favorite part of her dish! They were crispy, hot and perfectly salted.

Steenbock's chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon
Steenbock’s chicken with brussel sprouts and bacon

I decided to go with the chicken, which is odd because I usually don’t get chicken at restaurants because I make it so much at home. The best part of the chicken dish I got was the plentiful amount of bacon that came with it. The brussel sprouts and potatoes came in a light olive oil sauce with crispy pancetta…I usually like brussel sprouts, but adding pancetta makes them so much better! The chicken was moist and the skin was crispy, but the bacon crumbles between the meat and the skin was what made it special. I’m not sure what was in the crumble other than bacon, but it was super savory and good enough to make me want to order the chicken dish again. Bacon makes everything better!

Steenbock's croissant bread pudding
Steenbock’s croissant bread pudding

They only had one dessert option, but it was so good I wasn’t upset with the lack of choices. The marble croissant bread pudding was something so unique I’m not sure how to start explaining it, but I’ll try — it was bread pudding made with flaky, buttery chunks of plain and chocolate croissants. There was some sort of sweet sauce on top, some powdered sugar and two raspberries. The bread pudding itself was so good, it didn’t need the toppings. The plain croissant was sweet and buttery, while the chocolate croissant was rich and slightly bitter — the combination made for a substantial, but not too sweet dessert!

FOOD NOTES: The difficulty level of getting to Steenbock’s if you’re not already on campus really overshadows the tasty food. My Restaurant Week appetizer was an unimpressive salad, but my chicken entree was stellar and my dessert was probably one of the top 3 Restaurant Week desserts I’ve had over the last 6 years. If you’re on campus and looking for a great lunch…check out Steenbock’s, if you’re not already on campus look somewhere else.

Paoli is home to upscale gallery, tasty cafe

Creamery Cafe
Creamery Cafe
Artisan Gallery
Artisan Gallery

I have been a fan of Paoli for over a year now with its two-block radius, half a dozen restaurants and shops and winding river. The Paoli cafe is one of my favorite places to eat in south central Wisconsin. I had explored most of the other shops in the area, but not the Creamery. The Artisan Gallery and Creamery Cafe is an upscale art gallery and classic cafe housed in an old cream factory along the Sugar River. The gallery is the main attraction with beautiful art displayed alongside the old-school charm of a dairy factory. In the back of the gallery is a small cafe that seats about 20 and serves up an interesting menu with relaxing views of the Sugar River.

Creamery dining room
Creamery dining room

The cafe was quiet except for one other person the day we went, but the owner said it’s standing room only once the snow melts. After a tour of the gallery we got to try two of the owner’s favorite options on the menu: a spicy carrot and tomato soup and a spinach and kalamata pesto sandwich.

Creamery carrot, tomato soup
Creamery carrot, tomato soup

The spicy carrot and tomato soup had a great flavor. It was spicy and creamy, and had a good texture. Sometimes pureed soup gets too runny, but this soup was thick and had some hearty chunks in it. The one downfall of the soup were the huge chunks of blue cheese on top (mind you, I don’t like blue cheese normally). Once the blue cheese chunks were removed I thoroughly enjoyed the soup.

Creamery kalamata pesto sandwich
Creamery kalamata pesto sandwich

As for the spinach kalamata pesto sandwich, it was perfectly grilled on tangy sourdough bread. The sandwich had spinach, basil, kalamata olives, walnuts, roasted garlic with sundried tomatoes and fontina cheese. The kalamata olives, walnuts and roasted garlic were made into a type of pesto and spread on the sandwich. The sundried tomatoes were plump and flavorful. Fontina cheese doesn’t have much of a flavor so it didn’t add much. I would prefer a nice slice of cheddar or swiss…something with a little flavor. The sandwich was exceptionally good dipped in the spicy carrot and tomato soup. The sandwich usually comes with a mixed green salad or a seasonal side, but we got it with the rosemary fingerling breakfast potatoes. I’m not a huge fan of rosemary so I’m a bit biased, but they definitely could have used a little extra flavor, like salt.

Artisan Gallery
Artisan Gallery

FOOD NOTES: The Creamery Cafe menu offers upscale salads and sandwiches amidst a big-city art gallery and quaint views of the Sugar River. The soup and salad we tried had unique ingredients and were pretty tasty. The sandwich was a little heavy and the breakfast potatoes were not impressive, but the soup had an exceptionally good flavor. The rest of the menu looks promising, but I’m not sure going through the hassle of looking interested in art would be worth trying the other options.