1 thing will always bring me back to Mickey’s Tavern

Two words: sexy fries.

mickey'sWalking into Mickey’s Tavern on Madison’s near east side I lost all hope for the quality of the food. The bar was dark, the seating was sparse, the tables were dirty, the kitchen(which was open) looked dirty, there were people smoking like chimneys outside on the patio and the service was awful. We sat down at the only spot left, a tiny table shoved in the corner behind two bigger tables. After we sat there for 15 minutes or so someone finally figured out we were there and brought us drinks.

Mickey's cheese curds
Mickey’s cheese curds

We started with an order of cheese curds because they are always the best appetizer option on a menu. Well not this time. The curds at Mickey’s probably come out of a box because the batter is extremely heavy and flavorless, and the actual curd comes out in a lukewarm chunk, not stringy goodness like fresh cheese curds. They were extremely disappointing.

Mickey's burger
Mickey’s burger

For dinner I got the Mickey’s Burger, which has supposedly been named the best bar burger by Madison Magazine. I’m not sure who voted for that award, but I 100 percent disagree with them. The burger is mixed with spicy giardiniera and herbs, and is topped with chili aioli, tomato and buttermilk battered fried onions. It all sounds like a really good combo, but the burger I got was definitely missing some components and the ingredients that were there were subpar. The burger was extremely crumbly, which made the entire thing super hard to eat. I did not see or taste any giardiniera or herbs in the patty, and it could have been cooked a little longer. It was this odd light brown color. It would have been exponentially better if it had a good grill char on it. The fried onions flavorless and soggy, and added unnecessary heaviness to the burger. The tomato was mushy and probably a couple days old, and the aioli was thick and didn’t have any flavor, let alone any promised chili spice. The odd little container of coleslaw was unwanted and forgettable.

Mickey's sexy fries
Mickey’s sexy fries

Now on to the one and only reason I will ever go back to Mickey’s Tavern, and that’s their sexy fries. They are hand sliced thin chunks of potatoes tossed in truffle oil and covered in parmesan cheese, chives and crushed red pepper. The sexy fries are the single best french fries I have ever had. They are crispy, crunchy, salty, savory, cheesy and a little spicy. Most fries are made better with a good dipping sauce, but any type of sauce added to the sexy fries experience would take away from their perfection. Whoever came up with the amazing idea to combine parmesan cheese, truffle oil and red pepper flakes on top of perfectly cooked potatoes chips is a genius!

FOOD NOTES: The only thing that I will ever go back to Mickey’s for is the sexy fries. The service, dining room and the rest of the food were all subpar. The Mickey’s burger was awful and the cheese curds were even worse. Next time I go I will get the largest order of sexy fries they have and maybe I’ll give one of their sandwiches a try.

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!

Weary Traveler’s food outshines other hipster pubs

weary traveler menuThere are a bunch of restaurants on Willy Street that have been on my “places to visit” list for a long time. It takes time for me to get to these restaurants because I live so far away and there’s a population of “regulars” that clog up those restaurants everyday. I don’t mind fighting for a table, that’s usually a sign of a good restaurant, but sometimes it feels weird being the only one in the restaurant that isn’t on a first name basis with the bartender. A couple weeks ago a friend and I were planning on grabbing an earlier dinner and I thought that would be a good time to try and grab a table at a Willy Street restaurant. After considering all the options, my vegetarian friend and I decided to go to the Weary Traveler. They are known for their Bob’s Bad Breath Burger with garlic in every component, but they are also known for having a decent amount of vegetarian options.

When we got there we had a hard time getting in to the actual building. The first two doors we tried were locked, and we stood outside slightly confused for a couple seconds before a “local” walking past told us the door was around the corner. Once we finally got inside, we had no idea what to do. It wasn’t clear if we were supposed to wait to be seated or grab a table, so I held our spot at the entrance and my friend went to investigate. While she was gone the bartender randomly yelled that I should take a small table in the middle of the room. From what I could tell, there were two dining rooms divided by a wall covered in eclectic stuff (I have to use that word for lack of a better one, there were pictures, books, globes, metal signs, musical instruments, etc. all over the walls). The bar runs the entire width of the building, and the entire restaurant was a bit too dark for me (I felt like it was almost at the point where I would have to use my cellphone light to read the menu). The dining room we were in was extremely cramped. Multiple times servers had to swing dishes over our heads to get them to their destinations, and when our waiter was talking to us he inevitably ended up in the way of another server. They also didn’t mention they had specials. We figured that out by looking around at all the stuff on the wall and realized that one of them was an actual specials board.

weary traveler coppioni

My intent from the beginning was to get the Bob’s Bad Breath Burger for two reasons: 1. it’s what they are known for, and 2. I love garlic in any and every capacity. But for some reason that night I was not in the mood for a burger. So I asked about the Cioppino listed on the specials board. A Google search before the waiter came back told me a Cioppino is a seafood stew that can be cream or tomato based. Now seafood and cream sounds like an extremely disgusting combination to me so I was really hoping theirs was tomato based. The waiter told me it was indeed tomato based, came with mussels and salmon, and had a great flavor (he said he had the Cioppino instead of his normal choice for dinner). So I got the Cioppino with a heavy heart knowing that I had always wanted to try the Bad Breath Burger. But once the stew was set down in front of me I didn’t think about the burger anymore. It was steaming hot and a surprisingly large serving. The broth had a great earthy tomato and seafood flavor; something very hearty and homey. There were large, perfectly cooked chunks of salmon in it alongside corn, onions, and peppers. I was also very excited to find there were three mussels hanging out at the bottom of the bowl. Fish stew is not an appealing description but this was one of the best specials at a hipster pub I have ever had.

weary traveler vegan chili
Vegetarian chili

My friend couldn’t decide between two of the vegetarian options so she got a cup of the vegetarian chili and the grilled cheese. She enjoyed both, but my favorite of the two was the vegetarian chili. Vegetarian chili tends to be pretty flavorless (based on most of my experiences with veggie chili), but this one was pretty great. I’m not sure what was in it but the couple spoonfuls I had were great. The grilled cheese had cheddar and mozzarella on it, which were perfectly melty and stringy. The sandwich was a bit too heavy for my liking though because the bread tasted like two thick pieces of garlic bread made into a sandwich. Some people might really like that heaviness, but it was too greasy and heavy for me.

weary traveler grilled cheese
Grilled cheese

FOODNOTES: Don’t worry if you can’t figure out how to get in or how to get a table…they will even still serve you if they don’t know your name. To avoid the super hipster crowd try being there before 7pm. Make sure you look around for the specials board and consider what they have…mine turned out super well. The prices are on par with what you would expect for a hipster pub on Willy St. in Madison, but the food is a ton better than a generic pub. None of their desserts sounded worth it (they had ice cream and two random cakes listed), but I will definitely be back to try the Bad Breath Burger sometime!