No Smashburger, at least not in Madison

September 22nd, 2011

erin says:  Brian investigated Smashburger, since they were on our “future places to go” list, but we’ve seen no sign of them.  Now, according to Brian, Smashburger’s facebook page says Madison isn’t on their radar, even though they submitted a proposal to the planning commission in 2009 that was detailed down to the bike parking.  Hmmm.

On the Road: July 29 and 30, 2011 – Detroit area edition

August 12th, 2011

erin says:  Brian and I recently went to the Detroit area for a weekend.  We tried a couple of local places that were in our general vicinity.

The first was Twisted Rooster in Belleville, MI. We were seated at a high table in the bar, right by the kitchen and bathrooms. It was a fairly busy place. We found it a little loud. I was amused by the rooster themed art. I couldn’t resist ordering a fried pickle, even though Brian wasn’t thrilled with the idea since he claims to no like pickles. He did enjoy it though, since it was deep fried and covered in a maple-mustard jam-like sauce. It didn’t LOOK appealing, but it tasted good. It was a very large portion, definitely enough for four. Our server talked us through the menu when we told him we had never been there before. He mentioned that the macaroni and cheese was what they were known for, so I chose the Twisted Mac & Cheese as my entree. I thought it was good. I guess my personal preference would be for fewer mix-ins so I can appreciate the basic mac and cheese more. I can’t recall what Brian had, and he is unlikely to chime in here. In the end I think we thought it was pretty good, but nothing special.

The second place was Leonardo’s Italian Grille in Romulus, MI. Our GPS didn’t tell us which side of the road it was on, and we ended up driving right past it once and overlooking it, but we did finally find it. The decor reminded me of one of the ubiquitous “family restaurant” places. The service was friendly. We ordered some bread sticks, which seemed like pizza dough sprinkled with a lot of Parmesan with a vat of sauce on the side. They were good. Our dinners came with soup or salad. I chose soup and had their clam chowder, which was ok. I ordered the Sicilian Pasta and Brian ordered the Stuffed Shells. I thought the sauce was bland in the Sicilian Pasta, the peas weren’t tender and didn’t taste fresh, and the dish seemed very expensive for the quality of the food. Brian’s shells were better, but still what I would call “family restaurant” quality at a higher price. The portion sizes were very large. We chose this restaurant based on good reviews online. Maybe the pizza is better, but I wouldn’t go back for the pasta. As we left, we passed the bar/entry area and discovered that the music we had been hearing was actually live music, but it was deafening in the bar area.

I came away from our trip feeling thankful for all of the good places to eat that we have in the greater Madison area. I think we will try other places if and when we go back to the Detroit area. The other aspects of our trip were good, and overall it was a pleasant vacation.

August 1, 2011 – Opa (State Street) [CLOSED]

August 2nd, 2011

Pat says: We planned to go to Ian’s pizza on Frances Street, but they were closed for an employee party, so we headed down State Street to look at the families in town for SOAR and find another place for dinner.  Ended up at Opa because it was the first place we came to, it was on our list, and they had a sign in the window that said “gyros & fries, $6.50″.   Erin says that they’ve been open for a while, but here’s their general atmosphere - not ready to open yet.  Everything is sort of random – tables, variety and placement of artwork on the walls, and especially the padded bench with legs that fall out from under you when you sit.  No air conditioning and it’s still 90 degrees at 6:30.  Our waitress was nice and paid just the right amount of attention (read: regular refills on drinks but no hovering).  Kevin had a gyros style sandwich with pork instead of lamb – I had a bite and it was okay but not nearly as good as my real gyros with a  fresh, mixed greens, feta and cucumber Greek salad on the side.  I love the garlicky, greasy, sour creamy taste of a good gyros, and this was not disappointing, even if it wasn’t the giant pile of lamb and onions in a basket that we’ve come to expect from the place further down the street.  Kevin’s fries were just right – hot, crispy and served with a small tub of ketchup.  I’d eat here again, maybe for lunch on a Saturday, but I’ll wait until the weather cools.  Opa gets a 7.

erin says:  Pat pretty much covered it, above.  We ended up here while on our way somewhere else, drawn in by the sign on the curb.  I didn’t notice the issue with the bench until Kevin commented right before some girls sat down and almost went sprawling as the bench collapsed.  The fact that it was obviously broken and there was no sign is a clear problem.  The food was good, the service was friendly.  They have a lighted area at one end, so they must have live music.  We started out with a spanakopita appetizer, which was okay in my opinion.  The outer layers were a little more doughy than flaky.  The filling tasted pretty good.  I had a gyro and fries.  We could see the spit turning in the back, which is always a good sign for places with gyros.  One thing they have going for them is the menu with expanded options beyond just gyros.  Pat didn’t mention that our bill was incorrect (in our favor), but we got it all sorted out before we left.  Even though I feel like I’m placing a lot of emphasis on the negative here, the food and the service were good and I would go back.  7 out of 10

July 7, 2011 – Jimmy’s American Tavern [CLOSED]

July 7th, 2011

website here:

Pat says:  After a number of incarnations, this space on McKee Road has become Jimmy’s American Tavern.  Neil joined us tonight and promises to write about the Black & Blue Burger and fries that were his dinner.  We started with a small plate of lobster macaroni & cheese to share – creamy, less solid than expected for mac n cheese but tasty. Dinners come with a trip to the salad bar, and this is one of the nicer ones that I’ve seen for quite a while.  It’s narrow, so no reaching across a sneeze shield to get to the cottage cheese.  A variety of choices – two types of lettuce mix, sun dried tomatoes, potato & bacon salad, along with the usual ingredients.   I had Pasta Buttera for dinner – penne with creamy tomato sauce, Italian sausage, and peas.  At first bite, it was sweeter than expected. and for a pasta dish, it was lighter than usual, which was nice after a giant plate of salad.  Kevin had a pulled pork sandwich – smoked pork on a bun with a splash of bbq sauce.  He enjoyed it, but I’m only interested in pulled pork if it’s swimming in sauce before it hits the bun.  We had a terrific waiter – he asked the kitchen for a burger off the lunch menu for Neil, brought drink refills two minutes before we needed them, smiled, and paid just the right amount of attention to us during dinner.  Altogether, it was a nice dinner experience.  I’d definitely go back.  8 out of 10.

erin says:  I think all of us were pleased with our meals at Jimmy’s.  I chose the Stroganoff pasta, and it was very good.  It arrived with about 4 oz of sour cream piled on top of an already creamy sauce.  The beef tips in it were cooked to perfection.  The sauce was pleasantly beefy and had definite taste of brandy, I think.  I ended up taking about 1/2 of it home to eat the next day for lunch.  My pasta also came with the salad bar.  I thought the salad bar was ok.  The blue cheese dressing was watery and there was some flavor in the potato salad that I didn’t like.  The salad bar did have some different options, so maybe next time I will choose better.  I tasted Pat’s pasta, and there was some sweet spice in it, possibly in the sausage.  It could have been cinnamon, but I’m not sure.  I agree that the service was attentive.  We were seating right inside the door from the entryway to the dining room, and I was facing the entryway, so I don’t feel like I got a good idea of the decor, but the 5 of us were in a generously sized booth.  I think it is a nice addition to Fitchburg.  We will probably be back.  8.5 out of 10.

June 27, 2011 – Alchemy Cafe

July 7th, 2011

Visit the Alchemy Cafe website for details.

erin says: As it happens, this was our second visit to the Alchemy Cafe.  Brian and I forgot to write it up the first time.  There’s a lot of that happening these days.  I’ll have to prod my co-conspirators into participating in the blog again.  Anyway, we met some friends there for dinner.  It’s a small place.  Our friends had some beers, and ordered an appetizer of fried sweet potato rounds.  I loved the jalepeno blackberry jam enough that I sought some out at the farmer’s market later in the week.  Brian preferred the tarragon mayo.  Brian had a beer that he had never had before, but he can’t remember what it was (he’s no help).  I ordered a BLT (with explosions) and a side of smashed potatoes.  The bacon was delicious.  The sauce was sweeter than I had expected, almost like a honey mustard.  I wasn’t a huge fan of that.  The potatoes were pretty good.  Brian had a steak.  The service was great.  The atmosphere seemed pretty charming to me, even though I think the chairs weren’t too comfortable and it was very loud.  It would be a fun place to be when they have live music, but I can’t imagine how crowded it must be.  I give them an 8.5 out of 10.

Sometime in May – The Nile

June 27th, 2011

erin says: My apologies for forgetting to write up our trip to the Nile.  Brian and I noticed that the Odana location that has housed a few Indian restaurants got a makeover in Mediterranean style, and we decided to try it out one evening.  Despite the graphic on the sign by the curb, they don’t have gyros, at least not for dinner.  I enjoyed the house soup and my entree, but it has been long enough that I don’t think it would be fair to rate based on my memory.  We will have to go back and do a better job of updating the website next time.  What I do remember is that the food was good, the service was good, and they were surprisingly busy compared to our visits to the Indian restaurants that used to be there.  It’s a tough location.  I wish them luck.

June 20, 2011 – Cuco’s (Verona)

June 26th, 2011

erin says: a new restaurant opened in Verona recently, Cuco’s.  I believe they are related to another Cuco’s in Waunakee.  We had been eyeing the location for a new business after the ill-fated Megan’s of Verona closed.  I was personally hoping that they would keep the phone company themed table, and they did!  Since one of our family members works for a phone company, we are amused by all of the old literature and bits and pieces encased in that table top, and it just so happens that the two times we’ve been to that location (once at Megan’s, once at Cuco’s), we’ve been seated there.  I think Verona will welcome Cuco’s.  They don’t have anything like it in their immediate area.  It is definitely similar to other (amazingly) fast Tex-Mex restaurants in the Madison area.  I think we will be back.  We did notice that the chips seemed a bit soggy, and I thought the salsa was a little on the sweet side.  The service was good.  The decor looks basically like it did before, with the addition of a wall painted to look like adobe and brick.  I’d give them an 8 out of 10.

April 21, 2011 – Monk’s Bar and Grill (Middleton)

April 27th, 2011

Visit the Monk’s Bar and Grill website for location and hours.

erin says: We noticed that this place opened a little while ago and decided to give it a try.  They were packed.  We had never been inside the Applebee’s that used to be there, but it’s a reasonable sized place, and they seem to have a fairly good size parking lot.  It’s a sports bar, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.  The five of us were seated right away, and it was probably around 6 p.m.  We decided against appetizers because we weren’t super hungry.  I ordered a buffalo chicken wrap and the potato “chippers”.  The menu stated that the sandwiches came with Monk’s “famous” pickles (or something like that).  We could see entrees going to other tables that looked huge, and ours were definitely generously sized when they arrived.  The “famous” pickles turned out to be ordinary round dill pickle slices.  If they were special in any way, I couldn’t tell.  The potato “chippers” were homemade chips.  I think the menu described them (in the appetizer section) as having some seasoning, but I couldn’t detect much – maybe a little.  The buffalo chicken wrap was just as it was described, and I liked the blue cheese crumbles.  I liked it, but I couldn’t finish the whole thing.  I thought the service was good, too, we just had some unfortunate timing.  Pat ordered spicy ranch for her salad, and after trying it she realized that it was too spicy for her, and couldn’t locate our server to get some regular ranch.  To me, the spicy ranch tasted like ranch with Penzey’s bold taco seasoning, which I personally really like.  It was also kind of hard to hear in there, I think from the number of people and not from the TVs, but I misunderstood our server a couple of times.  All in all, I like it better than the nearby Tanner’s, Quaker Steak and Lube, and Wild Bull, although I’d say they’re all pretty similar. I don’t recall too much about the surroundings, except that the TVs were there, but not in-your-face, which I appreciate.  How can Middleton support so many sports bars in addition to the other area bars?  I don’t think it can, and I predict a hard time for some of these places.  I can see myself going back to Monk’s though, so I hope it will survive.  8.5 out of 10

On the Road: April 13, 2011 – First Food (Las Vegas, NV)

April 17th, 2011

A special post on a notable restaurant outside of our typical dining radius:

Pat says: On our last night in Las Vegas, Kevin and I went out on our own and had dinner at First Food, in the Palazzo Hotel.  With so many choices of restaurants on the strip, we’ll have to admit that we picked First Food based solely on it’s name and the cool (sort of) interactive menu posted outside.   Don’t know the chef, don’t know anyone who’s eaten there before.  Kevin had prime rib, and I had the sauted salmon with asparagus.  Since the menu is a la carte, we split an order of mashed potatoes.

First Food is relatively casual – no need to wear a tie or anything sparkly.  Fairly loud background music, and lots of televisions, but not so loud that you couldn’t carry on a conversation across the table.  Kevin is still comparing all prime rib to a place in Milwaukee from his childhood (Selen’s?) and said that while this was good, the prime rib of his memory is still the best.  The salmon was nicely done – pink in the middle (as opposed to the coral color of well done salmon), not dry, and cooked just enough to flake with a fork.  Asparagus is in season, so it was fresh and tasty, but as a side the mashed potatoes weren’t hot and lacked flavor.  Perhaps the folks in LV aren’t as in love with butter as we are in WI, but there’s a reason we love it so much.

Dining out in LV can be expensive, as evidenced by the $42 we spent on two not-very-good turkey sandwiches at the deli in our hotel.  Dinner at First Food was about $75.  We walked away feeling satisfied, not stuffed.  Next year, First Food for lunch – they have a lobster chowder that I’d like to try.

March 10, 2011 – Tanner’s Bar and Grill (Middleton)

March 17th, 2011

Visit the website for hours and location.  They’re evidently a chain with locations in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

erin says: We decided to try one of the new restaurants in Greenway Station.  We’re still mourning the loss of Macaroni Grill and Bucatini never really filled that gap.  Tanner’s is something different, although they’re competing with some similar concept places in the area.  It’s kind of fun to go in a building that used to be something else and try to remember the way it used to look.  Tanner’s seems to have blocked off the open kitchen, added a raised area, and installed the numerous giant tvs required to qualify as a sports bar.  The bar was fairly busy when we visited.  I don’t follow sports, but I imagine there was some game going on.  The raised area with round tables was moderately busy.  There was a woman stationed at the desk in the entry way whose sole job seemed to be to tell us we could seat ourselves.  We thought that was a bit odd.  A sign would be ok, too, but maybe they just wanted to say hello.  Service was prompt and friendly.  We weren’t drawn in by the overly cute “boogas” or “chicken lips”, but the menu had a reasonable variety of appealing choices.  I settled on turkey club wrap with tater tots.  I almost regretted my choice when a companion ordered sweet potato fries, but I decided I could try those another time.  The wrap was huge and the portion of tater tots was generous.  The turkey in the wrap wasn’t “shaved” as it mentioned in the menu, but it was ok.  The tater tots were very salty, even for a salt lover like me.  I ended up taking half of the wrap home, and it made a fine lunch the next day.  I found the decor basic but they must have kept the sound down on most of the tvs, because I wasn’t annoyed by that like I have been in other sports bars.  I thought the prices were fair, and I thought the menu had a pleasing variety of choices.  8 out of 10.

© Copyright 2008, Brian Ruppert