Horseshoe Bar & Grill

Horseshoe Bar & GrillIn a word: Not as lucky as you'd hope.

The specs: #00911   
3900 Dempsey Rd., 53716
Details at Mike's Horseshoe Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Horseshoe Bar & Grill news and reviews at del.icio.us

Chris ate the fish and chips.
JM ate the grilled cheese sandwich with cheese curds.
Marissa ate the chicken sandwich.
Nichole ate the cheeseburger with Swiss.
We all split fried mushrooms and - fish nuggets of some kind.
The bill was about $40 plus tip.
Chris and JM gave Horseshoe Bar & Grill a B; Marissa gave Horseshoe Bar & Grill a B-; Nichole gave Horseshoe Bar & Grill a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Horseshoe Bar may need to update their digital footprint. Marissa noted that the place looked closed from the internet's vantage, since their last Facebook update preceded the reelection of Barack Obama. 

Fortunately, they were open and did have a nice dinner selection for us. Horseshoe is a grill and two-basket deep fryer kind of place. Getting everything for a party of four such that it could hit the table at the same time was a challenge for the cook/server, but she made it.

Condiments

When you travel with A to Z, sometimes you get ALL the sauces.  Indeed, there were several sauces listed at the bottom of the menu and we just asked for one of each even if we didn't really know what we were going to put sour cream on.  The apps, which used up a fair amount of the sauces, were hot and crisp without getting to dark from dirty fry medium. The BBQ sauce was quite good and the cocktail sauce (freshly prepared by the increasingly awesome bartender) was as good as any we've had out of a bottle.

Jalapeno potato cheezersBurger
Fish - nuggets?Chicken sandwich

From worst to best, the chicken sandwich tasted cheap and mostly blah.  It was breaded and served on a nice bun, though.  Same was true of the cheeseburger which came out tasting like a grilled burger even though such a thing would have been impossible.  JM's grilled cheese with cheese curds was standard and tasty; the cheese choice was American or Swiss, either double of one or some of each, which was JM's option. Chris' verdict was that the fish & chips were as good as many places that advertise a fish fry, so he couldn't complain too much.

Grilled cheese and cheese curdsFish fry

Horseshoe's best feature was probably the bartender, who was adept and friendly, but we'll probably remember her - and Horseshoe - best for the moment she unceremoniously exclaimed that Robin Williams had just died.

Anyway, the price is certainly low and there's not a ton of room for groups larger than four, but this could be a great place to go as a local.

Hooterville Inn

In a word: The stores! The hell?

The specs: #00910   
10992 Division Street, Blue Mounds 53517
Details at Yelp, Hooterville Inn on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest Hooterville Inn news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the cheeseburger with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the Braunschweiger on rye with onions.
The bill was $12, or $6/person, plus tip.
JM gave Hooterville Inn a C; Nichole gave Hooterville Inn a D+ (see our grading rubric).

There may not be much Shady Rest in Blue Mounds (the highest point in this part of the state), but there's certainly a lot of bars (and restaurants starting with H) to cover the Green Acres. We stopped at Hooterville on our way through town and it turns out that was a good move.

We ate at a picnic table outside after Nichole flagged down a server and got an order of burger, Braunschweiger and beverages. The cold Braunschweiger on rye with onions was OK. JM got a burger, and the bun was good and toasted, but the cheese was shredded cheddar.  Odd, that. The accompanying pickle was nice, but the whole basket was the epitome of understatement.

Hooterville Inn baskets

Hooterville has been in Blue Mounds for half a century, and they have lunch specials, an awesome fish fry, soup, etc. But just like with Harley Blue, we'd probably rather eat at Hazelnut.

Hong Kong Station

Hong Kong StationIn a word: Train your eyes on this "chew-chew" station.

The specs: #00909  
1441 Regent St., 53711
Details at Yelp, Hong Kong Station on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest Hong Kong Station news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the honey walnut shrimp with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the house special rice noodle soup with shrimp ball, mushroom, and vegetables with an iced coffee.
We split the crab rangoon.
The bill was $32, or $16/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Hong Kong Station an A- (see our grading rubric).

Crab rangoonHong Kong Station seems to have come from central casting as a diner, but somehow serves really interesting Chinese food instead. Given that the place was nearly full and featured only two other occidental faces other than ours, this is a good sign.

Those diner qualities, though, create an almost Roxbury Tavern level of cognitive dissonance.  The place is super clean and larded with Muzak, so far, not that weird.  But the decor was all vintage Coke signs and 50s sex symbols (including several Betty Boop examples) and signs proclaiming the benefits of coffee and beer.  To top it all off someone has framed a laserdisc copy of the Hunt for Red October. On the wall of this Chinese restaurant. Is this real life?

Of course, once the food arrived, we had little time to notice anything else strange.  Our crab rangoon was a fair way down the onion axis, much more savory than sweet. It had a thick, fresh-tasting wrapper and was laden with much crab.

Soup

The soup was soup-erb. The server had helped Nichole pick her soup ingredients -  steering her away from the omasun (sic) with a simple "Americans don't like it," then encouraging her to skip the whole, unpeeled shrimp in favor of the tidier shrimp balls.  (Later we observed someone who appeared to be the paterfamilias at the next table grab the same server's pad, write his group's order down, and hand the pad back without a word.) The dish was just fantastic, with a deep brown, richly flavored broth. The noodles were tender and the substantial mushrooms (shiitake-like, but we're not sure) were the best part. The bok choy (vegetable), shrimp balls, and onion all contributed to a delicious whole.

Honey walnut shrimp

JM's honey walnut shrimp didn't taste much of walnut.  The honied mayo dressing on the shrimp was somewhere between secret sauce and honey Dijonnaise. Though the batter was light and really good, cooked in a very light fry medium.  While he didn't take them up on the offered rice, it is important to note that it doesn't just come with every meal.

Coffee gumballsTo top it all off was a coffee-flavored gumball or two for Nichole, which may be why the coffee signs proliferate on the walls.  Give them a try, though, since food this good and at this price (don't worry, you get what you pay for) may be a hard sell this close to campus. 

Hilltop Inn

Hilltop InnIn a word: Old-school supper club with fine hospitality and (bonus!) hummingbirds.

The specs: #00908  
4173 County Road P, Cross Plains 53528
Details at Yelp, Hilltop Inn on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Hilltop Inn news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the pork chop with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the scallops with a decaf.
The bill was $33, or $16.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Hilltop Inn a B-; Nichole gave Hilltop Inn a B+ (see our grading rubric).

 

On a rambling county road south of Cross Plains

You may find a nice and old school supper club

Hidden there among the rural country lanes.

 

The bread provided slices nicely despite the lack of grains

But the old school salad bar was Hilltop Inn's flavor hub

On a rambling county road south of Cross Plains.

 

Salad barSoup and bread

 

Add in southwest chicken soup whose pepperiness hardly wanes

Presaged the scallops huge and the drawn butter tub

Hidden there among the rural country lanes.

 

The portions were ample and as Nichole clearly explains

"You get a lot of food for your dollar, bub"

On a rambling county road south of Cross Plains.

 

Though a dry pork chop caused JM's mouth strains

A baked instead of mashed potato was sadly a flub

Hidden there among the rural country lanes.

 

Scallop dinnerPork chop

 

On the other hand, Ms. Pac-Man and FIFA pinball games

Digestion is easier with ghosties and goalies to drub

On a rambling county road south of Cross Plains

Hidden there among the rural country lanes.

World Cup 1994 pinball

Highland Grounds

Wasiman Center lobby with breakfastIn a word: Fine enough.

The specs: #00907  
1500 Highland Ave., 53705
Details at Highland Grounds on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest Highland Grounds news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate a muffin and a milk.
Nichole ate a donut and a coffee.
The bill was $7, plus tip.
JM gave Highland Grounds a B; Nichole gave Highland Grounds a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Highland Grounds isn't so much a restaurant as a window.  It's the coffee shop in the Waisman Center and, while it is nice that these folks can get java (as evidenced by the small line that had formed by the time we left), one wonders where this caffeine necessity will end. (ed: This is so JM talking right now.)

In the positive, Highland Grounds opened right on time. (We'd been out early, looking up stuff about dishwashing in the 1930s - spoiler alert, the institutions studied were not named, but restaurants were cleaner than taverns.) The functional, small space was ably manned by a personable staffer.  Babcock and Union foods abounded, along with some Gotham and Oakhouse morsels. The space is good enough to be functional, but not so large as to detract from the actual purpose of the Waisman Center. If you are there and need a morning show of awake, certainly stop by.

Highland Corner Grill

SaladIn a word: For the Out of Towner.

The specs: #00906   
2424 University Ave., 53726
Details at Yelp, Highland Corner Grill on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest Highland Corner Grill news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the nachos grande with a strawberry lemonade.
Nichole ate the top sirloin with mashed potatoes and a salad.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Highland Corner Grill a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Highland Corner Grill replaced Francie's Casual Cafe in the Inn Towner and is so much better. The Inn Towner, as a hotel, is a little bit mystifying and (this is JM talking here) sad. Most of the people staying at the Inn Towner are not college helicopter parents or Badger fans or Epic customers.  No, this hotel is usually filled with people visiting and caring for people at the VA and UW hospitals. The faces of our fellow diners appeared tired, scared and overwhelmed. Conversation was subdued and no one seemed focused on the plates in front of them save us.

The good news in this is that Highland Corner Grill really is pretty good food.  Not awesome, locally-sourced confits and foam-laden exotic seafood, but simply comfort food prepared well at a reasonable price, served by people who are really nice.  The familiar is here in bulk quantity with a personal touch.

Nichole was feeling like steak, which is not normal for her, but it was on special. She got a cooked-to-order top sirloin with a heaping helping of garlic mashed potatoes and a side of sauteed veggies.  Steak is a lot about selecting the right cut of meat and the sirloin here was top 25% but not much higher. Nichole did finish everything given to her which says something for the quality.

Top sirloin and steamed vegetablesNachos grande

The same could almost be said for JM's big-enough-for-an-entree app order of nachos.  He did ask for the olives to be removed, so it was quite the whole thing. The cheese sauce was mostly a non-dairy affair, but the ground beef was good and the chips held up from start to finish.  The peppers were not so spicy as to render the rest of the dish inert.

"Highland Corner" as an intersection also features New Seoul, Sushi Box and Lombardino's, and Blue Moon is just a couple of blocks down. So it's a pretty happy corner, all things considered, and the hotel restaurant is a decent fit that does a good job.

Heritage Tavern

In a word: They're scheming on a thing...

The specs: #00905   
131 E. Mifflin St., 53703
Details at Yelp, Heritage Tavern on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Heritage Tavern news and reviews at del.icio.us

Bread & picklesJM ate the bouillabaisse with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the scallion pancake with a Coke.
The bill was $50, or $25/person, plus tip.
JM gave Heritage Tavern an A-; Nichole gave Heritage Tavern a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Retro naming is all the rage in Madison, as if it communicates something about the nature of your storied cuisine.  Vintage... Old Fashioned... Heritage...  Certainly, you can find quality food at places whose names range from soup to nuts, but the shorthand of naming yourself something old is equal parts small-c conservative (though the Heritage Foundation does cross the mind) and trying to build in more tradition than you can rightly claim. 

On the night we went, and most nights, the server assured us, we could have walked into Heritage Tavern and ordered a whole roast suckling pig to eat family-style, and it would be ready in about an hour. The whole menu is the kind of production that we'd like to call sophisticated, but hesitate to, because that implies that we have some broader knowledge, and what we actually mean is it's way above our heads. Some key words popped out - Au Bon Canard duck breast, Waygu beef, and Mangalitsa pork, for example. So, Heritage is a place for food people.

As it turns out, we didn't eat anything with feet. We only noticed that in retrospect - it wasn't an ideological stance or anything. Though it turned out to be a cheap way to go.

The bread plate was nice. There were baguette slices brought in from either Batch or Madison Sourdough (dang, we are off our game), fresh butter, and a generous pile of fleur de sel that Nichole put on everything because she just loves salt. There was a little jar of pickled asparagus, too, more on that later.

BouillabaisseThe bouillabaisse was a wonder of fishy goodness in both senses.  In many ways, there was seafood here that JM just plain would not have eaten if it hadn't been coated in buttery soup. The flavor, though, was right, with more spices than specifically seafood-y overtaste. This all turned out to be good because Heritage had the JM-style problem, namely everything looked great except for one thing in each preparation that scared him off. In some ways, the less he knows about what's on his plate, the better.

The vegetarian scallion pancake & root vegetable slaw dish was pretty, and colorful. The cubes of fried tofu were amazing - soft and light. The slaw, carrot planks and long, unruly red and green cabbage shreds, came in a creamy white soy dressing. The gochujang butter, made with Korean fermented chili paste, added a bite to the works. The cashews were chewy little nuggets and the fried farm egg was delicious; probably the least fun but most filling part of the dish was the actual pancake, which seemed a little overcooked.

Scallion pancake & root vegetable slaw

Based on the not-so-wonderful asparagus (woody and greyish) that came with the bread plate, and the little dish of kimchi with the scallion pancakes, the pickle program at Heritage could use some fine-tuning. The flavors were OK but the textures were just a little soft, and the colors unappealing.

Other than that, Heritage offers a high-end experience at just below market prices.  That makes it a go-to spot for after work drinks and fancy dinner, but it sure seems like Madison has a lot of these places and we can only hope that each one survives the others.

Henry's Sub and Ice Cream Shoppe

Henry's Sub & Ice Cream ShoppeIn a word: Who's zoo-ing who?

The specs: #00904  
702 S. Randall Ave. 53715 (inside Henry Vilas Zoo)

Latest Henry's Sub and Ice Cream Shoppe news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM and Nichole split the ham and cheese sandwich, a root beer float, and an ice cream cone (Moose Tracks).
The bill was about $12 plus tip.
JM gave Henry's Sub and Ice Cream Shoppe a B-; Nichole gave Henry's Sub and Ice Cream Shoppe a B (see our grading rubric).

Henry Vilas Zoo, writ large, is a gem.  Its cost ($0) and location (between Monroe St. and the Park St. medical complex) make it an easy stop for anyone with a few hours to burn, especially with tots in tow.

The Sub and Ice Cream Shoppe is, therefore, automatic.  The sandwiches are stangely a step above Sysco, but still, in some way, preprocessed. The bread is tasty but still had to  be baked in the Zoo kitchen. The Schoep's ice cream is is refreshing on a warm sunny day, like we were lucky to have, but the price is a little steeper than we'd pay for a pint of it at the corner grocery.

So come for the animals, but eat here only if you get so hungry you can't make it to Zuzu Cafe.

Hazelnut Cafe

Hazelnut CafeIn a word: Go nuts!

The specs: #00903   
10985 Division St., Blue Mounds, 53517
Details at Yelp, Hazelnut Cafe on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Hazelnut Cafe news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the French toast with a ginger ale and a chocolate chip cookie.
Keith ate the Grand Hazelnut breakfast (eggs, bacon, potatoes) with a latte and an almond croissant.
Leslie ate the pulled pork sandwich with a latte and an orange-and-clove morning bun.
Nichole ate the breakfast sandwich with a coffee and a cinnamon twist.
We also bought some granola and a coconut sweet to go.
The bill was $12ish/person, plus tip.
Nichole gave Hazelnut Cafe an A; Keith and JM gave Hazelnut Cafe an A-; Leslie gave Hazelnut Cafe a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Hazelnut Cafe is a real gem in Blue Mounds.  Soon every little town on the outskirts will have a gem like this, but Hazelnut with its Driftless orientation seems like worlds away from its ilk in the city nearby.

Keith and Leslie had sampled Hazelnut's bakery at the Mineral Point farmers market and could vouch for its quality and ability to travel.  Furthermore, the bakery is very consistent from market to bakery. Nichole and JM had taken in some pizza on a prior camping excursion and we all wanted to meet up here again.

French toastBreakfast sandwich
Pulled pork, bacon, eggsBreakfast potatoes

Leslie's pulled pork was a tad too vinegary and healthful-tasting (i.e., not fatty enough). The bun was ample if even a little too big, and the whole sandwich was little bit of a letdown given how good everything else tends to be.

Keith's "Grand Hazelnut" breakfast was well prepared just the way he liked it.  The potatoes were especially noteworthy given that they were a cross between regular hash browns and shoestring potatoes.  The bacon was thick and tasty, though it was over cooked for JM's preference (we know that is in the eye of the beholder).

Nichole's homemade English muffin sandwich was really the star of the meal.  It came with a side of bitter greens coated in a thin patina of vinegar and oil dressing. On the sandwich, the egg supported a delicious slice of melty white cheddar cheese from Farmer John. It really achieved sandwich fusion for a better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts whole.

JM's french toast, though a little light for $9, was four pieces of nicely eggy bread that sopped up all the syrup. The butter was uncommonly good.  Of course, that left room for dessert which we all sampled.

Leslie gets an almond croissant whenever possible, and while this time it was slightly below average, the average is above excellent. It really is a thing of beauty: more raised than flaky, and loaded with almonds. JM got a cookie that was good enough for him, which is to say, really good.  The morning bun was an orange and clove affair that walked the line nicely between novelty and tradition. The cinnamon twist was a nice baseline and great use of some extra croissant dough.

Cinnamon twist

The service can be wildly inconsistent and the space is weirdly shaped for 'serious' eats.  But the Kickapoo coffee has pretty good flavor (even if the milk didn't foam up quite enough), and we've never had a bad item from the place.  Plus, it is about a half mile off the Military Ridge bike path, which makes it an ideal destination for brunch for bikers looking to refuel at the mid point before turning home.

Haveli

HaveliIn a word: Get their goat and they won't get yours.

The specs: #00902  
5957 McKee Rd., Fitchburg 53719
Details at Yelp, Haveli on Urbanspoon

Latest Haveli news and reviews at del.icio.us

Beth, Chuck, JM, John, Kami, Kim, Nichole, Stephanie, and Steve ate the lunch buffet.
The bill was $9/person plus beverage and tip.
Chuck and Nichole gave Haveli an A-; JM, John and Kami gave Haveli a B+; Stephanie and Steve gave Haveli a B; Beth and Kim gave Haveli a B-; plus some bonus As for cleanliness and service (see our grading rubric).

Haveli turned out to be a solid choice for an office lunch. Buffets generally have a logistical advantage for this type of outing in speed and ease of settling up the bill, but Haveli also had the advantage of a clean, bright atmosphere and great service. Our group ran the gamut from fans of Indian food to first-timers, and included a gluten-free diner. That everybody surveyed gave an above-average grade speaks louder than most of our alphabetical write-ups, which are inherently small in scope. So we’re glad we got to enjoy this meal with a happy crowd.

On the buffet, there was green salad, which was nice with cucumber sauce as dressing, but otherwise average verging on "nothing to write home (or even on the internet) about." The naan, while warm and plentiful, was also about the middle of the pack and also came in onion flavor. Sadly there were no papadams.

Lunch started to get interesting with soup: a tomato soup had a rich and robust flavor without the apparent aid of dairy products (although shortly before our arrival someone had spllied a serving on the floor; it was gone before our second passes). Some deep fried mushrooms led the pack among a wide variety of vegetable sides. As with most Indian buffets, the food really benefitted from liberal sampling of the various relishes, chutneys and sauces available.
 
The goat curry was definitely the star of lunch, as reportered. Or, as Steve put it, “No kidding, the goat was really good!” It was like beef stew’s smarter, more nimble cousin - fork-tender meat in delectable sauce, with the occasional bone that was worth navigating around for the boost it gave to the flavor.

The chicken tikka masala was a hit, though a bit runny - but one legend has it CTM owes its very existence to a truck driver’s wish for a lot of gravy on his meat, so no ding there. Plus it tasted good over rice. For the more sauce-averse, the tandoori chicken was a good option.

Speaking of rice, several folks praised the egg rice, one preparation of basmati loaded with diced vegetables and bits of fried egg.

For sweets, there were kheer (which John was a big salesman of), honey-heavy gajar halwa, and mango ice cream that got high marks from everyone who tried it.

Haveli re-set the record at a fifth visit to one address, but they have smartly subdivided the formerly-far-too-roomy-to-make-the-rent Fitch's location and now occupy merely the front area.  So while this palace puts on a good show, it is not as palatial as it could have been and is probably more likely to last because of it.


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