Pizza Ranch

In a word: Posse comitatus.

The specs: #01016   
682 S. Grand Ave., Sun Prairie 53590
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Pizza Ranch news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate at the buffet.
The bill was about $14/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Pizza Ranch a C (see our grading rubric).

Pizza Hut has given us the pizza buffet, so can Pizza Ranch really add anything to the concept? Well, it turns out that yes, here pizza is merely the centerpiece of the Pizza Ranch experience. It's more HomeTown Buffet shrunk down and pizza-focused, but there are Italian, American, and salad bar staples as well.  Now this is warmed up buffet style food -- none of it is really excellent, but it is filling. The more focused menu (contra Hometown) means that recipes are a little better all things considered. It would be a nice place to take picky kids who want pizza and giant helpings of mac & cheese without feeling there was nothing above industrial grade for the adults.

The fried chicken actually is pretty good, as is the soft serve (for what that's worth). The pizza is... fine. The slices we tried ran the gamut from the staid to novel to the downright weird (they do have a breakfast pizza, which is weird and not weird at the same time). The crusts are pretty thin, but the word "cracker-y" doesn't come within a half mile of being accurate.

It was Pizza Ranch; it was... fine.

Pitstop Pub

In a word: Puts the "Nah" in NASCAR.

The specs: #01015  
116 E. Main St., Sun Prairie 53590
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Pitstop Pub news and reviews

JM and Nichole split a cheddar cheeseburger and waffle fries. 
The bill was $9, plus tip.
JM gave Pitstop Pub a C; Nichole gave Pitstop Pub a D+ (see our grading rubric).

Rims

Sure, the stools made of wheel rims are cute. And there wasn't so much "swivel factor" as "shouting factor" (everything was loud). And the people at the table next to us were playing some sort of game of who can say the most obnoxious thing at the highest volume.

Complaining about this in Wisconsin, though, feels wrong. Or pointless.

Cheeseburger and waffle fries

So even though the burger was good with a toasted bun and a thick, juicy patty, we aren't likely to go back. Not even the well-cooked waffle fries, balanced by a good fry medium, could rescue the torture of not knowing where to look and having some sports television roaring at us, but not quite loudly enough to cover up the "other" noise. It was kind of stressful, actually.

Pine Cone

No menueIn a word: What even?

The specs: #01014  
6162 US-51, DeForest 53532
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Pine Cone news and reviews

JM ate the biscuits and gravy.
Nichole ate the strawberry pie a la mode with coffee.
The bill was $15, or $7.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Pine Cone a C; Nichole gave Pine Cone a D+ (see our grading rubric).

We are aware that the legendary Pine Cone in Johnson Creek, where they make éclairs the size of small dogs, is the preferable location of this mini-chain, but that one is not in Dane County and the Pine Cone in DeForest is. So that's where we went.

Our luck at truck stops ranges from bad to weird. This one was a little bit of both. First off, upon arriving on a Friday evening in early summer, on our way up north to bring some Drug Free Fun, in the form of board games, to a family library event, we found the power had gone out at the Pine Cone and that they would not be serving any time soon. Not even the ice cream.

So we got a snack elsewhere, and stopped at the Cone (what what?) again on our way back. The power had lurched back on and the place was open again, and serving a steady stream of clientele. We joined them and slid into a well-worn booth.

A few minutes later, JM was eyeing a plate of biscuits and gravy laden with several kilograms of standard gravy over some starchy, but otherwise fine, biscuits. He should have opted for the half order. By the time he decided to leave a portion for the trash can, he was thirsty, overstuffed, and a little bored.

Biscuits and gravy

Nichole went just for dessert. The ice cream had survived the power outage quite well. The strawberry "pie" had not, or maybe it had other problems. The strawberries were crunchy golf balls in a canned Sysco-like glaze and the accompanying Sysco-style malaise. The graham cracker crust was - no. The whipped topping had us whipped. Boo.

Strawberry "pie"

We did pick up an éclair on our way out the door, since they seemed comparable to the Johnson Creek ones. Maybe this Pine Cone is just a little backwards, but we probably won't go back.

L C R H

Pig in a Fur Coat

In a word: That's a wrap.

The specs: #01013   
940 Williamson St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Pig in a Fur Coat news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate the poutine, beets and ravioli.
The bill was $40ish, or $20/person, plus tip.
JM & Nichole gave Pig in a Fur Coat an A- (see our grading rubric).

Rising like a phoenix from the ashes of La Rocca's came Pig in a Fur Coat. The first thing to learn about them is that they offer something like a tapas version of Heritage, or perhaps an outlook that's like squinting at Eno Vino through Forequarter-shaded glasses. There's a relatively small menu of constantly changing seasonal food items (check), prepared with love by betattooed hipsters (check), served hot and fresh with haute cocktails (check) and priced for Epic unweds looking for a nice meal (check!). In other words, A Pig in a Fur Coat is 21st century Madison through and through.  The good news is that the food is really good; the bad is that the experimentation runs high and we weren't exactly expecting it.

We started, as red blooded Sconnies, with the poutine with foie gras. These were very good, and what's good for the goo... never mind.  The curds were the puffy battered variety, not quite to OSS-level but still very delicious, and the gravy was well-balanced between spices and cream.  The overall flavor was wonderfully umami and served as a nice opener.

Poutine and foie gras

Nichole was the primary consumer of the beets with goat cheese and pickled carrots. The pickling agent here was laded with spiciness, and there was also balsamic vinegar and pistachio malt soil with corn shoots. Fancy.  The corn shoots were an odd touch at first since they had such a grassy taste and were a little tough. Further bites, when combined with the earthy beets, were nicer.

Beets

JM's primary investment in our table was the duck egg ravioli, which was a bit of a shock. Instead of the duck egg being prepared atop the ravioli (as he envisioned) it was amid it. JM is not much for separate yolks and albumen, but nevertheless he tried mightily to consume what he could, especially since the asparagus had already been handed over to Nichole. The waitress saw our struggle and brought more delicious bread to help mop up the lake of brown butter, which was perfect. The bacon portion of the dish was simply divine.

Ravioli

Two people may be the wrong number of people to eat at A Pig in a Fur Coat. We left after three plates with a bill in the mid-$40 range and a larger group, which some of the tables accommodate, might give you a better lay of the land, so to speak. We didn't have time for dessert and that may have been silly to skip. In truth though, the food was excellent and the meals are designed to small so you can try more of them. If we'd been in the mood to loll, we may have liked it even more.

Two things about this place that aren't on the menu. One: Nichole swears that one of the iterations of the pig from the graphic looks a wee but too much like the Gilliam pigs from the chalkboard in the first episode of Monty Python. Two: JM found shades of his upbringing when "pig in a fur coat" seemed to him to be a mash-up of two different pages from his childhood favorite "Never Tease a Weasel." 

First 1000: JM's Top 100 Favorite "In a Word"s

Evaluated on the bases of: humor, references, puns, length and aptness. (Reminder: JM is a frustrated comedy writer. If any of these seem excessively snarky, it's probably because he was going for the joke.)

100. Famous Yeti's

99. Mad Dog's Chicago Style Eatery

98. Dhaba

97. Zuzu Café

96. Library Cafe and Bar

95. Roman Candle Pizza

94. Fountain

93. Pat O'Malley's Jet Room

92. Bean Sprouts Café

91. Kilwin's

90. Moonstar

89. Jade Garden Restaurant

88. Deli Roma

87. Sushi Hut

86. Gates & Brovi

85. Banzo (cart)

84. Taco John's

83. Himal Chuli

82. Malt House

81. Kato's Cajun

80. Auntie Anne's

79. Highland Corner Grill

78. Sow's Ear

77. Fuddrucker's

76. Smoky Jon's #1 BBQ

75. Country Corners

74. Mildred's Sandwich Shop

73. Pasqual's

72. FIB's (cart)

71. Firehouse Subs 

70. Bangkok Cuisine

69. David's Jamaican

68. World Buffet

67. Doug's Soul Food Café

66. Umami Ramen & Dumpling Bar

65. Mad City Crab House

64. Macs

63. Porky Pine Pete's

62. Metcalfe's Market Hilldale Café

61. Coreana

60. Jimmy John's

59. Schoolhouse Café

58. Edelweiss Cheese Shop

57. Carnival's

56. Calasan Indonesian Fast Food

55. Aldo's Café

54. Marrakesh

53. New Glarus Hotel

52. Dotty Dumpling's Dowry

51. Happy Grill

50. Cloud 9 Grille

49. Mirch Masala

48. Macy's Café

47. Taj Indian Restaurant

46. Village Green

45. Shish Café

44. Chalet Landhaus Inn

43. AJ Bombers

42. Lovshack

41. State St. Brats

40. Claddagh Irish Pub

39. Del-Bar

38. Chuck E. Cheese

37. Monsoon Siam

36. Betty Lou Cruises

35. Pizza Di Roma

34. Essen Haus

33. Cafe O

32. Little Caesars

31. Porta Bella

30. Cheeseburger in Paradise

29. Badgerland Bar and Grill

28. CJ's Restaurant

27. Middleton Sport Bowl

26. Paradise Lounge

25. Kollege Klub

24. Hooters

23. KJ's Curry Bowl

22. Stalzy's Deli

21. Underground Kitchen

20. Church Key

19. Ella's Deli

18. humble.

17. Olive Garden Italian Restaurant

16. Badger Bowl

15. Cardinal's Nest

14. Ichiban

13. Ingrid's LunchBox (cart)

12. Nifty 50's

11. Ha Long Bay

10. Swagat

9. Journey Sushi & Seafood Buffet

8. Mother Fool's Coffeehouse

7. Pizza Hut

6. Kaminski Bros. Chop House

5. Tony Frank's Tavern

4. Sushi Muramoto

3. Pitcher's Pub

2. LMNO'Pies

1. Kakilima (cart)

Pickle Tree

Pickle TreeIn a word: No pickle here.

The specs: #01012   
625 South Main St., Deerfield 53531
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Pickle Tree news and reviews

JM ate the meat lovers' pizza with about a gallon of lemonade.
Nichole ate the mushroom Swiss burger with fries and a pickle, and a diet Coke.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave Pickle Tree a B+; Nichole gave Pickle Tree an A- (see our grading rubric).

Pickle Tree specials

It was a hot early summer day when we sauntered into the dim shabby chic of Deerfield's The Pickle Tree. We sat at a bright red table that was rendered orange in pictures by the yellow lighting, and set up on what used to be a dance floor. JM was nominally aware of the Pickle Tree from some co-worker discussions of same, and knew that the pizza was the way to go, while Nichole felt that not ordering a burger on National Burger Day was some shade of blaspheme. The bartender/server played it fast and loose and kept the lemonade coming in JM's direction. 

The sausage, pepperoni and bacon pizza was more than filling. Half of it went home, which was alright because it was just as good reheated. The crust was cracker and the small layer of grease pooling up on the 'za meant that the cheese was of authentic (and likely local) provenance. These pizzas weren't frozen an hour before we ate 'em. 

Nichole's burger came on a possibly whole wheat and certainly squishy bun. The meat was not, on the whole, on the umami end of the taste spectrum. Indeed, there was some sourness to the burger, but that may have just been the Swiss cheese.

The Pickle Tree is more than just a Townie bar, but it is a townie bar, too. Or rather it looks like a townie bar that ate another bar, given the number of bottles along the back wall. Certainly, we are not often in Deerfield for dinner but we'd make a special trip and definitely stop in whenever we are around.

PizzaBurger

First 1000: Closed Restaurants

In Memoriam

A Tribute to the Fallen

Backing Tracks from the Free Music Archive:
Pavane pour une infante défunte (Ravel) by Lee Rosevere
Curtains are Always Drawn by Kai Engel

Paul's Pel'meni

MuralIn a word: Pel'meni happy returns.

The specs: #01011   
203 W Gorham St., 53703
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Paul's Pel'meni news and reviews

JM ate the pel'meni.
Nichole ate the pel'meni.
Everyone at Paul's eats the pel'meni.
The bill was $16, or $8/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paul's Pel'meni a B+; Nichole gave Paul's Pel'meni an A (see our grading rubric).

Paul's Pel'meni is a one-food wonder.  They have a few sides and beverages to go with their well-made Russian dumplings, but we got a majority of the menu between just the two of us. If these pel'meni weren't really, really good -- well, it seems unlikely they'd have lasted this long.

Pel'meni

This leads to an important point. If you don't like pel'meni, GO ELSEWHERE! There is literally nothing for you here. Nichole got the opposite of nothing, which is to say her pel'meni came with the works - curry powder, sriracha-based red sauce, and parsley, and sour cream on the side to slather or dip in - and the dumplings were indeed very good. The flavor balance is critical in the toppings, which is why JM's red-sauce-only concoction was a little one note. Furtheremore, these dumpling are little packets of delicious gold. Each is a warm reminder of life well enjoyed. Imagine everything you loved as a kid about Chef Boyardee. Now imagine that this food is made with real ingredients, and comes quick and cheap. 

Paul's Pel'meni

The space is small and leaves much to be desired, but that comes with the territory in borderline student cuisine. Madison lacks almost anything from betwixt Deutschland and China, and even a small comfort like this barely begins to scratch the itch. Maybe now that Bombers is closing, someone else can open a borschterie next door and turn this block into little St. Petersburg.

Bonus book bit: Babcock Hall, & an event

Hey! Saturday afternoon, 5/7/2016, come to a reading from Madison Food: a History of Capital Cuisine - 2pm at Spring Green Community Library, 230 E. Monroe St., Spring Green. Now, a bonus post.

Lots of words didn't fit into Madison Food. Here are some more of our favorites that we didn't want to be missed. Our writeup of our A to Z visit to Babcock Hall Dairy Store was posted back in 2005.

No discussion of the UW-Agricultural program would be complete without mentioning Babcock Hall. Babcock Hall is the home of the University’s dairy plant. For a school as focused on life sciences as this one, it is not hard to imagine such a thing. Of course, what has has happened there since 1951 is amazing.

Let’s start with that name: Who was Babcock? Stephen Moulton Babcock was a chemist who came to the University in 1887. The market for wheat, Wisconsin's former cash crop, had cratered, and the state was looking to increase its milk and butter production as a needed boost to the economy. Pasteurization for milk was still a new idea in the mid-1880's, at which time there were few methods of preserving dairy products. So getting Wisconsin's fresh dairy products safely to the rest of the country looked like an impossible task. Babcock helped change all that.

His first discovery was that it was possible to determine the butterfat content of milk merely by dissolving it in sulfuric acid. (It is not recommended that one drink a glass of milk that has received this treatment.) The result of this process is that everything but the butterfat dissolves. Through a simple laboratory preparation, the fat content could be determined. As a result of this test, the quality of a batch of milk could be easily assessed, and therefore producers could be paid more fairly. Shipping would also be simplified, and most importantly, the standardized milk could be efficiently converted into longer-lasting dairy products such as butter and cheese.

Babcock Hall itself was built in the early 1950s as a modern update to UW’s dairy program. Part of this was a continuation of the school’s program of selling products to locals in an effort to test new methods of flavoring and production. While butter and milk are commonplace, the real secret of the University's dairy program is the ice cream. While consistent favorites dominate, there are a multitude of short-term and experimental flavors that tickle the taste buds while teaching a new generation how to craft quiescent dessert for both large and small scale operations. Babcock Hall dairy products are proudly sold at several Madison grocery stores and no summer trip to campus (whether for SOAR, the student orientation program, or just on a road trip) is complete with stopping in for a scoop.

The location itself was kept small in order to not compete with local dairy interests and has been updated and renovated multiple times over its 60 years. In 2001, John and Donna Hansen gave the university $350,000 to redecorate the space back into its classic "dairy bar" look.

Madison continues to be blessed with many fine types of frozen dessert. There’s everything from the decadent Chocolate Shoppe to the delicious creamy farm-fresh flavors of Sassy Cow, from the housemade gelato at Java Cat to the miles of smiles from Culver’s and Michael’s Custard. Yet no frozen treat joint quite says “Madison” like Babcock.

Source: Laursen, Bethany. “Standing in Line, Standing in a Legacy: An Environmental History of the Babcock Hall Dairy Store.” Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring 2004.

Paul's Neighborhood Bar

In a word: Would you be mine?

The specs: #01010   
2401 Parmenter St., Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Paul's Neighborhood Bar news and reviews

JM ate the chix & pig sandwich.
John ate the grilled chicken.
Nichole ate the mushroom Swiss burger.
Rose ate the ribeye steak sandwich.
We split some onion rings and cheese curds.
The bill was $33, or $8ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar an A-; John and Rose gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar a B+: Nichole gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar a B (see our grading rubric).

There are a lot of places that we missed (because they weren't on Isthmus' list our first time around) that make a certain amount of sense - small corner bars, tiny coffeeshops, c-stores etc. But Paul's Neighborhood Bar in Middleton is not one of these. It should be on every list. Just two blocks up from Three Sisters (now called My Sister's Kitchen), this tavern serves a nice range of standard Sconnie pub fare.

Onion ringsCurds

The four of us split two appetizers: the onion rings which had real onion and ended up being pretty good, and the cheese curds which arrived on the table hot, yet a little hard and definitely cornmealy.  The ranch sauce went mostly unused and was a mite too drippy to be of much help.

Chix & pigChicken breast sandwich

Everything that came on a bun was pretty great, because the buns were pretty great.  John's grilled chicken was probably the least great of the bunch, ending up a little on the dry side. Here's where the ranch dressing helped. JM's "chix & pig" was better, though the presence of bacon on his sandwich may account for that.

BurgerSteak sandwich

The burger was super buttery and had a nice Swiss and mushroom topping. It made us wonder if the meat, like that at many west side establishments, is from Knoche's. The medium rare ribeye came out to order accompanied by mushrooms as well. It too was juicy, perhaps a little too much so for Rose's taste.

Paul's has a fish fry and nice big parking lot.  There is also a ton of room, and while we ate at dinner early, it would be hard to imagine Paul's not having an open table, except maybe Friday nights or game days.  We didn't find anything on the menu that would likely make us regulars but it certainly joins Middleton's good and above list (along with Mid Town Pub, Middleton Sport Bowl, Club Tavern, and a few others).

NEWS

Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. More about it here. Read an excerpt on Carson Gulley and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, Sunshine Supper, and Babcock.


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