Kato's Cajun

In a word: Bayou something else.

The specs: #00924  
108 W. Towne Mall, Madison 53719
Details at Yelp, Kato's Cajun on Urbanspoon

Latest Kato's Cajun news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the Cajun pork and mushroom chicken with rice and a soda.
Nichole ate the black pepper chicken with noodles.
The bill was $12, or $6/person.
JM gave Kato's Cajun a C-; Nichole gave Kato's Cajun a D+ (see our grading rubric).

What can we say about Kato's Cajun? It is one of those places in the mall that is always trying to drum up business by giving away free samples. Sadly, based on our one experience, this may be the slightly overpriced way to eat their food. Even the cup said Sarku Japan: how into this can they really be?

2 Entree meal: Cajun Pork and Mushroom Chicken

There's nothing really Cajun about this food: it is essentially greasy mall stir fry and for frugal eaters (teenagers, certainly, but others too), it may scratch an itch that we cannot comprehend.

But here Cajun just seems to mean "enough red pepper flakes to melt brass."  On top of barely acceptable stir fry? No thanks.

Black Pepper Chicken

Watching Mall-Vision (or whatever the TV sets in the food court are called) we got to see two mini-episodes of Tails and Fails, which was both the best part of the meal and an accurate description of it.

Karben4 Brewing

Karben4 signIn a word: What are we Karben4?

The specs: #00923   
3698 Kinsman Blvd., Madison 53704
Details at Yelp, Karben4 brewing on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Karben4 Brewing news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the grilled cheese plus ham, with a lemonade.
Marijka ate the pick two salad plate with spring roll salad and maple spinach salad.
Nichole ate the Midwest Muffaletta with a Sprecher.
Ryan ate the ham & bacon supreme with a Fantasy Factory.
We split the deviled eggs and pretzel styx. (Welcome to Hell!)
The bill was about $55, or $14ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Karben4 a B+; Marijka and Ryan gave Karben4 a B-; Nichole gave Karben4 a C+ (see our grading rubric).

K4B is in the old Ale Asylum space on the northeast outskirts by Madison College. As Ale Asylum, the space was intimate and warm, though a bit raucous when it needed to be. Karben, not so much.

The space has been reimagined in modern industrial. It's a little like a warehouse rave with loud music, high black walls adorned with distant murals that make little impact, and TV sets, but instead of showing artsy swirls they just silently spewed minor big 10 college football. As a place to get sandwiches, it is the anti-Mildred's.

Foodwise, K4B is roughly in the Vintage family of foodie brewpubs, but lighter and healthier. For app-sample, there were good pretzels and very fun deviled eggs. We got four kinds: classic, smoked chile, fresh and bright gremolata and Hollandaise (very nice, though it could have been more citrusy).

Deviled eggs

Based on what we observed of the menu, the kitchen could be quite limited: no fryer, maybe not even a grill. But there's probably an oven.

Pretzel sticks

The subtext of the entrees at Karben4 seems to be: "What can we do with all this spinach?" The sandwiches and salads are a nice break, but unless you are looking to see Popeye exposed to something akin to 'roid rage, there's a little too much spinach in everything.

SaladMidwest muffaletta
Ham and cheeseGrilled cheese plus ham

Marijka's 2 half-salads, while appealing on paper, didn't really mix well. Despite both having a lot of spinach the flavors didn't mesh, but she said she has had worse apple walnut salads. While the grilled sandwiches were decent, the Polish sausage on the Midwest Muffaletta on a pretzel bun was awkward and hard to eat. It was also a smidge on the cold side. JM got ham & cheese and a lemonade, which may account for his higher than average grade. Ryan's ham and bacon supreme was also pretty good.

That said, there are a lot of nice hints toward something more solid - Underground meat, Stalzy's bread, homemade dressings and pretzels. Heck, maybe an Madison College student in the kitchen?

And of course there's beer. K4B quickly made a name for itself (not least for its fire-breathing unicorn ridden by a gun-wielding cat) in the beer trade. But their tap menu is small and mostly ossified against change. This wouldn't be terrible if there weren't so many other places in Madison to have a beer, even their beer.

Karben4 mostly uses this sammy shop as a showroom for their signature beverages, and we cannot fault them taking an incremental approach. But there's a not a lot going on here, and in this genre, Vintage, Dexter's or Ale Asylum probably have more to offer the average food enthusiast.

Journey Sushi & Seafood Buffet

JourneyIn a word: Stop believin'.

The specs: #00922   
4325 Lien Rd., Madison 53704
Details at Yelp, The Journey on Urbanspoon
Official Facebook

Latest Journey Sushi & Seafood Buffet news and reviews at del.icio.us

Anne, JM, John, Nichole and the kid ate the buffet.
The bill was $10/person, plus tip.
JM gave Journey Sushi & Seafood Buffet a C; Anne, John and Nichole gave Journey Sushi & Seafood Buffet a C- (see our grading rubric).

Buffets in Madison tend to be in mostly the same class. Some are a little more clean, others scary, still others tend to remind us of better places. The Journey, located in the old Damon's by the east side Target, was a little of all three. 

First, though, Journey is popular and almost inexplicably so. With the closure of China Buffet on East Washington, this may be due to the lack of East side buffets Chinese (though QQ still exists [edit: nope]). The place is a barn, and yet when we were there for a Saturday lunch, lots of tables were full.

The food was decidely just OK. There were lots and lots of varied dishes, and bubbling water underneath the steam tables conveyed freshness, but the food never did.  Some tasted old and some tasted a little underdone. No dish out of the more than three dozen we tried was something that we wanted to share with someone else or recommend to someone on another trip around.

It did have some unqiue stuff, like whole flounder and other fish, and did have lots of sushi rolls constantly being refreshed by guys behind glass. But nothing was really drool-worthy.

Single shrimp

The price is, as they say, right and the place doesn't give off the dank vibe Jade Garden did back in 2007.  But still, there's better version of each of these things less than 5 miles away in any direction. Just not all under one roof.

Jordandal Cookhouse

In a word: The best sliver of food in Verona (we presume).

The specs: #00921   
600 West Verona Ave., Verona 53593
Details at Yelp, Jordandal Cookhouse on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Jordandal Cookhouse news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the fish tacos with cheese and sausage for a side, plus a grape soda.
Nichole ate the beef and peanut soup, jerk chicken sandwich with curry carrot slaw on the side, and butterscotch pudding in a jam jar.
The bill was $30, or $15/person, plus tip.
JM gave Jordandal Cookhouse a B+; Nichole gave Jordandal Cookhouse an A (see our grading rubric).

Jordandal Cookhouse carryout

Remember fall? It was great. It was the perfect time to visit Jordandal Farms' outlet, though Nichole suspects it's always a perfect time for Jordandal. She went overboard ordering since every single thing on the menu looked delicious and, while we're on the first pass of the "wheel," how often do we get to eat good food?

Her curry carrot slaw was an interesting take on the same old grated carrot salad, plus the cranberries made it nice. The nicely thick beef peanut soup was brimming with vegetables (carrots, red peppers, cabbage) while still maintaining a pleasant bite. Most of the jerk chicken sandwich went home for later, but the first bites proved their tastiness with smoky meat and a sweet jalapeƱo jam. Her elementary school throwback of butterscotch pudding was a tad thin, but tasty.

JM's fish tacos were quite an affair as well, though the orange-flavored mayo they were awash in may not have been the best citrus choice, but it was definitly distinct.  And, though they fell apart, he hasn't found any fish tacos anywhere that actually maintain their structural integrity throughout.

Here's the thing: everything was fresh, good and packed with thoughtful ingredients. This place does a pretty good trade just selling uncooked meat to the west side's picky consumers. We're not sure how many Epic folks wander away from campus to find food, but if only 2% make their way to Jordandal, they should be sitting pretty.

Bike the Barns 2014

Bike the Barns, the annual fundraising ride for FairShare CSA Coalition, happened yesterday. It was fantastic! We highly recommend it to anyone who rides bikes, likes fun, or eats food.

The farm tours were interesting, restful & hospitable. Here are some onions in Luna Circle's hoop house.

Onions in hoop house

Lunch and snacks were amazing. Here, brat burger and sides from Food Fight; at other stops, scones from 4&20, Sassy Cow milk, cookies from Graze, Madison Sourdough Co. granola bars, apples, and at the end kabobs or La Fortuna pizza.

Burger

At the end, music, massages and cool green grass to lie in.

Sky after Bike the Barns

Thank you pledgers, congratulations FairShare on another great year (holy cow, John and friends! Awesome job!), and ride on.

JL Richards

J.L. RichardsIn a word: For better, for worse, for Richards the pourer.

The specs: #00920   
668 Janesville St., Oregon 53575
Official web site

Latest JL Richards news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the steak tips over mashed potatoes.
Nichole ate the goulash with green beans and a roll.
The bill was about $6/meal.
JM gave JL Richards a B-; Nichole gave JL Richards a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Let's start with the bad: JL Richards is a deli serving the metro Oregon area with chafing dishes filled with basically blah, average, just-above-cafeteria-grade food.  The salad bar accompanying the feast is smaller than average and has little Sconnie originality, preferring instead to focus on only the most pedestrian offerings.  Our meals of steak tips and goulash, while certainly OK, were not worth the autumn drive out of town.

Beef tipsGoulash

That feels pretty negative, but it's really not.  In Oregon, it may well be one of the better offerings for take-out.  The value of the meals was actually pretty good.  You get a lot of food for not too much money.  And the service was excellent. Staff quickly came to take our order and offered us ample samples of whatever we were curious about.

As a deli, JL Richards has a wide selection of meats and cheeses and prepared salads (like macaroni and potato).  They do a brisk wedding trade (no less than two brides-to-be were there sampling wares) and word of mouth counts for so much in that business that they must be doing it right.

So south siders, you may want to stop in for grillable meats or special sauces (a high school friend of JM's is among those behind the Croix Valley, which we found here) and maybe a quick lunch or dinner when you've other things to do.  JL Richards' niche is pretty small (wedding deli and liquor store) but it fits.

JD's

JD'sIn a word: Opens at 10... PM...

The specs: #00919   
317 N. Bassett St. 53703
Details at Yelp, JD's Soul Food on Urbanspoon

Latest JD's news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM and Nichole split a Polish.
The bill was $5ish plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave JD's a B+ (see our grading rubric).

We're old. This rarely makes it a problem to get A to Z meals done, since we can eat early among our blue-haired brethren and be done. But with JD's we actually had a problem.

See, we have nothing against bar time food per se. But normally bar time food is available before bar time and is something we prefer to eat earlier, namely, "not at bar time." JD's, not so much. Their menu of Chicago-style fare - steakburgers on white toast, pork chop sandwiches, sausages slathered in onions and mustard, fries, and wings - is served at a food cart and at their ground-floor restaurant where Gorham bifurcates into Bassett and University.

It was a hassle to get there: our schedule had us swinging by JD's after a late evening dinner party so we were not that hungry (besides, we're never that hungry approaching midnight). It was a hassle to get in: loitering bros littered the place and finding the head of the line was a challenge.  It was a hassle getting food: the wait was nearly ten minutes and, with no place to park, we had to split the party. It was a hassle getting home: not wanting to merely consume and entire sausage on the steps of JD's, or in the car at a red light while the Wando's crowds wandered in traffic, we drove the ten+ minutes home to our own kitchen. We ate standing up (which annoyed the dog, who got her hopes up but knows she can't have sausage).

JD's beef polish

But, damn, it was a good sausage.

And that's fortunate, because before we tried it we didn't understand how a place that opens after a third of the city is already in bed could hold down rent in a campus-area first floor mixed-use space.

J&M Bar

J&M BarIn a word: Worthy of a Belle-hop.

The specs: #00918   
127 W. Main St., Belleville, 53508
Details at Yelp, J & M Bar on Urbanspoon

Latest J&M Bar news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the chicken sandwich with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the bacon burger with a cranberry juice.
We split some curly fries and a basket of complementary pretzel sticks.
The bill was about $20, or $10/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave J&M Bar a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Belleville is a lovely spot to bike to. The Badger State Trail is a good place to hit on a summer's day, the terrain is mostly flat, and it passes through town near the main drag.  We'd probably stop in Belleville more often, but we hadn't yet found a good place to eat (though Borland's has a decent fish fry; the convenience store on the north side of town, while nice, is not worthy of a bike ride). J&M seems to fill the bill nicely.

The first thing that J&M has going for it are nice people. Really nice. They offered us free pretzel sticks with a good mustard. And while the service was laid back and not rushed, every single staff person in the place (about 6) stopped at our table to see if we needed anything. 

Curly fries and mustard

Chicken sandwichJM's chicken sandwich was pretty standard but even in that there is a great deal of comfort. The bun was toasted, but ample sauce was to hand so that the moistness of the dish was not threatened.  Each bite was good, meaning that the fry medium was definitely top notch.

Curly fries = standard.

Burger

Nichole got a burger, so let's see how it does on Accidental Hedonist's burger rubric:

  • Bun: untoasted white sesame bakery roll. Airy but with structural integrity.
  • Meat: thick patty, juicy.
  • Bun/meat ratio: good.
  • Cheese: Skipped this time. Bacon was crispy.
  • Misc.: The home-grown (by the owners) tomato slice on this burger made the sandwich - it was more like a BLT plus beef. A 9.5 of 10, with the acknowledgement that it's dependent on tomato season.

The best part of the burger, and J&M itself, was that it was so unassuming. J&M will never make the paper for growing their own tomato, or put up a billboard touting their farm freshness. Ever since we finished the List and started the Wheel, we've been making the rounds of lots of corner taverns. These kinds of family-run places can be hit or miss in the wild, but once in a while there's a place like J&M, so genuine that we'll gladly add it to the "try again" list.

Itzza Pizza

In a word: Itzza bitzza uzzual.

The specs: #00917   
2825 University Ave., 53705
Details at Yelp, Itzza Pizza on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest Itzza Pizza news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM and Nichole ate the deep dish pizza with Canadian bacon and pineapple on the whole thing and giardiniera on half and a three-piece hot & tangy chicken tenders.
The bill was about $25 plus tip.
JM gave Itzza Pizza a B; Nichole gave Itzza Pizza a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Itzza Pizza has some mighty big shoes to fill.  It has gone in where the old Gumby's on University was and it actually might succeed about as well.

To start with, the space on Uni has always been hard to find and small, so Itzza starts out with about the best thing about the place: its ordering process.  This is the first place we've really appreciated the online ordering more than the brick-and-mortar experience. You get to play with a pizza, topping it how you want and laying out what should go on half or a quarter of the pizza. If you are only ever ordering for parties, this is unnecessary, but for families, couples and small groups, it's salvation.

The pizza itself was quite good. It had a great romano cheese crust that was salty & not burned, but crunchy on the bottom. Pizzas of this variety tend to get soggy in the middle -- and this one didn't, quite as much, and the toppings had the right feel on the tooth.

Itzza Pizza

The chicken wings were hot and spicy in a good way and dried out in bad way, which dinged JM's grade. Based on the pizza, he'd agreed with Nichole that Itzza was a B+, but the wings were a minus. 

We would think of Itzza Pizza for pizza delivery sometime again, just to change it up.

It'Sugar

In a word: My Face Tells Me...

The specs: #00916   
540 State St., 53703
Details at Yelp
Official web site, Facebook

Latest It'Sugar news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the candy.
Nichole ate the candy.
We ate all the candy.
The bill was - who cares - candy!
JM gave It'Sugar a B-; Nichole gave It'Sugar a C+ (see our grading rubric).

State Street has been a candy corridor for decades, so in that way It'Sugar fits right in. But it was stunning to see how the first floor of 540 had been transformed from mellow Gino's into a saccharine theme park.

It'Sugar

It'Sugar was doing a brisk trade in giant novelty candies, retro treats, a relatively small selection of bulk candy (compared to predecessor Campus Candy), and branded tschotschkes. We spent way too much money and ate way too much candy. But it was fun, and the staff was super nice; we might come back to get a goofy gift or a treat for the office. (My stummy hurts...)


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