Sarku Japan

In a word: No, Sarku.

The specs: #01041 
111 W. Towne Mall, 53719
Details at Yelp, official web site

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JM ate the chicken teriyaki.
Nichole ate the veggie soba.
We split some chicken dumplings.
The bill was $15, or $7.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Sarku Japan a C; Nichole gave Sarku Japan a C- (see our grading rubric).

Sarku Japan is in the West Towne food court.  There's a ton of better food here, even if just from McDonald's (but really, when at West Towne, our reco is to try Burgers Plus, and try something other than a burger).

The idea at Sarku Japan is: 1) Pick Your Meat, 2) Pick Your Starch, 3) Watch as Something is Prepared Before Your Eyes. This one doesn't have sushi. Hm.


The food is fresh, but void of flavor. Contra relative Kato's Cajun, Sarku could use a spice of SOME kind. The chicken teriyaki was filling, but JM's had better stir fry at Happy Wok. Nichole, too, found her veggies suffered sameness and blandness despite her choice of noodles. The chicken dumplings we got were left off the original order, but promptly supplied when we asked. These were the best part of the meal.

Dumpling things

The best we can say is that Sarku Japan's free samples are the correct portion size. We had leftovers, but we didn't take them home. We're sure there's somebody who is grateful for this place being in the mall for their lunch break, but we'd probably go just about anywhere else.

Salads UP

In a word: Green for greens.

The specs: #01040  
439 N. Frances St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the fiesta Caesar with a Boylan's.
Nichole ate the Yia Yia.
We split an Electric Feels juice.
The bill was $30, or $15/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave SaladsUP an A- (see our grading rubric).

SaladsUP is an Ann Arbor transplant that feels as millennial as it at home on State Street. It's a build-your-own-salad place, and while Salad Creations closed before we could ever visit, this place seems like the kind of Salad Creations that could survive in Madison. That said, it is pretty pricey, and its offerings are more chakra than chard.

JM lucked into the special fiesta Caesar which comes with a real quesadilla and is loaded with romaine and tortilla chips from somewhere. Pico, chicken, and avocado rounded out the ingredients and, for a good sized but overpriced salad, it was pretty good. (The thing about salad is that everything has to be fresh, so we understand why the overhead is high. These were v. v. v. fresh and free of the slime that you sometimes get on older lettuce.)

Yia YiaSpecial fiesta Caesar

Nichole's Yia Yia came loaded with spinach, tomatoes, feta, olives, cukes and a zingy lemon vinaigrette which was very low on oil. Since she is often looking for a place for fresh bite downtown, Nichole was much more enthused about the salad offerings than JM was.

JM got both a Boylan's root beer and an Electric Feels juice smoothie in a bottle, which he shared with Nichole. The latter was housemade and fine for what it was, but it seems that they may be trying to ascribe something more complete to the thin juice that it cannot support. His feels, not so electric. (Boogie woogie woogie.)

So if Pita Pit's gluten or carbs make you blanche, maybe try Salads UP.

Sabores Michoacanos

In a word: Yum.

The specs: #01039  
3050 Cahill Main, Fitchburg 53711
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Sabores Michoacanos news and reviews

Allen, JM, Liz, and Nichole ate paletas, nachos, tacos, fried plantains and salchipapas with a horchata and a Fanta.
The bill was like $30ish, plus tip.
We all gave Sabores Michoacanos an A (see our grading rubric).

One of our favorite closed restaurants of this decade was Carnival's: a place where you could get junk food, made hot and fresh.  There's just something about food that is only there to taste good and not provide nourishment, especially when such care is taken to prepare it.  Sabores Michoacanos brings that idea from points south.  Much like La Michoacana (Michoacán is a state on the Pacific side near Mexico City), this place offers paletas and various forms of ice and ice cream treats, which are quite good.  It also offers up the standard Mexican grocery store fare (tacos, burritos) and a few specialties (salchipapas).  We tried to cram in as much as we could.

The coffee paletas (eat dessert first) were top notch. They tasted a bit like frozen tiramisu. The raspberry-chocolate stripes were good too.


The fried plantains and horchata were delightful.

Fried plantains

JM finally found his favorite nachos in Madison. These were the right price, and came covered with the exact things he likes with none of the things he disdains. He's willing to overlook sour cream.


The tacos al pastor were absolutely fresh and tasty, loaded with onion and lime while still being one hundred percent certain to be unnecessary calories. I mean, just look at them.


Nichole sprang for the salchipapas, which were delightful and even a bit cute (as they were cut to look like octopi). It is still just deep fried hot dogs on french fries, but who doesn't need that now and again?


The sauces on the table included the robust verde and the flame your tongue off rojo.  There were four flavors of Mexican Fanta to choose from, but only one kind of Jarritos. So make tracks to Sabores Michoacanos.

Rosie's Coffee Bar and Bakery

In a word: Treats with your bevvies.

The specs: #01038  
4604 Monona Dr., 53716
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the biscuits & gravy with a Nantucket Nectars juice.
Nichole ate the veggie panini with greens.
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Rosie's Coffe Bar and Bakery an A- (see our grading rubric).

It can be hard for 9-to-5ers to truly appreciate the wonderland of breakfast and lunch places in this town. If we cannot steal away for a quick lunch, we have to get willing to battle the traffic and the crowds on weekends, which is how we sampled the great wares at Rosie's.

Having added a coffee bar to the space that most recently housed a series of Asian restaurants (Lee Asian Bistro being the only one we managed to visit), Rosie's has a little less seating than we remembered. But the space was brighter and more open, with a lovely bakery case. And while we didn't have any of the bakery on this visit, it all looked amazing, and we have it on good authority that the taste matches. 

Biscuits and gravy

Rosie's menu is small but laser-focused on wonderful breakfast and lunch options. JM opted for the former with his biscuits and gravy, which were filling and tasty.  The powdery biscuit could have been too dry, but the ample sausage gravy (with an emphasis on sausage) really balanced it well. The hint of rosemary worked with the meat to add a top to the flavor. Nichole chose lunch and got the vegetarian panini, which was warm with goat cheese, zucchini and red pepper - light and tasty.

Veggie panini

Nichole's came with salad that featured a nice dressing, while JM's came with hash brown which was carbs on carbs, but whatever. Everything here was decent to really good and it merits an addition to one's east side breakfast/lunch rota. We'll be going back, even if just to use the Bucky Book coupon we forgot to use (as always).


RookiesIn a word: Sports with everything.

The specs: #01037   
10267 US Hwy 14, Mazomanie 53560
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Rookies news and reviews

JM ate the pulled pork with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the cheeseburger with chips.
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Rookies a B+; Nichole gave Rookies a B- (see our grading rubric).

Rookies is a cross-promotional partner with the Shoe Box, as evidenced by the signage at both things.  It lies just past Mazo, in what can only be described as Sconnie country. You probably know the sort of place: Jell-O shots after Badger wins, and an unironic PBR challenge. 

Due to its connection with the Shoe Box, the sports memorabilia and paraphernalia matches that at Pooley's and the downtown Nitty for breadth and depth. Every inch of space is covered with signed photographs, kitsch, or televisions. (If there are fewer than 30 TVs in Rookies, we'd be surprised). We happened to go during that needlessly close Badger game against Rutgers, and got to see the whole OT from our table.  Of course, the place was packed to the gills. We had to wait, which was fine since there was free serve-yourself popcorn and a squeeze bottle of melted serve-yourself butter. Delicious.

Once we did get a seat, we got to peruse a solid menu of choices: burgers and sandwiches, natch, but also: pizza, salads, Swedish meatballs on special, ribs, pasta.  We settled for a burger for her and a pulled pork for him, especially since it came with a variety of sauces.  The pork was good, though there was probably enough for two sandwiches and the middle had some cool spots (not dangerous, just a little unwell). As for the sauce array, there were two bottles of various BBQ-adjacent Mustard Girl (a fine mustard), a bottle of the runniest vinegariest sauce, and a nice French's implementation of Carolina BBQ - the latter two of which JM used freely.

Pulled pork

Nichole's burger was about the epitome of doneness in rural burgers.  The brioche bun was soft, the patty was a delightful medium to medium rare and the cheese was in just the right vein.  The chips and fries that came with these were nothing too spectacular, as our notes barely mention them at all.


Sportsball completed, the crowd emptied out within 15 minutes, and the place was less than half full by the time we left. We'd stop by again for a burger or popcorn if it were on our way.


In a word: Salty treat.

The specs: #01036   
444 S. Park St., 53715
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Rockhound news and reviews

JM ate the chicken sandwich with a Sprecher root beer.
Katie ate the grown up grilled cheese.
Nichole ate the wild rice burger with tea.
The bill was $25, or $8ish/person (thanks to Bucky Book), not including tip.
JM gave Rockhound a B; Katie and Nichole gave Rockhound a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Rockhound is one of the latest to jump into the make your own beer game.  The lines come from the vats straight into the taps, for truly fresh beer, if that's your jam.  The small menu trends toward the salty to keep you thirsty.

Grilled cheese

Speaking of jam, Katie's "grown-up" grilled cheese had tomato jam that was indeed jammin'.  Its blend with the goat cheese atop a buttery white bread lent it an awesome flavor and texture combo. Similarly, Nichole's wild rice burger was a garlicky, salty, and rich affair that held together pretty well.

Wild rice burger

Sadly, JM's chicken sandwich was ordered after the kitchen had run out of coleslaw for the night and so his chix sand was a little plain and dry.

BBQ chicken sandwich

(JM was back at Rockhound within a week for one reason and another. Someone he was with ordered the chicken and found the slaw corrected for this problem, but they served the inferior model to JM again. Boo. Fortunately, they had a Sprecher root beer for him to drink, which he always enjoys.)

The stars of the A to Z meal, though, were the fries.  They all came out perfectly done and with large flecks of salt like untwisted pretzels.  Sure, you'll order more drinks, but you'll also get to eat delicious salt.  The sweet potato versions were similarly prepared and similarly good.

Rockhound's menu doesn't stretch as far as, say, Vintage's, so it hard to imagine coming here if we aren't in the area (which we often are, see JM's anecdote above). But Happy Hour seems more like this place's forte -- and JM can confirm that on his subsequent visit, the mac and cheese side was quite good.


Rock'n Rollz

PicksIn a word: "Hello, McFarland!"

The specs: #01035  
5208 Farwell St., McFarland 53558
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Rock'n Rollz news and reviews

JM ate the 7" BBQ chicken pizza.
Nichole ate the #13, chicken salad on a garlic herb wrap.
The bill was $14, or $7/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Rock 'n Rollz a B (see our grading rubric).

We visited Rock'n Rollz on one of those interminably snowy December nights. As a result, the custom here was pretty low.  We saw a couple of take-out orders come and go, but otherwise we were eating alone with Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor in a concert video of them in all their 70s glory. See, Rock'n Rollz is a theme restaurant and theme is rock and roll. Several guitars are showcased, each signed and displayed with paraphernalia from rock and roll boot camps.


Rock'n Rollz is an order-at-the counter place. We searched the menu for a signature item, but nothing jumped out at us. JM got a pizza and Nichole opted for a chicken salad wrap. These were squarely in the "you can get it better elsewhere, but McFarland's is close for someone" camp. Each of the items was above average, but not enough above average to make it a place we'd seek out. (And this is recalling that JM is about as committed to popular music knowledge as he is to eating alphabetically. Seriously, try him sometime; he named the four members of Queen in the first paragraph without having to look it up.)


But the rock theme isn't present in the food. There's no cutesy rock/pop star names for the dishes, and a slightly better-than-average BBQ chicken pizza isn't gonna top the Roman Candle or Glass Nickel version we can order at home.

That said, if you are looking for a place in McFarland that is very clean (super sharp on the night we went) or you are looking for about the most darling Christmas tree during the holiday season, well, you can do a lot worse than Rock'n Rollz.

Rock Sports Bar and Grille

In a word: Rack 'em and Rock 'em.

The specs: #01034  
920 W. Main St., Sun Prairie 53590
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Rock Sports Bar and Grille news and reviews

JM ate the
Nichole ate the
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave the Rock Sports Bar and Grille an A-; Nichole gave the Rock Sports Bar and Grille a B+ (see our grading rubric).

A lot of "the wheel" has been about terrible little bars in farflung (for Dane County at least) little burgs.  Generic cheeseburgers served by nice enough locals with interchangeable décor and mass-produced meats and buns.  It is with this dread that we approached a Sun Prairie "sports bar and grille" called Rock.

It is so amazing when everything works out better than expected!

To start with, Rock seems to be a pool hall first and restaurant second. "Bar" finishes a not so distant third (closely followed by place to watch sportsball). There are not enough sports bars an apple cranberry pecan salad. And even fewer that would rush out with pecans that had been left off of it midmeal with an apology. Rock rocks the service component.


As for the salad itself, it was good with a nice mix of greens and basil lemon dressing that was just the right quantity. It does taste much better with pecans, FYI. JM's Hail Mary burger was topped with a nicely tender pulled pork. Sadly, the bacon had gone through a process where all of the delicious flavor was extracted called "becoming crispy."  The bun sadly was dissolving by 75% mark and the onion straws didn't add much flavor sadly.  The seasoned fries on the side, though, molto bene.  


We did not shoot a round of pool (though JM did then buy a mini pool table at the St. Vinnie's down the strip), but we noticed that these pool tables were immaculate.  The prices seem reasonable and the crowning touch, a hand crafted scoring abacus above each tables' light, made the pool like a reason to come all on its own.  So, shoot some stick and watch the big game while consuming very well-thought out food service by pleasant staff.  So much better than expected.

Roast Public House

Cheese curdsIn a word: Better than average, expected, or deserved.

The specs: #01033  
558 State St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Roast Public House news and reviews

Cameron ate the PineApple pork express with chips.
David ate the Cubano with fries.
JM ate the white cap beef with chips.
Nichole ate the steak salad.
The bill was about $11/person plus tip.
Cameron, David, JM, and Nichole gave Roast an A- (see our grading rubric).

There are a lot of old-school naming conventions on display in Madison. On the west side we have a Tied House and a Free House. And here on State Street we have Roast Public House. You know, a pub. In fact, we're reasonably sure at one point this was The Pub. But the roast thing is about roasting food, not coffee or beer (nothing JM likes more than a big glass of roast beer), so we knew to expect well-made pub food, but even at this, Roast excelled.

We started with an order of cheese curds which still had enough squeak for us to determine that they were not cheese cubes, which their shape had implied. They were served with a chipotle mayo that was serviceable without being showy.

Our sandwiches were all well-prepared, though a couple had some flaws worth considering. The PineApple Pork Express was a nice hearty pork sandwich, but pineapple chunks are for pizza, not sammies. A nice ring of pineapple would work much the same way tomatoes do. The sriracha also didn't add much. (Memo to menu planner: sometime sriracha is a nice spiciness to add, other times folks will use the bottle too add it as they see fit, still other times: just stop).

The cubano was mighty tasty, but no mustard. No mustard? What?

CubanoPineApple pork express

JM's white cap beef was an exemplary sandwich and he had not found its equal in Madison yet. It's a beef sandwich with mushrooms and melty cheese. Most beef sandwiches are trying to be something else: a Philly, an Italian beef, a French dip. Those are bound by too much law to be as filled with grace as this one. It was really good.

Steak saladWhite cap beef sandwich

Nichole got a salad, even the smaller portion of which was substantial, and the beef on top was some of the tastiest in memory. Good to have a salad that's as thoughtfully put together as this. Nichole and David were both very happy with their simple mugs of nicely roasted coffee.

Everything we ate ranged from above average to really, really good, even if there were a few hiccups in the menu planning phase. Roast is the kind of place you could pop in for a weekday lunch or a relaxed date dinner. Plus, the service was attentive without being too involved.

Also, congratulations to David, who holds the record for longest gap between A to Z meals. He last went with us to China Buffet (#00078) for a total gap of 955 restaurants and 4281 days. Good job!

Riley Tavern

Riley TavernIn a word: Flapjack rest stop.

The specs: #01032  
8205 Klevenville Riley Rd., Verona 53593
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Riley Tavern news and reviews

JM ate 4 chocolate chip pancakes.
Nichole ate 2 pumpkin pancakes and 2 blueberry pancakes.
The bill was $13, or $6.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Riley Tavern a B+; Nichole gave Riley Tavern an A (see our grading rubric).

Chocolate chip pancakes

On the Military Ridge bike path halfway betwixt Epic and Mount Horeb lies Riley Tavern. You can get all-you-wish-to-consume pancakes on weekend mornings for $6.50! And that's about it! But the pancakes are really good and came in four flavors: buttermilk, chocky chip, pumpkin and blueberry. And they'd let you have 2 and 2 or all 4 different in addition to all of one kind! And you get 2 deciliters of orange juice with three sausage links. And coffee in carafes! And this is in Riley! Bike there and have some pancakes.

Pumpkin & blueberry pancakes


Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. More about it here. Read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook, or read an excerpt on Carson Gulley and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, Sunshine Supper, and Babcock.


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