Pleasant Springs Pub

In a word: Little burgers on the prairie.

The specs: #01019   
2630 County Hwy N, Stoughton 53589
Details at official web site, Twitter

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JM ate the outlaw burger with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the dream burger.
The bill was $16, or $8/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Pleasant Springs Pub an A- (see our grading rubric).

Pleasant Springs Pub

Pleasant Springs Pub is located (in Pleasant Springs) where County N cross I-90 twixt Cottage Grove and Stoughton.  It has convenient access to Lake Kegonsa State Park, but it's probably worth a trip on its own.  That said, it is a crossroads bar in the middle of a cornfield, and some city folk (ahem) may be a little ill at ease, but we're sure you'll be fine. Connie and Bob have had this place since 2003 and it looks like they run a relaxed yet fun place.

JM nearly fulfilled his Just Can't Get Enough New Wave Hits of the 80s destiny by mentally dialing up his internal Wide Boy Awake by ordering a Chicken Outlaw but Monday night was buy one, get one burger night and we decided that was the right call.

Cheese curds

But first, hot cheese! These curds were of the stretchy, white variety with a nice jalapeño ranch on the side.  Crispy and warm, they arrived so fast after ordering that we were almost unsure that they would be fully cooked.  But, oh, were they ever.

Outlaw burger

JM opted for the outlaw burger, which comes with the zippy outlaw sauce (also available on the chicken) which was nice and tangy. The burger comes loaded with bacon, cheddar and onions (do I have to spell it out?) and was just a hair past medium rare.  But very good. Nichole's Dream Burger was nice with a good hearty patty, crunchy peanut butter, bacon and  jalapeño slices.  The burgers were greasy but not overly buttery.

Dream burger

Nichole got chips which were fine and quite thin; JM's skin-on fries on the side indicated that high quality and attention to detail predominate here.  All of the burgers and many of the sides come with specialty housemade sauces and that was what really put Pleasant Springs into the A range.  Each sauce we tasted was nicely balanced without being cloying or boring.  These are worth a trip on their own.

Our dinner was overseen by Dances with Wolves which was a sort of strange thing to be on the large screen TVs.  Monday night before MNF certainly is not a prime a sports night, but we're sure that Pleasant Springs Pub puts on the game and keeps the food and drinks coming, just don't bring a crowd of 8 and expect to get a table.

Players Sports Bar

In a word: Respect the game.

The specs: #01018  
2013 Winnebago St., 53704
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Players Sports Bar news and reviews

JM ate the BBQ burger with fries and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the steak sandwich with chips and a ginger ale.
The bill was $24, or $12/person, plus tip.
JM gave Players Sports Bar a B+; Nichole gave Players Sports Bar a B (see our grading rubric).

Players Sports was a decidedly mixed bag.  First off, the place was a sports bar, and though we went on a non-sporting time, the music was so loud that we couldn't enjoy much conversation.  It was also packed in such a way that we sat near one of the pool tables and had to deal with a couple of shots near the popo. Tiny and loud is starting off two steps behind -- the third was that our meal took far too long to reach our table -- we hoped it wasn't because the word rare failed to escape our lips when ordering after the word "medium."

That said, the dining area was clean and well lit and you can see most TVs from any seat in the house. Each table also comes equipped with Dashelito's hot sauce, which is as good and as local as you can get. Not all of the flavors complemented the things we ordered, but what we used we liked (though some were too spicy for us).

Steak sandwich

Nichole's steak sandwich was thickly topped with mushrooms and Swiss.  Served on a very buttery Colonial bun, this "burger" had real staying power and proved quite tasty.  JM's BBQ burger was tasty as well, especially the slathering sauce that came with it.  That said, the cheese was applied far too late in the cooking, which led to it not being melty *enough*. It came with a real tomato, which made us think that a BLT would have been a good choice too.

BBQ burger

There's a lot to recommend at Players: a burger of the day, vegan patty options, full breakfast menu (which provided inspiration for another Madison project, 52 Sandwiches) and TVs for the big game.  So, given the hole it started in, it ends up about average.  Go figure.

Mess Night at the Museum: MRE Challenge

Nichole here. "You get what you get." With that line in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writeup promoting the Wisconsin Veterans Museum's quarterly "Mess Night," I was hooked.

I think I'd heard about the previous dinners, but German-Americans in WWI and Great Lakes history didn't enlist my attention quite as fast as the opportunity to eat rations. Or at least, see what the heck a couple good Madison chefs would bring to the table when given the raw ingredients of MREs - "Meal, Ready to Eat." AKA Meals Rejected by Everyone, or worse.

Surprise! This is what they came up with. Matt Pace used a chicken fajita meal (maybe like this one), plus enough fresh food to almost hide that fact, to make a chicken enchilada. He might have used the tortilla from an MRE, because this one had a gummy texture. He said he stewed the chicken in a pepper sauce, which did give it a nice flavor and a beef-like appearance. The whole deal was topped with more chili sauce, crema, cheese, and herb salad of cliantro, radish and onion.

Chicken fajita MRE = chicken enchiladas

Second course was Michael Pruett's cheese tortellini. Or rather, 2 noodles from an MRE, washed clean of their own sauce, and surrounded by carrot puree, roasted carrots, herbs, and duck. Duck! Way to stretch rations with some foraging.

Cheese tortellini MRE = duck, carrot puree, & 2 noodles

Along with the food, there was delightful conversation and an edifying presentation from museum staff and a National Guardsman who gave us eaters some helpful tips for the MREs we got to take home. Plus some recipes (cherry drink powder + cheese + cookies = cheesecake) and valuable life advice ("No one likes a rat-f*cker").


So I opened my Beef Patty, Jalapeno Pepper Jack (Menu 19) MRE at the museum, then packed it all back in for an opportune mealtime.

MRE contents

It came soon enough. Here's the entree and heater leaning on "a rock or something" (those are the precise directions) while it warms up.

Put it on a rock or something

They were right, you get bored and eat dessert first. This was a cherry blueberry cobbler. I read on the packet that there were shortbread cookies inside and didn't believe it. Didn't really see them in there, either. But the flavor wasn't bad. (There was also a chocolate oatmeal cookie, but I still haven't opened it. I have a few years yet.)

Also drank the lemonade mix while waiting, which was a lot like Crystal Light. Wished for coffee, then sucked it up and gave thanks I was indoors, with plumbing nearby, and probably wouldn't need the moist towelette and TP provided. Not that these aren't also called, for good reason (spoiler alert), Meals Refusing to Exit.


I prepped my snack bread (better than lembas) with bacon cheese spread, Heinz yellow mustard, and ketchup, using the main pouch as a placemat/meal tray. After observing 15 minutes of hissing and popping from the heating element, it was time to squeeze the jalapeno pepper jack beef flavored patty out of its pouch.

Snack breadCheez
SpreadablesSandwich time

It was food.

I'd go to another Mess Night at the Museum. (The next one is in October, with authors Doug Bradley and Craig Werner talking about their book We Gotta Get Out of This Place.) The presentation was great, the idea was interesting, and it felt good to this Army brat to be around a table sharing a meal like this. Next time I might dress up a little more.


In a word: Fore! out of Five!

The specs: #01017  
2702 Shopko Dr., 53704
Details at Yelp

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Allen ate the California wrap.
JM ate the nachos.
Liz ate the chicken bacon guacamole sandwich.
Nichole ate the beef and bleu cheese salad.
The bill was $60ish, or $15/person, plus tip.
Allen, JM, Liz and Nichole all gave Plata's a B (see our grading rubric).

We had liked Plata's when it was called Bridges, but the menu has moved decidedly downscale.  It is closer now to nicer bar food and much less likely to be a place that you'd cut your finger open with a bread knife (like JM did once at Bridges).


Our Saturday lunch seemed to hit the sweet spot between morning and afternoon tee times, which meant a lot of waiting and not a lot of table service, sadly.  The food here was uniformly decent -- not a lot of pizzazz, but everything was fresh and good, even if much of it had fallen off the back of the Sysco truck.

Chicken bacon guacamole sandwich

JM's nachos were a good balance of toppings to chips, which is actually pretty hard to get right.  It was also an appropriate lunch size portion: same.  Liz's chix bacon sammy was good but the bun, not toasted, became quite soggy by the end.  The California wrap was fine, though the guac in both the wrap and the nachos lacked character. Nichole's salad was good, with a nicely prepared hard boiled egg.

Beef and bleu cheese salad

The atmos here has fallen from country club to sports bar with commensurate price declines.  It was nice to go on a bright sunny day, but we're not golfers, and Dexter's is too close to need a sports bar like this. These days, it's not a hard pass, but it is a pass.

California wrap

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).


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.


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.


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.


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.



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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