Irish Pub

Irish PubIn a word: You're on State St., for cryin' out loud.

The specs: #00915   
317 State St., 53703
Details at Yelp, Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Latest Irish Pub news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the ham and cheese with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the pizzaburger.
The bill was $11.50, or $6ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Irish Pub a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Ham and cheesePizza burger

Irish Pub is a cornerstone drinking establishment in the 300 block of State St.  Like many State St. watering holes, however, the food here is mostly an afterthought - trucked in to keep the students/yuppies from going elsewhere first.  Irish Pub, however, hardly succeeds at even this.

JM's ham and cheese was served warm with a toasted bun but it never really got around to tasting very good.  A square of American gel cheese on some ham that had been pressed into service is not the way to reward yourself after a long day of work on a bike ride home.

Similarly, Nichole's pizza burger was all molten cheese and meat grease inside which is just as it should be; but another slice of cheese on top was over the top. The burger came with a side of rich, deep red marinara.

The side of chips were decidedly meh and there were no homemade soups (which may be a lunch thing... so you may want to try Irish Pub for lunch instead.) The menu is short, but as we had much of it, Irish Pub may have you wishing for somewhere else.

PS: The men's bathroom here is comical. If someone pushes the door open even to half open, anyone using the urinal would receive a swift spanking. The 'stall' has western doors that swing both ways and there seems to be a seat outcropping if you and a friend need to have a conference in there. Then sink is about half the size of a regular one; the whole thing is comically small.

humble.

humble.In a word: Just sayin'.

The specs: #00914   
10 S. Allen, 53726
Details at Yelp, Humble. Sweet & Savory Pies on Urbanspoon
Official web site, Facebook

Latest humble. news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the beef and root vegetable pasty, a fudge pie, and a root beer.
Nichole ate the grape and goat cheese galette, the sour cherry galette, and a ginger brew.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave humble a B+; Nichole gave humble an A- (see our grading rubric).

Humble is a sweet spot for a snack. The fare is light and airy, the menu earnest, and the ingredients locally-sourced. The crusts really raise the bar for this town's bakeries; the mere existence of humble should urge them to improve their shortenings.

Pasty

JM's pasty was everything he hoped for given the name of the dish.  The nice thing about a pasty/pot pie is that you can eat something without having to confront it visually.  The flavors here were great: robust and intricate.  Though, the pasty wasn't quite warm enough for his tastes. It seemed like a catch-22: if you wanted both flaky crust and warm innards you'd have to arrive when it was fresh out of the oven. 

Grape and goat cheese galette

The goat cheese and grape galette with pistachios was pretty amazing. The grapes had retained their flavor well, and matched up with the mild creamy cheese perfectly. Meanwhile the green nuts were the ideal choice in color and taste to pair with the purple fruit.

Fudge pie

The fudge was a strong, deeply rich fudge thing.  The crust was again flaky, but here there was nothing to complain about in terms of temperature.  Certainly, any avid chocolate aficionado will want to round out their order here with one of these.

Cherry  galette

Finally, the cherry galette loaded with sour cherry filling was both hearty and delicate. Two galettes in one "meal" was probably not a well-balanced choice, but the stuff was so well-made that it wasn't a monotonous experience.

The prices across the board here a definitely more than you'd pay for comparably sized dishes in almost any other neighborhood. But even then, the care that has been put into it makes up some of that value.  If you haven't tried humble yet, do - we'd recommend them for a snack rather than a full meal.

House of Mei

House of MeiIn a word: Mei, Mei, Mei... Once Bitten Twice Shy.

The specs: #00913   
120 E. Main St., Sun Prairie, 53590
Details at Yelp, House Of Mei on Urbanspoon
Official web site

Latest House of Mei news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM, Miranda, Nichole, Phil and the kids ate the hot and sour soup, moo shu egg, seven color vegetarian crepes, ma po tofu, garlic eggplant, cashew shrimp, and house special tofu, plus four smoothies and a lemonade.
The bill was $66, or $11/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave House of Mei a B- (see our grading rubric).

Blueberry smoothie and menu

This was our second visit to the storefront that used to house Brewer Square Gallery Bistro. It is still a small, intimate space, but now instead of funky art, there are TVs showing Chinese spy thrillers on MUTE.

Garlic eggplantCashew shrimp

House of Mei seems to be doing a brisk take-out trade which is certainly a plus, the minus was that this meant that our six-top table (really the only one occupied for most of our meal) was left to fend for itself.  Refills on beverages never quite came, and other than food delivery, everything else was so slow that this ended up being a meal just under two hours.  Thank goodness for good company.

Hot and sour soupMa po tofu

The smoothie selection was first-rate.  Nearly every color of the rainbow was represented and House of Mei drops a matching colored straw into every drink.  These smoothies were sweet and satifying without getting treacly or too pulpy. 

SmoothiesMoo shu egg

The main courses were pretty standard fare. The shrimp dishes were pleasantly umami but lacked a nuanced flavor, instead acting as if they were a blunt instrument. The tofu and vegetable dishes were warm and flavorful, but really lacked a convincing zing. Most dishes were covered in sauces that were a little too overbearing.

It certainly seems like House of Mei is a step up from Chinese restaurant in a box (the smoothies alone prove this), but sadly, it may be that their best take-out in SP strategy will serve them well even if that leaves Madison visitors out in the cold.

Hot Stuff Pizza

Hot Stuff PizzaIn a word: Not so hot.

The specs: #00912   
3401 University Ave., 53705
Details at Hot Stuff Pizza on Urbanspoon

Latest Hot Stuff Pizza news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the pizza.
Nichole ate the burger.
We picked up some c-store junk food on the side.
The bill was $10, or $5/person, plus tip.
JM gave Hot Stuff Pizza a D+; Nichole gave Hot Stuff Pizza a D (see our grading rubric).

We won't criticize this place too much. We don't recommend eating dinner at a convience store: we didn't at ChinMi, we didn't at Casey's, we didn't at... (okay, Athens Gyros... one time we did).  Don't care how great the preparations are at Kwik Trip, the raw materials are questionable - the preservatives alone would stun a mule deer. The ingredients list on the pizza box had triple-nested brackets, never a good look.

Gas station dinner

Even fast food beats this stuff and takes literally no longer to order and receive.  Stick to the packaged food, magazines and lottery tickets.

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.


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