Naf Naf Grill

Naf NafIn a word: Build-your-own-shawarma bar.

The specs: #00984  
555 State St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Naf Naf Grill news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the steak shawarma with a soda.
Nichole ate the veggie feast with a soda.
The bill was $20, or $10/person, plus tip.
JM gave Naf Naf Grill a B+; Nichole gave Naf Naf Grill a B- (see our grading rubric).

Seriously, Naf Naf is like a Chipotle for shawarma. Maybe it's just the "stainless steel version" of this cuisine. And they have "der Gerät," the authentic Döner robot!

Naf Naf pales in comparison to other downtown student-accessible Mediterranean places (Med Café and the Banzo cart being the most obvious examples), but it is open for dinner.  You can get your shawarma with chicken, steak or vegetables.  The steak is spicy with cumin and a hint of something exotic, which could include cinnamon, truthfully.  The "veggie feast" is a little bit of everything - almost too much to eat in one sitting. The chopped salad was delicious, though the purple cabbage base ended up on the soggy side by the end.

The basmati rice was good and buttery-tasting, and we'll have to try the fries next time - and there could easily be a next time if we find ourselves on State Street in need of a quick, light bite.

Mulligan's

In a word: Do we get take backs?

The specs: #00983 
830 Oregon Center Dr., Oregon 53575
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

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

JM ate the French dip with garlic mashed potatoes.
Nichole ate the fried chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and harvest vegetables.
The bill was $23, or $11ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mulligan's a B; Nichole gave Mulligan's a B- (see our grading rubric).

Part of the thing about having two spouses review something is that sometimes this is a hindrance.  This was the case the case at Mulligan's, where a small and entirely unmemorable marital tiff meant that we spooked our server and ushered through to the end of our meal earlier than we expected. This is entirely on us and not on Mulligan's at all, though it does make some of our thoughts on the place a little specific.

Mulligan's in Oregon is an arm of the Martin O'Grady's restaurant group and it has similar internal aspirations (large bar area, dark wood, lots of TVs).  Their menu has lots of rich apps, shrimp, and high ticket dinners like Shrimp O'Grady with artichoke hearts and other signifiers of class.  In other words, lots of feints toward supper club fare, without going the full distance.

Beef dip

JM got an old standby - French dip - and it was pretty boring, neither great nor terrible, despite the presence of mushrooms, which could have gone wither way.  Overall, the sandwich fell on the good side of acceptable.  Nichole's chicken dinner was very good. The garlic smashed potatoes were subtle, and not too garlicky. There was a generous portion of good buttery "harvest veggies" (julienned peppers, carrots & zucchini) on the side.

Chicken dinner

Of course, we were getting asked about dessert before we were halfway through our entrees and decided in the interest of keeping the peace, despite the argument having passed, we would adjourn. A nice game day meal is certainly possible here, though this by itself seems unlikely to draw us to Oregon.

Mr. Roberts

In a word: Neighborhood bar that doesn't meet the neighborhood.

The specs: #00982   
2116 Atwood Ave., 53704
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Mr. Roberts news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the grilled ham and cheese with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the cheeseburger.
The bill was $12, or $6/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mr. Roberts a B; Nichole gave Mr. Roberts a C+ (see our grading rubric).

What is a townie bar doing in the middle of the tony Atwood area, putting on more live music than you can shake a tail at? The food's actually pretty good, for bar food. The cheeseburger bun was toasted and the meat was juicy. JM's hot ham and cheese was really good, too, toasted through and through without being burned. His lemonade was also above average. 

Grilled ham & cheese

Walking in, though, it was clear that this was Madison as it was maybe 40 years ago. Back then, the east side was the working class side of town and the east-west divide was a class divide, not merely boho vs. yuppie. Someday, Mr. Roberts will close, a bar more like Alchemy will take its place, and the gentrification of the Atwood neighborhood will be complete. But we think that progress can be a good thing, so for now raise a glass and don't let the screen door hit your ass on the way out.

Cheeseburger

Mr. Brews

In a word: Good, as long as your burger ego doesn't Brews easily.

The specs: #00981   
300 N. Century Ave., Waunakee 53597
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Mr. Brews news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the Weston burger with a soda.
Nichole ate the black bean peanut butter burger with a root beer.
We split some cheese curds.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave Mr. Brews a B-; Nichole gave Mr. Brews a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Mr. Brews is an entire chain of burger and beer bars that has sprung up in Dane County since we finished "the list" about four years ago, and as such you have to wonder if the business model is sound enough to accommodate such a rapid expansion.  Of course, offering a ton of tap beers and burgers seems like a good fit for the area, and indeed it probably is, provided that the burgers you order are well-prepared. 

Sadly, this can be hit-or-miss.

Peanut butter burger

The black bean peanut butter burger was weird; Nichole wouldn't do that combo again. The peanut spread was sticky and overly sweet, and too liberally applied. That said, the Southwest-seasoned black bean patty was flavorful, and with a more complementary cheese or bacon could have been delicious.

Weston burger

JM's Weston burger was more miss than hit as well.  The decent burger came under bacon and bun that had been cooked too long, and under BBQ sauce that tried to better than Heinz, but mostly wasn't.  The cheddar was good, though, and the patty still shone through, which gives JM hope for other places. (Bacon fans please note: knowing that there is a strong dichotomy between those who enjoy it crispy and those who enjoy it chewy, this bacon is the former.)

Cheese curds

The cheese curds were quite good, quite good. Since this was the lead-in to the meal, it was easier to set our expectations on the burgers a little higher which may account for some of our let down. And even with a small dining room, we weren't rushed out and the service was excellent. 

If you have a Mr. Brews near you, it may be worth a visit for the beer and a burger (or chicken or a turkey burger, which they'll easily sub in). The rest of the menu is pretty small: turkey sandwich, chicken sandwich, pulled pork, one salad, so you'll want to time your visit for when you're looking for - a burger. But would it kill a place like this to get a 1919 Root Beer tapline?

Bonus book bit: Argus, & an event

Hey! Monday night, 10/26/2015, come hear JM, along with writers who eat out for a living, talk about that at "Cap Times Talks" - 7pm at the High Noon, 701 E. Washington. 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 Argus was posted back in 2004.

The Argus building at 123 E. Main St. was erected in 1847 and housed the Wisconsin Argus newspaper, which in 1852 merged with the Wisconsin Democrat. The next century saw a succession of various businesses. In the 1870s, it was a combination bakery, candy store, saloon and restaurant. By 1919 it was home to the offices and showroom of Fox Motor Sales, where customers could see the latest in automobiles, and in the 1930’s it was the Service Barber Shop.

Fox Motor Sales ad, 4/22/1920

On April 9, 1950, Art Metcalf’s New Bar-X had its grand opening and ushered in a new phase of life for the building with live music and "flowers for the ladies." Other bars followed, notably the Pourboy Club in the 1970s and the Salad Bar in the 1980s. By the 1990s, the building was in need of some refreshment itself. Fortunately, the new owner, Cliff Fisher, had a sense of history and his renovations kept the building’s character. The northeast side of the Capitol area was undergoing a renaissance from scruffy to yuppie, and the new Argus was part of that.

Argus

In 1997, Todd Dukes, the bar’s manager, bought the business from Fisher. Dukes continued to cultivate Argus as a choice weekday lunch spot and evening watering hole for politicians and business people and leveraged new technology to do so. Argus was one of the first venues in Dane County to embrace an internet jukebox. In 2002 Dukes had an electronic ordering system installed that shaved minutes off rushed lunchers’ wait times, by having servers enter orders on handheld devices that transmitted orders wirelessly to the bar and basement kitchen. And the menu of grilled sandwiches, homemade soups, and fresh salads kept customers coming back.

Since 2005 Argus has been owned and operated by Rick Brahmer and Gwen Cassis. When they took over from Dukes, they announced that their new name for the historic bar would be Tonic, but building owner Fisher was among the many who objected and convinced them to retain the name. They also kept the faux-antique clock overlooking the patio, which Fisher had installed when he ran the bar. Unfortunately, the wiring is so complicated that setting the time is nigh impossible, and sometimes the clock’s hands are stuck at ten o’clock for weeks at a time. Fortunately for eaters, Argus’ lunch menu is still all right, and probably more often than twice per day.

Selected references

Adams, Barry. “Argus Bar to Get a New Name.” Wisconsin State Journal, February 10, 2007.
Darlington, Tenaya. “Summer Food Forecast.” Isthmus, July 18, 2003.
Davidoff, Judith. “Recipe for Success: A Restaurant Renaissance Is Revitalizing Downtown.” Isthmus, July 29, 1994.
Levitan, Stuart D. Madison: The Illustrated Sesquicentennial History. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
Stein, Jason. “Argus Food Orders Go Digital.” Wisconsin State Journal, June 7, 2002.
Strohs, Warsaw, Denice Williams, and Walter Shorty. Beer Drinking in Madison : A Complete Guide to Madison Taverns. Madison: Warsaw Strohs, 1983.

Morgan's Bar and Grill

In a word: You can call there, on Pine Bluff.

The specs: #00988
8640 W Mineral Point Rd., Cross Plains 53528
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Morgan's Bar and Grill news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the cheeseburger basket with tots and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the chicken sandwich basket with chips.
The bill was $16.75, or $8.50ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Morgan's Bar and Grill a B+; Nichole gave Morgan's Bar and Grill a B (see our grading rubric)

Morgan's baskets

Morgan's stands at the crossroads where Mineral Point meets the Cross Plains to Mount Horeb vertical. In other words, it's a townie bar in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Pine Bluff).  So, it's a trek from Madison. We walked in to the dulcet tones of New Wave and what looked to be a small office party, with a couple of pastries and store-bought meat and cheese trays occupying one of the few open tables.  The décor would be best described as "sort of island-y" without going full Buffett, though there were mannequins on surfboards in the rafters. 

The meal went pretty well. The menu is solid without being obvious. Sides of tater tots bear that out. The harshest criticism JM could give to his cheddar-topped burger is that it fell apart too fast, which meant it was cooked just as he liked it.  The rolls that were used for both burger and chicken sandwich were tasty, and served buttered and toasted. Nichole's chicken sandwich was also standard, but a nice grilled chicken is hard to find sometimes, and this was served with as fresh a tomato slice and lettuce leaf as we've seen.

The music stayed decent, and though we sat in the deserted pool room (which felt like a suburban rec room), the wait staff gave off a carefree vibe, even if we still felt clearly out of place among the regulars. You certainly can find a local that makes things of this quality near wherever you're at. But Pine Bluff has one, too, and that has made all the difference.

Mooyah

ShakeIn a word: Will wooyah for shooyah.

The specs: #00979   
6309 McKee Rd. Ste. 700, Fitchburg 53719
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Mooyah news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the cheeseburger on white with cheddar and a fountain drink.
Nichole ate the veggie burger with bacon (ha) and bleu cheese with a Reeses shake.
Sue ate the turkey iceburger with a chocolate shake.
We split some sweet potato fries & regular fries.
The bill was $37, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Sue gave Mooyah Burger a B+; Nichole gave Mooyah Burger an A- (see our grading rubric).

Mooyah is a national chain burger shop that seems to be trying to fill a gap between Five Guys and Fuddruckers. (Here's a hint, start your name with an F.)

Turkey iceburger

Burger and friesThe good news is: Mooyah actually does a pretty good job at balancing what is great about both places. The bad news is: cash money. Mooyah charges for deluxe works burgers whether you order them or not.

The build-your-own-burger concept starts, right up front, with whether to get beef, turkey, or a black bean patty as a burger. Mooyah's black bean burger is as serviceable a vehicle for burger toppings as anything other than real red meat we've tried (save grilled chicken). The turkey burger also works, though saucing or salting seems essential. Hot dogs are available, as are double patties.

Burger & sweet potato fries

Next you decide on your bun or lack thereof. Ordering an "iceburger" means that iceberg lettuce wraps up your meat and holds your carbs in check. Then you can add cheese (choose from 5 kinds), bacon, avocado and a ton of free toppings and sauces. All of the burgers that we ordered came out exactly as we'd requested, and were quite delectable.

The sweet potato fries were great, but the regular fries were one standard deviation less perfectly delicious than Five Guys' so YMMV. The shakes were good, with a multitude of mix-ins to choose from, and the presence of ice cream is probably what will win our custom more than anything else.

If you eat burgers monthly, with a group of friends or as a special treat, Mooyah is certainly a good place to honor a special occasion with its cute cafeteria-style trays and delicious sides and sauces. More often than that, though, and you'll need a cheaper cut of meat lest Mooyah make you pooyah.

Moonstar

15In a word: The Oregon coast.

The specs: #00978   
768 N. Main St., Oregon 53575
Details at Yelp

Latest Moonstar news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the sesame chicken with a fountain drink.
Nichole ate the orange beef with free tea.
We split the crab rangoon.
The bill was $25, or $12.50ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Moonstar a C- (see our grading rubric).

Moonstar in Oregon is a place to get a basic Chinese carryout, but it felt like they're either coasting on being just that, or not bothering to spruce up, knowing that the little extras might not get appreciated. The place is not as rundown as Jade Garden was when we went, but there was definitely that vibe - as if, had Jade Garden been taken better care of, it would look like Moonstar.

We went for dinner but they also appear to have a lunch buffet. We got our customary crab rangoon, which Nichole found OK but JM thought were bitter. With table 15 we got eggroll, which was standard. The sauces and heavy batter on the sesame chicken and orange beef were almost identical.

This seems like a good time to revisit the theory of the "Chinese restaurant in a box." JM cannot remember who propounded this theory but the idea is that many Chinese restaurants have the same pictures of standard dishes, the same oversized Chinese menus with only the location name changed, the same open signs in the window.  These are probably ordered from some large clearinghouse, with minimal customization.  This might be Oregon's Chinese restaurant in a box, and if you want hot Chinese food delivery in Oregon -- it seems your only choice.

Sesame chickenOrange beef

We didn't get fortune cookies, but there was free hot tea (the actual cost being a nagging feeling of being judged a cheapskate). We wish we could like Moonstar more but it is what it is.

Monsoon Siam

In a word: Doesn't blow.

The specs: #00977 
2045 Atwood Ave. Ste. 109, 53704
Details at Yelp; official web site, Facebook

Latest Monsoon Siam news and reviews at del.icio.us

Griffin ate the drunken noodles with a mango treasure.
Iona ate the pad thai with tofu.
JM ate the pad thai with pork.
Miranda ate the lemongrass tofu.
Nichole ate the Monsoon Siam fish: tilapia in black bean ginger sauce with a Thai iced coffee.
Phil ate the deep fried tofu with basil.
We split some cigar rolls.
The bill was $97, or $16ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Monsoon Siam an A- (see our grading rubric).

Monsoon Siam is not a large place. It fills in one of the store fronts betwixt Monty's and Tex Tubb's. So bringing in six was a little tight, but we went early enough to have it not impact their trade.

The menu is pretty focused: very much the opposite of the multi-volume Ha Long Bay menu. Much of what we tried was above average, but finding room for another Southeast Asian restaurant in this neighborhood was always going to be tricky.

Cigar rolls

Monsoon Siam rates its food on a five pepper scale and the three-pepper Drunken Noodles were ordered by one of the younger set.  Sadly, this three-pepper iteration led to a four-alarm mouthfire.  Sure, it would have been nice to know that it was too hot, but pepper scales are notoriously arbitrary.  Fortunately, enough other food was left on other plates to sate the ambitious orderer, including lots of pad thai. Both pad thais were scrummed up, and both had enough nuts to give the dish the texture it needs.  The pork was tender and the shrimp were good sized (not too big, but not mini and invisible).

Drunken noodlesShrimp pad thaiPork pad thai

On their signature fish dish, which comes fried or baked with a choice of three sauces, the baked-with-ginger-sauce really complemented the tilapia well, and Nichole was glad for the server's suggestion. Two tofu dishes were received differently: the lemongrass tofu was presented in an attractive way, but didn't really taste that good, ending up somewhere approaching meh. The deep fried tofu, on the other hand, was steadfast and reliable, very hearty, but not really shining. 

TofuMonsoon Siam fish (fried w/black bean sauce)Deep fried tofu with basil

Monsoon Siam's approach is both professional and family-friendly, which makes it a nice fit.  One wonders, though, whether such a place might have done better in a portion of the city with less direct competition (that is, any part of the city other than just east of West Towne). We could see Monroe St. or Sherman Ave. welcoming this with steady traffic. Still, good Thai food is good Thai food and we'd recommend Monsoon Siam without reservation.

Monona Bait & Ice Cream

In a word: I will make you fishers of dairymen.

The specs: #00976   
4516 Winnequah Rd., Monona 53716
Details at YelpFacebook, Monona Bait & Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Latest Monona Bait & Ice Cream news and reviews at del.icio.us

JM ate the broken waffle cone sundae.
Nichole ate the Mary Jane sundae.
The bill was about $10, or $5/person, plus tip.
JM gave Monona Bait & Ice Cream an A-; Nichole gave Monona Bait & Ice Cream an A (see our grading rubric).

We made it to Monona Bait & Ice Cream on its antepenultimate weekend of 2015. The snack bar & ice cream fountain (and bait shop) is a must-visit.

Broken waffle cone sundae

Though the grill was closed by the time we rolled up and locked up our bikes, there was still plenty of ice cream to choose from. JM got the broken waffle cone sundae - thrifty and delicious! - with caramel and chocolate in a plastic pint glass. Nichole opted for the Mary Jane sundae, a replica of the brownie dish once served at Rennebohm's.

Rennebohm's replica

The ice cream is from Babcock, the ambience is from days gone by, and the store feels like a Lake Loop institution.  From the looks of it, the grill food is standard but also could be really good because of the personal touches. Either way, there are few better destinations in summer. It'll reel you in.

NEWS

Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out.
Updates here, and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, and Sunshine Supper.


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