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.


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

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'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

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

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.


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

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.


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

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 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...)

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

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.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

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.


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

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

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.

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