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Monroe St. Bistro

Update: Monroe St. Bistro became jacs.

In a word: There may be others like this one, but it's still good.

The specs: #0435
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at Cap Times, Isthmus, Yelp, Decider, Madison Beer Review, Letter from HereShe Said He Said, Eating, Drinking, Madison and Elsewhere; official web site.

Latest Monroe St. Bistro news and reviews

JM ate the burger and fries.
Nichole ate the spring orecchiette.
The bill was $29, or $14.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Monroe St. Bistro a B+; Nichole gave Monroe St. Bistro an A- (see our grading rubric).

Monroe St. Bistro has come into its own since it first popped up on the Isthmus list. It arrived when we were amid the Ms and since we do not do M make-ups right after the M list, it had to wait until now.

The clientele is what you'd expect for Monroe St.: well-dressed professionals in twos and fours, chatting in muted but jovial voices. The menu is small, seasonal, and well-thought-out. A few gastropub standards share space with a pasta and a salad or two.

Nichole opted for the spring orecchiette, enticed by the description of fresh peas, broccoli, squash, tomato, and crispy leek. The vegetables more than held up their end of the deal, dressed in a light, peppery cream sauce. There was more than enough here for two meals; the only drawback was a lingering garlic aftertaste.


JM's burger's ingredients were just what we use at home - Fountain Prairie beef and Hook's cheddar. Kate's burger rating guide was helpful yet again.

  • Bun: toasted; square and dark.
  • Meat: flame broiled and excellent flavor.
  • Bun/meat ratio: too heavy on the bun.
  • Cheese: Excellent but not plentiful.
  • Misc.: The leaf lettuce was fresh and crisp; the aioli was not as zingy as we'd hoped. 7.5 of 10 overall.

There was something about the frites that weren't fritesy enough for JM, and they didn't quite sit right with him, but it may have just been his compulsion to eat things at Roger Bannister-speed.


Monroe St. Bistro's worst flaw was the lack of window shades and the angle the sun happened to be at during our dinner, which made for pretty pictures but a squinty dining experience. It may sound odd, but we swear our server strategically cast her shadow to give us a break whenever she could. Thank goodness we're crusty old marrieds and weren't on a first date.

Too stuffed for flourless chocolate cake or even a raspberry rhubarb tart, we toddled back into the sunshine after our meal, having found a good place to take the west-side beer enthusiast who's sick of Brasserie V.


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My biggest complaint is how rigid Monroe Street Bistro is with their menu and service. If they would loosen up on their substitutions and be more flexible with billing we might come back. Last Friday we had dinner with two other couples and the waiter refused to split the check even though we were only 1 of 2 tables in the restaurant! She even had the audacity to plop a calculator down in front on me and suggested this might help. If she would have just taken each couple's order separately, it would have been a lot easier.

I agree heartily with Eric (I was part of the dining party). Our server also hovered around our table a little too much.

I do recommend attending Monroe St Bistro on Friday nights to listen to Scott Stenten. What a treat.

We’ve given the Monroe Street Bistro a fair shot, really I have. We’ve going probably 12 times in the past 8 months. Yet, we don’t go for a “great dining experience.” We’ve continued to go because the food was delicious. But we will not go back until they overhaul their service. It’s the little requests that personalize a dining experience. Now, we’re not demanding diners, really. I believe that requests for more salad dressing should be a no brainer for the server instead of “let me check,” like they’re doing me a favor. Or a request for the aioli that goes with the burger in addition to the aioli that they serve with their frites being refused because “there are more expensive ingredients in the burger aioli.” I make aioli, and no matter what you put in it, two tablespoons isn’t going to break the bank for a restaurant that makes it in bulk daily. I think the final straw for us though was when we were unexpectedly joined by four friends, making us a party of 6 recently. It was a s.l.o.w night for the Bistro, and we were the only table in the place. When we requested that they hold our order, literally 5 minutes after we ordered it and are treated like the biggest inconvenience, or when the menu is slapped down in front of us telling us that there are no separate checks, and an automatic 18% gratuities on parties of 6 or more. I don’t mind the policies, and I understand that they make the life of the server easier on a busy evening, it’s just crazy to me that on an evening when NO ONE ELSE is in the restaurant their would be absolutely unwavering in their policies. I think my final straw was when the server brought a calculator explaining the “auto tax” button on it with a piece of paper and a pen for me to figure out how much everyone owed, while I’m in the process of finishing up the meal in an empty restaurant, really?!? Really, their going to sit at the bar and talk while I do their job for them?!?! They’ll take three different payments, but won’t make 3 separate checks!?! Finally the server decided that she could break it out for us. I go to a restaurant to have a great dining experience, with at least good service.

The service is absolutely wretched at the Monroe Street Bistro and after giving it a decent shot, and quite a bit of money in the process, I can’t go back. There is importance in the experience you create for people. Food alone will not carry a restaurant to a sustainable place. The tone seems to be set in the kitchen, the chef? The owner? Who knows who is telling their servers how to behave, but it’s absolutely the worst service I’ve ever received in a restaurant in Madison.

The berries aren’t sweet enough for us to put up with the briars anymore.

I wanted to revisit my previous post about Monroe Street Bistro. Since Monroe Street Bistro closed and reopened as Jac’s, there has been a SIGNIFICANT change in the attitude and customer service. We were hesitant to go back, but felt we ought to give them another chance since they did in fact rethink their approach. We were more than pleasantly surprised.

You will still get the most amazing food at Jac’s, the quality is great and the flavors delicious. They’ve expanded their menu and are more flexible with substitutions, additions, subtractions, etc. They have an amazing Sunday brunch and I encourage you to check out their Eggs Benedict. In a word Fantastic. The answer is “yes, of course, sure, or no problem” to anything you may need. The staff is respectful of your dining experience, with providing the most appropriate amount of contact, but without hovering. They also have wonderful specials entrée’s and sides. Additionally, they provide regular “specials” (e.g. half price bottles of wine, 2 for one burger deals, etc.) on different nights of the week. We have been very impressed with the changes they’ve made and are happy to say, we have and will continue to go back.

I appreciate a restaurant recognizing that they need to change their approach and tip my hat to the owners of Jac’s. They’ve accomplished a great task of changing the work culture and service orientation of their establishment. I encourage anyone (but particularly those who may have been turned off by Monroe Street Bistro) to give Jac’s a chance.

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