Rockhound

In a word: Salty treat.

The specs: #01036   
444 S. Park St., 53715
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JM ate the chicken sandwich with a Sprecher root beer.
Katie ate the grown up grilled cheese.
Nichole ate the wild rice burger with tea.
The bill was $25, or $8ish/person (thanks to Bucky Book), not including tip.
JM gave Rockhound a B; Katie and Nichole gave Rockhound a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Rockhound is one of the latest to jump into the make your own beer game.  The lines come from the vats straight into the taps, for truly fresh beer, if that's your jam.  The small menu trends toward the salty to keep you thirsty.

Grilled cheese

Speaking of jam, Katie's "grown-up" grilled cheese had tomato jam that was indeed jammin'.  Its blend with the goat cheese atop a buttery white bread lent it an awesome flavor and texture combo. Similarly, Nichole's wild rice burger was a garlicky, salty, and rich affair that held together pretty well.

Wild rice burger

Sadly, JM's chicken sandwich was ordered after the kitchen had run out of coleslaw for the night and so his chix sand was a little plain and dry.

BBQ chicken sandwich

(JM was back at Rockhound within a week for one reason and another. Someone he was with ordered the chicken and found the slaw corrected for this problem, but they served the inferior model to JM again. Boo. Fortunately, they had a Sprecher root beer for him to drink, which he always enjoys.)

The stars of the A to Z meal, though, were the fries.  They all came out perfectly done and with large flecks of salt like untwisted pretzels.  Sure, you'll order more drinks, but you'll also get to eat delicious salt.  The sweet potato versions were similarly prepared and similarly good.

Rockhound's menu doesn't stretch as far as, say, Vintage's, so it hard to imagine coming here if we aren't in the area (which we often are, see JM's anecdote above). But Happy Hour seems more like this place's forte -- and JM can confirm that on his subsequent visit, the mac and cheese side was quite good.

Tea

Rock'n Rollz

PicksIn a word: "Hello, McFarland!"

The specs: #01035  
5208 Farwell St., McFarland 53558
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

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JM ate the 7" BBQ chicken pizza.
Nichole ate the #13, chicken salad on a garlic herb wrap.
The bill was $14, or $7/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Rock 'n Rollz a B (see our grading rubric).

We visited Rock'n Rollz on one of those interminably snowy December nights. As a result, the custom here was pretty low.  We saw a couple of take-out orders come and go, but otherwise we were eating alone with Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor in a concert video of them in all their 70s glory. See, Rock'n Rollz is a theme restaurant and theme is rock and roll. Several guitars are showcased, each signed and displayed with paraphernalia from rock and roll boot camps.

Pizza

Rock'n Rollz is an order-at-the counter place. We searched the menu for a signature item, but nothing jumped out at us. JM got a pizza and Nichole opted for a chicken salad wrap. These were squarely in the "you can get it better elsewhere, but McFarland's is close for someone" camp. Each of the items was above average, but not enough above average to make it a place we'd seek out. (And this is recalling that JM is about as committed to popular music knowledge as he is to eating alphabetically. Seriously, try him sometime; he named the four members of Queen in the first paragraph without having to look it up.)

Wrap

But the rock theme isn't present in the food. There's no cutesy rock/pop star names for the dishes, and a slightly better-than-average BBQ chicken pizza isn't gonna top the Roman Candle or Glass Nickel version we can order at home.

That said, if you are looking for a place in McFarland that is very clean (super sharp on the night we went) or you are looking for about the most darling Christmas tree during the holiday season, well, you can do a lot worse than Rock'n Rollz.

Rock Sports Bar and Grille

In a word: Rack 'em and Rock 'em.

The specs: #01034  
920 W. Main St., Sun Prairie 53590
Details at Yelp, Facebook

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JM ate the
Nichole ate the
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave the Rock Sports Bar and Grille an A-; Nichole gave the Rock Sports Bar and Grille a B+ (see our grading rubric).

A lot of "the wheel" has been about terrible little bars in farflung (for Dane County at least) little burgs.  Generic cheeseburgers served by nice enough locals with interchangeable d├ęcor and mass-produced meats and buns.  It is with this dread that we approached a Sun Prairie "sports bar and grille" called Rock.

It is so amazing when everything works out better than expected!

To start with, Rock seems to be a pool hall first and restaurant second. "Bar" finishes a not so distant third (closely followed by place to watch sportsball). There are not enough sports bars an apple cranberry pecan salad. And even fewer that would rush out with pecans that had been left off of it midmeal with an apology. Rock rocks the service component.

Salad

As for the salad itself, it was good with a nice mix of greens and basil lemon dressing that was just the right quantity. It does taste much better with pecans, FYI. JM's Hail Mary burger was topped with a nicely tender pulled pork. Sadly, the bacon had gone through a process where all of the delicious flavor was extracted called "becoming crispy."  The bun sadly was dissolving by 75% mark and the onion straws didn't add much flavor sadly.  The seasoned fries on the side, though, molto bene.  

Burger

We did not shoot a round of pool (though JM did then buy a mini pool table at the St. Vinnie's down the strip), but we noticed that these pool tables were immaculate.  The prices seem reasonable and the crowning touch, a hand crafted scoring abacus above each tables' light, made the pool like a reason to come all on its own.  So, shoot some stick and watch the big game while consuming very well-thought out food service by pleasant staff.  So much better than expected.

Roast Public House

Cheese curdsIn a word: Better than average, expected, or deserved.

The specs: #01033  
558 State St., 53703
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Cameron ate the PineApple pork express with chips.
David ate the Cubano with fries.
JM ate the white cap beef with chips.
Nichole ate the steak salad.
The bill was about $11/person plus tip.
Cameron, David, JM, and Nichole gave Roast an A- (see our grading rubric).

There are a lot of old-school naming conventions on display in Madison. On the west side we have a Tied House and a Free House. And here on State Street we have Roast Public House. You know, a pub. In fact, we're reasonably sure at one point this was The Pub. But the roast thing is about roasting food, not coffee or beer (nothing JM likes more than a big glass of roast beer), so we knew to expect well-made pub food, but even at this, Roast excelled.

We started with an order of cheese curds which still had enough squeak for us to determine that they were not cheese cubes, which their shape had implied. They were served with a chipotle mayo that was serviceable without being showy.

Our sandwiches were all well-prepared, though a couple had some flaws worth considering. The PineApple Pork Express was a nice hearty pork sandwich, but pineapple chunks are for pizza, not sammies. A nice ring of pineapple would work much the same way tomatoes do. The sriracha also didn't add much. (Memo to menu planner: sometime sriracha is a nice spiciness to add, other times folks will use the bottle too add it as they see fit, still other times: just stop).

The cubano was mighty tasty, but no mustard. No mustard? What?

CubanoPineApple pork express

JM's white cap beef was an exemplary sandwich and he had not found its equal in Madison yet. It's a beef sandwich with mushrooms and melty cheese. Most beef sandwiches are trying to be something else: a Philly, an Italian beef, a French dip. Those are bound by too much law to be as filled with grace as this one. It was really good.

Steak saladWhite cap beef sandwich

Nichole got a salad, even the smaller portion of which was substantial, and the beef on top was some of the tastiest in memory. Good to have a salad that's as thoughtfully put together as this. Nichole and David were both very happy with their simple mugs of nicely roasted coffee.

Everything we ate ranged from above average to really, really good, even if there were a few hiccups in the menu planning phase. Roast is the kind of place you could pop in for a weekday lunch or a relaxed date dinner. Plus, the service was attentive without being too involved.

Also, congratulations to David, who holds the record for longest gap between A to Z meals. He last went with us to China Buffet (#00078) for a total gap of 955 restaurants and 4281 days. Good job!

Riley Tavern

Riley TavernIn a word: Flapjack rest stop.

The specs: #01032  
8205 Klevenville Riley Rd., Verona 53593
Details at Yelp, Facebook

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JM ate 4 chocolate chip pancakes.
Nichole ate 2 pumpkin pancakes and 2 blueberry pancakes.
The bill was $13, or $6.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Riley Tavern a B+; Nichole gave Riley Tavern an A (see our grading rubric).

Chocolate chip pancakes

On the Military Ridge bike path halfway betwixt Epic and Mount Horeb lies Riley Tavern. You can get all-you-wish-to-consume pancakes on weekend mornings for $6.50! And that's about it! But the pancakes are really good and came in four flavors: buttermilk, chocky chip, pumpkin and blueberry. And they'd let you have 2 and 2 or all 4 different in addition to all of one kind! And you get 2 deciliters of orange juice with three sausage links. And coffee in carafes! And this is in Riley! Bike there and have some pancakes.

Pumpkin & blueberry pancakes

Rev. Jim's Roadhouse

In a word: Better than expected, but still not much.

The specs: #01031   
6402 Millpond Rd., 53718
Details at Yelp, Facebook

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JM ate the burger and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the Monte Cristo.
The bill was $18, or $9/person, plus tip.
JM gave Rev. Jim's Roadhouse a B; Nichole gave Rev. Jim's Roadhouse a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Rev. Jim's Roadhouse is along the trail that leads to Madison Casino, which is either off the beaten path or a main thoroughfare depending on how appealing casino-style gambling is to you.  It is a converted fast food joint, which explains the disused drive thru and generally strange entrance points.  This is a bar with a nice menu and friendly staff that plays its country music a little too loudly.

Burger

Their menu was surprisingly broad, but none of what we ordered was in the top tier.  JM's 1/4 lb burger was the closest, which had some nice lightly grilled onions along lettuce, tomato and very nicely prepared patty.  This was a solid burger that would not make anyone so sad they couldn't eat it.  Nichole's Monte Cristo, well, it wasn't really a Monte Cristo and it shouldn't have gotten her hopes up. This was some sort of grilled ham and turkey affair with two kinds of cheese served betwixt buttered Texas toast. It was fine, but not a Monte Christo of the form that Nichole wants (French toast at a minimum).  Our two sides of fries were both a little underdone.

Monte Cristo [sic]

The ambience is "Sconnie-bar-in-former-fast-food-restaurant," and as always when we go to a place like this the smoking ban still tops our gratitude list. We're certain that Rev. Jim's does a decent trade in Casino and outer McFarland traffic. And you could do worse, but we'll likely dine elsewhere.

Red Zone

In a word: Should they go for it on fourth down?

The specs: #01030  
1212 Regent St., 53715
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the nachos.
Nichole ate the wedge salad and the French dip.
The bill was $33, or $16ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Red Zone a B; Nichole gave Red Zone a B+ (see our grading rubric).

The Red Zone is on Regent Street's Sports Bar row betwixt the Kohl and Randall sports ball palaces, they push heavy on game day accoutrements, and we had the privilege of watching (and hearing at full volume) the Washington football team beat the tar out of the Packers. (Fortunately, we know how the season ended from our vantage today.) The Red Zone itself is a loud and chatty sports bar (and the restroom was kinda crummy - it is still a campus sports bar after all) with some flashes of brilliance, too.

Wedge saladFrench dip

For example, the wedge salad was good, especially the bacon and bleu cheese. The French dip sandwich was just ok. It had a soy sauce level of saltiness in its jus and a soft bread. On the plus side, it was appropriately modest in size.

The same could not be said for JM's nachos.  I mean look at this...

Nachos

JM just likes to order nachos as a meal (OK?) and this was three or four meals. Which was fine, because these nachos tended toward the dry to start with.  The black beans and chorizo were not particularly slathered or moist and the salsa, guac and sour cream came on the side, so it reheated pretty well. If you bring friends and stay for the whole game, you can maybe CPC on this tray of nachos.

The Red Zone is probably within 20 yards of the ideal sports bar, but would likely only put up 3 points on this drive.  (OK. OK. We're sure you get it.)

Red Rock Saloon

In a word: Too much and not enough.

The specs: #01029   
322 W Johnson St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM and Nichole ate the three meat meal, and JM got a lemonade.
The bill was $25, or $12.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Red Rock Saloon a C+; Nichole gave Red Rock Saloon a C (see our grading rubric).

Red Rock Saloon is trying to be all things to no people.  

Red Rock is not really a country bar. Despite the mechanical bull sitting idle and license plates framing the booths, Red Rock didn't seem to be so much a place to get your country on as it is a place to eat or drink with a very, very large group of friends.  If that includes line dancing, we don't know where you'd find it. While we were there, the juke box seemed more soft in intensity of tune, if not volume.

Red Rock is not really a sports bar. The game played silently above the bar and one of the two patrons was watching it, but it would be hard to see if lots wanted to watch it anyway.

Red Rock is not really a barbecue place. We split three meats: brisket, pork and chicken. Of these, the brisket was above average, the chicken and pork below it.  The pork was very dry, so it was the perfect vehicle to try their 3 sauces: outlaw, signature and rum. None of these was as good as the sauces at Brickhouse (located literally two blocks away), though the signature was much better than the other two, which suffered from trying to hard and not trying hard enough. The bleu cheese slaw was OK, but was not really bleu chees-y and the onion straws were all batter and no cattle.  The Texas toast and cornbread muffin were adequate.

Red Rock three meat

Red Rock is not really popular.  This was JM's second trip and never has he seen more than 10 people in Red Rock, even on $1 burger Wednesdays. The footprint here is large (a barn for the mechanical bull, if you will). Maybe at 1AM on Saturday, you cannot get a sheet of paper through the door for all the drunk college kids, but otherwise, we have seen no proof that Red Rock is a destination for anyone.

Red Rock is not really worth your time.  You can get better food and better atmos within two blocks of here.  That said, if you want to ride a mechanical bull, the line seems pretty short.  Our server was very nice and took good care of us, probably the most real part of Red Rock.

Red Elephant

In a word: Snazzy.

The specs: #01028   
119 State St., Madison 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the caramel apple shake.
Nichole ate the chocolate cake.
The bill was $14, or $7/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Red Elephant a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Red Elephant is the Madison outpost of a Milwaukee chocolatier. It belongs in a Venn diagram where the Milwaukee's Third Ward and State Street intersect, with its funky images, fair trade perspective, and top dollar/high quality treats.

We did not opt for truffles because another downtown A to Z beckoned for dinner that night, so we just got dessert first.  Nichole's chocolate cake was very, very chocolatey.  Dark and rich, it suffered only from being a bit dry, but the better to sell drinks, we guessed. JM's autumn-themed caramel apple shake made with Sass Cow ice cream was a good as you'd expect, with real apple bits that clogged the straw.  It was very creamy and filled with cinnamon, which made some slurps have a real snap.

Chocolate cake

Red Elephant looks like Gail Ambrosius for the wine-with-chocolate set, with slightly more attention paid to aesthetic details and less paid to non-traditional to chocolate flavors. In general, you are not going to go wrong here, but you could go elsewhere and not lose much.

Shake

Rare

In a word: Literally.

The specs: #01027   
14 W. Mifflin St., Madison 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Rare news and reviews

JM ate the sirloin with mushrooms.
John ate the NY strip and a chopped salad.
Nichole ate the farmer's market plate.
Rose ate the wet-aged filet and wedge salad.
JM sirloin with mushrooms
The bill was $175, or $44/person, plus tip.
Rose and John gave Rare an A; JM gave Rare an A-; Nichole gave Rare a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Hey, folks!  This is a fancy steak place.  Like really fancy.  The customers mostly seemed to be celebrating, with a handful of the VIP set (both in the capital sense and in the cluhb sense).

Rare treated us well.  Our waiter could have taught an intro course for the Meat Sciences department at the UW (a real thing). We had never learned as much about the differences in preparations and fat content than we did that night. These people talked about steak like people at the Great Taste talk about beer.  It was all a little much, and yet at no point were we left helpless.

Popover Wedge salad Chopped salad

But first came the free bread, which was: popovers?  Yes, indeed.  It was nice to eat a lighter, buttier bread so that you don't over do it.  And they came with flavored butters. The salads arrived next and these were substantial without being altogether filling: the wedge was nice prepped with candied pecans and the chopped salad was filled with wonderful morsels.  Both were very nicely dressed as well.

On to the meat, Rose's wet aged and filet and JM's sirloin were both quite delicious and of a good portion that you weren't tired of it by the time you were done.  JM's mushrooms provided additional earthiness (and butter) that made his steak quite tasty.  Rose's steak was medium and she preferred it that way; John and JM got theirs medium rare and were delighted.  John's NY strip steak was basically the best steak that he or JM (who had a couple of nibbles) had ever had (sorry, Delmonico's, but it was). Every steak edge was perfectly crusted as well with delightful flavors rubbed onto the outside of the meat.

Steak Steak Steak

RisottoNichole opted for the farmer's market plate (which might as well have been called "The Farmer Refuted"). It was a sundried tomato risotto. The vegetarian option at a steak place is almost always what a Tofutti option at the Chocolate Shoppe would be, if they offered one.

There were no prices listed on the tempting dessert menu, but we were too stuffed and already taking home doggie bags, and so did not partake. Were they free? We'll never know.  

Rare is meeting the needs of its patrons, though: real steak in the dairy state presented by knowledgeable and expert staff for a small truckload of money.  If going to a special occasion spot means a steakhouse, it's worth it here for the marginal cost relative to the West side chains.  But it isn't funky or Madison-nice like Tornado, so choose wisely.

NEWS

Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. More about it here. Read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook, or read an excerpt on Carson Gulley and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, Sunshine Supper, and Babcock.


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