Soga Shabu Shabu

Soga Shabu ShabuIn a word: If it can find a home here, it will be well worth it.

The specs: #01057
508 State St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site

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JM ate the General Tso's chicken.
Nichole ate a stewed beef noodle soup.
The bill was $25, or $12.50/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Soga Shabu Shabu a B+ (see our grading rubric).

It {BEEP} took us a month to get to Soga Shabu Shabu because of their move from the former Nadia's to the former MiaZa's, and that may have played into our expectations settling. {BEEP} The menu is densely packed with words, {BEEP} but mostly in Chinese (so the {BEEP} pictures helped greatly.)   

Crab rangoon

We did get our customary crab {BEEP} rangoon and we were glad we did. These were {BEEP} delicately fried and contained the most lovely smooth whipped crab {BEEP} centers that were not skimpy on crab neither. There were {BEEP} 8 on the plate!

General Tso's chicken

JM stuck to a standard General {BEEP} Tso's, which here, despite many warnings against spiciness from plainly inferior restaurants, was {BEEP} finally a little spicy.  This was nice pepper heat that {BEEP} never overwhelmed the flavor and really got down to business {BEEP}. Nichole got a nice bowl of {BEEP} soup. (She was fighting a cold during our visit; we'd love to give {BEEP} them a better chance when we're both at full health and in {BEEP} full command of our tasting abilities.) It was salty and savory filled to the {BEEP} brim with the richness of tender beef, smooshy carrots {BEEP} and thick noodles with a nice accent of bok choi. {BEEP}

Stewed beef soup

The meal came with a free dessert buffet with jello, {BEEP} cookies, fruit, and some puddings. This seemed well worth any {BEEP} upcharge. Indeed, this place was selling takeout favorites at takeout prices, {BEEP} but prepared a heck of a lot better. We think {BEEP} it could revolutionize downtown Asian food as Asian Kitchen {BEEP} and A8 China would never be able to keep up {BEEP} with quality on offer right around the corner.  Madison has {BEEP} needed a place like this for a while (Fugu being {BEEP} the closest analog we can think of.)

Oh, and that beeping. Something in the kitchen area was beeping {BEEP} loudly for the whole meal. Kind of drove us {BEEP} bats, in truth. 

Smoothie King

In a word: Render unto Smoothie King that which is Smoothie King's.

The specs: #01056  
2019 Deming Way, Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the strawberry kiwi smoothie.
Nichole ate the carrot and kale smoothie.
We got free samples of a chocolate banana smoothie.
The bill was $12.01, or $6.005/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Smoothie King a B (see our grading rubric).

From the moment we walked into Smoothie King's realm we felt like we had to be working harder, much harder, to be perfect. Protein powder kegs line the walls; meal-replacement smoothies beef up the menu. Smoothie King might serve sweet cold blended drinks ostensibly like its chipper chill cousin Jamba Juice and fun fruit-forward friend Fresh Cool Drinks, or almost any coffee house in town. But here smoothies are no sideline, they are The Way: it's smoothie-Pelagianism, pure and simple.

Smoothie King

The menu is indeed packed with vegetable and fruit options, superfruit add-ins and protein boosts that could provide endless science-y tweaks to each cup. That said, the staff were normal, friendly people, and not so obsessed with fitness that they didn't offer us a tasty sample of a chocolate-banana concoction while we waited (very briefly) for our beginner's smoothies, even though we moseyed in just obnoxious moments before closing time.

Nichole's carrot kale deal was cool and refreshing; JM's sweet, creamy strawberry kiwi was standard if a little less fruity probably because of the other mix-ins.  It was certainly something he would get again, however.

So, even if it is a little law-heavy, Smoothie King is also where you get your Super Weight Gain 2000 ("for the hard gainers") and admonishments to drink your vegetables from hippies ("since 1973"). Fair enough.

Smokin' Cantina

In a word: Somebody stop me!

The specs: #01055  
Details at Facebook

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JM ate the pulled pork sandwich.
Nichole ate the tacos (one Korean BBQ, one pork).
The bill was $, or $/person, plus tip.
JM gave Smokin' Cantina a B+; Nichole gave Smokin' Cantina a B (see our grading rubric).

Smokin' Cantina

JM had to find this cart at one of the trio of Willy Street street festivals.  Parking was not convenient and rushing the food across town was even a little less so.  That said, dinner survived the flight just fine and was tasty, if a little messy for street food.  Nichole's tacos were standard but good for the degree in which she found them.  JM's pulled pork was also standard, but the add-on mustard BBQ sauce was excellent.  We'd like to find them somewheres a little more convenient to our mouths.  If you can, you should.

Smitty's Study Pub

View from 8th floor of FlunoIn a word: Madison's lost restaurant.

The specs: #01054  
601 University Ave., 53715
Details at Yelp, official web site

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JM ate the grilled chicken sandwich with a soup and a soda.
Nichole ate the orzo with a salad and a soda.
We split the charcuterie & cheese plate (half off for Happy Hour).
The bill was $36.50, or $18ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave Smitty's Study Pub an A- (see our grading rubric).

We'd like to say Smitty's Study Pub is one of Madison's gems, or even one of Madison's hidden gems, instead of what it is now: A mythic gem that no one has heard of.

Smitty's is in the Fluno Center, one of UW's most nondescript buildings. When you walk in, it becomes evident that this is some sort of hotel deal (for visiting guests of the UW, you see) but there are signs (out front, in the lobby, on the restaurant week website) that Smitty's exists on the top floor. You should follow these signs.

Smitty's has one of the best views in Madison. You can, from its windows, see both lakes, without even switching seats.  While the urban jungle of Madison is the view's most common feature, there's even some fun people watching avails. And as for the food - in short, don't expect a 'conference center' food experience.

Charcuterie and cheese

For example, we started with a charcuterie plate that was ample as it was delicious. Prosciutto, cheese curds, goat cheese, craisins, pita, nuts, liver pate and crackers rounded what could have been a full meal on its own.  It was nicely thought through, a decidedly Sconnie board with an out-of-towner sensibility. It really worked.

SaladBeer cheese soup

Nichole followed that with a salad and orzo.  Both were light and fresh and perfect for a summer evening. The orzo was fully loaded with a light, creamy sauce, peppers, peas and tomatoes. And the tomatoes on the salad were pretty amazing too! JM had a soup starter of beer cheese soup that was tasty in a stick-to-the-ribs way. It would perfect to sup over a snow-covered Madison illuminated by streetlights.  His chicken sandwich was a nice chicken breast not processed other than being grilled and wallpapered with cheese.  The dressing was a bit odd as it didn't really fit the sandwich, but would have been perfect for fries.

OrzoChicken sandwich

It's very quiet up there, and we're sure people would love you to find this hidden chapel of food on the top of the Fluno. Don't leave this one to the MBAs and out-of-town profs, just put on a nice shirt and go eat some good food.


In a word: I won't say anything at all.

The specs: #01053  
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate a power ball slider and a pork slider.
Marijka ate the sweet potato sliders.
Nichole ate a chicken bacon slider.
Ryan ate a chicken bacon slider and a pork slider.
The bill was about $9/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Slide a B+; Ryan gave Slide a B; Marijka gave Slide a C (see our grading rubric).

We caught up with Slide at the Capital Brewery biergarten during high school reunion night (we counted three).  Slide was well positioned as the only food venue that was not catered, and many folks dotting tables grabbed some sliders, so we joined them.

Tonight's rendition of the Slide chips were sadly quite gritty.  We know this delicacy has gone mainstream, which is why the authentic article giving up the same mouthfeel as sand in some bites was disconcerting.  The good news is that the dips are terrif: chiptole was smooth and spicy; the garlic ranch was deliciously zingy and the French onion was yummy umami in all the right ways.

Slide trio

We got all four sliders on offer betwixt the four of us.  Nichole and Ryan reported that chicken bacon slider was about the best in show.  JM's power ball (does he have to investigate trademark infringement on his off hours?) was a little unwieldy for a slider, but decent.  Ryan and JM both enjoyed the pork slider, which was nicely prepared.  Marijka, the vegetarian in the group, felt that the sweet potato sliders were just meh, and given it was her only option, she had double down on them.  Sadly, Slide seems to be one of those places where the veg option is an afterthought to what they really want to do.

Slide sweet potato sandwiches

There's a lot of great carts in Madison, so we wouldn't likely be forced into this one.  If the chips were having a less gritty day, we'd recommend them and the sauces as side and suggest you get your entree elsewhere.  It's not bad, but even for cart food, it is a little messy and doesn't wow.

Sliced Deli

In a word: Arby's Not Arby's.

The specs: #01052  
601 South Gammon Rd., 53719
Details at Yelp, official web site, Twitter

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JM ate the French dip and a soda.
Nichole ate the Cuban with a soda.
We split some curly fries.
The bill was $15, or $7ish/person.
JM gave Sliced Deli a B+; Nichole gave Sliced Deli an A- (see our grading rubric).

Walking into Sliced is about six kinds of surreal.  First of all, it is in the old Arby's off of Gammon and it is still basically the same restaurant.  The big brass bell for good service is still there by the door, and on the hutch where once Arby's and Horsey Sauces were now lie sachets of various similar condiments.  The menu, too, is mostly the same kind of thing (sammiches), only with a lot more panache.

Sliced lunch tray

But the counter staff, instead of the usual dead eyes or oversharing, was truly friendly and helpful, excited even, for the opportunity to share the food with you.  And so we were.

Nichole got the Cuban sandwich, which was nicely salty with very moist ham.  She felt the sandwich was nicely balanced and a good value.  The same could be said for JM's French dip (at one point in his life, this was JM's go-to because he jus couldn't get enough) which was the special that night.  While it didn't excel, it was right in line with his expectations and, being the $5 special, it felt like he was stealing from someone.

You can even get curly fries, which we did.  These were standard, but the whole feel of the place is standard Arby's, just with some life and verve and none of the corporate crap.  If you need a quick sandwich or just the Arby's experience remixed with a local bent, give Sliced a try.  They do good things.

Sizzling Hut

In a word: Hut or not.

The specs: #01051  
404 N. Main St., DeForest, WI 53532
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

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JM ate the General Tso's chicken with a soda.
Nichole ate the cashew shrimp.
We split an order of crab rangoon and got a free packet of almond cookies.
The bill was $14, or $7/person, plus tip.
JM gave Sizzling Hut a B; Nichole gave Sizzling Hut a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Tucked away in a forgotten strip mall just minutes from the DeForest Norske Nook is Sizzling Hut.  We got a fairly standard afternoon set of late lunchy eatables and have to report: it is just fine.

Crab Rangoon

Sizzling Hut is De Forest's Chinese restaurant in a box.  They seem to be going for more deals than the standard, with daily lunch specials that migrate from good value to 'are you paying us to eat here?' territory.  One of the key awesome things was the guy behind the counter, who served our food, might have cooked it, and was identified on our receipt as "boss." He was avuncular and genial, despite the respite of no diners in the mid afternoon that we interrupted. He was never too close or too far away.  The food arrived not too soon but not too late either; for openers, the crab rangoon were simple, hot and crabby.

General Tso's chicken

As for the entrees, JM's General Tso's was not really spicy (related aside: there seem to be too kinds of restaurants, those that warn that anything sharper than Minute Maid is spicy, while the others have spiciness scales where anything above a "1" is guaranteed to melt your face into a tiny puddle. Do we need an international Scoville-to-star rubric?) but tasty and filling.  There was just enough rice, but a vegetable or two more wouldn't have killed JM. Would it, JM? 

Cashew chicken

Nichole's cashew shrimp was very salty, but packed with vegetables. The fried rice had bits of egg in it, a plus. And on the way out, Boss gave Nichole two packets of almond cookies just because.

There's not much to add. We are so infrequently in DeForest that needing a Chinese place there is the least of our concerns (getting from Madison to the Nook for a weeknight dinner before it closes is a different story). But you can do a lot worse, and perhaps Sun Prairie denizens might find the down-homeiness of this place superior to their current East Asian options.

Silver Eagle Bar & Grill

In a word: A site for soar eyes.

The specs: #01050  
5805 Monona Dr., Monona 53716
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

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JM ate the French dip with Silver Eagle fries and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the cheddar cheeseburger with crinkle fries and a diet Pepsi.
The bill was about $20, or $10/person, plus tip.
JM gave Silver Eagle a B+; Nichole gave Silver Eagle a C+ (see our grading rubric).

The Silver Eagle bills itself as Monona's birthday bar (Madison's is different) and this they honor by giving the celebrant a free meal.  Consequently, JM has eaten here often enough for work birthdays.  He has always found the sandwich selection decent and there's nothing that anyone has walked away from with negative words passing their lips.

Today, for a decidedly non-birthday lunch, Nichole ordered the cheddar cheeseburger special with fries.  The cheeseburger arrived on a toasted, buttered, soft bun which was decent.  She found it a little underwhelming that no vegetable toppings were offered or present upon arrival. It certainly was a fine burger in the bar burger tradition, if a little plain.

French dipBurger

JM's French dip was substantial but fell apart over the long haul. He ordered it with a side of chorizo dip which was easily the best part of the sandwich. It tasted like everyone's favorite taco dip with a little bit of sausage to up the ante.  The jus just was umami enough and, for some reason, the sandwich also came with mayo. Now, JM likes mayo, like like likes mayo, but not along side chorizo dip and jus. This was one of the pricier items on the menu and it wasn't quite as prime a prime rib as JM would've liked.  But it certainly wasn't bad.

The sides of sides of fries were too large.  The crinkle cut ones did not appeal, while the skin-on Silver Eagle house fries did, quite.  With so many dipping sauces on JM's plate, combinatorics made more fries disappear than we expected, but we both emerged full and ready to face the rest of the day.

Silver Eagle has plenty of TVs to watch the big game and a full bar (your birthday party can include a free shot if you want it). The other 364 days a year, compare it to your local and judge accordingly.

Silly Yak Bakery & Bread Barn

In a word: A glu-8 out of glu-10.

The specs: #01049  
7866 Mineral Point Rd., Madison 53717
Details at Yelp, official website, Facebook

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JM and Nichole ate the cinnamon apple bread and a couple M&M cookies.
The bill was like $10 or less.
JM gave Silly Yak Bakery & Bread Barn a B+; Nichole gave Silly Yak Bakery & Bread Barn an A- (see our grading rubric).

This specialty bakery vends at markets and through other retailers, but also runs its own pretty small space on Mineral Point Rd. It feels like a cross between a Williamson St. bread shop and the Hostess factory outlet.  There are bottles of soda and juice cold, and the gluten-free bakery section is walled off from the "The Bread Barn" side where englutenated bread stuffs roll off the line. We opted for the latter.

Apple cinnamon bread

We picked up some apple cinnamon bread that was tasty enough on its own but grew multiples once we used it to make French toast. Very, very nice.

There were also some M&M cookies that came back. They were still moist and tasty up to a week after we bought our three pack.

Nichole's a fan of their dark Bavarian rye for Braunschweiger sandwiches, too.

The Silly Yak side of the operation maintains many resources for gluten free eating on their website, and their products have a big fan base. A truly win-win.

Side Door Grill and Tap

Side Door dining roomIn a word: Doors of convection.

The specs: #01048  
240 W. Gilman St., Madison 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest Side Door Grill and Tap news and reviews

JM ate the Korean BBQ chicken.
Jean ate the churrasco flatbread.
Nichole ate the veggie sandwich and grapefruit juice.
The bill was about$12/person, plus tip.
JM gave Side Door Grill and Tap a B+; Nichole gave Side Door Grill and Tap an A- (see our grading rubric).

JM rung out some endings with a quick stop (for the third time) at the cafe under Samba.  It is now called Side Door and it turns out to be about the most Madison thing ever.  Weary college students stumbled through, one wall is entirely covered with beer signs, the place makes fish fry and also Korean BBQ chicken. There's al fresco dining and the same interesting bathrooms. (You can read all about the building and its evolution in chapter 6 of our book.)

Nichole asked for grapefruit juice and our wonderful server brought out a veritable goblet filled with not one but two small cans' worth. Being a fan of Texsun, she was impressed. Her veggie sandwich was less impressive, but still nice and flavorful, and very Madisonny.


JM thoroughly enjoyed nomming on the special Koran BBQ chicken. It came out more as chicken strips, unbreaded and nicely prepared with a very flavorful sauce.  It might have been a little cold for his liking, but the kimchi (great leaves of faceslapping goodness) more than made up for it.  The lemonade was also close to JM's ideal. Nicely sweet & tart without being watery.

Korean BBQ chicken

We were joined by Jean who had the churrasco flatbread, which came out on a hearty wheat (and certainly puffy) crust. That said, the meal didn't quite come together as well as she'd hoped and some of the ingredients were not quite as fresh as others. Still the menu is deep and rich, and there other things that each of us would have been willing to try on a future visit.

Churrasco flatbread

Toward the end of the meal, a Madison moment happened. A student patron entered the dining room, and sticking out of said student's backpack was a rolled up paper from an oversized Post-It pad, such as the ones corporate denizens might use for brainstorming. The only readable word: "solidarity." Never stop being Madison, Side Door. Never stop.


Madison Food cover August 21 at the WHS Museum, we're giving a lunchtime talk on Mid-Century Madison Munchies. Come on down!

Info about our book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is here, or read it for free thanks to the library - print & ebook.


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