Side Door Grill and Tap

Side Door dining roomIn a word: Doors of convection.

The specs: #01048  
240 W. Gilman St., Madison 53703
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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.

Short Stack Eatery

In a word: Farm to griddle.

The specs: #01047  
301 W. Johnson St., 53703
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JM ate the biscuits and gravy with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the short stack of SPO minus marscapone plus two eggs scrambled and a grapefruit juice.
The bill was $27, or $13.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Short Stack Eatery an A-; Nichole gave Short Stack Eatery an A (see our grading rubric).

Nichole loves Short Stack so much she can't even find the good words. It's a sweetly earnest place with a compact and tasty menu, and a sense of fun.

Tip jar poll

Pancakes naturally shine here but so do other dishes. The cheese grits with pork are scrumptious, as is the decadent breakfast sandwich, and various meat/cheese/veg options make for multifarious scrambles. Trios are a lighter option (on the tummy and the wallet) that let you choose greens, eggs, bread, and/or a breakfast meat; Nichole's favorite trio is greens, scrambled eggs, and their rosemary bread toasted with Porchlight's rhubarb preserves on the side.

But on this visit Nichole got a short stack of the hearty sweet potato oatmeal pancakes (like carrot cake in a flapjack) and a mountain of scrambled eggs. JM got the biscuits and gravy, which were delightfully spicy with just a touch of nuttiness in the biscuit. The eggs were a perfect complement. The crossover between "southern" and "Cajun" was never more merited.


Highly recommended!

Señor Peppers

In a word: Rations: Filling.

The specs: #01046  
108 Janesville St., Oregon 53575
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Anne ate the crab and shrimp chimichanga.
JM ate the steak burrito with a lemonade.
John ate the Sinaloa (shrimp) enchiladas with an horchata.
Nichole ate the mole-smothered chicken.
We tried the flan.
The bill was $29, or $15ish/person, plus tip.
Anne and John gave Señor Peppers a B; JM and Nichole gave Señor Peppers a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Nestled right in the square of downtown Oregon is a better than expected Mexican place. Señor Peppers is not the Madison area's best Mexican by any stretch of the imagination, but other than Palenque in McFarland, Dane County south of the beltline (once past Madison and Fitchburg) fails the south of the border test in most cases. Sr. Peppers meets the challenge and, when we're in town, makes for one of the better meals we've had.

The place could only be described as hopping on this mid-spring evening. Tables turned quickly but were rarely empty even on the front stoop where diners were enjoying one of the first nice days of the season. 

John and Anne were eager try the place out; we all noted the variety of chicken and beef options on the menu, which featured a paucity of pork.

Crab and shrimp chimichanga

John got his traditional horchata which was standard, if maybe a little thin. They both opted for seafood as well and the experience was a mixed bag. Anne found that her crab and shrimp chimichanga was a little too large to finish, while John's Sinaloa enchiladas were good but maybe not the best combination to sample here.

Sinaloa enchiladas

Nichole had about half of her mole-smothered chicken because she was saving room for flan.  It reheated nicely and was a nice take on the mole experience. 

Mole-smothered chicken

JM had a steak burrito, which is a good standard metric.  This one was one of the better ones he'd had but he wished the saucing were a touch more generous.

Steak burrito

If you want chips and salsa and Park St. is too far away, Mister Peppers awaits. And wouldn't you like to eat at Peppers, too?


Sconnie Bar

In a word: "Everybody's Somebody's Bar" - Sconnie Francis.

The specs: #01045  
1421 Regent St., 53719
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JM ate the Sconnie Burger with fries and a lemonade.
Karen ate the grilled cheese with waffle fries and a beer.
Nichole ate the grilled cheese with tomato bisque.
The bill was $32, or $11ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Sconnie Bar a B-; Karen gave Sconnie Bar a B; Nichole gave Sconnie Bar a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Sconnie bar took over the space where Lucky's on Regent was when it moved down to 1313. In other words, this is another campus sports bar with campus sports bar quantities of TVs and beer specials. It is not, per se, known for its food.  This is not to say that Sconnie Bar doesn't have some good food ideas, but their heart is in keeping people entertained during televised sports ball events and Badger football game days.


JM tried a specialty of the house, the Sconnie burger. This is a bacon cheeseburger with an additional split brat.  The brat was quite good, the cheeseburger was not. It ended up just being a lot of food without really having much raison d'etre. JM also got fries which were quite nice and potatoey. Very thick planks of potatoes fried to a nice yellow-brown, and paired well with ketchup.

Grilled cheese

The librarians both got that night's special: the $1 grilled cheese. Nichole paired hers with a rich tomato bisque. Karen added waffle fries with a side of jalapeño ranch that was the true highlight of the meal. Thick and bold, the sauce was put together by someone who cares. The grilled cheese themselves were standard, if a little on the light side. But for a dollar, what did we expect? One could have eaten them by the basketful.

Waffle fries

If being Sconnie means needing access to quality beer over quality food, well, this place has earned its name. That said, many other places nearby are better able to thread the needle (thinking here of Jordan's Big 10, but there are others) between supper, sports, and suds. And we're sure on Badger game day it could never be as bad as Grid Iron was.

Bonus, apropos of the name "Sconnie" - did you know the big heads at Library of Congress has given thought to whether the term "cheeseheads" is pejorative? They sure have. They think of everything!

Schwoegler's Entertainment Center

In a word: Mark it a 4, dude.

The specs: #01044 
444 Grand Canyon Dr., 53719
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

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JM and Nichole ate the sausage and mushroom pizza with a lemonade and a soda.
The bill was $14, or $7/person, after coupon, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave a Schwoegler's Entertainment Center a C+ (see our grading rubric).

Fate had conspired to keep JM from Schwoegler's once. JM was going to go in and bowl, but upon putting his car in park and rolling up the window, the window promptly shattered. He would not have been able to go bowling with that going on.

On this bright spring day, windows intact, it was hard to imagine that many people would want to be inside a dark, cool bowling alley, but there were many there when we headed into the bar. The bar itself is not much to speak of: the atmosphere is laid back and a server removed Christmas lights while regulars made regular-type comments.  We sat near the window to get as much natural light as we could.

We opted to pull the trigger on 16" two topping pizza in order to align with a most important factor: the Bucky Book coupon we remembered to bring this time. The pizza arrived in due time, and was indeed much larger than we could consume (as expected).  For those of you that think that squares are the only way to eat a pizza, Schwoegler's is your jam. Probably because they serve to those who are also bowling, and a full wedge of pizza seems like the wrong size. Our notes include that the crust, long the most important feature of a pizza, was merely meh. It fell somewhere on the hand-tossed continuum that only works with really fresh toppings.


The only topping that struck us as fresh, though, were the mushrooms.  The sausage was standard, but we can make an argument that in Wisconsin, OK sausage is actually way below average. The sauce was strangely sweet, though this turned out just fine.  The rest of the menu is pretty bar standard: burgers, things from the fryer.

One point to make, though: Schwoegler's has a full bar and lots of sports-tune TV sets.  It may be useful to remember this when you and your friends want to pile into a bar to watch a Packer game and all the usual hangouts are SRO. (We did something similar at Vitense a few seasons back and had a lovely time.) Also: Packer games seem like ideal times to bowl.  So bring everybody for a truly entertaining Sunday afternoon.


ShakeIn a word: Diner from another time.

The specs: #01043  
128 E., Main St., Mount Horeb 53572
Details at Yelp, official web site

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JM ate the haystack hashbrowns and a chocolate shake.
Keith ate the biscuits and gravy.
Nichole ate the corned beef and cabbage, and raisin toast.
The bill was about $40, including some scones and rosettes, plus tip.
We all gave Schubert's an A- (see our grading rubric).

Schubert's is a Mount Horeb institution. Seriously, the signs all say they've been at the same place for 106 years. (If we had realized that this place was here, it likely would have merited a mention in our book. D'oh.) Still, it stands here as a testament to days gone by. Indeed, the restaurant that it is probably the closest to in history is Rennebohm's. This is a lunch counter with a full service soda fountain. Mix in some ethnic Nordic bakery and you've got Schubert's.


We stopped at just the right time to enjoy either breakfast or lunch, both of which were done pretty well. Keith, not JM, got the biscuits and gravy this thyme (of which there was a hint). Keith's dish came with a good gravy, rich and buttery yet fatty with good sausage bits.

Biscuits and gravy

JM instead got the Haystack Hashbrowns which were topped with scrambled eggs. Everything on his plate was tasty and well prepared, including the onions and peppers in the spuds. It was a little awkward to eat though. (Eggs on hashbrowns? Next to is fine.)


Nichole opted for lunch, and a lunch special at that. She got the seasonally appropriate corned beef and cabbage. This was a classic preparation including some nice red potatoes.

Corned beef and cabbage

And raisin toast!

Raisin toast

We all felt Schubert's was a sweet place with a nice vibe. It seems to be transitioning ownership (as a 106 year old place does every now and then) and everyone seems pretty excited about the new expansion of the Duluth Trading Company offices into the area.

On a parting note - the bakery case is a little empty, though there were piles of Rosettes. We got a half dozen, and a scone, and they were delicious. We recommend that you take a trip out there for breakfast or lunch. Or to relive the old school version of the lunch counter. Or to get a rosette. Or whatever.


SchoolGrounds Cafe

Schoolhouse CafeIn a word: Classic.

The specs: #01042  
4691 County Hwy N, Cottage Grove 53527
Details at Yelp, Facebook

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JM ate a cookie and some lemonade.
Nichole and Sharon each ate a crepe, and Nichole had a coffee.
The bill was about $8/person, plus tip.
JM gave SchoolGrounds Cafe a C+; Nichole gave SchoolGrounds Cafe a B+; Sharon gave SchoolGrounds Cafe a B (see our grading rubric).

SchoolGrounds Cafe in Cottage Grove feels like a downtown Madison coffee shop, but in Cottage Grove. According to Sharon, our Cottage Grove insider, SchoolGrounds rebranded and changed their menu in the month before we visited. It mostly consists of crunchy, organicky-type versions of standard breakfast fare: pancakes, biscuits & gravy, etc., along with standard set of coffee drink offerings.

We went on Saturday, though, and the whole menu for food could be just thrown out since they only make crepes on Saturday and JM didn't want a crepe, so he settled for a chocolate chunk cookie which the staff comped him since his expectations were dashed. It was a little dry, but overall was fine. But don't pull the pancakes out from under him, please. He was able to get a lemonade, but it was made with brown sugar and ended up latte colored. The taste was fine, though.

Lemonade and cookie

The ladies got two savory buckwheat crepes with cheese, spinach and mushrooms, one with ham and onions. The coffee, always the key metric, was hot, tasty and served by friendly baristas.


SchoolGrounds has some nice art on the walls and other boho trappings. And there's a spiral staircase of doom!

Sarku Japan

In a word: No, Sarku.

The specs: #01041 
111 W. Towne Mall, 53719
Details at Yelp, official web site

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JM ate the chicken teriyaki.
Nichole ate the veggie soba.
We split some chicken dumplings.
The bill was $15, or $7.50/person, plus tip.
JM gave Sarku Japan a C; Nichole gave Sarku Japan a C- (see our grading rubric).

Sarku Japan is in the West Towne food court.  There's a ton of better food here, even if just from McDonald's (but really, when at West Towne, our reco is to try Burgers Plus, and try something other than a burger).

The idea at Sarku Japan is: 1) Pick Your Meat, 2) Pick Your Starch, 3) Watch as Something is Prepared Before Your Eyes. This one doesn't have sushi. Hm.


The food is fresh, but void of flavor. Contra relative Kato's Cajun, Sarku could use a spice of SOME kind. The chicken teriyaki was filling, but JM's had better stir fry at Happy Wok. Nichole, too, found her veggies suffered sameness and blandness despite her choice of noodles. The chicken dumplings we got were left off the original order, but promptly supplied when we asked. These were the best part of the meal.

Dumpling things

The best we can say is that Sarku Japan's free samples are the correct portion size. We had leftovers, but we didn't take them home. We're sure there's somebody who is grateful for this place being in the mall for their lunch break, but we'd probably go just about anywhere else.

Salads UP

In a word: Green for greens.

The specs: #01040  
439 N. Frances St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

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JM ate the fiesta Caesar with a Boylan's.
Nichole ate the Yia Yia.
We split an Electric Feels juice.
The bill was $30, or $15/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole both gave SaladsUP an A- (see our grading rubric).

SaladsUP is an Ann Arbor transplant that feels as millennial as it at home on State Street. It's a build-your-own-salad place, and while Salad Creations closed before we could ever visit, this place seems like the kind of Salad Creations that could survive in Madison. That said, it is pretty pricey, and its offerings are more chakra than chard.

JM lucked into the special fiesta Caesar which comes with a real quesadilla and is loaded with romaine and tortilla chips from somewhere. Pico, chicken, and avocado rounded out the ingredients and, for a good sized but overpriced salad, it was pretty good. (The thing about salad is that everything has to be fresh, so we understand why the overhead is high. These were v. v. v. fresh and free of the slime that you sometimes get on older lettuce.)

Yia YiaSpecial fiesta Caesar

Nichole's Yia Yia came loaded with spinach, tomatoes, feta, olives, cukes and a zingy lemon vinaigrette which was very low on oil. Since she is often looking for a place for fresh bite downtown, Nichole was much more enthused about the salad offerings than JM was.

JM got both a Boylan's root beer and an Electric Feels juice smoothie in a bottle, which he shared with Nichole. The latter was housemade and fine for what it was, but it seems that they may be trying to ascribe something more complete to the thin juice that it cannot support. His feels, not so electric. (Boogie woogie woogie.)

So if Pita Pit's gluten or carbs make you blanche, maybe try Salads UP.

Sabores Michoacanos

In a word: Yum.

The specs: #01039  
3050 Cahill Main, Fitchburg 53711
Details at Yelp, Facebook

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Allen, JM, Liz, and Nichole ate paletas, nachos, tacos, fried plantains and salchipapas with a horchata and a Fanta.
The bill was like $30ish, plus tip.
We all gave Sabores Michoacanos an A (see our grading rubric).

One of our favorite closed restaurants of this decade was Carnival's: a place where you could get junk food, made hot and fresh.  There's just something about food that is only there to taste good and not provide nourishment, especially when such care is taken to prepare it.  Sabores Michoacanos brings that idea from points south.  Much like La Michoacana (Michoacán is a state on the Pacific side near Mexico City), this place offers paletas and various forms of ice and ice cream treats, which are quite good.  It also offers up the standard Mexican grocery store fare (tacos, burritos) and a few specialties (salchipapas).  We tried to cram in as much as we could.

The coffee paletas (eat dessert first) were top notch. They tasted a bit like frozen tiramisu. The raspberry-chocolate stripes were good too.


The fried plantains and horchata were delightful.

Fried plantains

JM finally found his favorite nachos in Madison. These were the right price, and came covered with the exact things he likes with none of the things he disdains. He's willing to overlook sour cream.


The tacos al pastor were absolutely fresh and tasty, loaded with onion and lime while still being one hundred percent certain to be unnecessary calories. I mean, just look at them.


Nichole sprang for the salchipapas, which were delightful and even a bit cute (as they were cut to look like octopi). It is still just deep fried hot dogs on french fries, but who doesn't need that now and again?


The sauces on the table included the robust verde and the flame your tongue off rojo.  There were four flavors of Mexican Fanta to choose from, but only one kind of Jarritos. So make tracks to Sabores Michoacanos.


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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