Lazy Jane’s Cafe

IMG_2966.JPGName: Lazy Jane’s Cafe

Location: 1358 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambiance: Diner, brunch/lunch location

Price: $$

Best Dish: Seitan Hash/Melt (depending on when you go)

Madison has no shortage of fantastic brunch places, but Lazy Jane’s Cafe does fill a niche. Specifically, it provides a “meaty” option to vegetarian – and also has fabulous scones. Set out in the Atwood/Williamson neighborhoods, the restaurant is surrounded by many, many amazing restaurants, but manages to stand on its own.

My dining companion and I ordered the Arti Melt and the Seitan Melt (made as a hash earlier in the morning) respectively. I also ordered an iced vanilla latte and a lemon cream scone, while he ordered just plain iced coffee. The vanilla latte left much to be desired. It had too much vanilla syrup and was cloyingly sweet, and as a result was somewhat unpleasant to drink. My companion said his iced coffee was okay, but nothing exceptional. The scone was delicious – the lemon flavor came through well, and it was moist, crumbly and one of the best scones I’ve had outside of the Farmer’s Market. The entrees were generously portioned and accompanied by a heaping serving of kettle cooked chips and salad. The salad dressing was very good, creamy but light, however, the focus was really on the sandwiches. The arti melt took artichoke hearts and layered it over marinara, creating a pizza flavor in a sandwich. It was hearty and tasty, flavored with Italian seasoning. However, the seitan melt really stood out. The seitan was meaty and well seasoned, and was not overwhelmed by salty brine as often happens. It was paired with portabella mushrooms and perfectly sauteed onions and bell peppers that had softened just enough to still have a bite.

Overall, Lazy Jane’s Cafe offers a great dining experience. It’s a lovely little diner, and while it isn’t particularly unique, the seitan melt does set it apart from the many other brunch places that Madison has.



IMG_3039.JPGName: Estrellon

Location: 313 W Johnson St, Madison, WI 53703

AmbianceUpscale, formal tapas bar

Price: $$$$

Best Dish: Market Paella

If you’re looking for an elegant, upscale restaurant, then Estrellon is your best bet. With classy marble tables, leather chairs, and a soundtrack of gentle Spanish music, Estrellon nails the classy tapas bar ambiance. Unfortunately, that does come with a hefty price tag – although still quite reasonable when compared to tapas places in New York City, Chicago, and other major metropolitan places.

That being said, Estrellon is definitely worth at least one visit. Every dish cultivates the flavors, lovingly pairing them so they burst in your mouth in a wonderful combination. Their menu rotates with the seasons, using the freshest produce – if you go to the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, you can even see the chef (who also works with Graze, L’Etoile, and Sujeo) walking around the Capitol picking up vegetables for the day ahead.

However, two of their items have been on the menu both times I’ve gone, and have been delicious – their baked goat cheese ($12) and their market paella ($40). Their baked goat cheese blends creamy, cool goat cheese with a spicy, tangy marinara and fresh bread. The marinara cuts through the thickness of the goat cheese to make the dish lighter, and the baking melts the goat cheese so that it’s just soft enough to spread and beautifully warm. It serves as a wonderful precursor to the star of the show – the market paella. At $40, it’s expensive – however, split between two or three people, the dish is well worth the cost. The rice is tender, seasoned well with the richness of saffron and herbs, and the pan allows it to crisp up at the bottom. The assortment of vegetables add freshness – although some of them are cooked through, others are left a little more raw to add crunch and texture, adding a lightness to a usually heavy dish.

Although expensive, Estrellon excels at what it sets out to do. It provides a classy atmosphere with an exceptional assortment of tapas. The care they take to choose their flavors is evident, and should you choose to make the splurge, it is well worth the cost.


Grampa’s Pizzeria

IMG_2884Name: Grampa’s Pizzeria

Location: 1374 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambiance: Hipster, chic

Pricing: $$-$$$

Best Dish: Barberini

I’m not going to lie – I’m very biased towards this place. It’s easily my favorite pizza place in Madison, and has an outstanding combination of flavors and perfectly baked thin crust. Tucked in a nondescript white building on Williamson, Grampa’s Pizzeria is a former gun shop repurposed for far tastier uses. The owners also have a bar next door and Porter Coffee out on West Wash.

In appetizers, their beet salad ($8.50) is tasty. The roasted beets are complimented by the nuttiness of the pistachios and creaminess of the chevre, making for a good opening to dinner. While every pizza on their menu is delicious (according to meat eaters), the Barberini and the Goomba are the two vegetarian pizzas that stand out. The Goomba has a garlic cream sauce base and is topped with a variety of mushrooms and herbs, adding a meaty, umami richness. The variety of mushrooms lends different textures and subtle flavors to the meal, and it’s well complimented by the cream sauce with a strong garlic flavor. However, my personal favorite is the Barberini. It’s an odd combination of flavors: calabrian chiles paired with watercress and honey, but it somehow works very well. The ricotta cheese suits this pizza, a light enough cheese to keep it from being weighed down. The freshness of the watercress is welcome after a slice of the Goomba, and there’s a little tang from the calabrian chiles. The drizzle honey is a surprising finish, a sweet note that sneaks up on you and softens the palatte. That being said, my companions said they had to get every ingredient in on the bite for it to have the full effect.

The dessert menu is short and sweet. Their mousse is good, but I would go to Chocolaterian Cafe down the street instead to finish the meal. Grampa’s Pizzeria has a beautiful atmosphere – with huge windows and an intimate, cozy finish, the place is perfect for date night, and is a great use of a gun shop.



Madison Sourdough

E39B4581-53D4-49E9-B80B-B6BA7F8B6F30.JPGName: Madison Sourdough

Location: 916 Williamson St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambiance: Casual, brunch/lunch place

Price: $$

Best Dish: Loaded Grilled Cheese

I’m not generally someone who seeks out sandwiches when I go out to eat, but on this day, I needed a quick lunch before driving a friend to the airport. We accidentally ended up in Madison Sourdough after we discovered that the Mexican place we wanted to go to had moved, and it was the tastiest accident of my life. Madison Sourdough is tucked away on Williamson, and is terrible to find parking around – but it is definitely worth the trip.

They do standard brunch fare, however, since we were there for lunch, we went with their sandwiches. My friend ordered the Ruben (and for non-vegetarians, he said it was one of the best Rubens he’s had), and I went with the half and half combo of one of their soups (which change by the day) and the loaded grilled cheese. The cream of tomato was was surprisingly light, with just the right amount of tang from the tomato to cut through the cream. The loaded grilled cheese was really unique – although I wouldn’t really classify it as a grilled cheese. Stuffed with cauliflowers (a surprising choice that added a nice texture) and mushrooms, the combination of whipped cream cheese and smoked fontina added a unique texture to the cheese holding the sandwich together. The herbed aioli added a lot of flavor, and added a sharpness to the sandwich. However, what was especially unique was how good the salad was. Generally, a side of salad tends to be limp and overdressed, but Madison Sourdough nailed the exact ratio of greens to dressing, making it a salad that I actually wanted to eat.

Madison Sourdough also has a patisserie, and their cookies are delicious. I had the chocolate chip espresso cookie, and it was crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. My friend ordered their Americano, and their coffee was rich and flavorful. The rest of their display is incredibly tempting, filled with cheesecakes and macarons and eclairs. I will definitely be making a trip back to try those – but just the sandwiches are enough to bring me back for a second time.

Habanero’s Mexican Grill


Name: Habanero’s Mexican Grill

Location: 3001 N Sherman Ave, Madison, WI 53704

Ambiance: Casual, take out

Price: $

Best Dish: Tacos

Madison has a lot of Mexican places, all with varying degrees of success. Habanero’s is unique because it serves food in the Chipotle style, with the glass barrier and the ability to customize. They used to be located in a rather sketchy building that was a garish neon orange and blue, but have since relocated to a spot in the strip mall next to Benvenuto’s. With steel topped tables sparsely distributed in the restaurant, they aren’t exactly a sit down place — however, they do serve outstanding, quick Mexican food.

Habanero’s has the standard Mexican fast food fare — burritos, tacos, quesadillas, etc. However, they also have tortas, which are delicious. My personal favorite is their tacos (3 for around $8) — wrapped in two warm flour tortillas, one order comes with a generous serving of three tacos. Both their mild salsa verde and their spicy salsa roja are incredibly flavorful, with just the right amount of spice to be tasty without drowning out other flavors. Their guacamole is creamy and has a nice tartness to it from the lime, but my favorite are their fajita veggies — the onions are caramelized well, and the peppers are cooked down so they’re soft while retaining their structure, and they are spiced well. Vegetarian tacos often suffer from a lack of flavor and components — however, that is not a problem at Habanero’s. They also have a unique addition: veneno, or their pickled onions and habaneros. Although the name translates to venom, I found it to be more vinegary (in the pickle sense) than spicy, and it cuts through the rest of the flavors well.

They also serve horchata, and while I am personally not a fan of cinnamon, my friend who is said it was tasty. Although they’re a little out of the way, Habanero’s is worth the trip for some quick, delicious Mexican food that isn’t Chipotle or another chain. I recommend their spicy salsas — however, if you have a milder palate, the pico de gallo and salsa verde will be just as flavorful.

Bloom Bake Shop

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Name: Bloom Bake Shop

Location: 1851 Monroe St, Madison, WI 53711 (the first one opened in Middleton, located at 1834 Parmenter St, Middleton, WI 53562)

Ambience: Chic

Price: $-$$

Best Dish: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake

Gourmet bakeries tend to fall on the pricier side, but I fall in the category that is willing to pay way too much for my food. Admittedly, this place initially seems a little too pricey to be worth it — at $3.50 a cupcake, it is a lot of money for a sweet treat. Bloom has everything from whoopie pies to brownies, but my personal favorites are their cupcakes and donuts. They also have savories and coffee, but I haven’t tried them. That being said, this place is definitely worth it, if only for a once in a while, especially if you are gluten free or vegan.

My friend and I got three cupcakes and a donut. The cupcakes were lemon vanilla, chocolate raspberry rose, and chocolate peanut butter, the donut was sweet potato. I’ll admit that I was pretty hesitant about the sweet potato donut, but I was very pleasantly proved wrong. The donut was crisp on the outside, with a dusting of cinnamon sugar and soft and tender on the inside. The sweet potato flavor was not overwhelming at all — it hung out in the background, adding a mysterious layer of flavor. Honestly, if I had not known, I probably wouldn’t have even guessed that it was sweet potato.

Their cupcakes are also delicious. The chocolate raspberry rose cupcake was a little on the dry side, and I could have used some more raspberry jam filling. The lemon vanilla had a nice tang, but the chocolate peanut butter took the (cup)cake. Generously filled with rich ganache and topped with a creamy peanut butter frosting, the hint of saltiness from the peanut butter perfectly offsets the sweetness from the ganache. The cupcake was moist, and melted in my mouth when I took a bite — and actually had the perfect ratio of frosting to cupcake.

Bloom deserves a visit, even if it’s only for one of their delicious chocolate peanut butter cupcakes or unique sweet potato donuts. Adorably decorated in baby blue and white tile, it’s a great place for a Saturday morning brunch — even if your wallet will shed a tear at the thought of spending $3.50 on a cupcake.




Hurts Donuts

The Homer Simpson Donut

Name: Hurts Donuts

Location: 2831 Parmenter St, Middleton, WI 53562

Ambience: Casual

Price: $-$$

Best Dish: Nutella Donut

Madison has seen a lot of new donut places, and one I have been meaning to go to since they opened up late last year is Hurts Donuts. Out in the suburb of Middleton, Hurts is open 24 hours and has plenty of unique flavors, making them a good place to go to for a late-night craving.

Hurts Donuts has a lot of flavors — among them are German Chocolate, the “Cereal” Killer, salted caramel, the Homer Simpson donut, and the nutella donut. We bought half a dozen, which cost around $10. One of my main issues with Hurts was that their donuts were simply too sweet. There was nothing to counteract the overwhelming sweetness in my mouth, and having something tangy to cut through would have really helped. The donuts were also on the denser side, and I personally am more of a fan of the lighter ones. The one donut I really enjoyed was the Nutella donut, which was light and dusted with cinnamon sugar. The fluffiness was perfect on this one, and despite the thick dollop of Nutella in the center, it wasn’t weighed down by it. My other favorite was the salted caramel, which had a good amount of saltiness to balance out the richness of the caramel. I could not say the same for the other flavors, which tended to have too much going on for my taste — there were too many components where I would have preferred simplicity.

That being said, Hurts Donuts is great for a 2 AM craving or for when you really need a sugar rush. Many people will appreciate the richness and complexity, but I just happen to be someone who likes her donuts simple. The originality of a flavor like the “Cereal” Killer is one of their strengths, and while I personally prefer Greenbush Bakery, Hurts will definitely satisfy a sweet tooth.

[Top, from left]: Homer Simpson, Nutella, Cosmic Brownie. [Bottom, from left]: German Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Apple Pie.