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.

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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.

 

 

Habanero’s Mexican Grill

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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

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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.

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Hurts Donuts

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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.

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

Nitty Gritty

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Chocolate Milkshake

Name: Nitty Gritty

Location: 223 N Frances St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Casual dining, sports bar

Price: $$$

Best Dish: Roasted Garlic Burger

Although best known for birthday traditions, the Nitty stands on its own as a great place to get a hearty burger. With a sports bar atmosphere, they provide classic American dining and (supposedly) decent beer. They are admittedly a little on the expensive side, but their easy substitutions makes them an unusually suitable burger place for vegetarians.

 

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Roasted Garlic Burger

Although they do offer a selection of three vegetarian burgers, I highly recommend subbing in. Any of the Nitty’s burgers can have a veggie patty or a black bean patty substituted in for them for a $1 more. I would recommend their black bean patty because it’s moist and holds together well — two things that I find very difficult to find in any other restaurant’s black bean burgers. Their Chipotle burger and their Roasted Garlic burger ($10.25 before sub for both) are both delcious. The chipotle aioli adds wonderful flavor to the burger, however, I wish that the chipotle flavor was stronger. The Sheboygan hard roll holds up well with the moisture that the aioli adds. My personal favorite is their Roasted Garlic burger — with a strong garlic flavor from the sweet roasted garlic, it complements the black bean burger well and stands on its own. The best part of the burger is the crispy onion strings, which add a really nice textural element between the creaminess of the black bean burger.

In terms of sides, the Nitty has decent cheese curds ($8.25 as appetizer, $1.75 as a side), but they could have been crispier and chewier. I enjoyed both their fries and their onion rings, which were crisp and didn’t get soggy even after sitting a while while I ate my burger. Their milkshakes ($5.99 for virgin, $7.50 with alcohol) are also fantastic — they’re creamy and rich with a strong flavor, and the ice doesn’t settle to the bottom. At $5.99, they seem pricy — however, there’s enough that can it can be split between two people, and the staff is happy to do that.

The Nitty has some of the best black bean burgers I’ve had. If you can take the multiple rounds of Happy Birthday blasted over the speakers, the Nitty is a Madison classic that has great burgers and milkshakes.

 

Dough Baby Bakery

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Dough Babies

Name: Dough Baby Bakery

Location: 511 State St, Madison, WI 53703

Ambience: Hipster, cute

Price: $

Best Dish: Dough Babies

Specialty donuts have gained quite the following — with Hurts Donuts opening up in Middleton, the classic offerings of Greenbush back on Regent, and now Dough Baby Bakery on State Street, Madison’s donut market is pretty saturated. But Dough Baby Bakery stands out from the rest, and not just because they use locally grown, mostly organic ingredients.

Dough Baby has a constantly changing menu. They adjust for the season and although they have some stand-bys (like their chocolate cake donuts), the fact that you can pick up something unique every time you go is a huge plus. Their attention to ingredients comes through — the raspberry frosted donut I had just after they opened tasted like actual raspberry, not just vague flavor syrup. While their traditional donuts are delicious, Dough Baby really shines with its stuffed donuts. Their apple pie stuffed donut had apple slices coated in cinnamon sugar. The apples maintained their bite, adding tartness that cut through the sweetness, and the flavor diffused throughout the donut. Also fantastic was their pancake batter filled donut. I expected it to become soggy and overly sweet, but the donut held up and the batter was just the right amount of sweetness.

My personal favorite donut is one they have every day — their dough babies, or little donut holes coated in cinnamon sugar. They’re light and the perfect complement to a cup of coffee. At around $2.25 a donut, they are a little on the expensive side but it is definitely worth it for the quality.