Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Burger Time #4 - Plaza Tavern

This time, we hit a Madison standby - the Plaza Tavern.

If you have spent any time in Madison, chances are good that you have a Plaza story or two. If you were born here, you likely took your first drink in this establishment. Assume what you will with that statement.
Also, though, you will have had experience with the famous Plaza Burger. Generally, it is a slight burger (about the size of a standard McDonald's hamburger) with a very soft bun. The Plaza part is the special Plaza sauce that they put on the burger. It is so special that the previous owner wouldn't disclose the recipe to the buyers until after the closing went through on the business.

The best guess that I have for Plaza Sauce is thinned sour cream with a little dill and a LOT of salt. Salt is the prevailing flavor, which probably contributes to the loyalty by those who love it! The burger is a decent ground chuck with a fairly thin patty and nice bun. Overall, a pretty good sandwich. Not filling, but certainly enough.
Reviews from long-time fans put the rating at 7 out of 10. I also give it a 7 out of 10.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Payday Tacos #9 - The Best Yet!

Today's payday tacos have set the bar for all other tacos! They are made to order by Olivia, a native of Mexico who has lived in Madison for several years!

Olivia brought in her homemade salsa along with pork and items to make some terrific tacos.
THIS is the taco experience that the "authentic" restaurants hope to capture. When, if you are in Mexico, a taco is a quick staple. A stuffed corn tortilla made on the go as a terrific snack. They are best eaten out of somebody's kitchen or even out of a taco truck on a side street.

I made a nice shredded pork carnitas taco on a soft corn tortilla with rice, pinto beans, and handmade salsa. YES!
Rating out of 10: this one's a 10!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Payday Tacos #8 - Heaven is Great

Payday Tacos called for trying some place new. "Taco Heaven" has been open for a few months on West Johnson in Madison.

A friend of mine recommended it highly. Mainly because he is able to get a Hot Dog and a Taco in the same basket. There certainly is something to be said for that, but it's firm rooting in USA cuisine has kept me from trying it until now.

The menu is quite diverse, and tacos can come in several ways - American style with lettuce, cheese, and sour cream and Mexican style with chopped onion and salsa. There is a wide variety of tortilla, too: soft corn, fried corn, soft flour, and fried flour. I haven't seen a fried flour shelled taco since Taco Bell had its infamous "Taco Lights" in the mid-1980s. It piqued my interest enough to get one.

I ordered a fried flour with seasoned ground beef. It was naughty. It was not too greasy. The flavor was pretty good. But I wouldn't order that one again. It was more of a "say you did it" kind of thing for me.

But the tacos I bought in all seriousness were just right. I ordered chicken tacos "Mexican style" on soft corn tortillas. They came rightly double-shelled. The tortillas were just right and held firm with the taco. The meat was juicy, but not so much that the tortilla shredded. The meat was surprisingly not greasy. The salsa was fresh with a mild bite. I did need to add some hot sauce, and that made a great taco better.

Best of all, I thought, was the construction. Value is important, but too many places load it up so that the taco is too hard to eat. This was just the right amount of meat to tortilla. These were just the way I like them.

I was sorry that I couldn't get the carnitas (they had equipment trouble that made them 86 shredded beef and pork carnitas), but the chicken filled in nicely. I'm just hoping they add a fish to the roster someday. Then they just might make it to a 10.

My girlfriend ordered the Veggie Quesadilla. The fillings were generous, including a heap of black beans and cheese. The item was cooked in the fryer, though, which was a deduct for her. She's not a fan of fried food, and she was hoping for a traditionally grilled quesadilla. She gave the insides a high rating, but wouldn't order it again because of the shell. It was more like a flat chimichanga.

I ordered the right thing, though. I give it a 9 out of 10. This is in the lead so far, which is a shock because I walked in expecting to "pan" the place. Just goes to show you: you don't know what you don't know!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Tacos #7 - In Paradise

Payday tacos got changed up this week . . . to a place that doesn't specialize in Mexican food at all: Cheeseburger In Paradise.

We resisted this restaurant for quite a while, not really being fans of Jimmy Buffet and thinking it to be another chain dropped into a semi-urban area. Well, we aren't wrong with those assumptions, but this has still become a fast favorite because the atmosphere and offering makes it right. There's something great about an open air tiki bar that gives you that tropical attitude.

We ate at the bar, and I saw they had fish tacos on the menu.

The dish fit the environment very well. I ordered the fish grilled. The tacos were on soft flour tortillas with cabbage and a pineapple salsa. There was a spicy sort of cream sauce served on the side, which provided just the right spicy kick to offset the sweetness of the salsa. Overall it was a nice dish that I would recommend to anyone . . . provided that there were some natural and warm breezes moving by wherever you were sitting.

The bonus was that we only heard the "Cheeseburger in Paradise" song once! It's fine, but we have been there before when it seems like it came on all the time.

A great atmosphere, friendly service, and a pretty good dish made for a rating of 8 out of 10 on their fish tacos!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Payday Tacos #6 - El Burrito Loco

The weather is nice in Madison (relatively so), so it's time to hit some of the street carts that get set up downtown and on campus. Today we visited El Burrito Loco, a cart that is usually stationed at the southwest corner of MLK and Main on the Capitol Square.

I ordered two tacos - one chicken, one beans - on soft shells. Mild salsa on the chicken, hot salsa on the beans. Let's see how we do!

We didn't do so well.

The taco shells were a little steamed when they should have been seared off. It made for a shell that fell apart, especially with the BEEF taco I received. I'm sure there was a communication gap, and they heard "beef" instead of "beans," even though I stated beans at two occasions. Generally, I can go with the flow . . . we'll see how the beef is, then.

Turns out, bad. First of all, the beef is steamed and largely unseasoned. The combo of steamed ground beef and shells that don't have a char or sear on them is a fall-apart mess. The photo shows the taco when I first pulled it out of the styrofoam container (sure glad I didn't buy this on Earth Day!).

Construction of the tacos started with 2 corn shells, a fairly generous portion of meat, shredded iceberg lettuce, a bit of shredded mild cheddar (their other dishes used either chihuahua or queso quesadilla) and salsa.

The chicken taco was much better, but still had too much iceberg lettuce to taste like much more than lettuce with some salsa and mild cheddar.

The salsas were pretty good, although it was very lightly applied to the beef taco. That was a shame, since it really needed it.

Overall, I wish I'd have saved the calories (ouch).
My rating -
Chicken taco: 5 out of 10
Beef Taco: 3 out of 10

Friday, April 16, 2010

Caribou Tavern! Burger Time #3

Spent a lunch hour at the Caribou Tavern on E. Johnson Street on the Madison Isthmus. It was a classic Wisconsin Tavern . . . without all the smoke you recall from the past, thanks to new laws.

Open the door, and you have the bar with stools along the left and video poker/slot machines along the right. For a tavern, it seemed to be a bit brighter than expected. Even so, it fit the stereotypes. And it's a pretty comfortable place to go.

This time, it was me, Steve, and Rich. Steve has a history with "the Bou," for sure. It was great to get some of the old stories. That, and be served by the same bartender who used to serve him when he was in college many years ago.

For the test, we got "Bou Burgers." This is a 1/3 pound patty of ground chuck (or, more likely, a lesser mix of ground beef) served on a pillowy, fresh bun. With or without a fresh slice of white onion. Steve went "with." I went without. Rich got cheese instead.

The bun gets the highest possible marks. Soft and airy, but the crust was firm enough to not become a sloppy mess in your hands. It is really the right combo of greasy grilled burger and a bun that can hold it up.

The beef detracted a bit from the sandwich in quality. It was properly cooked, but it didn't match the flavor and quality of the last two burgers we tasted on this blog.

Order it up with a cold Old Milwaukee, though, and you'll be dreaming about how good it was long after you left.

Our ratings on a scale of 10:
Me - 7.5
Steve - 8.5
Rich - 7.5

Worth the trip. And super-handy if you have some laundry to do. A coin laundry is conveniently next door!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Payday #5 - Pasquals

Being near Hilldale at lunch hour, we decided to duck into Pasquals for a quick taco!

Pasquals is a Southwestern restaurant with fresh flavors. Not quite as bold as Tex/Mex; not authentic like a Mexican restaurant can be. And they don't pretend to be more than what they are, which puts them squarely on the list of tacos to try.
They have a couple of taco platters available, which come with rice and beans. For tacos today, I chose shredded chicken on soft blue corn tortillas.

The highlight is the shredded chicken, very juicy and flavorful. The flavor, though, is chicken. And salt. There may be other seasonings in there, but you don't get the same cumin or chili-powder flavor of other pulled chicken elsewhere. It works very well for them.

The tacos are loaded with sour cream, lettuce, shred mix cheese, and black olives. These groceries are mainly unnecessary, particularly since the chicken is interesting in and of itself. The blue corn shells were a bit on the dry side and could have either been heated more or benefited from a little oil.

This sauce is what took me down, though. I like hot food, and this definitely qualified! I put some on my first taco, and it was excellent. I cruised through without it on the second taco since it's a workday and I'm drinking water. A nice Dos Equis Amber would have been great to keep pouring on the sauce.

Overall, I give it a 7 out of 10.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Payday Tacos #4 - Laredos

Laredos is my favorite Mexican restaurant in Madison. It is just the right combination of quick service at reasonable price. I've never left hungry.

I took it easy today, going with the lunch special of a taco with rice and beans. I chose carnitas . . . a wise choice at this restaurant.

I certainly had plenty of food, especially for lunch. I was surprised when the soft taco was made with a flour tortilla, which is not my desire or my expectation. Even so, it turned out to be the right combination with the shredded, flavorful pork carnitas. The taco was finished with some shredded lettuce and chopped green onion. The taco was stuffed with blazing hot (temperature) meat and was a nice compliment to the rice and beans.

I'd give this a 7 out of 10. It isn't my first choice off their menu, but it was definitely worthwhile. Funny to say, but 2 soft corn tortillas would have pushed it to 8 or more.

Laredos has three locations in Madison so far . . . I always eat at their original restaurant at Whitney Way and Odana. I remember dining here when they opened in February 1998 . . . they have come a long way from a sparse restaurant with a good, quick menu. They aren't as inexpensive as they were in those early days, but they are still fairly priced and deserve their success.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Burger Time #2 - Dotty Dumpling's Dowry

For our second burger on the taste test, we went to a heavy-hitter and a Madison institution: Dotty Dumpling's Dowry.

This legendary burger joint has moved a few times, now being located right on the UW Campus on Francis St. I had not been to Dottys since they moved from their location on Fairchild, so I was surprised to see that it had gone a bit upscale, with a hostess who greeted us and table service for the food. Previously, it was an order at the counter and wait for the runner to shout your name from service counter when your food was done.
I went fairly simple, but messy, with a burger medium rare with cheddar, grilled onions, ketchup and mayo. It came in at around $6. There were 6 of us today, with similar orders all around (except they were medium).

My girlfriend ordered a veggie burger, which was a composite of grains and certainly passable.

Dotty's uses ground chuck, which is generally accepted as the best choice for a burger. They are grilled on a char-broiler and service on a soft bun. The burgers were cooked to the right temperatures and served messy with condiments. This made for a good start but a messy finish that generally detracted from the full experience. It's tough to enjoy it when you have the tendency to shovel it in your mouth to keep it from all falling apart into your basket. In particular, the bottom bun dissolves away and can make it tough to eat (same results with the veggie burger, so it seems to be more about the wet condiments put on the bottom instead of the grease from the burger).

One of the guys, Rich, made a statement that his criteria for a rating is whether the burger patty itself would stand up as an entree served alone on a plate. He wouldn't necessarily pick this burger for that. Another team member, Chris, countered that the messiness is part of what made it a good burger.

Here are our ratings on a 10 scale:
Me - 6 (I was disappointed . . . I expected this to be the "gold standard" for our burger tests)
Kristine - 6 for her veggie burger
Rich - 6
Chris - 6
Ray - 4
Leah - 10. She repeated this rating several times, so perhaps a medium burger with American Cheese (the rest of us got cheddar), ketchup and pickles might have been the best way to eat it!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Payday Tacos #3 - Casa Del Sol

Tacos go better with Dos Equis Amber. At least as far as a fun experience goes, where my love and I took a hooky afternoon off and started with some tacos.

Today we hit Casa Del Sol, which is in Fitchburg. There are certainly some authentic dishes, but this restaurant isn't in the category of "authentic Mexican." But, hey. We're in Wisconsin. Still works, and we still have about 40 restaurants and cart to hit before our jaunt is done.

Pictured here are chicken tacos. Click it for a closer look.
Served on soft corn tortillas, the chicken was grilled, cubed, and tossed in a spicy (but mostly salty) sauce. They are finished off with raw chopped onion and cilantro. Decent rice and beans complete the "platter." Lunch price was $6.95.
Rating for these: 6 out of 10.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Payday Tacos #2 - La Hacienda

Today we headed over to Park Street to hit La Hacienda, a Mexican restaurant at the corner of Park and W. Washington.
Today's choice: a chicken taco and a chorizo taco. Generally, they were good, standard tacos. The flavors at La Hacienda are certainly on the mild side, so there isn't a lot to really jazz the taste buds. They had a mild pico de gallo they serve with their complimentary chips, and I was too hungry to wait to ask for a salsa or sauce. Even, so it was a satisfactory lunch.
They were certainly authentic: served on doubled-up corn tortillas. The chicken was pulled and moist. The chorizo was cooked to a crumble and had a nice chewy and crusty texture.
Rating 0n a 10 scale: 6

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pay Day Tacos, #1

Today, we celebrate pay day with Tacos. Let's call it a new tradition.

First on the Taste Test List is Tex Tubb's Taco Palace. We visited their restaurant on Atwood Avenue on the near east side of Madison, WI.

Designed to look like a hole in the ground, this is a clean restaurant with terrific service. We had a great server today, and we shared tips on what kind of treats we're planning to make for Valentine's Day (she's making cookies).

I'm always in the mood for a fish taco, so I ordered their 2-taco lunch special, which is around $6. You can choose two of many different kinds of taco. I picked a blackened tilapia and a carne asada taco.

The blackened tilapia was served on double-corn shells with cabbage slaw, pico and onion. The flavors were terrific, although not super-spicy for a blackened fish. I poured some of the hot sauce from their salsa bar, and the taco was terrific.

The carne asada was a seasoned and marinated strip sliced ever-so-thin and grilled off for the taco. It was really terrific, and it was served on a flour tortilla topped with pico, red onions and guacamole. I would have chosen a corn tortilla, but it was nice nonetheless.

My girlfriend ordered the fried avocado taco and something called "Elisa's Choice," which is fried avocado, mushrooms, black beans, tomatoes, onions, and feta. Elisa's Choice has now become my lover's choice, hands down. She raved.

The lunch was served with rice and beans. It promises to keep you full and happy until long after dinner time!

Tex Tubb's is highly recommended. It's a fun place for lunch, but I'd rather be having happy hour there now!

Overall, I give it a 8 out of 10. My lady gave it a solid 9: "It was really good."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Burger Time - Taste Test #1

Welcome to the first Burger Test for Taste Test Madison.

Our mission: To seek out the best burger in Madison, Wisconsin.

Background: For years, we have seen signs posted throughout the community: "Best Burger In Town." We have often thought one of two things: 1) Oh yeah? Sez who? and 2) How can YOU have the best burger if that shack over there has the same claim on a sign!

So we set out to test a different burger each month (hey - we're all over 40 and don't want to speed up our inevitable heart troubles). On the first Friday of each month, we will try and review a burger from a different restaurant/pub/bar/cart/dive in Madison, Wisconsin.

Today, we're starting out with a hotel restaurant - The Dayton Street Grille. It's located in the Madison Concourse Hotel. (Full disclosure - I work there, so it made for a real easy choice since I was too lazy to go elsewhere this month. Even so, this won't influence my review. I don't care if this is the best burger or not - I just want to find which one IS the best burger!)

I brought 4 buddies along for the test, although one guy opted for the grilled cheese. Hrmn.

The burger here is advertised simply - Grilled Burger, made with aged Highland Beef (from the local Fountain Prairie Inn and Farm). It came out well presented and straight forward. I took this photo before diving in. (Click on the photo for a closer look - you can almost smell it!)

I had ordered it medium rare, and it was a little more on the medium side. Steve ordered it the same way, and got it a little more on the rare side. In any case, both were within reasonable range.

It looked to be about a third-pound patty, and there was very little seasoning. Maybe some salt and pepper, and maybe not. The beef was certainly the highlight - real high quality, as you'd expect from a local farm. If anything it was a little lean for my tastes, although my compadres thought it was terrific. Very good beef flavor that came through right with the first bite.

The bun was fresh, toasted on the inside, and soft under the crust. A very nice combination in the burger, and makes up at least a third of my score.

Here's how it rated:
Me (John) = 8 out of 10
Steve = 8
Chris = 8
Rich = 9
Adam = Grilled cheese (what can you do?)

Quotes in support:

Rich: "The nice thing is that you don't have to throw a lot of crap on it for it to taste good."

Steve: "Good burger"

So, we start off with a success. We're trying to only review successes, so we do recommend this one!

Next month - The Caribou Tavern on East Johnson for a Bou Burger!