The Monona Rag

Dealing the Dish on Monona, Wisconsin

Category: Restaurants

Epic Mexican Restaurant Tour

Goal: Try a bunch of Mexican places within a few miles of Monona in one weekend.

I did more yard work than a pack a mules working a goldmine in Namibia on Saturday and then again on Sunday. It was time for a tacos and a large margarita.

Lunchtime started at La Bamba.  The sign says ‘Burritos as Big as Your Head.’  The parking lot was empty except for two strange cars (employees?). The parking lot is always empty. I don’t get this place. It does not matter when you drive by La Bamba – no one is ever there. I sat in my truck and thought about life and the meaning of no cars at a Mexican place at noon on Saturday. It creeped me out. I left.

Next up is Habanero’s Mexican Grill off of Stoughton Road, between Wendy’s and Bachman Pool. It’s kind of hidden, but well worth it. Because, baby, Habanero’s is awesome. Great food. Fast. Nice staff. Cheap. It is configured like a Qdoba or Chipotle. But the food is much better. You select tacos or burritos or quesadillas or tortas. You then have your choice of several meats: spicy pork, steak, chicken and carnitas. You pick your toppings. I got three tacos for $6.00. The portions are large – two would have been fine. I could not eat the third. As noted, the service is quick so no one at home knew I had left. Life is Good.

After three and a half more hours of chasing leaves around the backyard it was dinner time.  The wife and girls were watching a Glee Marathon. Or was it a Project Runway? I don’t remember. But I said, “I am going to Cuckoos.” Cuckoos is a new Mexican restaurant on Buckeye next to PDQ. The family all tagged along since they were hungry after watching eight hours of Glee.

Cuckoos is a sit down restaurant that is nothing fancy. First, I ordered a margarita and it worked super for the ache in my left shoulder. As I slipped into a wonderful numbness, the girls told me about the Glee Marathon. I quickly ordered a second drink. The wife could drive. Cuckoo’s offers straightforward Mexican food that we are all familiar with at this point. I had the shrimp quesadilla off the appetizer menu since I ate too many of those damn nacho chips. It was very good. I don’t recall what they ordered. I’m ready for the couch. But I recommend Cuckoo’s.

I was back in the yard on Sunday morning and at about 11:30 I headed to Home Depot for a new leaf blower and a visit to Taco Bell. I ordered one Locos Taco at the drive-through. Locos Taco is “made with premium seasoned beef, crisp lettuce, diced juicy red ripe tomatoes, real cheddar cheese and topped with cool reduced-fat sour cream, in a shell made from Nacho Cheese Doritos® Chips.” This should not be good. It’s fast food Mexican. The beef is not “premium seasoned beef.” It’s bland looking. So how was it? Locos Taco is strangely good. I suggest you give it a try.

At 5:45 p.m. I came inside from leaf patrol. No one was home except the dog. There was a note on the fridge: ‘You are on your own for dinner. We went to a movie. We yelled at you in the yard, but you ignored us.’ Huh, the ignoring part might have something to do with me running my new Echo Leaf Blower. Whatever. They did put some cute XOXOXO notations on the bottom of the page, which I’m told means Hugs and Kisses. I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll take the girls’ word for it.

Dinner with the dog at home.  She always eats off my plate when I am not looking and then I hit her in the head. I am tired and hungry. This is not my idea of fun.

I left the dog at home and went to Monona’s newest Mexican place: Las Islas del Mar on Monona Drive – where the old Burger King used sit.  The parking lot was crowded, which is encouraging. I want new places to succeed. The brick is painted an ocean blue. The sign outside read ‘Grand Opening.’  Score.

To my amusement (or maybe confusion), as I enter there was a full scale mariachi band playing. It had trombones, a tuba, trumpets, percussionists and a singer – all of them dressed like a characters from Super Mario games. No Lie. Luigi, Mario and the rest of the gang all playing Mexican tunes. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

It was loud and raucous. I got the only seat directly in front of the band and my server brought out tostadas and ceviche.  I have no idea what ceviche is, but it appears to be some type of Mexican fish appetizer. It hit the spot after a day of working outside. I sat there sipping on lemonade and enjoying the band. The music stopped and I realize the whole place is looking at me.  The band is motioning to me. They wanted me to dance. At least, that’s what I think they wanted. I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m just guessing. But their looks were friendly, so I figure they are not running me out. I held my ground, not moving, only smiling. I shook my head politely. No, I will not be dancing today. Then they wanted me to request a song. What the hell? I don’t know any Mexican songs. I smiled and yelled:  “No thanks!”

The menu is nearly all seafood inspired and not your typical Mexican-American fair.  It is a slightly hard to sort out.  The waitstaff was very helpful.  I ordered Kora Shrimp and listened to the band and waited for my food.  At this point, someone from the audience is chugging two beers at the same time while trying to sing with the band.  This is much better than the Stupid Project Runway the girls make me watch at home from time-to-time.  Now the band wants me to chug. I point to my lemonade.  Suddenly, the waitress bring me a Corona and the band claps.  I nod my head and say thanks and take two big drinks and the party rolls on.

What is Kora Shrimp?  I don’t know. I just asked the waitress to order me what was good. The place was loud and I was tired. I figure her suggestion was probably better than my guess. I do know it was homemade – as it seems all dishes are at this joint.  It was good.  I will go back and hope the band is there ready to buy me another Corona. Maybe I’ll bring the wife and get her to dance. She’d like that.

No one knew I even left home and came back except the dog.

And thus ended my epic weekend Mexican restaurant tour.

Cranberry Creek boasts best burger in town

Monona has a lot of good burger joints. Red Robin burgers are consistently very good. The Silver Eagle’s burger is great – and at a super price. But now I have found my favorite Monona hamburger at Cranberry Creek.

I’ve been seeing the sign outside of the Cranberry Creek restaurant all winter about how they grind their own beef. A couple of friends have raved about them, so last week, I finally got out and gave one a try.

Awesome. Simply awesome. This is one of the best burgers in the area – not just Monona. Cranberry Creek does grind their own burger. The result is a meal more tasty than any burger meal should be. Get it medium rare and the burger is juicy and almost melty. The consistency is slightly crumbly, but it doesn’t fall apart.

You can get one of several types of burgers, such as the A-1 Burger, complete with bacon, onion straws and pepper jack cheese. Or you can do a build your own. This means everyone (except the vegetarian in the group) can find what they want.

And to top it off – the fries are great as well.


Wahoo!!! The salads are here!!!

Salad Creations has opened in the old Rossario’s location on Monona Drive.

And not a moment too soon.

If there’s anything that will revitalize the Monona Drive experience, it’s a really good salad.

Steaks? Craft beers? Fancy gyms? Screw that – we have salads!!!

Spinach, iceberg lettuce, romaine, arugula, swiss chard – thank god they’re here!

I look forward to making that perfect salad…the joy of adding garbanzo beans, bacon bits, cottage cheese – the options are endless! And let’s not get started on the on the dressing choices. Balsamic vinaigrette, ranch, Italian – wow, this is so exciting!

My friends are already calling me, saying that when they visit, they can’t wait to go get … a salad!

The kids are begging us every day – ‘Can we go to the salad store!’ And what kids won’t be yelling out those words after a bowlful of green goodness.

Super Friendly Horse is happy as well, although he’d be really thrilled if an apples and sugar cubes store would open up. Still, he gives it a big thumbs up (figuratively speaking).

“It’s a salad store. Who doesn’t love salads?” asked Super Friendly Horse. “And if you don’t care for greens, go anyway. We have an obesity problem in this country. Get your ass off the couch and eat healthy for a change. And for the love of god, skip the fatty burgers and fries for a change. Would a salad once a month kill you?”

Rossario’s restaurant reportedly closing

A reader has informed us that long time Monona restaurant, Rossario’s, will close as of this weekend. The last day is September 3.

The move doesn’t shock us, but it still makes us sad. Many Monona residents have great memories of the old fashion supper club.

The closing isn’t a surprise. The restaurant had cut back hours in the last few years. The interior needed an overhaul. Faded decor and paint, aging tables and chairs – they all were part of Rossario’s. A recent trip revealed limited staff trying to do too many things. The restaurant simply wasn’t making enough to justify the money needed to update the facility.

The negatives aside, Rossario’s will leave us with many fond memories:

Great tasting, old school pasta dishes. Spaghetti on a board. The packed bar area of regulars (okay, the smoke wasn’t fun). The wonderful desserts. Bringing home a jar of Rossario’s sauce. The old time decor. Fish fry. I always enjoyed their steaks as well, something not many people ate there.

The person who contacted us said the owner has sold the restaurant, but gave no indications of what will go into the space. The current strip mall Rossario’s is located in is pretty awful. A major renovation of this area would be welcome.

So, assuming this is true, go out and have one last meal or drink at an old-time Monona haunt.

Rossario’s, thanks for the memories.


Solutions offered for Bourbon Street Grille problems

The Bourbon Street Grille continues to cause headaches for Monona.

On March 26, the police reported a fight involving 25 people. 17 law enforcement officers were needed to get the situation under control. Monona police and the bar’s owner offer differing views of the events, but the ultimate outcome was that in order to keep their liquor license, the bar agreed to install a buttload of cameras, plus develop a plan to get customers safely out of the building when large events are being held.

However, here are our suggestions to improve the climate at the Bourbon Street Grille:

  • The restaurant is required to actually serve you warm food.
  • Bartenders are required to serve customers instead of simply talk to cute girls.
  • Lower the one waiter/waitress to 400 table ratio that seems to exist at this time.
  • ‘Chefs’ should actually know how to cook all the food instead of following a color-by-numbers chart.
  • Bathrooms should be cleaned more than once a year.
  • Service staff should cut attitude by at least half. We know your job sucks and you’re understaffed. Don’t take it out on your customer.
  • All fighting should be moved to the Shopko parking lot down the street to allow for larger crowds.

“Maybe if they provided decent service and food, people wouldn’t be so pissed off when they leave,” suggested one Monona resident. “Rubbery fish, mushy appetizers and slow service just make we want to rumble.”

City Council Bans Collective Bargaining at Local Mexican Restaurants

In a unanimous vote, the Monona city council, lead by Mayor Robb Kahl, has stripped collective bargaining rights from area Mexican restaurants.

It’s a crisis situation,” said Kahl.

“We need to maintain the low costs that come with the tasty goodness that is Mexican food,” said Alderman Mike Veserat.

The move comes in the wake of fears that collective bargaining amongst employees at Taco John’s, Taco Bell and La Bamba would raise salaries to a point where the price of burritos and churros would skyrocket.

“Potato Oles should be affordable to all Monona residents,” said Doug Wood, referring to the tasty potato treat offered by Taco John’s.

“Reasonably priced burritos as big as your head,” added alderman Wiswell, “are guaranteed somewhere in the state constitution.”

When asked why only Mexican restaurants were being targeted with the ban, alderman Scott Munson said, “It has nothing to do with boxes of Teriyaki Wings from Buffalo Wild Wings that were sent to our last meeting.”

Local activists were dismayed at the news, saying it was a right of workers to collectively bargain for really crappy wages. Or get fired trying.

When contacted, workers at the affected restaurants laughed hysterically and looked at us like we were crazy. One kid took pity on us and gave us some old tacos, saying, “The horse looks hungry.”

Favorite Monona Restaurant Dishes

In an effort to help out our local restaurants, I’m asking people to make suggestions to our readers about their favorite meals. Perhaps it will inspire others to take an extra visit to our local establishments.

Feel free to mention food that you can take home to cook – such as the steaks below.

Here’s a couple of our favorite items:

  • Jerk Chicken at David’s
  • Spaghetti Pie at Angelo’s
  • Burgundy pepper steaks from Ken’s

Please post your favorites in the comments. Thanks!

Food Hopping on Monona Drive

Monona Drive has lots of quality cuisine choices. So instead of bar hopping, let’s go food hopping down Monona and pick 10 great places – and something to eat. Please note, we’re not including every food stop, just 1o of them.

Taco Johns – No question what to get here – Potato Oles. Deep fried potato goodness.

Fat Jack’ – Sunday all you can eat BBQ chicken. Lot’s of food and inexpensive.

David’s Jamaican – Jerk Chicken. Best in the area.

Angelo’s – The pizza is always good, but we’re going to be different and go with the Pasta Louie or it’s cousin – the Cardiac Louie.

Rosario’s – Not the best thing on the menu, but spaghetti on a board is something everyone should experience.

Pizza Oven – The Oven’s thin crust pizza is awesome. To bad you have to eat so much of it!

Edo Garden’s – Go with the hibachi steak, chicken or shrimp (or a combo of them). The chefs put on a nice show.

La Bamba – Burrito as big as your head with pretty much whatever the heck you want on it.

Crema Cafe – Baked oatmeal for breakfast.

Silver Eagle – The Silver Eagle Italian Sausage sandwich. Tasty.

Monona Restaurants Struggle With Construction

We’ve heard that many Monona restaurants have taken a hit with the construction on Monona Drive. While that’s not unexpected, it’s a reminder to us all to try and support our local businesses.

And while many people say they are visiting their favorite eateries as often as they did before the construction began, the problem is that people outside the community aren’t stopping. That makes it all the more important to try and get out to these places as often as possible. Every visit counts.

Restaurant Review: David’s Jamaican

David’s Jamaican restaurant has been on Monona Drive for quite a few years. It is, like so many of Monona Drive’s establishments, a locally run business. We spent some time recently tasting many David’s offerings, and here’s our report.

The Good

The Jerk Chicken if fabulous. The only thing we had that came close was the BBQ ribs. But the Jerk Chicken is great. We found the Jerk Pork solid, but not as tender and tasty as the chicken. The Jerk Shrimp was a mixed bag – one time it was wonderful – the next time very mediocre.

We liked the selection of beers, and usually go with the old school Red Stripe. Also, the varieties of Jamaican sodas gives the kids something to try.

The buffet is a good value, and it allows you to try many different foods. We recommend it for those looking for a variety, but to be honest, nothing beats the Jerk Chicken.

The meals will come with rice and beans and a veggies. You’ll get a lot of food. One order of Jerk Chicken can easily feed two.

For dessert, we recommend the Key Lime pie. It’s a small slice, but very tasty.

Prices are very reasonable – $10-15 for a large entree with rice, beans and veggies.

Finally, the colors, the reggae, the joy of something ‘different’ on Monona Drive – it’s great.

The not so good about David’s.

Some of the food we had was inconsistent – such as the shrimp. The Jerk Chicken was uniformly excellent, but a few of the items in the buffet were just average (although we must admit that buffet food is always a gamble).

The atmosphere (yes, we mention this in the good as well). The restaurant is old and it shows. The brightly painted interior, while enjoyable, is obviously hiding a lot of wear and tear – and not particularly well done. This does give it a certain charm, but a little bit goes a long way in this case – too long of a way.

The ruling.

Definitely give David’s a try – especially if you like spicy foods. It measures up just fine – if not better – than other Jamaican joints here in Madison. Our chief recommendations would be to try the Jerk Chicken with a slice a Key Lime pie for dessert. A Jamaican beer or soda will round out the meal – along with some Bob Marley in the background.

The prices are fair and we’ve never had to wait long for our food. They’ll have carry out orders for you in 10-15 minutes.

It’s hard to try everything at a restaurant, so if you’ve been to David’s, let us know your favorite menu items.