Curd Girl

Wisconsin Fried Delight
Location: Farmer’s Market Saturdays, Concerts on the Square and other events. Best to check Twitter.
By: Kailey

Ahh Wisconsin. If there’s one thing we’ve done right – other than inventing kindergarten, building the world’s largest penny and having more bars than grocery stores – it’s cheese. No matter which way you slice, grate, crumble or melt it, we’re pros at cheese. But until recently, one thing had been missing in the cheese empire of Wisconsin’s capital city – a mobile unit focusing solely on the one food item that is better than cheese: deep-fried cheese. While Madison and the surrounding area is the lucky home of plenty of cheese curd options, in Curd Girl we finally have the traveling cheese curd that is necessary for enjoying any event.

Curd Girl food cart. Home of happiness.

Curd Girl food cart. Home of happiness.

The menu is simple. Cheese curds and a sauce for $6. Plus t-shirts if you want to show your curd pride (note: the t-shirts are not made out of cheese curds. But how cool would it be if they were?) The sauce options were hard to choose from: strawberry rhubarb, sriracha aioli and good old ranch. We went with the sriracha but I can’t wait to try the others. The curds were lightly battered and the perfect amount of gooey and greasy. Pretty amazing curds. While not an entree, they pair well with everything – pairs best with beer and a beautiful Madison night.

Take your curd consumption to the next level with beer

Take your curd consumption to the next level with beer

 

 

Deliciousness: 5/5 plates
Price: 4/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 5/5 plates
OVERALL: 4.5/5 plates

Curd Girl Website: http://www.curdgirl.com
Curd Girl Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/curdgirlcart
Curd Girl Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CurdGirl

Other Curd Girl Reviews:
What Isthmus had to say
What 77 Square had to say

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Toast – Gili’s Paninis

Perfect Panini
Location: Capitol Square at Mifflin and Wisconsin Avenue (near Chase Bank) for lunch, also at Farmer’s Market and with Lets Eat Out Madison. Best to check Twitter
By: Kailey

How lucky are we? Two new-for-2014 food carts in Madison are offering warm, grilled sandwiches. Previously, Madison was lacking many sandwich options from food carts and these two carts are filling a sub-sized hole in the market. Both Melted and Toast are great reasons to never set foot in a Subway again (sorry Subway, I do appreciate you, but sometimes that fake bread smell makes me sick…and avocado should not come out of a can). (Note: Slide and others also serve sandwiches but I’m referring to the grilled variety)

Toast-Gili's Paninis

Toast-Gili’s Paninis

At Toast’s bright yellow cart, you choose your bread, meats, veggies, cheese and sauces and they grill up your sandwich while you wait. I like that you can pick as many toppings as you want (more than two sauces recommended!) and every panini comes with a small cup of pickles or hot giardiniera. In addition to lunchtime flavors, they serve dessert or breakfast paninis featuring Nutella, strawberries, caramel, chocolate and bananas.

Menu at Toast. Build your own or ask for good combinations. (But better than Subway)

Menu at Toast. Build your own or ask for good combinations. (But better than Subway)

I ordered the panini that was featured as the free sample of the day: pastrami, chicken, pesto, garlic mayo, red pepper mayo, onions, tomato and provolone cheese. They were also pushing samples of homemade lemonade, yummy but not worth the extra cost. The panini with cup of pickles was $7.50 and they do take credit cards.

Perfect Panini

Perfect Panini

Side note for those interested: it’s worth noting the sandwich-extraordinaires are quite attractive. Pull up a chair at the outdoor “seating area” on the side of the cart for a good view of the makers in action.

Seating area at Toast

Seating area at Toast

The panini was perfectly grilled and very filling for lunch . The ingredients seemed fresh and I appreciated that the wait time was short even though this was a make-your-own process.  The only complaint is the lack of choices for veggies: there are only a grand total of four options (onions, black and green olives and tomatoes) and two are olives. Suggestions for extra vegetables suitable for panini-making: mushrooms, broccoli, green or red peppers or yum, avocado. Or can we get some falafel here for the vegetarians?!

The only thing confusing about this delicious cart is the name. Is it Toast? Is it Gili’s Paninis? Why are there no many vowels in panini? (just a general question, not a cart question) Turns out, the cart is Toast-Gili’s Paninis for right now but they will be gradually moving to just Toast.

Deliciousness: 5/5 plates
Price: 3/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 5/5 plates
OVERALL: 4.5/5 plates

Toast Twitter: https://twitter.com/gilispaninis
Toast Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gilispaninis

Other Toast Reviews:
What Isthmus had to say

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Special Report: Isthmus a la Carts 2014

By: Kailey

Isthmus held it’s third ever food cart festival called “Isthmus a la Carts” on May 9, 2014 at Olin Park. It was a streeteaters paradise: almost all of Madison’s food carts in one spot during a pleasant but windy May afternoon. The event sold-out to 500 ticket holders and it’s easy to see why. Who would pass up the chance to sample dishes from Madison’s food carts all in one spot for $20? (Note: the 2013 fest experienced rain and this year was much nicer. Ticket prices in 2012 were $15)

Isthmus a la Carts Here were my favorite food cart items from Isthmus a la Carts in 2014:

Gili's Paninis

Choices at Gili’s Paninis

1. Gili’s Paninis is a new cart this year and I was honored to be the first “customer” at their cart during the fest. The format is kinda like Subway: choose your bread, sauces, meats and cheeses and they’ll prepare you a custom sandwich. But here the ingredients are fresh and the choices are unique. I had pastrami and smoked turkey with red pepper mayo and pepper jack plus all the veggies. Later on at the fest Gili’s served sweet paninis made with Nutella. Warm, gooey Nutella.

Starting the fest off right with a whole panini from Gili's

Starting the fest off right with a whole panini from Gili’s

2. Sticking with the sandwich theme, I loved Slide‘s Mr. Sweet Potato Head slider. The curry sauce is a nice touch.

Slide's Sweet Potato Head

Slide’s Mr. Sweet Potato Head

3. Fried and Fabulous did not disappoint. I think they had the longest line at all times but it’s understandable considering they were serving deep fried Oreos, jalapeno poppers and popcorn chicken. The cart owner Steve even had his whole family pitching in to help keep the line moving. Thanks for the extra dipping sauces Steve’s dad!

Deep fried Oreo from Fried and Fabulous

Deep fried Oreo from Fried and Fabulous

4. Bubbles’ Doubles was a welcome addition to this year’s fest. It was great to see cart owner Bubbles-who is perhaps the friendliest food cart owner in all of Madison-and enjoy his spicy doubles (doubles are a common Trinidad and Tobago street food. And they’re delicious.) A run to one of the drink carts was necessary after this stop.

Isthmus a la Carts

The fest was not without some disappointments. Some of the advertised vendors (Melted, Caracas Empanadas) never showed up at the fest. The gates opened at 4PM but only one or two carts were serving food at that time, cart owners clearly needed more time to set up the event and some were still pulling in after the fest opened. The lines were long but moving quick in most places.

What Isthmus said about a la Carts

 

 

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Melted. An Urban Grilled Cheese Shop

Grilled Cheesus
Location: Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (across from Dlux)
By: Kailey

Every year and every season, there’s a food trend. From cupcakes to cronuts and pumpkin-flavored everything, there seems to be an “it” food that appeals to everyone all at once and then mystifyingly, it disappears or it becomes so ingrained we can’t imagine life without it. Sometimes the trends are odd-I just recently heard about artisanal toast being all the rage-but a trend I fully understand and support is fancy grilled cheese. Once associated with Wonderbread and children’s menus, grilled cheese has been enjoying its moment in the spotlight (there’s even a grilled cheese competition) for a few years. Rightly so. It’s bread and cheese!

Due to the delightfulness that is grilled cheese, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Madison’s very own grilled cheese food cart: Melted. The cart is very mysterious – I tweeted their arrival to the Madison food cart scene in September 2012 when they were at Taste of Madison. Then they appeared at Taste of Madison 2013, but still no regular schedule or even internet presence. But finally, a few tweets and some local press later, it’s not a mirage. Melted food cart finally officially showed up on the Capitol Square on April 21, 2014.

Melted, the new grilled cheese cart

Melted, the new grilled cheese cart

The menu, as you might have guessed, contains an array of grilled cheese sandwiches with various themes and toppings. There were rumors of fries being offered as a side but those were not offered. Oh the choices! A big work group and I ordered almost every sandwich on the menu. We paid ($8/sandwich) and then we waited. And waited. Over 30 minutes later, we began receiving the first of our meals.

Menu at Melted. Miles of cheese.

Menu at Melted. Miles of cheese.

The whole look of the cart is great: I love the modern colors and no-nonsense logo. But the wait for our food was a bit much. A lot much. If there is going to be a 15+ minutes wait outside a cart some kind of heads up would be appreciated. A simple declaration of “thanks for ordering, just so you know it’s going to be about (insert time here) minutes” would solve this problem. Because after standing and waiting for over 30 minutes with no advance warning, our $8 sandwiches had a STILL DELICIOUS but slightly cranky taste to them.

Buy 10, get one free punch card

Buy 10, get one free punch card

A wide variety of grilled cheese

A wide variety of grilled cheese

I ordered the American Caprese which was good but pretty standard. Our favorite among the grilled cheeses was the special of the day: a Southwest Chicken grilled cheese. I wish there would have been a grilled cheese with goat cheese because…yum. All our boxes contained an adorable and tasty tomato soup to use as a side and dipping sauce. This was unexpected and a nice touch.

The American Caprese sandwich

The American Caprese sandwich

Everyone loved their meals and I’ll definitely be making trips back to work my way around the menu (plus, I’m a sucker for punch cards). Melted is a great addition to the food cart scene and once the process/wait time are remedied the fancy grilled cheese sandwiches will be even more enjoyable.

 

Deliciousness: 5/5 plates
Price: 1/5 plates
Speed: 0/5 plates (negative plates if I could)
Authenticity/Originality: 5/5 plates
OVERALL: 2.5/5 plates

Melted Twitter: https://twitter.com/meltedmadison
Melted Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Melted/693259757355739

Other Melted Reviews:
What Isthmus said
What Cap Times said

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Fried and Fabulous

Good Fry-day
Location: Capitol Square at East Main Street and King Street
By: Kailey

On Good Friday, I decided to be particularly punny and visit Fried and Fabulous. Fried. On a Friday. Good Fry. Day.

Fried and Fabulous is a food cart mainstay. They’re out all the time – late night, lunch, Farmers’ Market Saturdays. You really have no excuse not to visit. Their new 2014 lunchtime spot is on the corner of Main and King near Walgreens on the Capitol Square, in beloved Blowin’ Smoke Barbeque’s old spot.

Fried and Fabulous on Capitol Square for lunch

Fried and Fabulous on Capitol Square for lunch

I asked many a coworker to go to lunch at Fried and Fabulous with me and was shot down. Will I be eating Twinkees for lunch? Are you kidding, why would I want a mound of fried stuff for lunch? The only one brave enough (and smart enough) to attend was Megan. I think it’s the name of the cart that turns the office dwellers off (not the college kids though, college kids would never mind that name). They’re missing out because the lunch menu is delicious, creative and yes, not extremely healthy, but it’s also not roll-around-in-gravy-then-deep-fry-a-Snickers levels of gluttony.

I believe lunch can be an indulgence once in a while and Fried and Fabulous is just the place to partake in such a meal. Want a Caesar salad with cheese curds on top? Go nuts. A nice Mandarin Sesame sandwich with deep-fried mushrooms? I won’t judge. Megan and I settled on the Sweet Chili Lime salad with popcorn shrimp and the Bacon Ranch salad with popcorn chicken. And because the shrimp and chicken just wasn’t fried enough, I added an order of small cheese curds. You can get all the lunch options as a salad or a sandwich.

Sweet Chili Lime salad with popcorn shrimp and Bacon Ranch salad with popcorn chicken

Sweet Chili Lime salad with popcorn shrimp and Bacon Ranch salad with popcorn chicken

The wait was short, about three minutes total for both of us as our items were prepared and freshly fried. Although, there seemed to be some kind of mix-up with my salad and the shredded cheese and bacon were added at the last second after the container was already closed up. But my meal ultimately was not lacking in cheese or bacon so no harm there.

The salads were $7.50 each and the small order of curds (plenty for two people) was $4.50. Not overly priced for a lunch. The salads were really really great. Both delicious. Both filling. Both covered in delightful sauces.The curds were a nice side and the perfect amount of cheesy.

Piping hot curds and a free chocolate chip cookie

Piping hot curds and a free chocolate chip cookie

Our only compliant with the whole meal: The lettuce was unruly. The chunks of romaine were big and sloppy and hard to eat and could have been given a chop or two before serving. That critique is perhaps the pickiest sentence I have ever written and clearly is the comment of two lunch-goers who order a lot of salads. Sorry. It was unruly lettuce! (EDITOR’S NOTE 4.23.14 Steve has assured me since they hand-cut the lettuce they’ll give it an extra chop or two to make the lettuce bite size. Cheers to the end of unruly lettuce!) The cart owner Steve even gave us tasty (FREE) chocolate chip cookies with our meals. A dessert perfect for fried food salads with a side of cheese curds.

A Good Fry-Day indeed.

Deliciousness: 4/5 plates
Price: 3/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 5/5 plates
OVERALL: 4/5 plates

Fried and Fabulous Twitter: https://twitter.com/friedandfab
Fried and Fabulous Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FriedandFabulous

Other Fried and Fabulous Reviews:
What Isthmus said
What Yelp says

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Madison Food Carts NOT Downtown

Special Report by Kailey
The Madison food cart scene is delicious and exciting. Everyone loves those tasty carts. But the number one complaint I hear about the bustling food carts in Madison is location. Example complaint: “Every cart is downtown. I work on the west/east/far away/ side. I can never eat at them.”

Madison Meet and Eat 2012

Madison Meet and Eat 2012, photo courtesy of City of Madison

Well non-downtown working citizen, the food carts have an answer for you. In fact, lots of really convenient answers. Here are all the times and places you can enjoy Madison food carts outside of the downtown lunch hours:

1. Dane County Farmers’ Market
What: Nation’s largest farmers’ market. You’re probably going there anyways.
Where: Around the Capitol Square
When: Every Saturday morning, 6AM-2PM, April-November (carts may arrive at different times)
Who: Johnson Brothers Coffee, Fried and Fabulous, Banzo, Carnacas Empanadas, SoHo Gourmet Cusines, Umami and more!
More Information: http://dcfm.org/

2. Madison Meet and Eat
What: City sanctioned gathering of carts. Encourages meeting your neighbors for a night out and dinner.
Where: Three neighborhoods throughout Madison: Westside at Meadowood Shopping Center, the Southside at the Villager Mall and on the Northside at St. Paul Lutheran Church.
When: Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout June, July and August
Who: Umami for sure in 2013. This year’s Meet and Eat started on June 20th and all the carts haven’t been announced. But here is who was there last year: Banzo, Caracas Empanadas, Electric Earth, Ernie’s Kettle Corn, FIBs, Hibachi Hut, Luangprabang, Natural Juice, Tea Garden, Teriyaki Samurai and Wei’s Food to Go
More Information/Schedule: http://www.cityofmadison.com/parks/celebrate/madisonmeetandeat.cfm
Bonus: Vendors are asked to offer at least one menu item that is $3 or less.

3. Let’s Eat Out Madison
What: Groups of food carts offering dinner in neighborhoods. Organized by food cart owners.
Where: Mondays on Trailsway at North Sherman, Tuesdays on Midvale behind Midvale Elementary and Wednesdays on Miller at Atwood
Who: SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, Slide, In N Out Empanadas, BJ Kolaches, Fried and Fabulous 
More Information: https://www.facebook.com/LetsEatOutMadison

4. Carts in the Park 
What: Carts serving lunch in Research Park on Wednesdays.
Where: Research Park. On the West side of Whitney Way on Charmany Drive, and on the East side of Whitney Way across from 535 Science Drive
When: May 1 through Labor Day, Wednesdays 11AM-1:30PM
Who: BJs KolachesFIB’s 2, Fortune Cafe, In N Out Empanada, Natural Juice, SlideSoHo Gourmet Cuisines and Thai-riffic
More Information: http://www.universityresearchpark.org/food_carts/

5. Late night downtown
What: Carts providing after-bar food and satisfying late night cravings.
Where: State and Broom Street by Riley’s Wines of the World
When: Usually Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights starting around 12AM and ending around 3AM
Who: SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, In N Out Empanada, Fried and Fabulous
More Information: Check the individual carts’ Twitter feeds and Facebook pages.

Be sure to check out the links on “More Information” for any changes in schedules or weather. In addition to these regularly scheduled food cart eating opportunities the carts can be found at fests, block parties, fairs and just about anywhere a group of people gathers in the Madison area. Plus, a few of them like Good Food Cart and Banzo deliver. Whew. Now there are no valid excuses for skipping out on the wonderful food cart scene in Madison. Happy Streeteating!

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Blowin’ Smoke Barbeque

Perfect Pork
Location: Capitol Square at East Main Street and South Pinckney Street
By: Kailey

It is a travesty and a crime that Madison Street Eats has not reviewed the Blown’ Smoke BBQ cart. This Capitol Square staple has been around for a few years and they’re one of the hardcore ones that can be found serving fare from their Capitol Square cart all winter long. Every day you can smell their BBQ goodness wafting from the cart from blocks away. In fact, Blowin’ Smoke isn’t just a cart – they have a growing catering service and rumors of a storefront opening soon. (EDITOR’S NOTE APRIL 20, 2014: Rumors true, storefront is now open in Waunakee) They are a true sloppy and saucy legend in the Madison food cart community.

Blowin' Smoke...once you're this close to the cart it's too late. You've been sucked in my the sweet BBQ scent.

Blowin’ Smoke…once you’re this close to the cart it’s too late. You’ve been sucked in by the sweet BBQ scent.

Last Friday I decided to finally cross Blowin’ Smoke off the food cart list with the special: the Carolina consisting of pork, pepperjack cheese and slaw. I chose the spicy sauce to top my sandwich – the next step up in spice is “branding sauce” and that sounded like a step I wasn’t ready to take. The sandwich was $6.50 and sides are $1.50 extra. I know the size of the sandwiches first hand so I passed on the side option but I’ve heard they’re all very good (choices include baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, 6 bean salad and broccoli raisin salad). The wait for my food was short and I was even given a 10 stamp loyalty card. I’m now nine sandwiches away from a free meal with side.

The Caroline was love at first bite. I found the spice level perfect, the pork was tasty and not extra smokey like I thought it might be and the cheese was a nice melty touch. There was even a cute frilly toothpick topped with a pickle holding the monster creation together. (pickle not pictured, I ate it too fast)

The Carolina special

The Carolina special

The sweet drippy icing on this meal experience was the extra I found in my nicely packed paper bag: napkins. As a messy eater I enjoy my napkins and appreciate when food carts offer them – in fact I seem to always mention napkins in my reviews: King of Falafel, Mad City Fry Guy, Good Food, Banzo. The sandwich was great and very filling. I think the price is a bargain compared to all the behind-the-scenes work that takes place. I’ve never taken the time to rub, smoke and prepare a BBQ pork roast and serve it with homemade sauces and buns. So I’ll continue to pay Blowin’ Smoke for their tasty services.

Blowin’ Smoke has that perfect local diner vibe going on without actually being a diner. In fact, one time a coworker of mine had placed an order and then realized he forget his wallet. And Blowin’ Smoke gave him a sandwich and said “pay us back next time.” Spotting someone a sandwich! They may claim to be Kansas City style but this handcrafted BBQ cart fits in perfectly here in Wisconsin.

Deliciousness: 5/5 plates
Price: 5/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 4/5 plates
OVERALL: 5/5 plates

Blowin’ Smoke Website: http://www.blowinsmokebbq.org
Blowin’ Smoke Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Blowin-Smoke-Barbeque-Madison

Other Blowin’ Smoke Reviews:
What Isthmus said
What A to Z said
What Wisconsin State Journal said

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