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! 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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SoHo Gourmet Cuisine

Delicious Dumplings
Location: Capitol Square at West Main and South Carroll
By: Kailey

I’m going to skip all the apologizing about not updating the blog for ELEVEN MONTHS and get you quickly caught up on the Madison food cart scene:

  • Ingrid’s Lunchbox retired
  • FIB’s won best food cart of 2012 as named by the city review
  • There are no excuses for not being able to visit food carts for lunch. Madison Meet and Eat program sends carts all over town in the evenings
  • Unofficial observation: even with the brutal winter, lots of carts toughed it out this year

Whew. Now to the food. I talked two friends into trying a new cart with me last Friday and we chose to visit SoHo Gourmet Cuisine, a new last year cart I hadn’t tried yet.

SoHo, so great

SoHo, so great

The menu was intimidating because there were a lot of choices but we quickly decided to get a variety of dumplings and share them all. We each got the correctly named “So Hungry” box option containing six dumplings and a side salad for $7.50. Just as we were celebrating our ordering and decision making success, the food cart owner informed us that there were only a few “So Hot Chick” dumplings left so we couldn’t order a lot of them. We cried out in anguish. (Hot Chick is spicy chicken, jalapeno, carrots, celery and blue cheese in a dumpling. Served with a side of spicy cucumber ranch sauce. See why we were disappointed?)

The man taking our orders was super friendly and I think slightly scared of the three hungry women bemoaning the loss of a menu item. He did some quick counting and comforting. He then calmed us down by saying we could have six Hot Chicks total. I think he must be part food cart owner, part therapist. The food came up pretty fast considering it was three orders with three fresh salads that had to be prepared. We spent our waiting time saying the phrase Hot Chick as much as we could in a variety of different uses and laughing at how clever we are (“I wanted all the Hot Chicks,” “You stole the Hot Chicks,” “I wish they had more Hot Chicks”). So you know, mature adult stuff.

Big boxes of delicious - dumplings and salads

Big boxes of delicious – dumplings and salads

I could discuss the perfect sauces served with the dumplings or the great tasting combinations of ingredients in every bite. Or how every person eating it said they would definitely be back. I could also just say Hot Chick. (Actually, my favorite dumpling was the Veggie So Fiesta – pinto beans, black beans, sweet corn, cabbage, cilantro, bell peppers, and carrots. Topped with melted cheddar cheese. Served with a side of Pico De Gallo.)

The correctly named So Hungry meal

The correctly named So Hungry meal

Go to SoHo, you won’t be disappointed. Plus, $7.50 isn’t too shabby for a unique, delicious and filling meal. Hot Chick.

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

SoHo Website: http://www.uwsoho.com/
SoHo Twitter: https://twitter.com/UWSoHo
SoHo Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SoHoGourmetCuisines

Other SoHo Gourmet Cuisine Reviews:
What Isthmus said
What Yelp said

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The Bayou

Ragin’ Cajun
Location: Capitol Square at West Main and South Carroll
By: Kailey

Craving some Cajun, I checked out The Bayou and it’s New Orleans style offerings. Much to my dismay, my lunch was not served with a side of Mardi Gras beads or jazz music. If you’re looking for that type of atmosphere, The Bayou has an actual restaurant located just a few blocks from their cart that is cutely decorated like a New Orleans street (I just went there for restaurant week - excellent Shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich).

Mini New Orleans – minus the beads

I stepped up the window of the quaint cart and was disappointed in my options – there were only three choices on the menu. One of them was soup and it was really hot out. (Did that sound whiny? Good. It was hot! Why would I want soup?) I ordered the chicken jambalaya for $6. For those of you whose only association with jambalaya is Newman saying the word on Seinfeld, let me fill you in.

Jambalaya, common in Louisiana, not so common in the Midwest, is rice, peppers, onions, celery and meat cooked with some spices. Mystery solved. I wasn’t sure what to expect in the spice department but the cooks in the cart assured me it wasn’t “too bad.”

Initially, I had lunch envy. Anna and I sat on the Capitol lawn and while she dug into her huge FIB’s sandwich, I had a plastic container of rice mixed with some stuff. I complained that I could have made it at home. I complained that it wasn’t that much food for $6. I complained that my butt was wet from sitting on the damp grass. Things were not going well.

Chicken jambalaya – more food packed in that container then I expected

Luckily, my meal redeemed itself. The jambalaya had perfect amount of spice and it was pretty tasty. I liked the green pepper chunks and the crunch of the celery. A few bites in, I realized I had misjudged the portions of my meal. There was A LOT of food there. I had enough for lunch and some leftover for lunch the next day. Not quite the little container I had sized up earlier.

It was a satisfying lunch if slightly boring. Maybe the cart can beef up the menu or start serving the incredible Beignets that they have at their restaurant.

Deliciousness: 3/5 plates
Price: 2/5 plates
Speed: 4/5 plates
Authenticity/Originality: 3/5 plates
OVERALL: 3/5 plates

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FIB’s Fine Italian Beef and Sausage

A Sausage Serenade
Location: Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (by Starbucks)
By: Anna

Let me start this by saying, I have no allegiances to Chicago. Actually, I hate the Cubs — but not as much as I hate the Bears (although pity might be a better word for both teams). That being said, I love a good dog.

Yeah, I said it. And yeah, FIBs array of cheap, delicious Chicago-style dogs and sandwiches truly deliver. (Okay, not literally.)

FIB's Food Cart

Serving up Chicago style lunch that is quick and delicious.

Two laundry list menus of various hot dogs and sandwiches flank the little cart. Each of the items has a cutesy Chicago name. The “Al Capone,” “The Bill Murray,” etc. The cart is decorated like a brick wall and  framed photos of old-time celebs dot the cart’s interior.  There’s even music playing so you can enjoy some tunes while you wait. And prices are low in terms of food cart fare. My lunch companion was jealous that I shelled out a mere five dollars for a chicken sausage piled high with sweet and hot peppers, marinara and a plump, golden bun. The owner was even sporting a Cubs hat when he handed over my lunch.

Chicken Sausage with hot and sweet peppers

My chicken dog in all of it’s Capitol lawn lunch break glory.

After finding a half sunny spot on the Capitol lawn, Kailey and I sprawled out in anticipation of our cart lunches. (She tried the Bayou, more on that later). Not that it was a competition, but I totally won. My chicken sausage was a great mix of spicy and sweet and the large bun assured my stomach that I was, in fact, not going to have to eat again until at least 3pm. (Groundbreaking.)

One downfall was the casing of the sausage was a little hard to break and because there were so many toppings, it was pretty messy. Luckily, Kailey and I are pretty close friends — she can tolerate my messy eating habits. But if you’re on a work lunch, or worse, a lunch date — probably don’t go for FIBs. Plus, the hot dog metaphor is probably a little much for those contexts.

Other than that, for speed, taste and PRICE, FIBs is on my lists of places to return.

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

Other FIB’s Reviews:
What Eating in Madison A to Z said
What Isthmus said

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Hibachi Hut

I’ve finally caved to that delicious smell
Location: Library Mall
By: Stephanie

If you only had 24 hours to spend in Madison, what would you do? After making a recent move to Chicago, I was faced with exactly that question. I made a quick 24 hour stop in Madison before the holiday weekend and I had two items on my must-do list: beers at the terrace and lunch at a food cart. I also had a 5 month golden retriever pup to look after in the morning, so juggling the equivalent of a toddler in dog form was going to make my must-do list a little harder to complete, especially considering said pup seriously tried to eat EVERYTHING she found on the ground. Wrappers, grass, old Kleenex, leaves, sticks, cigarette butts, mulch, ROCKS (who tries to eat rocks?)…she saw it, she ate it. I digress.

Trixie, my lunch companion

Trixie, my lunch companion

As lunch approached, I headed to Library Mall. I was a little disappointed at the lack of carts—perhaps it was due to the approaching holiday weekend, but the pickings were slim. I saw the Banzo cart and immediately wanted to try it due to Kailey’s rave review, but I also want to stay active on our blog so I chose a new spot that we hadn’t covered: Hibachi Hut.

Hibachi Hut cart

Hibachi Hut cart: the pimpest of all Madison food carts

After maintaining this blog for two summers, how had we not reviewed Hibachi Hut? Better yet, how had I never eaten there? Every time I walk through Library Mall, the smells of Hibachi Hut overwhelm me and their bright orange metal covered cart screams EAT HERE. The combination of soy sauce, garlic, and other magic ingredients seem to mask any other scents coming from carts, yet that always kept me away because I somehow rationed with myself that I already knew what to expect from a hibachi cart. I guess I wanted to give the other guys a chance…until today.

Steak hibachi

Steak hibachi with two egg rolls

I stepped up to the cart and knew I had to go with the steak hibachi. There were probably 8 or 10 options on the menu, and for an extra $1.25 you could make your order a “meal” by adding 2 eggrolls and a drink (which I chose to do). In total, I paid $8.50 and got a healthy size portion for lunch. The steak was juicy, not dry, and the veggies weren’t soggy either. They prepare the hibachi while you wait, so it was comforting to know that the food hadn’t been sitting around all morning waiting to be served. The eggrolls were delicious too—the perfect size to accompany my meal. All in all, this lunch was very satisfying. I even had leftovers! Hibachi Hut is one of a kind in the Madison food cart scene–there is plenty of Asian fare, but none prepared on a hibachi grill while you wait. If anything, this cart is definitely one I’ll consider an “old faithful” if I’m in a pinch and can’t decide which food cart to go to.

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

Other Hibachi Hut reviews:
What Eating in Madison A to Z said
What Isthmus said

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