What’s Cooking Around Madison

By Kevin Revolinski | Pictured: Jacknife, photo by Nicole Hansen Photography


Rule No. One Hospitality Group’s formidable team of James Beard Award semi-finalist Chef Jon Nodler, Level 3 sommelier James Juedes and beverage director Caitlyn Nicholson of Merchant and Lucille fame is bringing casual, fine-dining Italian to Hilldale. Expect earthy colors, high ceilings, and a sleek bar. In season, accordion-style windows will open to a 200-seat patio. Nodler’s menu includes a variety of shareables and all pasta is made fresh in-house. A Toasts section offers spreads and toppings such as eggplant caponata with toasted sourdough. Many dishes feature “our take on classic flavor combinations, but through the lens of Midwest produce,” says Juedes. The crispy-skin porchetta is one of several re-envisioned classic entrées. Small-production wineries all along the Italian peninsula and Mediterranean dominate the wine list. amaramadison.com


Owner Salvador Tecpoyotl uses family recipes for this counter-service taco joint a few doors down from Hodge Podge. The beef birria is outstanding, and the tofu, marinated overnight in the same seasonings, is slow-cooked to give it a crunchy exterior. The signature Queso Tacos are stuffed with birria, Oaxaca cheese and onions, laid on the grill until crisp, and then served with a cup of the broth for dipping.

Tortas, quesadillas and burritos round out the options. All tortillas are handmade, while the four house salsas vary in heat and their production is overseen by Tecpoyotl’s parents. Soft drinks include horchata, fresh fruited water and Mexican bottled Coke. Seating is ample, especially in patio season, but takeout is big here. aztectaqueria.com


Tanya Zhykharevich and Jack Yip opened their new sushi restaurant last spring, ten years after debuting RED. But Jacknife is built for speed and convenience—their philosophy is that sushi can be high quality while still being a fast and easy meal.

The menu is a blend of a few familiar rolls (California, etc.) with a good number of new creations such as the Omega 3 (spicy tuna, asparagus, salmon, avocado), Pear Pressure (salmon and  pear, topped with more salmon, hemp hearts and orange miso glaze) and five vegan rolls. Their Sushi Sets menu serves groups, and a bowls menu offers poke and a delicious miso pork belly bowl. The bright and colorful 46-seat dining area is another attraction besides the food. getjacknife.com


Brian Barthels, Ryan Huber and Sam Parker, creators of Settle Down Tavern and Oz by Oz, give us Turn Key. This 1885 Cream City brick building boasts tall windows and an open back bar that lets in abundant natural light, with sunsets saturating the room. A regulation size wooden shuffleboard court is in the street-facing Game Room.

Their seasonal menu features elevated supper club items as well as casual offerings inspired by Settle Down Tavern. Dishes are playful, with a Green & Gold dish (green chorizo with roasted creamed peppers and corn, topped with fried corn tortilla strips on a bun) and the Wisco Roll (Lake Superior trout with brown butter mayo on a grilled house brioche). Vegetarian offerings are plentiful on the menu — including gnocchi with creamy corn, roasted zucchini and oyster mushrooms — but carnivores get their fill with steak and pork chop options. The drink list introduces twists on classic cocktails such as the Forevertron Reverse Manhattan with Fernet Branca Menta. turnkeymadison.com


A bright back bar dominated by Wisconsin distillates greets you at this eco-conscious coffee shop in Verona. Co-owner Katie Gibbons dabbles in creative cocktails in her basement and grows herbal ingredients.

When she told her co-owner and husband, Kevin, “let’s try something new,” he got her an LLC for Christmas. The couple love coffee and tea, and seven beers are on tap.

The space is one part lifestyle café, one part cocktail/espresso bar and one part comfy couch lounge with a chalkboard for the kids; therefore, the name Hodge Podge just made sense. Join yoga sessions, coffee tastings and other events. Work on WiFi over a cuppa in the morn or chill with a cocktail after work. hodgepodgemadison.com

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