Covering the Land of Lincoln

Braisin’ Hussies comes in on top of city’s annual food cart review

Samara Kalk Derby | Wisconsin State Journal

Braisin’ Hussies came out on top of the city’s annual food cart review process this year, beating out 31 other carts.

The cart, which chef/owner Michael Sollinger describes as a modernist diner with comfort foods from around the world, also came in first in 2019, the last time the review was conducted.

“It’s always a nice feeling,” Sollinger said Friday, minutes after the results were announced. “I try to keep this review thing in perspective. The first idea is to get a good spot for my business in both the farmers’ market on Saturdays and my regular spot on the Square.”

The highest-rated carts are given priority in choosing a location on the Capitol Square or Library Mall.

Michael Sollinger of Braisin’ Hussies said Madison is a city that cares about its mobile food businesses.

This year’s review ran Sept. 12 to Oct. 9, with 37 carts applying and 32 completing the review process. There were 25 community volunteer reviewers.

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Rounding out the top 20, in order, were: Taquitos Marimar, Surco Peruvian cart 1, Surco Peruvian cart 2, El Burrito Loco, Fresh Cool Drinks, Teriyaki Samurai, Curt’s Gourmet Popcorn, Curd Girl, Bulgogi Korean Taco, Common Pasta, Ernie’s Kettle Korn, Pagoda Smoothie, Caracas Arepas, Toast, Pete’s Pops, Hibachi Hut, Caracas Empanadas, Cultura Cali, and Natural Juice.

Madison street vending coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst said there were no reviews in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

There were fewer applicants this year than in 2019, Blake-Horst said, with only three new carts participating in this year’s review.

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Some carts with owners who also have restaurants didn’t participate in the review this year to focus on their brick-and-mortar restaurants, she said.

Blake-Horst said that for other cart owners, staffing shortages and supply chain issues were reasons they didn’t apply for this season or had to pull out of the review.

In 2019, 51 carts applied with 43 completing the review process, she said.

Last year, Blake-Horst said, the city only allowed eight carts to have sites in the Mall Concourse under an emergency order. Seven of them went through this year’s review and one closed.

New this year is the city allowing full-sized food trucks and larger food trailers citywide, although carts larger than 56 square feet aren’t eligible to vend on the Mall Concourse, she said.


Braisin’ Hussies food cart photographed in 2019.

Sollinger, 54, of Braisin’ Hussies, said he puts a lot of effort into his food and buys top ingredients. For instance, he’s been using local Fox Heritage Farms chicken, pork belly and bacon since he opened in 2016.

“They bring me quality product that I’m very proud of. And so they have earned my devotion,” Sollinger said.

He said when he puts braised pork on top of rice and black beans, he doesn’t have to worry about whether its a good dish or not.

“When I get busy, the product quality is baked into the cake and I can just concentrate on serving the food with a smile and hopefully at some type of speed and not worry about, ‘Oh, is this pork a little dry? Has it been sitting in the steam table too long? And that kind of peace of mind for me is worth a little extra expense,” Sollinger said.


The menu at the Braisin’ Hussies food cart.

Whether anyone else can tell, buying high-quality ingredients makes him proud of the food that he’s selling. “Hopefully that’s been coming across. Not to just the judges. The judges are important, but to my clientele,” he said.

His cart can be found on Main Street near King Street on the Square, in front of the Walgreens, a spot he got in the beginning of 2019. On Saturdays during the Farmers’ Market, his cart is at the top of State Street.

In 2018, he began serving a vegetable menu along with a meat menu and that changed the demographic of his customer base, he said. He said he still sells more meat items than vegetable items, but he gets a lot of feedback on his vegetable menu.


Braisin’ Hussies food cart photographed in 2019.

“I have a pretty solid regular client base,” he said. “I would have a hard time taking one menu item off and replacing it with something else because I have people who like the chicken dish or people who really like the pork dish. People would throw metaphoric snowballs at me if the pork belly didn’t show up.”

Sollinger said he has some regulars who experiment with his entire menu, and others who always order the same dish.


A braised pork shoulder taco from the Braisin’ Hussies food cart.

Once in a while, somebody will come up and not know what to make of his menu of slow-cooked grain, rice and noodle bowls, because, “it’s not the most straightforward concept,” he said.

Sometimes, he said, he’ll coax people with a little taste “a la Baskin-Robbins,” hopefully converting them into a regular customer. “That’s the biggest validation that I get.”

Sollinger grew up in Champaign, Illinois, but has lived abroad for most of his adult life. He opened several restaurants in Warsaw, Poland.

He said he told his mom he wanted to be a chef when he was 10 or 11, and went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. “That’s all I wanted to do. I’ve been working in the restaurant business since.”

When he began considering a mobile food business, Madison was one of a handful of cities where he thought he’d like to live. His sister moved to Madison in 2010 and his brother-in-law is from Wisconsin, he said.

“I love Madison, especially in the spring and summertime,” Sollinger said. “And then you realize that this is a city that cares about its mobile food businesses.”

Art of the Everyday: A recap of August in photos from Wisconsin State Journal photographers


Wendy Ohlsen, right, mom to competitor Noah Ohlsen, and Sara Maciver cheer him on during the sixth workout of the CrossFit Games at Alliant Energy Center at in Madison, Wis., Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL


Alfredo Hernandez, left, high fives his 8-year-old son, Abriel, after he scored a run for the Pirates during a game for the Miracle League of Dane County at Phoebe Bakken Memorial Park in Cottage Grove, Wis., Thursday, July 14, 2022. AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

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Performing under the branches of an oak tree estimated to be at least 180 years old, members of the Madison-based Cycropia Aerial Dance company run through a rehearsal ahead of a pair of appearances at the Orton Park Festival in Madison, Wis. Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Formed in 1989, the group has been a staple at the Marquette neighborhood gathering, which features four days of music, food, crafts and family activities. This year’s program entails the work of 29 members, including dancers, stage hands, riggers and sound and video technicians. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


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Sun Prairie East’s Cortez LeGrant (23) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Corey Sammer (66) in the second quarter of a game against Monona Grove at the Bank of Sun Prairie Stadium at Ashley Field in Sun Prairie, Wis., Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022. AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

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Steven Buhs, of Cape Girardeau, Mo. shares a ride with his nine-year-old Jack Russell Terrier Beagle mix, also known as a Jackabee, though Brittingham Park in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. Buhs, who was also traveling with his wife, Maggie, said the couple are electric bike enthusiasts who travel regularly to various cycling-friendly cities, often exploring the more northern climes of the country in mid-summer. He estimates that the dog has logged approximately 10,000 miles during the course of their journeys. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


Liam Opperman, left, hands ears of corn to his younger brother Odin, 5, while harvesting sweet corn with his family at Stoneman Family Farm in Fitchburg, Wis., Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL


Caitlin Patrick, 14, of Mount Horeb, goes into the water using a rope swing during an outing with friends at Stewart Lake County Park in Mount Horeb, Wis., Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. AMBER ARNOLD, STATE JOURNAL

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Anthony Kartsonas of Historic Surfaces, LLC carefully removes varnish from the surface of a mural dating to 1915 as part of an evaluation of ceiling paintings at the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison, Wis. Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. The painting is one of 64 panels that were not part of previous restoration efforts to the building and the inspection will help identify the best course of action for a future conservation of the works. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


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Pa Lee Chang, foreground, leads a group of her friends through a dance she choreographed that was drawn from Hmong culture outside their homes in the Bayview Neighborhood of Madison, Wis. Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. One of two pieces they’ve been practicing for about a month, the girls will be presenting it wearing traditional attire during a party for her father this weekend. Other dancers include Diana Lor, Nouchee Lor, Katrina Lor and Jou Lor. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


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Workers with Krause Construction of Coon Valley, Wis. continues a repair and renovation project to the steeple of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Jefferson, Wis. Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022. Built in 1866, the church is the home of the city’s first Catholic parish and is situated on the site of a former log church built for the congregation in 1846. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


Wisconsin libero Shanel Bramschreiber returns a serve during the Red & White volleyball scrimmage at the UW Field House in Madison, Wis., Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022. KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL


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With last week’s auditions behind them, members of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band gather for their initial practice of the season on the campus of UW-Madison in Madison, Wis. Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. The group’s first full performance will be Saturday, Sept. 3 when the Badger football team hosts Illinois State at Camp Randall Stadium. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


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Martha Siravo shares a moment with her daughter, Jaz, 10, at their apartment in Madison, Wis. Monday, Aug. 8, 2022. She is co-founder and president of Madtown Mommas and Disability Advocates. Her daughter, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, needs cognitive, behavioral and mobility support, is entering the fourth grade will be going back to full-time, in-person learning for the first time since 2020. Martha has been wheelchair-bound since sustaining a spinal cord injury in a vehicle accident in 2004. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

Middleton vs. Waunakee

Middleton’s Avery Passini breaks up a pass intended for Waunakee’s Robert Booker during the first half Aug. 26, 2022, at Waunakee High School.


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Cousins Courtney and Emily Butzlaff of Kewaskum, Wis. pause for photo for a friend during a visit to a sunflower field at Kelley Country Creamery in Fond du Lac, Wis. Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. The fifth annual display helps raise funds through donations and sales of flowers and gifts for the Northeast Wisconsin Old Glory Honor Flights organization, which transports veterans to memorials in Washington, D.C. as well as other parts of Wisconsin. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

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Waunakee teammates Danny Cotter (26), Rykker Cardenas (28) and Joey Thomas (69) celebrate a Warrior touchdown against Middleton Aug. 26.

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Karen Ruiz fills out her ballot in the Wisconsin partisan primary election during a visit with her son, Grabiel, to her polling place at Steamfitters Local 601 in Madison, Wis. Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL


Lauren Hebbe, 15, of Fort Atkinson, takes a nap with her Berkshire pigs at the Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wis., Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022. KAYLA WOLF, STATE JOURNAL

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Walkers in Oconomowoc, Wis. enjoy the waning rays of a setting sun as a recent period of clear skies and comfortable temperatures encourage participation in a variety of outdoor summer activities Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. JOHN HART, STATE JOURNAL

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