When in Door County, WI, act like a Bier Zot

A what?

from B.C., Johnny Hart

No, not that Zot.

Translated from the Flemish: Bier = Beer   Zot = Idiot or Crazy :  To be a Beer Idiot or someone Crazy for Beer who goes to the Bier Zot Beer Cafe in Sister Bay, Door County, Wisconsin.

Bier Zot front door ( that space in the right side of picture is Wild Tomato 2 Restaurant) , Menu pic

We discovered this fun place last Friday but it has been there since 2014. We’re a bit slow sometimes. The Bier Zot is a Belgian style Beer Cafe that serves 11 drafts, one cask and 100 bottles of craft and Belgian beers. Couple this with a “European inspired” menu and you’ve got a tasty combination. The restaurant has casual pub style decor with outdoor seating as well.

Now the only way we found this place was through another restaurant, Wild Tomato, owned by the same people, Britt & Sara Unkefer. That restaurant in Fish Creek (further down on the peninsula) serves really great wood fired pizza. We did a short post on it in 2010. Last year the owners decided to open Wild Tomato 2 alongside their Bier Zot so while stopping for pizza at the new location we discovered it (the entrances share a hallway.) On this latest trip our destination was definitely Bier Zot, no pizza distraction.

Once seated the Beer Board offered an interesting selection. The waitress helped us navigate through it. There were full descriptions of the beers in the menu as well.

Curt went with the Ommegang Rosetta, a sour beer that I find hard to take by itself but it goes very well with food. I wanted something in the pale ale range and she suggested Boulevard Tropical Pale (half pour please). On both of these we were allowed a sample before committing to a glass. Our friend Carol was with us and she went with the Ommegang as well.

Ommegang Rosetta and Boulevard Tropical Pale

Next up, food. Now Bier Zot describes itself as a European inspired cafe and for the most part that is true. I saw a lot of German influence ( Thursday night was actually German Night) but there was French influence and some just creative cuisine as well. Find their menu here.

I went with the Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich. Schnitzel is just a pounded, seasoned and breaded meat that is fried. I am sure you are familiar with Wiener Schnitzel which is a breaded veal cutlet. My Chicken Schnitzel was served on a pretzel bun with greens, a yellow heirloom tomato and Dijon horseradish sauce. I liked it.Carol chose the Bier Zot Bratwurst. This was their house recipe brat on pretzel bun accompanied by sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. We can only assume they make these on the premises because it was extra long and it fit the bun, sort of. It had a taste and found it milder than many Wisconsin brats, more like a veal sausage.  I am ordering that next time. Finally Curt started out with a half-dozen Washington State oysters, which seems to be a new addition to the menu, pending availability. He followed that with the Aubergine Zacusca. This was grilled eggplant with tomato, greens, shallots, basil chevré and ground cumin on Naan. Our server told us this was concocted by a former staff member who is Muslim and had a hard time finding anything Halal in the kitchen.  It was a success and  found a permanent home on the menu.  It was excellent.

You can tell we passed our dishes around so everyone could get a taste. Hmm, maybe I’ll have this one next time.All in all it was a very enjoyable lunch and we will return.

One more thing. It took us a minute to figure out what the wooden tables were constructed from…..can you see it? Bleachers. Sturdy and a good reuse. In case you don’t feel like an idiot, Zot can also be translated from Albanian as “god”.  Beer idiot?  Beer god?  Maybe there’s not much difference between the two.

Oh, What a Night!

Last night was almost surreal, or maybe I was hallucinating but a little “sort of surprise” retirement party took a lot of interesting turns. If I was Alice I might have thought I was sliding into the rabbit hole but no, we were at a new restaurant, to us, called THREE THREE FIVE. Seems it has been here in Green Bay for almost six years and we vaguely knew of it but had never been there. Fine foodies we are. Anyway this all started because a dear friend of ours is officially retiring from a fine academic career and we, Curt and I, and three other of her friends wanted to celebrate this milestone. We were initially called by Sid who proposed this outing. We readily agreed and the planning began. This particular restaurant was her first choice but they are a bit unusual as they are only open on Wednesdays to the general public. The rest of the time they host private parties, cooking classes and corporate gatherings. They tout themselves as an upscale private dining studio. Also they only take reservations a week ahead so on the off-chance we could not get a booking, Sid put an alternate plan in motion. She reserved us a table at Cafe Chanson, a local restaurant featuring French cuisine. If we couldn’t get THREE THREE FIVE, Cafe Chanson was a lock.

THREE I THREE I FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

THREE THREE FIVE with Christmas lights reflected in window

Fortunately she was able to get us a table and our guest of honor promised to hold the date open. We weren’t telling where we were going just that Curt and I were picking her up at 5:40pm. No dancing shoes required but bring your appetite.

When we entered the dining room we immediately saw two other friends and former colleagues from the University who had retired a few years earlier. They are great foodies and it wasn’t surprising that they had discovered this restaurant and were regular diners. They, of course, had a seat at the counter which overlooked the kitchen and the food prep. We greeted them and asked about the food, needless to say they gave it a vigorous thumbs up.

Once seated we got caught up in the atmosphere and the menu, which was printed on origami paper and had extremely small type. This group does not have young eyes and this was REALLY SMALL type and the lighting was dim. We muddled through but Ginny dug out her magnifying glass. The theme of tonight’s menu was the chef’s interpretation of Japanese cuisine.  We discovered later that each Wednesday is different and some evenings the menu has twice as many choices. Tonight happened to be Asian.

Origami Paper Menu

Origami Paper Menu

Three Three Five menu 1/6/16

THREE THREE FIVE menu 1/6/16

Once we started ordering I didn’t think of taking pictures of the food but this being a special occasion, it really wouldn’t have been appropriate. Some of us just wanted to graze on starters while three of us went directly for the Tonkatsu Ramen. Between the 6 of us we ended up trying everything except the Bread & Butter and the Steamed Bun (which we saw on another table and it looked great).

Now is when some of the special things happened. The chef arrived at our table saying this must be a special occasion because a couple at the bar wanted to buy us a bottle of wine or two bottles or cocktails. Well of course it was the friends I mentioned earlier. We went with a bottle of champagne (and asked him not to break the bank with his choice.) He chose well, not too dry, not too sweet.

After a few more plates were brought to the table, the chef sent an order of sablefish with his compliments. Okay here is the second weird thing this night. If you read us regularly, you know I don’t eat fish. I can’t even get it near my mouth. But Carol, after tasting the sablefish said I had to try this. It didn’t taste fishy. I would like it! All right, for the guest of honor, I would try. it. I am embarrassed to admit, I liked it. It was almost buttery. And…I had a second piece. Whoa! we were definitely down the rabbit hole.

As we ate and observed the other diners, we started to recognize people we knew but were not acquainted with, like the new director of the public library. He started after I retired so I was a stranger to him. Also one of our local sports stars, Jordy Nelson, from the Green Bay Packers. He is on the injured list so obviously can go out for a nice dinner instead of sweating it out somewhere preparing for this weekend’s playoff game.

As to the food… the Tonkatsu Ramen was amazing. Fabulous broth, mushrooms, slices of super tender pork belly and a perfectly cooked egg with a firmly set white and a totally runny yolk inside. We were so impressed with the egg that we asked the chef for details on how he accomplished that trick.

Curt pronounced the oysters good even if there was too much granita on top.The Wagyu Beef Dumplings were fabulous. Sid and Carol gave us some little tastes but kept the majority for themselves; they were really almost too good to share. The only real disappointment was the Chilled Foie Gras…lots of Riesling gel, lots of ground pine nuts, slices of lychee but if there was foie gras in there, Ginny couldn’t find it. The rest of us looked too. Maybe they waved it over the plate before bringing it to the table.  But that was a minor blip in the evening.

The major surprise came at the very end when we asked for our check and was told, “your bill has been taken care of.”. What?  No way. Our friends again.  Where are those two?  Gone.  Of course, the waitress wouldn’t tell us what it came to so we might tip her appropriately and we couldn’t thank our benefactors. So one of us asked if THREE THREE FIVE had gift certificates. They did, so we left a $100 certificate for our generous friends and an additional tip for the waitress. Next time our friends come in, it will be their turn for a surprise.

Like I said, What a Night!

 

 

Latin Delights in Langley

porticoviewWe just got back from a glorious week on the west coast. Starting in Portland we ate our way up to Bellingham, WA and then back down a bit to Whidbey Island before flying out of Seattle. We were joined by two wonderful friends from Wisconsin (M/B) who are in our current eating group and two other great friends (P/K) who were part of our former gang of foodies in Green Bay. They now live in Bellingham, truly a wonderful place to visit. We thank them for choosing so well.

On Whidbey Island we stayed at the Boatyard Inn in Langley (for your information this is all Washington State except for the Portland part). It was a nice inn but it wasn’t a B & B nor did it have a restaurant attached, however the town of Langley had a lot of eateries. For lunch on our second day we ventured out to find someplace different, someplace good and someplace worthy of a group of foodies. We aren’t, for the most part, picky eaters but if all the menu has to offer is seafood I, for one, might not be happy.

Earlier while we had been shopping Pamela & Barbara has spotted a sign for the Portico: Latin Bistro & Cantina.

portico3portico2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After checking out a pizzeria and a Mediterranean grill, this looked more promising. And don’t you just love chalkboards, especially ones propped up on a chair and secured with a brick? The entrance was down a short hall  and looked quite nice. And yes, there was a water view (see the opening banner photo).

Portico entrance

Portico entrance

The restaurant featured Latin American cuisine, which incorporated the tastes of Mexico, the Caribbean, Andean and Spanish. The small menu offered just two starters and five entrees but no one felt that the choices were limited.  Curt got things rolling by immediately ordering a plate of Chifles for the table. I took this as a good sign that he had quickly looked over the offerings and knew he was going to like the food here.

Chifles

Chifles

The Chifles were deep-fried green plantains with a garlic cilantro dipping sauce. They were excellent, the dipping sauce was wonderful, and everyone quickly polished them off while deciding what to order. P/K, M/B and I all decided on the Tostadas de Cochinita Pibil. They each were splitting their entree along with ordering Roasted Pineapple Salads. I was eating all my tostadas by myself.

tostadasThe tostadas consisted of braised pork with lettuce and salsa yucateca, which was a pickled onion relish. The dish came with rice and black beans. All was really good..

pineapplesaladThe salad was listed as a starter but our friends were glad they chose to share it because it could have been an entree  in itself. There were mixed greens, broiled pineapple, cotija cheese, avocado, and sweet potatoes all drizzled with a garlic & cumin vinaigrette. Another flavorful success!

Curt chose Ropa Vieja. The name means “Old Clothes” because the dish, consisting of slow cooked Cuban beef, peppers, and onions is supposed to resemble a pile of colorful rags. This came with fried plantains, rice, black beans and a dab of salsa yucateca. He loved it and I agreed, because I had a taste.

Ropa Vieja "Old Clothes"

Ropa Vieja “Old Clothes”

We had some interesting microbrews with lunch along with a lot of good conversation and naturally a lot of laughs. We are a merry group. And even though we all were full the waitress talked us into ” a chocolate flan to die for.” How could we resist? One order, six spoons and it was so good we devoured it before I even thought of taking a picture. Sorry.

All in all a very good choice for lunch. In hindsight I wish we had gone back for dinner that evening because there was still Ecuadorian Ceviche, Chicken Enchiladas with Mole de Xalapa and Jamaica Jerk Chicken to try.

Dinner at Auberge de la Reine Blanche

With men running about my house, removing the siding, ripping out old windows, hammering and sawing and putting in new windows and….making me get up at the ungodly hour of 7AM (I am NOT a morning person), well, I just haven’t been blogging up to my usual standards. Where is the food you say? Frankly I just haven’t had the energy to follow Curt around the kitchen while he cooks. And my kitchen and the rest of the house is a mess anyway. So today I thought it would be a perfect time to return to those beautiful days in Paris.

reine blanche

Customers waiting for their table

I have talked about the wonderful lunch at Port au Salut and the market dinner we had in the apartment but you haven’t heard about the fine evening at Auberge de la Reine Blanche  (The Inn of the White Queen). This restaurant was recommended to our friends from two of their friends who have traveled to Paris numerous times. So around 4PM one day, Michael walked over and made reservations for the early hour of 7PM. Most restaurants in Paris don’t even open till 7:30PM so we were probably going to be the first people through the door. Once there, wine was ordered and the menu perused. The format was what we had come to expect, an entrée (appetizer), a plat (main dish) and dessert or a combination thereof, for one price. The menu was printed in French but on the back was English. Yay!

The Auberge de la Reine Blanche menu

The Auberge de la Reine Blanche menu

Now, so this post doesn’t go on into the evening as our dinner did (the French take their time), I will just hit the highlights. Our chosen entrees ranged from Artichoke Salad w/ fresh mint to Escargot. Pat and Dick had Ravioles du Royan with herbs and mushrooms. Royan is a cheese that was melted on top of the mushroom filled ravioli.

Plats chosen were Coq au Vin (Barbara and me), Boeuf Bourguignon (Richard), Salmon Filet w/ olive oil and lemon (Patricia and Michael) and Curt went with the Magret de canard, sauce au miel et aux epices (tender slices of duck with honey sauce and spices).

Tender slices of duck w/ honey & seasonings

Tender slices of duck w/ honey & seasonings

But the Pièce de Résistance was the dessert. We were very full but how can you leave a French restaurant without dessert?

Barbara and Michael went with chocolate in the form of the Gateau moelleux au chocolat, creme anglaise et caramel. Rich and creamy. Pure decadence.

Melting chocolate cake w/ custard & caramel

Melting chocolate cake w/ custard & caramel

Patricia and Richard went with a classic, Crème brûlée w/ its orange blossom flavours. Seriously, that was how it was described on the menu.

creme brulet

Creme brulee

And for us, Curt ordered the Croquant de fraises au caramel balsamique, mainly because of the translation which was crunchy fresh strawberries. We never expected this.

Crunchy fresh strawberries w/ balsamic caramel.

Crunchy fresh strawberries w/ balsamic caramel.

The outside was a tuile, a beautiful crunchy cone-shaped confection out of which tumbled strawberries onto a balsamic drizzle. Just amazing. The strawberries were not crunchy.

So there you have it, dinner at the White Queen’s Inn. Our leisurely walk home was filled with smiles.

Strolling on the Rue Saint-Louis en I'lle

Michael, Richard, Barbara and Curt strolling down the Rue Saint-Louis en I’lle

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?

We recently returned from a two week, organized tour of China.  The cultural icons, Bejing, Xian (the terra cotta army), Guilin, Chongqin, a short cruise on the Li river and a longer cruise on the Yang-tse river and lastly, Shanghai.  Before, during and after our trip, friends, knowing our interest in food, asked about what exotic, luxurious or funky foods we would/are/had eaten.  The truth be told, most of the food on the trip was OK but not exotic, not luxurious and mostly not funky.

RestSign

Healthy, Tasty, Happy and Secure.  What more could you ask for?

What dictated most of our food experiences was the necessity of feeding 27 people in short order and on a budget.  Imagine that you were responsible for feeding 27 mostly retired people, from widely different backgrounds, three times a day, on a budget.  Where would you take them?  Not some cute little bistro.  Not some funky roadside eatery.  Not some haute cuisine, white table cloth restaurant.  You’d probably end up in a place equipped and practiced at feeding people en masse.

Without fail, when we arrived wherever we’d be having lunch or dinner (breakfast was always a buffet at the hotel we were staying at – more about breakfast in another post) we’d be ushered to three large round tables each with seating for 9.

Lazy Susan

Lazy Susan

In the center would be a large (3-4 feet in diameter) glass Lazy Susan.

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at

A typical place setting, although indistinguishable from that of any other restaurant we ate at.

The places would be set with a small plate (what we’d probably call a side plate in the US), a small bowl (think of something suitable for ice cream or fruit salad), a porcelain Chinese-style spoon, a china tea-cup, a small (6  to 8 oz. or so) glass and a pair of chop sticks.  There might be a fork in deference to our assumed Western clumsiness with chop sticks, or not.  Napkins would be in a single package similar to those packages of Kleenex you might carry in a purse.  The napkins were small and thin.

One of the wait staff would appear and ask if you wanted water, soda (usually Sprite but sometimes cola) or beer.  You would only get one glass of beer with the meal – additional beer would cost 21 yuan (about $3.50) for a 600 ml bottle.

Then the food would start to appear.  The waitress would deliver a plate of something and place it on the Lazy Susan.  Shortly another dish or maybe two would appear.  There would be little ceremony or announcement – the plates would just be placed on the turn table.

Rice Noodles with Pork

Rice Noodles with Pork (the small pile of shred on top of the noodles).  Often the meat was a seasoning rather than the main event.

There were rarely serving spoons.  Mostly we used the china spoon from our place setting to serve ourselves.  Eventually we would end up with 8 – 11 different dishes on the Lazy Susan.  Somewhere in the sequence, usually 3 or 4 dishes into the meal, a large bowl of soup (with or without a ladle) would appear.  Somewhere in the sequence a large bowl of rice would appear (with a serving utensil).  Sometimes the rice came early in the sequence.  At least once it came very near the end.  Eventually, without fail, a plate of watermelon slices would be presented, signaling the arrival of “dessert” and the end of the meal.  By this time there were more dishes on the Lazy Susan than there was room to accommodate them without piling them on each other.

food8

From a Peking Duck dinner.  Stacked plates to make room for more dishes.  Dishes include (clockwise from L to R) Scrambled Eggs with Broccoli, Fried Potato slices with a sprinkling of sugar, Rice Noodles with Pork, Rice, White Fungus Soup, Watermelon (behind teapot), Tea, Braised Turnips, Cucumber and Scallions (garnish for Duck), Hoisin Sauce (for Duck) Chicken and Vegetables, Beef and Vegetables, Peking Duck (slices).

And what was on these dishes? There was always some chicken stir fried with some vegetable.  There was often  some beef and/or pork dish.  Sometimes the dish was generously meaty.  Sometimes the meat was a seasoning for the vegetables that made up the bulk of the dish. Sometimes there was a shrimp dish. Tofu appeared at almost every meal, sometimes in multiple forms.  There were always some ostensibly vegetarian dish.  The soups tended to be light broths with something floating in the broth – they were always fairly simple and had a minimum of ingredients.  With the exception of a Peking Duck dinner, no dish had a name or at least not one we’d recognize from a Chinese/American restaurant menu.  They might have had names that placed them inside of some standard Chinese culinary structure but we never heard them.  Very few ingredients were identified.  Some could be divined from their appearance or taste but some were mysteries.  Asking our guide, Zhang, would usually reveal that the little football-shaped things were turnips or the beige sheets were bean curd skins.  Occasionally the answer would be “I don’t know”.  At one meal which featured 18 different kinds of dumplings at least 4 were identified by the waitress as pork, one as ham, one as fish, one as shrimp, one as chicken and one as vegetable but no description beyond the main protein ingredient.  The others are lost to memory or weren’t identified.

For at least two meals we went to a “Wedding Center”.  It makes sense.  A wedding center can accommodate large groups at one sitting.  Wherever we ate, wedding center or restaurant, the establishment was able to accommodate our group without pushing tables together.  They were equipped and ready to seat us in large groups.  Actually, that’s the way most of the Chinese eating in those same restaurants ate.  I don’t think I ever saw a table with just two people.  It was always groups of at least 5 or 6 and they often included children.  Again, it makes sense.  The Chinese restaurant isn’t set up to serve individual portions and the Chinese people, from what we saw, eat family style.  There are no “courses” in the Western format of salad, soup, entrée and dessert.  The “dishes” seem to appear as they are finished in the kitchen and which everyone eats from communally.

Was what we ate authentic?  Yes, I guess so, in the way a Wisconsin church-hall wedding reception of broasted chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread dressing with poultry seasoning and white sheet cake is authentic American.  What we ate, for the most part, represented a narrow slice of Chinese cuisine.  Was it the best of Chinese cuisine?  No, but it wasn’t presented in that way.  It was food – lunch or dinner – quickly served to hungry people on the move.  The food was always filling and tasty and there was always more than we could eat – not to say we didn’t finish one or two of the dishes while barely touching others.

All that being said, there were some noteworthy dishes amongst the sameness of the meals which I’ll visit in another post.

In answer to my earlier questions –

What do the Chinese call Chinese food?  I think they call it food.

Was it what I expected?  Yes, No, Not really.  With a few exceptions, it seemed kind of generic.

Was it authentic?  Yes.  I saw Chinese people eating it every day.

The watermelon has arrived.  The meal must be over.

The watermelon has arrived. The meal must be over.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Saturday morning here and I am aching. My back is feeling somewhat better – after two pain pills, not wimpy ibuprofen, the big stuff – and my knee keeps twinging every time I take a step, giving me a rocking rolling gait. Just getting out of my chair is a struggle. I am a mess. How did I get into this predicament? Hey, just trying to be a good Samaritan, giving back, volunteering.

My church has many volunteer opportunities for members who want to support the congregation in other ways than just putting money in the plate on Sunday. Most of these are necessary in order for the place to run smoothly, like stuffing envelopes or teaching Sunday School or maintaining the library or mowing the lawn. Other jobs bring in additional monies so the church can have a building fund and air-conditioning in the summer and electricity. These include a giant rummage sale in the fall, booyah sales and working the Packer games, as in Green Bay Packers. Our local NFL team provides opportunities for non-profit organizations to earn some extra money by working the many concession stands necessary to feed and water the 80,000 fans that show up on game day.

In the beginning (10 years ago?) we didn’t have a “stand”, we were runners in the club seat area. Order takers were positioned throughout the seating area taking food and drink orders and payment on their mobile devices. Those orders would go to the kitchens and we’d get a pile of food shot out to us, a tag attached with the section, row and seat number on it. Our job was to take that order to the customer. The seats weren’t close to the kitchen so you had to hike, quickly, to your waiting fan. When you got to the club seats (indoor, behind glass, out of the weather with a spectacular view of the field) and a play was happening on the field, you were required to stop, squat or just make sure you weren’t blocking anyone’s view, until the play was completed. I got to see Brett Favre, live, in action, many times. So cool!

Approximate view from the club seats

Approximate view from the club seats

We didn’t have to prepare the food, we didn’t have to mix the drinks, we just had to run, and oh, arrive at the stadium three hours before the game started (bummer).  For this we got paid $45. a head. They needed 20 – 25 people per game so we could make between $900-1100, multiply that times 2 preseason and 8 regular games, that’s about $10,000 toward our church mortgage. But after two years my plantar fascitis (bad feet) and my torn meniscus (bad knee) said ENOUGH!

Last year a new food service came into Lambeau Field and instead of runners, the new food service set up concession stands in the club seat area and upped the payment to a percentage of the take or $85 per person, our church opted for the latter. I thought, a stationery spot, no running, I can do this.

So, this year when they asked for help….I raised my hand. help
I took the training session. Learned about fake IDs, refusing drinks to people who have had too much, and how to say, “would you like fries with that?”  Should have been my first clue that this was going to be waaay different. Friday was my first time. It was just a preseason game but Packer fans fill the seats no matter what. Once at the stadium…three hours before the game began…I saw the concession stand. It was at least 50′ long, had 10-12 cash registers and its own kitchen in the back.

Not our actual stand but a close second

Not our actual stand but a close second

A kitchen in the back because, we not only sold the food, we prepared it. Seven people immediately got the grills, deep fryers and pizza and pretzel ovens up and running. Four others started loading up the popcorn machine, getting the nacho cheese dispensers and the food warmers going and counted the cups, trays, and everything else that would be dispensed. I was shown the cash register, the beer and soda spigots (I now can pull a beer) and taught how to take credit cards. Most people pay with cash, a lot of cash, but as the game moves into the end of the third quarter the credit cards start appearing. It ain’t cheap going to an NFL football game.

The stadium opens up two hours before the game, in this case 5:00pm since it was a 7pm kickoff.  I kept thinking, “I can do this”, until the crowds showed up. And boy, do they show up! It did start as a trickle but in about 30 minutes they were ten deep at each register. If you cashier, you also pour drinks and do some food fetching, but some of us have to be runners and being the rookie, I ended up with that job mostly. Seven cashiers spread out across fifty feet puts those on the ends quite a distance from one of the two major food windows. So as the kitchen pushed out pizza, cheese curds, hotdogs, cheese burgers, bratwursts, waffle fries, I watched registers as food was tallied up, and fetched.  Back and forth, back and forth…an occasional stop to pour beer, soda, create cheese fries and nachos.

After what seemed like an eternity I thought the game MUST have started by now, why aren’t these people in their seats? One glance at my watch told me it was still 20 minutes to kickoff. It was going to be a long night.

This went on steadily till about 30 minutes into the game. We then had a bit of a breather before everyone started cooking, filling up all the empty popcorn, cheese, soda and beer dispensers before…HALFTIME!! when it started all over again.

At some point, I had to stop and take a break or die (not good customer service). So I got my courtesy bratwurst and sat down on one of the two chairs in the storage room where the extra cups, soda, chips, popcorn, and nacho cheese wait their turn to go out. I think it was sheer luck that I managed to get out of that chair and go back out, with a smile on my face…..”Hello, can I help you? Two Miller Lites and three hotdogs? Coming right up.”

For the most part, the fans were pleasant. One guy spilled his beer all over the counter and floor, one woman wanted to strangle me because her burgers took more that 4 minutes to come out  and I almost lost it when a guy handed me a $100 bill for a $23 purchase and my cash drawer only had ones. But no one got killed so I guess it was a good night. By 10:00pm when my ride, one of the kitchen guys, said “Let’s get out of here before the crowd breaks”, I was ready. I limped my way to the car as quickly as I could.

Will I do it again? Well, as I finish this it is now Sunday and my back is still complaining so the answer is, not in this lifetime! I will volunteer again but not for a job that takes two days to recuperate from.  Got any envelopes to stuff?

Where to Eat in Chesterton, Indiana

chesterton_innodogs.1I know what you’re thinking, where or what is Chesterton, Indiana? Well it’s a small town of about 13,000 people located in the northwest corner of Indiana. It is just south of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We were spending a few days there birding and visiting friends before heading on to Ohio for a week of more birding on South Bass Island, Magee Marsh and Point Pelee, Ontario.

I hadn’t scoped out dining options before we arrived and assumed we would be finding the usual fare of chain restaurants. We were dining at our friend’s house on the second night so we had to locate a restaurant for our first night in town. After consulting the telephone book we did discover the typical “chain” restaurants but to our surprise, an interesting selection of Indian, Greek, Chinese, Mexican , Italian and American. We settled on an Italian, Lucrezia, partly because the reviews were very good but maybe also because we have been watching “The Borgias” series on Showtime. Now in the 15th C. I may not have accepted a glass of wine from Lucrezia Borgia but I would go back to her namesake restaurant in a minute. We shared a starter of a creamy risotto with asparagus and shrimp and for mains Curt had Pork Osso Buco and I had Sacchetti – Porcini Mushroom (stuffed “Purses”) w/ shrimp, spinach and vodka cream sauce. All was Primo!  Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures.

Lunch the next day was another treat. The Dunes area has many different birding habitats: a bog, a marsh…sand dunes. These areas are intertwined amongst residential and smaller commercial areas. Leaving the Marsh we came around a corner that had a small grocery, a liquor store and a food truck. But not an ordinary food truck but a wood-fired pizza truck!

food truck

The Rolling Stonebaker Pizza truck

The food trucks I am familiar with are usually big vans with a walk-up window, this was literally a truck. The tables on the side served as the counter and these guys specialized in pizza. No sandwiches, n0 wraps, no salads – just pizza and drinks.

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And these pizzas, although based on traditional pizza combinations, have their own “Stonebaker” twist as you can see from the menu board.

menu

The menu board at the Rolling Stonebaker’s Pizza truck

specials

Specials of the day

So how do these guys get a great wood-fired pizza lunch out to a walk-up and drive-in crowd quickly? Frozen pre-made pies in a toaster oven? Ha! In the truck, behind where those guys are standing is an actual full brick, wood-fired oven, flames and all.  Fire on wheels!  The temperature on the oven floor reaches 900˚ (probably more like 1200˚ in the dome) and they told Curt (the pyro amongst us) that although the pizzas take less than 10 minutes to make, they only bake for 90 seconds in the oven. As soon as we placed our orders with the first guy – Curt, ordered a Gotham City – me, a Margherita (fresh basil and tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil) – the second guy was getting out the crust and applying the ingredients. By the time we paid, got our Goose Island Root Beer and took a seat at one of the picnic tables our pies were in the oven.

Ninety seconds later they were done, being cut and put on a plate. Totally amazing! And really good.  Curt especially like the Ricotta on the Gotham, giving it an extra creaminess that played nicely against the spiciness of the pepperoni.  Ninety seconds might not seem like a long enough time to cook a pizza, but at 9oo˚ with a thin crust it works, and as you can see the crust and the edges of the pepperoni get nicely browned and crispy and the cheese is melted but not burned.

The observant among you might wonder what “Buffalo” pepperoni is.  We did.  You might assume it’s some pepperoni twist on the “Buffalo” wing thing that crops up everywhere.  That’s what we thought.  Well …no.  The pizza guy explained that it was a type of pepperoni from Buffalo, NY (same place as the Buffalo wing) and what made it different was that the slices “cupped” up during the baking, allowing the slices to get a nice crispy browned edge.  Curt and I both looked at each other and said, “Doesn’t all pepperoni do that?”  As you can see in the photo below (and from our comments) that, in fact, that is what happens.  Oh well, the pizza was good despite the spurious ingredient description. Now if these guys would just go on the road and come to Wisconsin.

The Gotham City

The Gotham City

The Margherita

The Margherita

The Highlight was the Sink

The parking lot at Smithfield's

Sunday, November 11, 2012. Our first full day in North Carolina on a birding trip and we were on the hunt for lunch, heading down NC Hwy 24 scanning the roadside for possibilities.  Our general rule is no fast food, no national chain restaurants – if we can help it.

We’re in North Carolina’s tidewater region, on the mainland on the inland side of the outer banks – those barrier islands that flank the East coast from North Carolina up to New Jersey.  My hope is either barbeque or seafood.  As we drive we can occasionally catch a whiff of pit smoke and then we spot Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q.  Good sign, lots of cars out front but the place doesn’t look very funky (not encouraging) or dicey (a good sign), so in we go.

First off, I can tell this isn’t the sort of place I was looking for.  It’s full, but full of people on their way home from church – families, older couples – not the down and dirty crowd I’d hope for in a good BBQ joint.  You order at the counter from a menu board – a promising sign.  The gal at the counter is friendly and willing to explain how they do things here – good.  I go for the Bar-B-Q and shrimp platter with beans and Brunswick stew as sides.  Jeanne opts for the Bar-B-Q plate with slaw and potato salad.  Pay up and take a seat – no numbers or cute signs to put on the table – don’t worry, the gal says, they’ll find us when they bring the food out.

Curt’s order: Bar-B-Q pork, beans and Brunswick stew; fried shrimp (on the plate towards the top) and hush puppies with everything.

Jeanne’s order: Bar-B-Q pork (it’s somewhere under that pile of hush puppies), slaw and potato salad

Jeanne hiding behind a REALLY big sweet tea

Well, the Bar-B-Q was great – classic tidewater pork, pulled and doused with vinegar and hot peppers, but I expected the Bar-B-Q to be on a roll – a sandwich sort of arrangement.  Oh, well.  The shrimp was surprising – tiny guys the size I would call “cocktail shrimp” but breaded and deep fried – disappointing because I suspect they came out of a freezer bag.  The beans were typical – sweetened and probably out of a can. Everything came with a side of hush puppies – I got an order of hush puppies with my Bar-B-Q and an order with my shrimp – but they were tasty.

The Brunswick stew was a first for me.  I know about Brunswick stew, a regional specialty of the Eastern seaboard, but I’d never had it.  It’s cousin to the Chicken Chowder I grew up with in Western NY, the Burgoo of Kentucky and the Booyah of Wisconsin.  The main difference is that the Brunswick stew is heavier on tomatoes (tomato paste?), short on vegetable variety and seems to be strictly chicken based.  It is thick enough to put on a plate rather than in a bowl. OK, but it definitely comes in fourth out of the four in my rankings.

The highlight of the stop was not the food.  It was okay for the most part.  The Bar-B-Q pork was better than OK and the hush puppies were pretty tasty.

The highlight, though, was the sink.

Customer’s wash-up sink in the dinning room

In the main dining room, adjacent to the counter where we ordered, was a sink.  Not an industrial deep sink like you’d see behind the counter but a nice small china pedestal sink with side lights, soap and towels (paper).  Their web site says that the original Smithfield’s had a sink in the dining room so the farmers coming in for lunch could wash up before they ate – a nice convenience for the customer.  Apparently the sink in the dining room is a feature of their restaurants (there are 30 in North Carolina – yes, a chain but not national).  It’s the most common-sense thing I’ve ever seen in a restaurant – wash up before you eat or clean up after a finger-lickin’ good dinner without having to go to the toilet facility to do so.

Decent food, simple consideration for the customer.  Smithfield’s.

Small Plates

We don’t normally do restaurant reviews per se, but we recently ate at one that we think is worth mention.  We were in Chicago on a short holiday and, as is our want, we sought out someplace interesting to eat. The concierge at our hotel had several recommendations.  One choice, Girl and the Goat, had no openings (Girl and the Goat is a destination restaurant and we obviously hadn’t planned ahead) and some of the others sounded pedestrian even though they have generally good reputations (Italian Village?). But one, sounded right up our alley – Tavernita, a Mediterranean/Latin restaurant the features small plates (and we later found out, named one of the top 20 new restaurants for 2012).

Now, restaurants that feature small plates are like tapas bars; there are fewer but more complex choices (some tapas menus can be overwhelming), the plates are a bit larger and the menus are a bit more organized.  The key ideas, though, are you share and the orders come out of the kitchen as they are ready (i.e. they don’t come out in any structured sequence).  The dishes are put in the center of the table and everyone digs in.  This works well for couples or small groups but can be a problem for larger groups.  The obvious advantage for the diner is that you don’t have one plate of a single entree and you don’t have to beg your table partners for a taste off their plate – everyone shares.   The unspoken advantage is you don’t get stuck with a plate full of food that sounded good on the menu but leaves something to be desired when it’s on the plate in front of you.  However, if you choose really well, it’s quickly gone and you have to move on to the next plate having only had a bite or two.

Our menu choices started out with something we didn’t order.  An amuse bouche compliments of our concierge (I guess it pays to tip the concierge).  Shooters of a cold cream of corn soup and a truffled corn fritter.  The soup was rich, dense and luscious – almost in the realm of a dessert between its creaminess and the sweetness of the corn.

Kumamoto Oysters • Guajillo chile sauce

I ordered some Kumamoto oysters which were served with a Guajillo chile sauce.  I’ve had Kumamoto’s in Washington state and they are wonderful.  These, although very fresh and tasty, were pretty small – maybe in keeping with the small plates theme.

Escalivada • eggplant, red peppers, hazelnut romesco, goat cheese, crostini

Next up was Escalivada, fire roasted eggplant and red pepper, hazelnut romesco and goat cheese (not specified beyond that) and crostini.  The eggplant and romesco, smokey, sweet and nutty, were terrific together but I thought the cheese was a bit strong and overwhelmed the other flavors.  Jeanne on the other hand liked the cheese.  On the whole, a great combination.

Prawns a la plancha • Castillo EVOO

The Prawns a la plancha arrived next.  I thought they smelled a bit “ripe” but the flavor of the seafood was rich with a bath of Spanish extra virgin olive oil.  Because the prawns were served with head and shell on, they were a bit messy to eat but our waiter arrived with perfect timing to deliver steamed towels (no Wet-Wipes here) for us to use to clean up a bit.

Patatas • potatoes, chorizo, fried egg, brava sauce

One of our standard orders at Spanish restaurants is patatas bravas (fierce potatoes) an anchor of any respectable tapas bar.  It’s our benchmark for the authenticity and skill of the kitchen.  Patatas bravas should be oven roasted so they’re slightly crispy on the outside but creamy on the inside.  They’re dressed with a spicy tomato based sauce.  Tavernita’s Patatas (they’re just listed as patatas, no bravas, although bravas sauce is listed as a part of the ingredients) came with chucks of Spanish chorizo and a fried egg on top.  The potatoes lacked the crispiness we expected but the chorizo and egg were nice additions.  The bravas sauce, however, was fairly tame.  One, surprising, complaint we had about this dish was that there was just too much of it, although it would have been a good portion for a larger party.

Pork Belly Bocadillo • fruit jam, pickled red onions, brioche bun

Bocadillos are small sandwich-like snacks, usually served on a split loaf of bread like a baugette or small chibatta.  Tavernita serves Pork Belly Bocadillos on small brioche buns with a fruit jam and pickled red onions.  While looking more like the ubiquitous sliders found in many bars and restaurants, these we infinitely better.  The pork belly was fatty with a crisp edge and the fruit jam and onions were nice foils to it’s richness.  We were told that the Bocadillos are the best selling item on Tavernita’s menu and I can see why.

House-made Lamb Sausage • chickpeas, spicy giardiniera

Our last dish was a House-made Lamb Sausage served with chickpeas and giardiniera.  The sausage was savory and didn’t have a very pronounced lamby flavor (not that I would have minded that) but it went well with the spicy giardiniera.  At first we though the kitchen had forgotten the chickpeas until we realized that it was a puree under the sausage.  Although tasty (not unlike a mild hummus) I would have liked more of it or the addition of some whole chickpeas.

One point to note – Tavernita is loud.  Unlike some restaurants, like Graham Elliot, that pipe in high octane music, Tavernita’s background sound was modest and unobtrusive.  The sound level comes from the generally hard surfaces and the lively crowd.  It’s a happening place, people are having a good time with great food and they’re not holding back.

Kangaroostaurant!

We had a delightful lunch yesterday at a food truck. There’s not many of them (food trucks) in our neck of the woods. We read about the food truck boom in NY, Chicago and LA but not so much in NE Wisconsin. Yes, there are a few part-time affairs that show up at special events but not every day operations and most follow a pretty tried and true (and a little tired) menu strategy of tacos, burgers and such.

the Kangaroostaurant truck

A while ago the local paper did a writeup on the Kangaroostaurant, a truck that mostly operates in the Appleton area, some 45 minutes from here. But yesterday, Jeanne heard on Facebook that they were going to be in DePere (a mere 20 minutes from here) in conjunction with a fund-raiser sponsored by Kim Klein Photography to raise money for GLBT partnership for Harmony Cafe, a local cafe affiliated with Goodwill.*

So, off we went.  The menu is short but not short on interest or taste.  The menu board lists a few regular items and about the same number of changing seasonal choices.  Kelly, one of the owners, said they source around 90% of their product from NE Wisconsin so everything is as fresh as can be.  Serving us was Mason, chef, and, according to Kelly, the Kangaroostaurant’s only full time employee.

Mason, chef, and Kelly, owner

Kangaroostaurant’s menu board

I choose the Shaved Pork from Golden Bear Farms, with Stone Fruit Mostarda.  Brilliant combination!  The hit was the mostarda made with fresh Door County sweet cherries and peaches and just the right touch of mustardy heat. It would have been welcome as an accompaniment to any roast or grilled meat, but adding it to a sandwich was the bomb.  I also opted for the Sweet Potato Fries with Hippy Wayne’s curry mustard which were good but a little soggy.  Jeanne went for the Chicken Fajita Grilled Cheese (with peppers, onions, roasted garlic and pepper-jack cheese) a nice mash-up of two old standards packed with veggies.

Shaved Pork with Stone Fruit Mostarda and Sweet Potato Fries

Chicken Fajita Grilled Cheese

All told, a great lunch and some nice people.  Check them out if you see their truck in your neighborhood –  and maybe you’ll find Ron Ron Gorilla at the table next to you (we did).

Ron Ron Gorilla

* $1445.00 was raised for the Partnership.