September 2009 Archives

Can you believe that September is almost behind us? It seems like just yesterday when we were celebrating the 4th of July... it's incredible how time literally flies by.

Speaking of time, I'll keep this entry brief; for those that are keenly aware of my blog and past entries, you may recall a post or two about a book and author that I stumbled across some time back while listening to Michael Feldman's radio show. The book was called The Omnivore's Dilemma and it was by Michael Pollan. The book was amazing; everyone should take the time to read it because it really will open your eyes about food - where it comes from, how it impacts us (economically, environmentally, nutritionally, and so on), and how there are responsible and irresponsible ways to produce and consume food.

Anyway, Michael Pollan has a new(ish) book, and he stopped by Madison to promote it. He spoke to a group of about 7,000 people at the Kohl Center on Thursday night, and as luck would have it (and time allowed), I was able to stop by and check him out.

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The "show" was free - just had to park, walk in, and find a seat. It lasted for about 2 hours and it was really interesting, as you can likely imagine. Apparently the new book, In Defense of Food has caused a stir - it's got people taking sides for a number of reasons, which is probably good because it ultimately means that people are reading the book, digesting the message(s), and feeling strongly about it. I managed to score a copy of the book at the show - autographed and all - for $9. A nice find, for sure, and I've just started to read it so I'll report back on it when I finish it.

Having spent Thursday night with Mr. Pollan, Friday night was just around the corner, and that meant another fish fry was in order. The crew decided to try Christys Landing, which is located on the western "coast" of Lake Waubesa. It's a tricky place to find by car; by boat it would be quite easy.

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Christys has an unusual layout - it's similar to The Stamm House; you enter at the "bar level," with all dining taking place upstairs. There's a hostess who waits at a makeshift hostess station near the bottom of the stairs, and when you're ready to eat, you walk over and request a table from her. She takes you upstairs, where there are about 10 tables and just two waitresses.

Upon being seated, we ordered some onion rings and cheese curds - the crew was starving, and the service was a tad on the slow side, so we "over-ordered" in the interest of staving off our hunger as quickly as possible.

Here are the curds and the rings:

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As you can tell from the photos, the appetizers weren't anything special by any means - just your standard "from the freezer to the fryer" Sysco offerings. But, they were cooked well, and being as hungry as we were, they did a fair job of satisfying us. We placed our fish orders - cod all around, and also ordered an Old Fashioned (as is tradition).

The Old Fashioned wasn't muddled (strike one), and didn't come with olives (strike two). Despite these two strikes, it wasn't bad - the crew thought it was a decent effort, but definitely not noteworthy.

We also sampled the chicken chili, and were pleasantly surprised - it was extremely hardy, with huge chunks of pulled chicken and just the right amount of zing. Despite the great chili we were still a bit nervous about the rest of the dinner... the service was slow, and with the exception of the chili, nothing really "stood out" as spectacular.

But alas, our concerns were for naught - the fish arrived, and it was outstanding. Here's the fried cod with cheesy home fries (red potatoes with onions) - sorry for the bad photo... iPhone... you know how it goes...

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And here's the cod with curly fries:

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The fish was easily top three quality fish - huge, thick cut portions of cod with a perfect beer batter, all flawlessly executed - no grease, no odd taste, just fantastic fish, plain and simple. Served nice and hot, the fish was delicate, "meaty," and flaky without being crumbly. Excellent job on the fish, for sure.

The curly fries were delicious as well, but the final pleasant surprise were the home fries - boiled and grilled red potatoes, mixed with onions, peppers, and cheese - yummy. Very good.

The bread basket was also great; the first round of bread included mostly wheat and potato buns; the second round featured Asiago cheese-enhanced rolls.

Value was great - the plates of fish were $10.95 and included salad/soup. We'll definitely go back to Christys.

Have a good week, everyone. We're still working on the new site (wisconsinsupperclubs.com); it'll be a few weeks before it's up and running, so until then, you'll have to suffer through fish fry reviews here at geekysteve.com... :-)

First things first - I realize that most of you are getting tired of reading about fish frys and biking and running, so it's time for a brief announcement: the fish fry crew has decided to venture out and start our own website, dedicated strictly to reviewing fish frys and supper clubs. We purchased a new domain name and I'm in the process of putting together the site. It'll be a month or so before things are up and running, but keep your eyes open for the new site - it's called www.wisconsinsupperclubs.com. It's got "place holder" text there now, but as soon as we can figure out how to organize the site, lay it out, and get some Google AdWords running, we'll have it live.

So, with that said, it's time for another fish fry review. :-)

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The crew hit The Stamm House in Middleton, and despite looking good on paper, it failed to deliver. In fact, it may have been one of the worst fish frys ever. Why?

Simple - the fish was icky. There's no better way to state it than "icky." It had the most ridiculously strong fishy (and not in a good fishy way) taste; I'm pretty sure that even the worst cafeteria fish would blow away the Stamm House fish. It took a lot of ketchup and a lot of lemon to choke down their fish. Ugh. So disappointing...

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It wasn't terribly greasy, and it was breaded quite nicely. But aside from that, it was downright awful. The restaurant itself was pretty cool - lots of history, lots of charm, good service; but that was about all they had to offer.

Didn't do too much on Saturday - went to Johnson Creek and bought a winter jacket (!!!), then went to the Come Back Inn to watch some football, and prepare for my triathlon. ;-)

I did the Devil's Challenge Triathlon today, which is held at Devil's Lake State Park, just outside of Baraboo. The park is beautiful - here's a shot of the lake about an hour before the race started:

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The weather was cool at 7:00am - about 50-ish. By race time (8:00am), the temps were in the low 60s, so it wasn't too bad. Here we are, getting ready to hit the water - I think the race started about 30 seconds after this photo was snapped:

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For some reason, that photo is just hilarious to me - I look like a 1930's bomber pilot with those goggles on. :-) So, the race went about as I expected - the swim was terrible (go figure), and it was complicated by tons of seaweed and extremely shallow water. Here I am coming out of the water, with my wetsuit already about half-off:

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That wetsuit was more trouble than it was worth - the water wasn't too terribly cold (72F) - it really slowed me down in the first transition... it took me over 4.5 minutes to get out of that wetsuit and onto the bike. I don't know how the other guys change so quickly - most folks were done with their swim transition in 2 minutes! Anyway, with the wetsuit off, it was time to head out on the bike:

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The bike course was super hilly - just what I like. The first 2 miles of the ride are essentially up a steep hill. I passed dozens and dozens of people on that hill - some people were throwing up, others were crying (men and women alike); it was pretty odd. I'm so glad that I torture myself each weekend with a super hilly 60+ mile practice route. :-)

Finished the bike section pretty easily - here I am coming in from the ride, running my bike back to the transition area:

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The bike transition went fairly well, but I'm still quite slow in transition... my T2 time was nearly 3 minutes; for comparison, other guys did it in under a minute. UGH!!!!

I ran well, despite the hilly run course, and finished the run portion (3.1 miles) in just over 23 minutes. I felt really good during the entire run - I could've kept going without any trouble, but time was up and here I am coming across the finish line:

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I managed to finish in 1:30:07, which was good enough for 161st place out of 620 people. In my age group, I finished about middle of the pack - 24th out of 46. The transition times literally cost me 5 spots in my age group alone... if I would've had an "average" transition time, I would've finished 19th out of 46. I really need to fix those!

So, that's it for now... oh, almost forgot - celebrated the finish with some breakfast at Mr. Pancake in Wisconsin Dells:

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Yum! Time to be good again - cold weather is coming, and that means I'll have to curb the binge eating on the weekends. :-(

Early review - surprise!

Started the weekend by attending special party at my favorite bike store, Cronometro; they had a bit of a customer appreciation/new product line introduction gala, and it sounded interesting, so it was over to Willy Street to check out the party and to check out the Ridley line of bicycles.

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Ridley reps were there, which was cool, because Ridley has a great line of "Cyclocross" bikes that have caught my eye. I'd love to get another bike to use for commuting to and from work, riding on trails, and using on the trainer during the winter. I really liked this model, the X-Fire:

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Unfortunately, that bike is quite a bit out of my price range. As shown above, that bike runs right about $6,000. Yikes!! Thankfully, there are some that are a bit more affordable, like this interesting Crossbow model, shown here with a fender kit and the latest Ultegra components.

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After spending about 30 minutes oggling the new bikes, chatting with folks, and sampling some Belgian beverages (Ridley is based in Belgium), it was time to head out for the fish fry.

The crew decided to hit Toby's Supper Club, which is located just outside of Madison, on Stoughton Road. The place received stellar reviews from several web sites, although some of the folks from work warned us that it might be a bit "local" or "townie."

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The place is tiny - hardly bigger than an average living room - and as such, was absolutely PACKED full of people. We arrived at around 7:30pm, and the place was jumping - we could barely find a place to stand while waiting for a table. And while there were obviously a bunch of "locals" there, the crowd was friendly and enjoyable, and thank goodness for that - check out how packed the bar was:

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The entire time that we sat at the bar, the bartenders literally flew around, multitasking like crazy. It was nothing for them to be filling two drink orders (mixing several drinks at the same time), while making change for someone at the bar, and taking a new drink order from someone in line. And they never once missed a beat - it was pretty fun to watch them work their magic.

Toby's has a unique ordering system - while seated or standing at the bar, one of the bartenders somehow notifies a waitress that you'd like to order food. Out of nowhere will appear a waitress, who takes your order, and tells you that she'll get you once the table and food are ready. With so many people stacked in the place, we found it hard to believe that this would actually work, but it did.

Our wait was long - about 2.5 hours - but well worth it! While sitting at the bar, we started off with the customary cheese curds, which were solid. Top 3 rank for curds, for sure:

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We generally prefer a battered curd to a breaded curd, but the cheese in these curds was so good that it made up for the non-battered-nature. The ranch was also spectacular. Curds = WIN.

And before we knew it (the clock had struck 10:00pm), our table and fish were ready. The table was outfitted with the customary Supper Club fare: a veggie bowl and a bread bowl.

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And then came the fish. Toby's offers: Baby Pike, Cod, and Lake Perch. And the prices are more than reasonable - no more than $13 for a plate. Here's the cod:

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It was superb. Unbelievably good - easily Top 2 fish. Why so good? Once again, the fish is breaded, which is normally not a point-scorer for us. But, the breading is light, the fish is fried perfectly (not a hint of grease anywhere), and it's served piping hot. The flavor is unreal - the fish is the actual star of the plate; it's not overwhelmed by breading or spices, or anything unusual. Simple = good, and Toby's cod is GREAT.

Here's the combo plate (Lake Perch on the left, Baby Pike on the right):

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Just like the Cod, these two offerings were stellar and beyond compare, and for the same reasons as the Cod. Lightly and perfectly breaded, expertly fried, and packed with wonderful, yet delicate fish flavor. Well worth any wait, plain and simple.

And the service was equally fantastic - our server, Rhonda, was great - super fun, helpful, and tolerant of our boisterous crew. Here's me and Rhonda:

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We called it a night and left Toby's content, happy, and raving about how incredible the fish was. We'll definitely be back!

Saturday morning came much too early, especially given there was a 54-mile bike race in Fort Atkinson that I had entered. It's called "Ride the Rock" and it benefits the local literacy council (I think). The race started at 8:30am from Jones Park in Fort Atkinson. Here we are leaving as a group to start the race:

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The race went horribly. I've discovered that I absolutely hate bike racers - they're some of the most self-centered, inconsiderate, unnecessarily aggressive riders on the planet. I was basically run off the road within the first few miles of the race by the "teams," all of which were trying to jockey for position by literally elbowing and bumping people out of the way... all within the first 3-4 miles of a 54-mile race. Really?

Factor in that the race wasn't a sanctioned event and that it was basically a charity ride, and it's just all the more silly to risk crashing and wrecking your bike, breaking bones, or causing harm to other people. Yet these guys don't apparently care... you'd think they were trying to qualify for the Olympics or something. To heck with that. After I hit the gravel, I let the group get ahead of me, and I rode out the "race" without worry of getting in a wreck.

Unfortunately, the group will always ride faster than a solo rider, by a pace of around 4-5mph. So, within the first lap (18 miles), I had completely lost site of the pack. That was fine by me. Here I am passing through a little town on my second lap:

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And here I am at the finish line, giving a solid "thumbs down" to the group. The race was generally well organized, the course was well marked, and the support crews were good, I just wish my "fellow riders" shared some of those qualities.

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So, yeah - no more bike races (or more specifically, bike racers) for me. I'll just enjoy my triathlons, where the emphasis is on the individual's effort, and not impacted/driven by mob mentality.

Interesting title, I know... but it sums up the weekend and might (?) make some sense... Had another busy weekend - with the weather being as nice as it has been, it only seems reasonable to try to accomplish as much as possible, even if it requires a finely-tuned schedule. It's only a matter of time before these beautiful 75F days are a distant memory, and brutal cold + tons of snow become a harsh reality.

The weekend started with the customary fish fry. This time our crew hit The Old Fashioned, which is located on the capitol square in downtown Madison.

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The Old Fashioned is a bit of an institution - it's known for its huge selection of locally brewed beers, great drink menu, and diverse menu that features burgers by number. The bar certainly didn't disappoint; we arrived at around 6:00pm and were informed that the wait for a table would be approximately 30-45 minutes. So, we bellied-up to the bar - check out the numerous taps:

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They have approximately 150 different locally made beers; 30 or so of which are available on tap. We tried a few offerings from The New Glarus Brewery, primarily because they were on special. We were also pleased to find that The Old Fashioned apparently knows how to honor the drink from which it's named - they muddle their cherries, which is key to a great Old Fashioned:

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While waiting for our table, we decided to order the "Number 3 Cheese plate," which featured Ghost Chevre cheese, which is a nutty-flavored soft cheese, along with some 16-month Gouda and some 10-year Cheddar. The cheese plate was awesome:

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We were eventually seated, and promptly ordered some cheese curds. Cheese curds are a yardstick by which we evaluate a restaurant and its fish fry "package." The Old Fashioned's curds were obviously homemade, but despite that, they failed to impress. Sure, they looked great:

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But in reality, they were super greasy, relatively flavorless, soggy curds that oozed grease with every single bite. The batter barely even stuck to the curds - that's how greasy they were... Truly disappointing, even more so when you consider the cost: $7.

We ordered a round of old fashioneds to try and wash down some of the grease from those curds. And once again, we were disappointed. The old fashioneds were ok, but they weren't spectacular by any means. Average, at best. Cory from The Oakcrest still holds the honor of making the best old fashioned.

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Soon after downing our old fashioneds, the fish arrived. Baked cod for me, and deep fried cod for the crew. We had high hopes for The Old Fashioned's food - it received good reviews from friends and from internet sources. But yet again, the result fell quite short of our expectations.

Here's the baked cod:

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Notice how miniscule those pieces of fish are??? They're barely bigger than the lemon wedges. The flavor was ok, but it wasn't anything spectacular... it was also greasy (too much butter) and slightly overcooked. Definitely not worth $14, that's for sure! ARGH.

Here's the deep fried cod:

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Notice how dark it is? Yeah - they way over-fried the fish, and as such, all you could really taste was the super-done batter. They also served far too many of those greasy onion strings with the fish; perhaps The Old Fashioned could go lighter on the greasy sides and focus more on properly cooking their main dish (and serving a more reasonable amount).

All-in-all, I would not recommend The Old Fashioned for to anyone looking for a good fish fry or decent curds. Truly underwhelming, overpriced, and simply not worth the long wait and high price.

At least there was a friendly little guy waiting outside as we ate:

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And with the sun setting, the capitol building looked fantastic - picture perfect:

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After the disappointing dinner, we called it a night. Good thing it was an early evening - with Saturday's forecast calling for calm winds, clear skies, and temperatures in the high 70s, I was anxious to hop on the bike and put some miles under my tires. Woke up fairly early on Saturday morning and hit the road for a 77-mile ride. It was absolutely glorious. I stopped at around the 65-mile mark and snapped a quick picture:

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After the ride, I went for a quick 3-mile run, just to help loosen up my back and quads. I find that by running after a ride I feel so much better the rest of the day. If I don't go for a run, I tighten-up and feel really stiff the next day.

With 80-miles under my belt, it was time to head out to the Taste of Madison. This annual event attracts several thousand people, several dozen local restaurants, and several dozen bands from all over the country. In past years, I remember really enjoying the event - there were tons of local restaurants, good bands, and reasonable prices.

This year, there were too many chain restaurants (Red Lobster, Abuelos, Little Ceasars, and so on), the prices were too high (most "samples" were $4 each), and the bands weren't too interesting. Candlebox was there on Saturday night, and while they were interesting, it wasn't a "great" concert by any means. :-(

So... here are some photos from the event:

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A bunch of people, for sure.


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Tried some Buffalo Chicken Pizza from Toppers - it was ok. Nothing great.


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Tried some Sesame Chicken from Hong Kong Cafe - meh.


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Tried some fried mac-n-cheese bites from Bluephies - they were decent. The cookie dough eggrolls were also decent (no picture, sorry).


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Enjoyed watching the cooks prepare food for the throngs of rabid eaters.


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Tried some Bruschetta - once again, meh - so boring and tasteless.

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Got a free hug from two really stinky (BO) kids. Had to give them credit for their ingenuity, though.


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And wrapped-up by watching Candlebox play a mediocre show on the WJJO rock stage. At least the weather was gorgeous, and once again, had a chance to hang out with Jed and Jamie (friends from an old job), so it wasn't a complete loss. Although, speaking of loss... I managed to lose my very favorite sunglasses! UGH!!


Sunday was a relatively uneventful day - rode the bike about 25 miles, went for a run, and then ran errands the rest of the day. I've been craving waffles like nobody's business, and was lucky enough to find a "classic" waffle maker (non-Belgian) at Tuesday Morning. It made some really killer waffles:

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Nice and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside - perfect and delicious. The batter was a whole wheat/rolled oat combo that was fantastic. Roasted some bacon, scrambled a few eggs, and had a glorious Sunday night dinner (of breakfast foods). I'd normally worry about the number of calories associated with such a feast, but the fuel was put to good use - I ran a 10K race the next day in Randolph, to help benefit the Dodge County Humane Society.

Here I am (in the orange shirt), running my way to a 6th place finish, with a time of 45:21. That's one of my better 10K times - my previous best was over 50-minutes!

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Upon returning home and resting for a bit - my legs were cramping like crazy during the race - it was over to the local triathlon supply store for a new watch. My Garmin GPS watch has been a bit unreliable lately - it doesn't want to "take" a charge, and it goes dead quite often, so I needed a back-up. I scored this Timex Ironman watch for a really reasonable price:

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I really like it so far; it's nice and light, waterproof, and it allows me to "rest" my primary daily watch - the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean.

Finally, check out this other recent score:

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Several stores were running crazy specials on Pepsi products this week, so I took full advantage of the deals. The sodas ranged in price from $1.77 - $4 per case. Made a few trips, but it was worth it - there shouldn't be any soda shortage for quite some time!

Better Late than Never...

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I'm a bit late with this update; it's been a busy week - lots of things going on at work that have been taking a tremendous amount of time and effort. Had a busy weekend last week, and it started oddly enough on Wednesday night with a trip to Lake Mills for some pizza.

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Went to the Blue Moon restaurant, which occupies the space once held by Anna Maria's. Anna Maria's was a great, great, great pizza place. Man, I miss that pizza. So while at the Blue Moon, it only made sense to order the pizza; the hope was that it wouldn't disappoint... and while it wasn't horrible, it wasn't anything like Anna Maria's pizza. To add insult to injury, the service was quite possibly the slowest and most painful service I've ever endured. It took nearly two hours to get out of there... and the place was virtually empty. Wow. Never again.


Friday included a fish fry (of course). Rather than try something new, the Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics decided to revisit a favorite - The Avenue Bar. And, we're happy to report that the fish was once again stellar. Started with a bowl of Hungarian Beef Noodle soup, and it was unreal. Wow - so good.

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And followed-it up with the usual - beer battered cod with fries. Yummo!

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The pictures simply don't do the fish justice - it's so amazing. I think it'll be difficult, if not impossible, for any other establishment to knock-off The Avenue's fish. If you're ever in Madison on a Friday, be sure to check out The Avenue. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday included what else - lots of running and riding.

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The Middleton Good Neighbor Festival was underway, and it included a 5K run that started and ended at The Capital Brewery. For some odd reason, the city of Middleton had placed barricades along University Avenue, which led me to believe the road would be closed come Saturday morning. I also figured the Capital Brewery wouldn't have much parking available, so I decided that rather than drive and try to fight traffic/parking, I'd just walk and/or jog the 2.5 miles from the apartment to the Brewery and then do the 5K race.

So, I woke-up about an hour early, got dressed, and started my walk toward the Brewery. The race started at 9:00am; I didn't hit the road until about 8:30am... so, that meant I had less than 20 minutes to walk 2.5 miles. Nearly impossible, so I decided to run to the race.

Got to the race with about 5 minutes to spare. Thankfully it was only about 45F outside (in August!!), so I wasn't overly warm... The race started and 194 of my fellow runners were off!

I finished in under 22 minutes, which was good enough for 31st place out of 194 people. Not bad! I was pretty happy about that. I didn't spend much time celebrating, though - I still had some more running to do. I finished off my run-filled-morning with an 8-mile loop around western Middleton. Total miles covered by foot: 13.9.

Hopped on the bike and took a 35-mile spin through the countryside; it was 11:00am or so and the temps were still in the low 50s... and the wind was absolutely brutal - gusts of up to 30mph, with a near-steady northerly wind of nearly 20mph. Not fun.

After all that running and riding, I was ready to unwind, so it was over to the Come Back Inn for a beverage. The CBI has these excellent authentic German glasses; I ordered a "Totally Naked" from The New Glarus Brewing Company - it was oh so glorious:

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From the CBI it was over to The Oakcrest for some Mahi Mahi. How a tiny, little hole-in-the-wall bar can cook such amazing food is beyond me! Their burgers are unreal, their steaks are amazing, and their Mahi Mahi is unbelievable. This photo is blurry (it's so dark in there), but trust me when I say the food is really, really superb.

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Also happened to have the best Old Fashioned ever, compliments of Cory - a young (21 year old) bartender who provided some of the best service I've ever had at any restaurant. He made great conversation, mixed a mean Old Fashioned, and served a killer plate of fish. Here's Cory working his muddling magic:

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Hit the road first thing on Sunday morning - rode 67 miles, did a quick little jog, and then rested for most of the day. Hit the Great Dane for dinner - I had a burger, but my dining partners were a little more adventurous- they enjoyed a chicken pot pie and a brat plate:

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And finally, went to this little Taqueria tonight for a burrito - and it was incredible. It was also huge, but cheap - just $4 for this monster:

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Their salsas were amazing as well; even bought some to take back home. I can't wait to try it on a breakfast taco and/or some turkey wraps.

This weekend will include some more bike riding and then there's a 10K race up in Randolph that I think I'm going to enter. We'll see how it goes. Oh, it's also "The Taste of Madison" this weekend, so since it involves food, odds are pretty good that you'll be reading about it during next week's update. :-)