November 2009 Archives

Gobble, gobble - Oh my goodness!

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Has it really been more than two weeks since my last blog entry? Wow, I guess it has been! Time flies when you're busy with things; I apologize for not posting an entry for so long.

So let's get caught up. First things first: I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and that the turkey was tasty, the stuffing scrumptious, and the pie perfect. Mine was, well, interesting... but more on that at a later date. I need to relax a bit and look at things objectively, but let's just say that I won't be heading north of Madison or over toward Fitchburg for any events of any type in the foreseeable future.

But enough about that. What's been happening? Well, I'll tell you what hasn't been: fish fry. Yep, you heard that right. We've taken a break from gorging ourselves on fish each Friday because it's been setting us up for an entire weekend of bad eating. So, an executive decision was made: we're taking a small hiatus from fish frys.

In other news, many of you may recall that I have a favorite radio show that's hosted right here in Madison and is called "Whatdya' Know with Michael Feldman." I've been to a few live showings and have always wanted to participate in the show, either as a contestant or as a "contributor" by way of a funny story or odd-ball question.

I had my chance to participate two weekends ago, when Michael chose me to play in the Whatdya' Know Quiz. The quiz usually occupies the last 15 minutes of each hour of the show (it's a 2-hour show), and it works by pairing an audience member with someone who calls in via telephone and correctly answers a qualifying question.

Once the "team" is identified, Michael asks up to 5 questions from categories that include: current events, people, places, science, odds-n-ends, and "things you should've learned in school had you been paying attention." The questions are usually quite random and odd, but most folks seem to win (thanks to Michael's guidance toward the correct answers).

Winners take home a "treasure trove" of prizes that are usually as off-the-wall as the questions from the quiz. It's the highlight of the show, so if I was ever to be selected, there was certain to be pressure to perform.

Well, I was selected and I bombed. Michael usually walks around the audience looking for volunteers to play the quiz, and tons of people raise their hands. I raised mine and he immediately walked over to ask my name and where I was from. Ok, no problem. Then he asked for "one good reason why you should play the quiz."

Now... this is where you can shine or bomb. I had dozens of witty replies prepared - everything from, "because it'll make a great blog entry" (thus setting up a segue to a discussion about my blog) to "because I'm not wearing underwear" (thus setting the tone for a wacky dialogue)... I'd practiced my response for years.

But, when the time came, I choked. I mumbled something about the Badgers football score and that by winning the quiz it might motivate the team. Michael looked at me as if I was from another planet, and from there it went downhill.

I tried making a few jokes; poking fun at myself, suggesting a cheesy name for my team, and so on, but it all failed. ARGH - nothing like bombing on a nationally broadcast radio show.

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That's me up on stage, playing the quiz. I was paired with a gentleman by the name of "Mac" from Ohio, who was on a crummy cellphone connection in his garage - he was hard to hear. I was also incredibly distracted by Michael's computer screen - it was constantly being updated with information about the telephone lines (via an Excel spreadsheet). And, I could see the answers to each of the quiz questions - Michael held the cards in a way that I could easily read the correct answer...

But, I didn't answer a single question. I felt guilty for being able to see the answers, so I let Mac, Michael, and the audience sort of "fill-in" the blanks. I was a miserable contestant - boring, uninteresting, and a complete downer.

Alas, with the show running out of time, we won the quiz, and my treasure trove included this little bounty of goodies:

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The haul included some concentrated cherry juices (tart cherry, cranberry mix, blueberry mix, and one other), the Whatdya Know home game, and an eclectic mix of greeting cards from a fabric museum in Missouri.


Other than that, there's not much exciting news to share... I ran a 10K race on Thanksgiving morning, called "The Berbee Derby." I did pretty well - there were about 5000 runners; I finished 460th, with an average pace of 7:56/mile. Not my best time, but it was only 32F and incredibly windy - I think the steady wind speed was about 18-19mph.

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And finally, I ventured out to a "Black Friday" event early this morning... a local sporting goods store had advertised Smartwool socks at 50% off, and since they're some of my favorite socks, I figured I'd grab a few pair.

Came to discover that the "sale" only included "select" styles and sizes from a specific rack... so, after standing in line for more than 30 minutes with six-pair of socks, I was told that none of my selections were on sale. And so continues my luck... :-)

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Prior to returning to Wisconsin, I never once heard the phrase "unique culture." Since moving back to the North, I've heard this phrase several times, from several different people, in several different situations, and it has me a bit baffled... I ultimately think it's a nice way of saying that someone is "weird."

I ran into a neighbor today who introduced herself to me - she lives in the apartment next to mine. We chatted for a bit, and I asked her if she ever experienced any unusually loud noises or inconsiderate behavior from our fellow neighbors. She said, "Oh yes - but it's a unique culture here, so I accept things as they are."

Backstory, if you will... the lady who lives above me may be the most neurotic, noisy, and inconsiderate person I've ever dealt with. She's retired, which is great. But, despite having the entire day (every day) to do whatever it is that she needs to do, she apparently has to do things like her laundry, vacuuming, and other noisy house chores beginning at around 5:00am every single day. She continues this "house work" throughout the day - banging around, dropping things, scurrying around the apartment (I can hear every single step she takes) - and doesn't seem to take a break until around 11:00pm.

And come 5:00am the next morning, she's back at it... clanking around, running around, making all sorts of noise. Well, I mentioned my concern/curiosity by way of a note, and that caused a stir... she called the landlord, who called a meeting, and after an hour or so of unpleasantries absolutely nothing has changed or improved. She's convinced that she is as quiet as a church mouse with cotton slippers... Yet from my perspective, she sounds like an elephant in an anvil testing factory (she's a bit on the larger side, to boot).

After voicing my concerns, this wonderful neighbor shared the experience with my other neighbors (all of whom are either retired or "special"), and as such, I've become the outcast/periah. Yay. I love this apartment and its "unique culture." At least I'm not alone in my observation about the overall weirdness of the place.


In other news, I forgot to mention the road trip to Minneapolis last weekend. Went up to see the Steely Dan concert, and had an opportunity to sample a few new restaurants. It was a decent trip - a bit short - but fun, nonetheless.

Got to try a "Jucy Lucy" - no, that's not a typo, that's how it's spelled. A Jucy Lucy (or "JL") is a cheeseburger that delivers the cheese "inside" of the burger. There are two bars in Minneapolis that claim to have invented the JL and both "fight" for title of "the best" JL. We went to Matt's Bar, which is supposed to be the better of the two; it was featured on the television show "Man Vs. Food" a few months ago.

Here's Matt's from the outside - it's not much to look at:

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Ventured into the packed bar (it was about 3:00pm and the place was absolutely slammed), ordered some burgers and fries, and soaked in the "unique culture."

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The burgers took about 30 minutes to cook - primarily because: (a) the grill is tiny, (b) there's only one cook, and (c) there's only one waitress. The burger and fries arrived; Matt's doesn't make any type of silverware available and they caution you to be careful with the first bite of a JL as the cheese is molten hot - 190F is the estimated temp.

Here's my JL after the first bite (they're served with cheddar cheese on the inside, and with fried onions and pickles on the top):

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And the fries (that's a small order, by the way):

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So, how was it? Pretty good. Nothing spectacular - it didn't knock my socks off - but it was a solid burger. If I lived in Minneapolis, I'd probably get cravings for a JL every so often. Definitely glad to have tried it, but it's no Apple Fritter from Greenbush. :-)

Here's the tiny grill, which as you can see is quite busy:

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The highlight of the weekend was the concert - Steely Dan played at the Northrop Auditorium, which is located on the University of Minnesota campus and seats about 5,000 people. It's an older, historic building, which made for a unique concert experience. It was also a bit frustrating as the sound wasn't great, and the crowd management/routing left a lot to be desired. They had the concession stands positioned in the direct path of the main entry and exit points. So, you had to fight long concession stand lines if you wanted to exit or enter the auditorium (like if you had to go to the restroom).

Here's the inside of the auditorium:

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And here's Steely Dan onstage (can't really see them too well - iPhone photo + darkness = ick):

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Like the Jucy Lucy experience, Steely Dan was just OK. As mentioned, sound played a big factor in the overall evaluation... the vocals were inaudible, and I have a feeling that Steely Dan utilizes a lot of production and fine tuning to sound as good as they do on their albums. Entertainment-wise, they just stood there and played, which is fine by me, but when the sound isn't as expected, it's not a whole lot of fun to watch some old guys play songs that you can sort of make out/identify. The seats were great - 35 rows back, near center... but the overall experience was just "meh" at best.

And finally, I've experienced a new running-related injury. It's nothing major, and it's not impacting my ability to run/train, but it's a bit disconcerting... it's called "black toe" and it basically means that my toenail has turned pitch black and will likely fall off.

The injury occurs when your toe slams into the front of your shoe on a constant/repeated basis over an extended period of time. I earned my first black toe after a 17-mile run a few weekends ago... the weather was so nice, and I had a ton of energy, so I decided to include a few extra miles on my Sunday run. Well, before I knew it, I had clocked 17-miles. I thought my toe felt a bit funny at around the 15-mile mark; I figured I was getting a blister. Nope - it's black toe. :-)

So, not really a big deal, but it's pretty disgusting to look at. It did hurt for a day or two, but it's fine now, so all's good.

A short-lived first place

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So two weeks ago, we proudly announced a new winner of the coveted Friday Night Fish Fry Fanatics award for best fish fry... and that winner was: Schaumburg's Supper Club. Unfortunately, their first-place title was short-lived, as we stumbled across what is quite easily the best fish fry we've ever had.

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The new "winner" of our award for the best fish fry is: The Owl's Nest in Poynette, WI. It's located just east of 51, about 4-5 miles north of highway 60. Trust me when I say it's well worth the drive - from the minute we arrived and took a smell of the air outside of this little bar, we knew we were in for a treat.

We put in our names for a table and were told that the wait would be about an hour. No problem - the night was young, the weather was wonderful, and the bar area was crowded, entertaining, and relatively smoke-free. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the bar was this "lazy Susan" for the various alcohols, as it featured a large, carved wooden owl.

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After almost an hour's wait (to the minute), our table became available, and we were promptly seated in the dining area of the Owl's Nest. We were immediately impressed with the true supper club nature of this place - it featured plenty of wood paneling, wallpaper, true Wisconsin "kitsch" and wall adornments that appeared to be straight out of the 70s. How can you not love these chandeliers and the "hi-fonic" speaker system?

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Our waitress promptly stopped by to take our drink orders and to take our orders. We went with the usuals - a whiskey old fashioned sour, breaded mushrooms, onion rings, and fish. The fish was served family-style, as were the complimentary sides that included baked beans, coleslaw, rye bread, and tartar sauce.

Up first was the old fashioned - it wasn't muddled, wasn't made with Squirt, and featured an orange (a big no-no). We had that promptly corrected - oranges should never be included in a whiskey old fashioned sour... overall, the old fashioned left a little to be desired; it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't spectacular.

Next came the mushrooms, which were spectacular. They were obviously homemade; fresh button mushrooms dipped in a flaky batter, fried to perfection, and served with a huge side of delicious ranch. It would've been easy to eat a couple-two-tree-hundred of these wonderful mushrooms:

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Before we knew it, the onion rings arrived and as hard as this may to believe, they were even better than the mushrooms. The rings weren't so much rings as they were super thinly sliced rings and strings of sweet onions that were lightly battered and perfectly fried. They had a slightly salty flavor, and literally dissolved in your mouth. Wow - so good.

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Our waitress kept the party rolling by bringing out the fish - we ordered both the baked cod and the deep fried cod. They both shared an identical foundation - the cod was fresh, flaky, moist, flavorful and absolutely perfect. Both were served absolutely piping hot; so hot that we burned our mouths with the first bites.

Here's the baked cod - not sure why they include butter... it's absolutely not necessary.

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And here's the deep-fried cod (that's one plate of the family-style fish!):

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The deep-fried cod is available in two varieties: beer battered or breaded. We went with the beer-battered, and it was unreal. The Owl's Nest definitely knows how to prepare a killer batter. Kudos to the fine folks that work there!

We finished the meal with an ice cream dessert; it featured some type of French alcohol that was mixed-in with it (the name escapes me). Hand blended, and extremely generous with the portions, it was the perfect way to cap-off the wonderful meal.

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Combine the outstanding food with some of the best service we've ever experienced, and The Owl's Nest easily takes the first-place prize for best fish fry to date. Do yourself a favor and make the short drive up to Poynette to check out this place. You won't be disappointed!

Playing "catch-up"

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What a busy week. It all started a week ago, on Friday the 30th, with a trip to The Stadium Bar for lunch with a few coworkers. It was the day before Halloween, my projects were racing along at full speed, the weather was cold and dreary... the notion of a steaming plate of fish fry for lunch sounded too good to pass up. So, we headed down to Regent Street and into the infamous Stadium Bar.

The Stadium Bar gets its name from its close proximity to both Camp Randall and The Field House (both Badger institutions - football and basketball, respectively). Rumor has it that on a game weekend, the Stadium Bar will easily host 600-700 people at a time. It appears to have nearly 100 televisions along with a massive outdoor tailgating area.

Another fish fry website ranked the Stadium's fish quite high, so I was excited to try it out. Deep fried lake perch with fries was the only option, and for $8, sounded like a good deal. The fish arrived rather quickly:

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The result: underwhelming. The perch was just ok at best. It wasn't served very hot, it didn't have much flavor, the breading wasn't crisp - it seemed as if the fish had sat under a heatlamp or in a warming tray for a while prior to being served. I wouldn't go back for the fish any time soon.

We finished our lunches and headed back to work, and despite my pleas to stop at the Greenbush Bakery for a "quick donut" (it's almost across the street from the Stadium Bar), my coworkers kept me on track and drove straight to work.

So that brings us to Friday night... with a difficult week of work behind us, it was time to let the hair down and hit a serious fish fry. Plans were set in place to make a drive up to Poynette, but we called a last second audible and made the shorter drive to McFarland, where we found The Green Lantern.

McFarland isn't a "smoke-free" city, so that meant we'd be sitting in a smoky bar as we waited for our table. Imagine my surprise when I noticed my uncle walk past us; it was good to see him (and my aunt). We chatted for a bit, and then our tables became ready. Before we went to our respective tables, my uncle suggested that we order the shrimp - he said it was unbelievable, and well worth the extra cost.

The Green Lantern (or "the greenie" as locals refer to it) is a "rustic" supper club that sits on the eastern shore of Lake Waubesa, almost directly across the lake from Christy's. I have a feeling that on a beautiful day, this would be an ideal place to hang out and enjoy some spectacular lake views.

We started with an order of cheese curds and an old fashioned. The curds:

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As you can see, they were your standard "from the bag" curds. Nothing too exciting. And here's the old fashioned:

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Can you spot what's wrong with that old fashioned? That's right: no muddling, no Squirt, and way too heavy on the whiskey (once again). We didn't have much of a chance to ponder the old fashioned because our fish arrived shortly after the curds and old fashioned...

Here's the baked cod:

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It was absolutely superb - everything you'd expect from a top notch piece of baked cod. Mild flavor, steamy and moist, flaky and tender (but still firm enough to hold up to a fork). I could've downed a dozen pieces of the baked cod (skipped the butter; the fish didn't need it).

Here's the deep fried cod with hash browns:

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Just like the baked cod, the beer-battered deep fried cod was really solid. The fish was served incredibly hot, the batter was crisp and light, the fish was perfect. The hash browns were also quite tasty; maybe a touch greasy, but overall very good.

And... the real star... the shrimp:

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All I can say is "wow." I'm not normally a huge fan of shrimp, but this stuff was exactly as my uncle promised - nothing short of amazing. Perfectly battered monster pieces of shrimp that were crisp, light, and delightful. If you make your way over to The Greenie, be sure to try the shrimp.

In summary, The Greenie delivered a great fish fry experience. We kicked around rankings, and figure it should fall into the 6-7-8 range. It loses some points for the smoky environment and for the lackluster curds and old fashioned, but delivers on everything else.

After leaving McFarland, we ventured back to downtown Madison and into our new favorite watering hole, The Come Back In. They were having a "pre-halloween" party, and we spotted this cool costume:

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It was pretty crowded and very loud (there was also a band playing), so we didn't spend too much time at the CBI. Perhaps we'll head over there tonight to see what's happening...

So that's about it. Sorry it took so long to get this entry done... stay tuned for results from tonight's fish fry adventure - we may head up to Poynette, or we may decide to stay local... we'll see how things play out. :-)