April 2010 Archives

Hanging with the Brew Crew

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I had the opportunity to attend a Brewers game this past Sunday, and since I'd never been to Miller Park (for a game), it sounded like the perfect way to spend what would've been an otherwise dull and dreary Sunday afternoon.

Mark and I were able to score some fantastic tickets via StubHub - 12th row, directly behind home plate, for the Cubs vs. Brewers game. Could you ask for anything better? A bitter rivalry, great seats, and a good time with a coworker/friend? I didn't think so.

We headed over to Milwaukee at around 10:00am - traffic was light, so we arrived with time to spare. Mark had a genius idea - he suggested that we stop at a place called "Sazs" - it's a restaurant located about 1.5 miles from Miller Park. He said that so long as we ordered something from their food menu and at least one drink that they would provide us with a complimentary shuttle ride to-and-from the stadium, and we could park for free in the Sazs parking lot. Sounded like a winner to me!

Sazs turned out to be an absolute win - great food (they had a breakfast/brunch buffet going that was fantastic), a cool atmosphere, and a free ride to and from the stadium. Things were working out far too well.

We arrived at Miller Park and were immediately struck by the sheer awesomeness of our seats. Check out these bad boys:

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I took that at "full wide" - there's no zooming or anything, so it appears as if we were farther back than we actually were. I can't describe how close we were to everything - it was really cool. You could clearly hear the umpire, and every so often some banter between the batter and catcher. It brought a smile to our faces:

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Unfortunately, our smiles quickly faded as the Cubs proceeded to absolutely trounce the Brewers... If I recall correctly, the score was something like 7-1 by the 4th inning... so, we quickly soured on the game and decided to leave shortly after the infamous sausage race.

For those not familiar, the Brewers have a sausage race with people that are dressed in these oversized sausage costumes - it takes place in the middle of the 6th inning, and is usually the highlight of the game (especially so with the butt-kicking that the Cubs were dishing out on Sunday).

This day's particular race was a "relay" race that included the junior sausages - here they are waiting for a "tag" from their senior counterparts:

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And here's the "tag":

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After the race was over, we stuck it out for another inning or so - we got to see Prince Fielder bat a few times... although I think he only managed a single hit, so it wasn't an impressive showing by any means. Here's Fielder taking a pitch:

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And with that, we called it a day. But not before getting a photo with the winner of the Klement's Sausage Race:

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We called the Sazs shuttle and within 10 minutes they were onsite, giving us a ride back to the car. What a great system - no traffic to deal with, no parking fees, some good food, and an all-around-enjoyable experience. If you ever find yourself heading to a Brewers game, budget an extra hour or two before the start of the game and head over to Sazs to take advantage of their shuttle program.

Oh, and finally - this was probably the oddest message we saw on the big screen all day:

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I wonder if she said "Yes"?

Home Plate tickets = $65
Sazs Buffet with drink = $15
Parking = $0
Shuttle = $0
Money spent at ballpark = $0 (because we were stuffed from Sazs)

Not a bad trip by any means. Especially when you consider how much we saved by eating and having a drink beforehand... a brat at the park was $6; a single bottle of beer was $7.75; a soda was $6... talk about crazy!

I'm not quite sure why or how this happens, but it seems as if some of the best fish frys we've ranked come from "out-of-the-way" little places in tiny, unincorporated towns. Case in point: Schaumburg's Supper Club and today's entry, The Wayside Inn.

The Wayside Inn was brought to our attention by my manager from work, Russ. Russ lived near the Wayside Inn and became a fan of both their fish and (gasp) potato pancakes. He confessed to not having dined inside the restaurant very often due to its smokey nature, but said he did carry-out fish quite regularly.

For those not in the know, fish fry does not often "travel" well. I have a theory behind fish fry's poor traveling capabilities - a quality fish fry is served fresh from the fryer, and as such packs a lot of heat and moisture. Dump that piping hot fish into a container, seal it up, and what's bound to happen? If you answered "soggy fish," you're on the right track.

So, when Russ said the Wayside's fish traveled well, I knew we were in for a real treat. We gathered a small group of folks and made the hour-plus drive to the far eastern edge of Jefferson, WI where the Wayside Inn awaited our arrival.

The Wayside Inn is a tiny little "supper club" (it feels more like a bar with a couple of add-on dining areas) that's situated on Highway 18, near the intersection with Highway Y.

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We made our way in to the restaurant and immediately liked what we saw - dark paneling, a long bar, party lighting, and an older crowd that was quite obviously composed of local loyalists. Tap selections were limited, and Mark's first old fashioned sour was most likely some random cocktail (we're still not sure what it was), but the first round of drinks totaled $8.

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After sitting and socializing for a few minutes, I noticed an expansive whiteboard of fish options and decided to take a look at the evening's offerings. The Wayside Inn was serious about its fish - check out this "menu" for Friday night:

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While browsing the menu, "Bruce" (I assume he may be the owner) led us to a small table in the back dining area. A waitress emerged, handed us menus, filled our water glasses, took a second round of drink orders, and disappeared. When she returned with our drinks, she also brought a small loaf of incredibly delicious rye bread that was loaded with caraway seeds. It was absolutely superb - still warm, and wonderfully soft and chewy.

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She took our orders - I went with the traditional cod. Mark opted for the lake perch. Diane chose the baked cod. Russ went with bluegill. Everyone chose potato pancakes as their side, with the exception of yours truly - I opted for the baked potato. Other side options included fries, american fries, and cheesy hashbrowns.

We also ordered cheese curds; I'm sad to report that they were the "Sysco standard" curds - nothing fancy by any means. But, we did appreciate the small cast iron skillet that they were served in, and we all thought the curds were properly cooked.

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We had just finished the curds when our fish arrived. I could tell right away that this was going to be a notable fish fry - everything looked great (the baked fish looked a little buttery/greasy, but everything else looked fantastic).

My "small" cod plate featured three lightly battered pieces of deep fried cod and the baked potato. The batter was enhanced with a hint of spice (salt, pepper, and perhaps a touch of paprika?), was light and crisp, didn't show any signs of grease or sogginess, and was perfectly applied and fried.

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The fish itself was fresh and tasty. Extremely light and flaky; moist and tender, with that perfect fresh cod flavor. The three pieces hit the spot like nobody's business - I could've easily eaten 30 pieces. The baked potato wasn't anything exciting, but come to think of it, baked potatoes are rarely exciting, so all was good.

Mark's lake perch was mounded high and was absolutely phenomenal. I was lucky enough to sample a piece and quickly wished I had ordered the lake perch as well. Here's his plate of lake perch:

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Diane's baked fish was reported to be excellent as well; I think it looked a touch greasy, but it received high marks, nonetheless. Here's the baked cod:

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And finally, the highlight of the meal, and a rare treat when you can find it: the bluegill. Russ wisely chose this delicate fresh water lake fish, and happily offered us a sample. Bluegill is traditionally pan-fried by dedicated fisherman who catch dozens of the small fish, painstakingly clean them, and prepare them in their own kitchens. To find it at a restaurant is rare; to find a mile-high pile of it like Russ had is even more unusual.

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Those lightly breaded, thinly cut filets of bluegill were absolutely incredible. Bluegill features a texture that's similar to perch, with a much more delicate flavor. How tiny little places like the Wayside Inn can offer so many fish selections and do them all so well is beyond me. My head was about to explode - I wished I had more cod, more perch, and more bluegill...

And then there were the potato pancakes. They're more rare than bluegill at a fish fry, and they're almost impossible to do perfectly. Most offerings are usually overcooked or don't feature the correct onion/potato balance. The Wayside made a solid showing with its potato pancakes; granted, The Nite Cap in Palmyra still easily holds the title of "best potato pancakes ever," but The Wayside's were no slouch.

Our bills arrived, we paid at the bar (which was now packed and becoming quite smokey), and then headed to Lake Mills for a final beverage at the Tyranena Brewery. My meal, complete with buying the cheese curds, was $15.25. Very reasonable, especially given the high quality fish.

The Wayside Inn = WIN

Service = 2 stars (slower, but the place was quite busy)
Food = 4.75 stars (some of the best fish ever; solid potato pancakes)
Value = 4.5 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (great "local" place - lots of character)

Summary: Very few places get their fish "right." The Wayside Inn got all of its fish "right" - there wasn't a bad choice in the bunch. If you ever find yourself east of Madison on a Friday night, do your tastebuds a favor and check out The Wayside Inn. This is one fish fry that you shouldn't miss. Easily a top-ten finish.

Crazy Saturday!

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I ran the semi-infamous Crazy Legs Classic race today. It's an 8K (5-mile) race that starts on the Capitol Square and finishes on the 50-yard line of Camp Randall Stadium (home of the Badgers football team). The event attracts about 20,000 people and is more of a party than a race... take for example the pre-race "gathering" - I met some friends (Jed and his wife Jamie) at Genna's Lounge (a bar):

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The place was packed at 9:00am with people that were running the race. And everyone was drinking bloody Marys, beers, and even mixed drinks! I was a bit surprised, to say the least. It was great to hang out with Jed and Jamie (I'm spelling her name wrong - apologies!) and some of their friends from Jed's workplace. We socialized for about an hour or so before making our way out to the Capitol Square to line-up for the race.

The race started at 10:00am with the fastest runners leaving in group "A." I was in group "W" - quite a way from the front pack. Next year, I'll request a faster group, because I spent the majority of the race trying to weave my way in and out of people as I passed them. Here we are, "in line" and waiting like cattle to hit the starting gate.

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After about 20-25 minutes of standing in line, we were near the starting line. The starting line was really cool - it was filled with Badger players who were high-fiving everyone and wishing them luck. The marching band was there playing music, the cheerleaders were rooting for everyone, and Bucky was wishing everyone well. I didn't get a great picture because we were already starting to move, but you'll get the idea:

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The bigger guy (#68) was obviously a lineman for the Badgers frontline... :-)

Once on the road, I tried to get a few photos, but none really turned out too well. We went from the square to Langdon Street, past the Memorial Union, up Observatory Hill, down through the dormitory area, around the hospital, under University Avenue, and then into Camp Randall. Here are a few shots from the race:

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That's Langdon Street, near the Memorial Union.

And here's the "back side" of Observatory Hill:

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And here's the finish line area. I tried to take a photo at the actual 50-yard line, but my iPhone camera goofed-up and the photo didn't turn out at all. :-(

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I finished the race at about the 40-minute mark (update: results were posted - my official time was 40:45 and I finished #3141 out of 20,450). Not a great time by any means (about an 8-minute mile pace), but with 20,000 people to deal with it wasn't a bad race. My hat is definitely off to the Crazy Legs organizers - they know how to run a race. Everything was well organized and easy to follow, and they managed the huge group of people with absolute perfection.

Following the race, there's a big party at Camp Randall, complete with bands, brats, beer, and all sorts of goodies. I stuck around just long enough to take a few photos, including this shot of the spectators:

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After snapping a few photos, I ran the course in reverse back up to the Square (people were still running the race, and after hearing "you're going the wrong way!" about 300 times I removed my race number), where I took a stroll through the Farmer's Market.

It was quite nice - not too many people as the weather wasn't great - and I scored some bison steaks from a local farmer, along with some organic tomatoes, all for less than $15. I also got a picture of the capitol with these about-to-bloom tulips:

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So, all things considered, not a bad Saturday morning. I ran just under 11 miles, had a decent race, picked-up some bison, and am now relaxing at the apartment. The weather is supposed to be crummy tomorrow as well, so I'll probably be stuck riding the trainer. Argh.

Could they be any more cute?

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I'm glad I had my phone near me to grab this picture. Not that I couldn't have gotten up to get the camera... they're zonked out.

I was flying solo this Friday night, so I decided to a drive over to Mount Horeb, troll capital of the world, to sample the fish and the beverages from The Grumpy Troll Brew Pub.

Mount Horeb is located about 25 minutes south west of Madison and is a pretty neat little town. If it wasn't so far from Madison, I'd consider moving there - it's very picturesque and it seems like a nice place to live. The roads also looked to be quite awesome for biking...

I located The Grumpy Troll without too much trouble - it's about a block off of Main Street, and has a rather distinctive sign that makes it easy to find.

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When you enter The Grumpy Troll, you're presented with two options: venture upstairs to the pizzeria, or enter through a door that looks rather "school office-like" and into the bar, where they have a larger menu. I accidentally walked upstairs - it seems like the natural path, but quickly discovered my error and made my way back down to the bar, which was absolutely packed with people.

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I eventually made my way up to the bar and ordered a "Curly" Scottish Ale - The Troll brews its own beers, and many are held in high regard. The Curly was indeed quite good - it was very smooth, not too heavy, and very mildly bittered with a hint of hops.

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After standing around wondering how to put in my name for a table, I asked some folks if they knew how the system worked. They pointed to a small hostess station that was located near the back of the brew pub, so I walked over and asked for a table for one. The rather unfriendly hostess gave me a blank look and said, "ok."

And that was it. Didn't ask for a name, didn't give me an idea of how long things would take - just a blank look and then she walked away. I stood there wondering if I should wait, but decided to venture back over to the bar as a seat was opening up and I wanted to snag it.

Once seated at the bar, I felt a little more comfortable; I figured if I got stuck waiting for too long, I could always eat at the bar. And that's what I did. After about 35-40 minutes of waiting, I asked the bartender for a menu. He obliged and I browsed the vast menu.

I inquired about some "brats in a blanket" as an appetizer - mini brats, wrapped in a sourdough puff pastry, and served with a spicy honey mustard. "Oh, we no longer have those," said the bartender. Argh.

"How are the cheese curds?" I asked.

"We make them in-house, and they're awesome. So are the Grump Chips."

Decision made. I went with the baked fish with Grump Chips, and an appetizer of the curds. The bartender offered to substitute the curds as a side to my fish and bring out the chips first - he said it would be less expensive. Fine by me!

The chips arrived within minutes, along with a pretzel roll and some coleslaw. Everything looked incredibly tasty; the chips were dusted with a spicy blend, some toasted parmesan cheese, and served with a gorgonzola dip.

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Unfortunately, nothing tasted as good as it looked. The chips were cold, stale, and tasted like old grease. The gorgonzola dip had zero flavor - it tasted primarily like lumpy cream cheese. The pretzel was warm and soft, but had no flavor, and it was overly buttery. Oh joy... this wasn't shaping up to be a very good experience.

I ate about 3-4 of the chips, about 1/4 of the pretzel, and waited for my fish to arrive. The bartender asked how my chips were, and I told him, "not good - they taste really old and greasy." He shrugged and walked away.

By now, the bar was largely empty - I guess everyone was seated and eating. I inquired about a second beverage - I went with a Diet Pepsi, and I was also given some popcorn (also not very fresh tasting).

The fish arrived shortly after my soda and popcorn. I was immediately struck by the cheese curds - they definitely didn't look homemade... in fact, they looked exactly like the curds that you can get at nearly every bar in southern Wisconsin - Sysco curds... argh #2.

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I took a bite of the fish and it was game over. The fish was clearly a frozen filet, baked, and covered with paprika. It wasn't moist - it was dry and flavorless. It wasn't tender or flaky - I cut it with my knife and ate it like you might eat a piece of bread... The curds were over cooked and slightly greasy.

I ate about 1/2 of the fish and about 1/4 of the curds. The bartender stopped to ask how things were and again I gave him the bad news. He offered me a piece of the beer battered cod to sample, and I did. It arrived within seconds, and wasn't much better than the baked cod. The batter was too heavy, it was greasy tasting, and the fish wasn't anything to write home about.

I asked for my bill, and almost fell out of my chair - $28, without the beer (I paid cash for that). I asked for an itemized bill - they apparently don't have them.

So, I went and re-created how I hit the $28 price tag... $12 for fish, $7 for curds, $5 for chips, $2 for soda, and then tax. Wow.

The Grumpy Troll = FAIL

Service = 2 stars (horrible, considering I was sitting at the bar)
Food = 1 star (everything tasted old and had a strong grease flavor)
Value = 0 stars
MISC = 4 stars (the beer was decent)

I would definitely not recommend The Grumpy Troll for fish. Their beer was nice, but everything else was less than decent. The pizzas looked good, but I'm not sure if I'd even give them a shot, especially with as bad as the curds and chips were. There are many better fish frys out there - don't make a special trip to Mount Horeb for the fish here. :-(

First yogurt... now mustard?

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I don't know what's going on with the 'ole tastebuds, but my pallette seems to be changing in ways I never would've imagined.

I may have mentioned that I was recently turned-on to all sorts of goodies, such as tomatoes, yogurt, brussels sprouts, squash, and so on. Well, I'm now dabbling in mustard - something I swore I'd never, ever enjoy.

I found a really good honey mustard while visiting the Tryranena Brewery. It was sweet, packed a huge "kick" of spice/heat, and didn't have an overpowering mustard taste. I inquired with the bartender where they got the mustard from, and I was told that it came from "Kallas."

I searched high and low online for Kallas mustard - no luck. On a whim, I decided to stop by the Mustard Museum (which just relocated to Middleton) and asked if they carried Kallas mustard.

"Nope, it's made by a small honey farm in Milwaukee and you can really only get it direct from them, or in a few select grocery stores," said the curator of the museum.

DRAT! But at least I had a lead; a quick Google search got me the contact details for Kallas Honey and I quickly gave them a call. Turns out they were more than happy to ship me an order, so I had them pack-up a few bottles of mustard, some honey, and a special honey BBQ sauce. It arrived about a day later... it was glorious.

I shared the mustard with some coworkers and the unanimous response was, "WOW - that's the best mustard I've ever had." So, I'm happy. Enjoyed a little of the new mustard on a free-range, grass-fed, hormone/steroid/antibiotic-free grilled chicken breast last night. Oh, it was so tasty.

In other news, I've had a brutal week of training - trying to work-off a few extra pounds that I picked-up thanks to some donut scarfing... I'm currently enjoying my new favorite yogurt - Siggi's Skyr:

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It's an Icelandic "yogurt" (technically it's a Skyr, which is a slightly different form of yogurt that's closer to Greek yogurt) that is 100% natural - made from the milk of grass fed cows, doesn't have aspartame, sucrolose, gelatin, artificial flavors, preservatives, or corn syrup. It's so simple and clean - the ingredients include: Skim Milk, agave nectar, blueberries, and live active cultures. That's it... nothing else. If you can find it near you, give it a try, but be warned: it's about as opposite of a Dannon Yogurt you'll ever find.

Alchemy: Fish Fry Review

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Well, wouldn't you know it, but another Friday was upon us and that meant just one thing: it was time for some fish fry. A quick inquiry of our "must visit" list led us to the Alchemy Cafe, which is located on Atwood Avenue in downtown Madison.

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We arrived to the Alchemy at around 6:15pm. The place is quite small and apparently quite popular with the neighborhood residents because our wait time was quoted at "around an hour." We put in our names with the friendly hostess and then tried to make our way to the bar for a beverage.

That effort proved to be nearly futile, so we caught the hostess and asked if we could leave a phone number; we were going to walk next door and grab a seat at the "Ideal Bar." She accommodated our request and we made the short walk to the Ideal, where we grabbed a couple of New Glarus Moon Mans. While sitting at the Ideal, we noticed a bar novelty item that struck our fancy - Beer Nuts. I haven't had those things in 20 years... so, we grabbed a couple of packets and enjoyed our wait.

Before we knew it, the phone rang and we made our way back to the Alchemy, where we were promptly seated at a nice little table near the front of the restaurant. A waitress introduced herself and took our drink orders - Mark went with the customary Old Fashioned; Dennis stuck with water, and I sampled one of the many unique craft brews that they had on tap. I'd only heard of one or two of the breweries listed, so I was curious to see how things would play out. I tried a "Hell Lager" from some tiny little brewery - it was pretty tasty and proved to be a good first pick.

The Alchemy menu is quite limited and appears to change often. The menu that's currently listed online didn't match with what they were offering at the restaurant during our visit - for example, the only choice for "starters" were some fries or a clam chowder; and the entrees had changed significantly as well. No problemo - we were there for the fish; although the only option for the Fish Fry was beer battered cod. No baked, no walleye, no perch - it was battered cod or nothing.

So it was battered cod all the way around; I chose sesame-seared green beans as my side item, while Dennis and Mark opted for fries. Mark's Old Fashioned arrived while we were placing our food order - it was nicely muddled and had a very good flavor. We're not sure if they used Squirt, but it didn't matter as it was tasty. So far, so good.

After about 20-30 minutes of waiting, our fish arrived. The Alchemy features a very cool interior; I'm going to classify it less as a cafe/bar and more of a "gastro-pub." The classification shows through with the presentation - while not fancy, they did try to present the fish in a unique way:

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The fish featured a thick beer batter that was actually quite tasty, if not a tad heavy. I'm pleased to report that the fish itself was absolutely excellent - it was nice and tender, moist yet flaky, and thanks in part to that heavy beer batter, didn't catch any grease. The fish was served nice and hot; and while I took my time eating, the batter never got soggy or greasy - it stayed crisp and perfect througout. The beans were excellent as well, although I couldn't detect any sesame flavor. The whole wheat dinner roll was tasty to boot.

The fries, as ordered by Dennis and Mark were interesting - they weren't so much fries in the traditional sense of the word as they were more like American Fries or thick-cut chips. Here's what the plate of fries looked like:

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They were good, especially when dipped in a touch of ranch, but I'm not so certain I'd order them on my own.

Each fish fry cost $12.95 (a bit steep for what it was), and with drinks our bill came to just over $50; not too bad for three people. The environment was pleasant, the fish was decent, and the service wasn't too bad - although it was a bit slow and "forgetful."

Alchemy Cafe = WIN

Service = 3 stars
Food = 3.75 stars
Value = 2.75 stars
MISC = 4 stars (nice microbrew selection; cool interior/vibe)

Summary: There are worse places to visit for fish; the Alchemy offers a solid fish fry with a very cool interior/vibe. I'd be tempted to try their normal menu - many of the offerings (including a bison burger) sounded quite interesting.

A good weekend

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Happy to report that the weekend treated yours truly quite well. It started with a decent fish fry (review will be coming shortly) and ended with some gorgeous weather. I had a chance to hang out with my friend John from Minneapolis - it's always great to see him, and it's even better when I can combine a visit with a trip to a local brewery.

On Saturday, I met-up with John in Potosi, WI. Potosi is near the Iowa/Wisconsin border - it's about 1.5 hours south west of Madison. John was there diving in a flooded mine shaft (John is an accomplished SCUBA diver) and invited me to drop by and check things out. So, I hopped in the 'ole truck and made my way down highway 151 to Potosi.

I arrived at about 3:00pm, just as John and his dive buddy were surfacing from their dive. Here they are, coming out of the water:

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The area that they're exiting from once served as the main entrance to the mine. From what John said, the mine flooded in the 1960s; it provided both copper and lead back in the day. John said they had to swim about a half-mile into the mine before they got into the actual tunnels. It sounded really interesting; he also provided me with a DVD that of dive footage from the mine - I can't wait to check it out.

Here's John exiting the water - check out that diving rig:

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He uses what's called a "re-breather" - that's the large thing that's hanging on his back. A re-breather captures the expended air bubbles as you're diving, cleans the carbon monoxide from the air, salvages any remaining oxygen, and then uses a chemical reaction to create new oxygen. It's all computer controlled; it allows you to dive for longer periods of time without having to carry several extremely large oxygen tanks. It's a cool device, but is extremely pricey (and quite complex).

Here's a closer-shot of the dive rig:

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He wears a dry suit so that he can dive to some incredibly deep depths without getting too cold. Under that suit, he wears an electrically-heated jacket/pant suit as well. It's a really cool set-up.

Finally, I mentioned that John had some video footage of his last dive to the flooded mine. He also has an amazing video camera set-up... check out this crazy contraption:

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So after leaving the mine site, we headed into Potosi for some dinner and a brew, compliments of the Potosi Brewery. The Potosi Brewery has been around since 1852 - it's one of the older breweries in the area, and from what John was saying, the brewery just recently re-opened, thanks in part to a government grant. The place was apparently left in shambles after closing its doors in 1972; the new owners have done an amazing job of restoring the buildings, which include a museum, the brewery, a restaurant, and a gift shop.

Here's the outside of the brewery:

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When you walk in to the brewery, you cross over a glass covered portion of the floor; the glass shows the spring that feeds the brewery's water supply. It's pretty neat:

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The bar's no slouch, either - it's very nicely done:

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We took a seat at one of the tables and promptly ordered some cheese curds, some root beer (which Potosi makes onsite), and an Imperial Pale Ale (also made onsite). The curds arrived after a short wait - they were ok; nothing great... a bit greasy and slightly over cooked.

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After wolfing down the cheese curds (I had ridden 45 miles and ran 15 earlier that morning), I ordered a grilled chicken salad. John opted for a grilled cheese with chef's vegetables. The salad was super good - one of the best I've had:

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It was extremely fresh tasting; the chicken was perfectly prepared, and the veggies were crisp and of extremely high quality. John reported that his grilled cheese was excellent as well - it looked incredible. We chatted for a bit and then called it a night. John had a 5 hour drive back to Minneapolis; I had a 1.5 hour drive back to Madison, so we called it good.

Finally, I mentioned the weather - wow, what a gorgeous weekend we had. I woke up fairly early on Saturday morning and hit the road for a nice ride, followed by a good run. I threw on the compression recovery tights and socks in anticipation of Sunday's weather, and thankfully I wasn't disappointed...

This morning, I was greeted by a beautifully sunny morning, with temperatures in the high 50s, light winds, and not a single cloud in the sky. Donned the bike gear and hit the road - I had planned to do another 45 mile ride, but the weather was so incredible that I just kept going. Here I am at around the 55-mile mark:

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It was so nice to be out on the open road rather than stuck on the trainer. One of the best things about living in Madison is that you can go from city to "middle of nowhere farmland" in about 10 minutes, as evidenced by this picture from the bike:

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I made my way back to the apartment and was surprised to see that today's ride spanned 65 miles. Not bad, especially for such an early-season ride. My legs felt pretty good, so I hit the road for a short run. I didn't want to overdo things, so I kept the run on the comfortable side. I'll get up tomorrow morning and do my normal circuit.

So, that's about it - the weekend in a nutshell. I'll crank out a fish fry review tomorrow; we hit the Alchemy Cafe on Atwood - not a bad place!

I've had several people contact to ask for more information about my "trainer" and how it works. I guess that I take the idea of it for granted - I just assume that folks know what I'm talking about and how it works. Since trainer season is nearly over (it was 70F this weekend, although incredibly windy - steady wind speeds of 25mph and gusts up to 35mph), it may be time for a little "Trainer 101."

There are two basic "styles" of trainers - stationary and rollers. A roller is quite an animal - there's nothing to stabilize the bike as it essentially sits on "canisters" that roll as you pedal. Here's an example of a typical roller:

roller.jpg

Rollers typically don't offer any type of resistance, although you do have to pedal like a madman to stay upright. Lose your concentration for a moment or two and you could tip over. Rollers are also quite large and heavy.

So, rollers are a nice training tool, but for most folks, they aren't incredibly practical. As mentioned earlier, the other type of trainer is a "stationary" trainer - and that's what I have.

A stationary trainer attaches to the rear skewer (or "axle" if you will) of the bike; the tire then rolls against a metal cylinder that's attached to some type of resistance "motor." The motor can offer resistance via a magnet, fluid, or a fan assembly.

Here's what my stationary trainer looks like:

back_top.jpg

As you can see, the trainer has stabilizing legs that jut out on either side. This provides stability so that the bike won't tip while riding. You can also see that the rear wheel is held in place by two spindles. Here's a close-up of how the spindles attach to the rear skewers:

clamp.jpg

The spindles are adjustable so as to accommodate bikes of various widths. You adjust the spindles so that the bike doesn't rock or have any lateral movement - you really crank them down.

With the bike secured in the trainer via the skewer/axle/spindles, the next step is to bring the resistance cylinder into contact with the rear wheel. The motor is on a spring-loaded hinge-like device, and by turning a large screw assembly, you can bring the cylinder and motor into contact with the rear tire as shown here:

tire.jpg

The goal is to set the tension so that the tire doesn't slip or slide on the cylinder, but at the same time, you don't want so much tension that the tire overheats. There are special trainer tires that resist the higher temperatures that come with trainer use, but they're pricey, and you can't use them on the road.

As I mentioned earlier, there are typically three types of motors: magnetic, fan, and fluid. My trainer uses a fluid/magnetic motor, which consists of a series of magnets that are attached to an impeller that spins inside of a fluid. The fluid helps cool and quiet the motor and also adds resistance.

As I pedal faster, the resistance increases; as I shift up into a higher gear, the resistance increases. So, if I attempt to maintain a 20mph pace in say a high gear, the motor will offer a significant amount of resistance. Believe me when I say that 20mph on the trainer requires some effort.

The beauty of the fluid/magnetic trainer is that it's quiet, offers realistic resistance, spools up nicely (accelerates), and allows for some coasting. Part of the reason for these benefits is thanks to the flywheel, as shown here:

flywheel.jpg

Put it all together, and you get a "treadmill" for the bike. While it's not a perfect solution, it does offer the opportunity for me to ride when the weather might otherwise prevent an outdoors ride (i.e. during the winter or when it's raining too hard). At the very least, it keeps the legs moving.

Here's the whole set-up, complete with a "climbing block" which you can see under the front wheel - it levels the bike when it's in the trainer.

block.jpg

So there you have it. I probably didn't do a super great job of describing how it all works, but you should get a general idea of how it all works. I can't wait for the weather to come around a bit - I'd love to get out on the road and ride "for real" - it's been far too long.

Due to a number of extenuating circumstances around this past Friday's Fish Fry opportunity, we had to revisit an establishment that we had already reviewed... we decided to drop-in on Christy's Landing for three reasons: they were close in proximity to where we were, they were open late (served fish until 10pm), and had availability to seat us.

A little back story if you will. This past week was quite busy; after work most nights, I had to help Mark pack and move, and we spent the better part of Friday moving the majority of his household items. By the time we finished, it was nearly 8pm and we were dead tired, not smelling too fresh, and in desperate need of some fish fry.

Several calls to local restaurants resulted in frustration - the wait times were either in excess of two hours, or the establishments had already stopped serving (or run out of fish). I had no idea that a Good Friday meant every single restaurant would run out of fish... :-)

We called Christy's and they indicated they'd be able to seat us by 9:00pm. That allowed for a quick clean-up and drive time, so we took the reservation.

Upon arriving at Christy's, the parking lot was packed with vehicles, but we were able to secure a spot at the bar where we promptly ordered an old fashioned and a few beverages. Within minutes of receiving our drinks, we were whisked upstairs to the dining room and seated at a comfy little table.

Our waitress informed us that they had already run out of several items (coleslaw, salad, baked potatoes and baked cod), but that they had plenty of perch and battered cod. Mark and Dennis ordered the perch (both chose hash browns with cheese and onions for their sides), while I opted for the battered cod with red potatoes and steamed veggies.

We also ordered a round of appetizers (curds and "fry chips"). Our waitress left and we proceeded to unwind and relax a bit.

The appetizers arrived within 5-10 minutes; the curds were of the standard "bagged" variety, but were cooked well, so they received a solid rating. The "fry chips" were essentially homemade, thicker cut chips with an interesting seasoning applied to them. They were decent, especially when dipped in a bit of ranch.

Drinks were refreshed and our fish arrived soon after. The battered cod was spectacular, just as it was during the previous visit. The batter was expertly applied, nicely seasoned, and complimented the flavor of the fish. It was also cooked to perfection - there was nary a sign of grease, and the fish itself was as expected: tender, flaky, moist, and delicious. The red potatoes and veggies were excellent as well.

I was fortunate enough to be able to sample the perch and the hashbrowns, and am pleased to report that both were stellar. The perch plates were piled high with lightly breaded pieces of perch; all were scalding hot and extremely flavorful. While I'm a purist at heart (I usually go with cod), I could easily fall for perch... and the hashbrowns were wonderful to boot.

All-in-all, Christy's remains an excellent option for Friday night fish. Highly recommended, and definitely worthy of it's current ranking at #7 overall. Our service on this past visit was a bit spotty, but it was quite late and they were obviously extremely busy, so it's hard to take away any points.

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