April 2012 Archives

If I can make it there...

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...I'll make it anywhere... it's up to you, New York, New York!

Oh, New York. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: the vibe of the city, the hustle and the bustle, the awesome pizza, the even better bagels, the infamous landmarks, the great public transit system, the beautiful parks, the eclectic mix of people... It's such a great city. If I only could make $500,000+ per year, I'd probably really enjoy living there.

But, since I don't make anywhere near half-a-mil per year, I have to make do with a company-sponsored visit. I was in New York for a training class last week; I got to spend a full five days in the city, and I did my best to take as much of it in as possible. Allow me to share the story.

My adventure began at the Milwaukee airport, where I boarded a direct flight to LaGuardia. While waiting for the plane, I couldn't help but notice how dumb our society has become... case in point:

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Seriously - who tries to cram a water bottle into a newspaper recycling slot? While my camera's lens wasn't quite wide enough to show it, there was a plastic bottle recycling bin directly next to the newspaper bin shown above. Ugh.

The flight to New York was uneventful - we arrived a full 25 minutes early, which was nice, because the less time one has to spend on an airplane crammed full of east coasters, the better. At times it felt as if I was trapped in a casting call for the next season of Jersey Shore... nearly everyone was loud, self-absorbed, and obnoxious. Thankfully, I had an entire row to myself, so I was able to don the headphones and immerse myself in an Adam Carolla podcast.

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I purposely packed light - a backpack only - so after exiting the tarmac, I was able to make my way to the ground transportation area, where I purchased an unlimited MTA MetroCard. The card would allow me unlimited use of the bus and subway system.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Google, I was able to chart a public transit route from LaGuardia to Wall Street; I took the M60 busline to 125th and 3rd, then hopped the 5 train south to the Bowling Green stop. Total time to destination: 50 minutes. Total cost: included in my $29 unlimited ride card. Compare that to a 1.5 hour taxi ride at $60... not bad.

I checked-in to my hotel, and made my way to the 44th floor, where my room was located. I opened the window shades and enjoyed this view -

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My hotel was on the southern tip of Manhattan, directly next to Battery Park. That's the Statue of Liberty in the background - if you look closely, you'll see it (it's near the top left-center of the photo).

The southern end of Manhattan is known as the "FiDi" area (Financial District). There are brokerage firms, the NYSE, and tons of bank headquarters. It's also just a few blocks south of the new World Trade Center. While on a walk that I took later in the day, I snapped this photo of a church, with the new World Trade Center in the background. You can see that they're making great progress on it:

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After settling in, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and went for a run. I started my run in Battery Park, then worked my way up the Espalande trail. The Espalande trail follows the Hudson river and is absolutely spectacular. It'll take you from Battery Park all the way north to about mid-town. The trail is completely closed-off from traffic, so it's a haven for walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters.

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After a 4-mile jaunt, I went back to the room, showered, and then set-out on foot to find some authentic New York pizza.

I worked my way up Broadway until I hit Canal Street, where I turned east and wandered through the infamous Canal Street shops. If you're in the market for a fake Louis Vuitton purse or a fake Rolex, this is the place for you. There are countless shops full of counterfeit goods. Here's a photo that I snapped while inside one of the shops - no idea who the people next to me were, but note the return policy that's written on the piece of cardboard under one of the purses:

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I kept walking down Canal Street until I hit Allen; Allen is where Chinatown and Little Italy meet. I turned north onto Allen and walked another mile or so until I was deep in the heart of Little Italy. The smell of pizza, lasagna, ravioli, basil, and other Italian goodness filled the air. My olfactory senses were overwhelmed... each restaurant smelled better than the next; I eventually settled on a place called "Lil' Frankie's" - it looked authentic and there wasn't much of a wait for a table.

Lil' Frankie's didn't sell pizza by the slice, so I was forced to order an entire pizza. But the great thing about most New York pizza places is that their pizzas come in a reasonable size - I'd say they average around 12", so as long as you don't scarf down the entire pie, you're not too glutinous by enjoying half-a-pie by your lonesome.

I browsed the menu and decided to try the classic pizza - a Margherita. Topped with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomato slices, it's the yardstick by which all pizza is measured. In went my order, and within 10 minutes, this piping-hot beauty arrived.

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It was extremely dark inside of Frankie's, so the photo is a bit dark... apologies for that. Alas, the pizza was superb. The crust was perfectly crispy yet chewy. The toppings were fresh and tasty. Along with two Brookyln Brewing Company beers, the meal was a hit, and it only cost $25. With my belly full, I hit the sidewalk for the 3-mile walk back to my hotel.

I took the Allen/Canal/Broadway route once again, and was tempted to buy a fake Rolex, but resisted. These guys didn't look quite as trustworthy as the small shop owners.

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Once back at the hotel, I crawled into bed and slept like a king. The room was surprisingly quiet, thanks largely to the $350 fine for anyone caught honking a car horn in the FiDi area.

The next morning arrived and I woke up early to run before walking over to One New York Plaza, where my class was being hosted on the 31st floor of the building. 1NYP was built in 1969 and hosts a ton of businesses and educational facilities. As you can see, the day was absolutely perfect - not a cloud in the sky.

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I made my way up to the 31st floor, checked-in for my class, and took a seat in the classroom. The school was offering a free "breakfast" with class, although it wasn't much of a breakfast... Eggo waffles, donuts, bagels, and granola cereal... not too healthy, to say the least. I opted for a cup of coffee and browsed around before the class started.

I spotted a heli-pad on the bay - apparently, this is a "commuter heli-pad" - executives and power-types fly-in to work on their own helicopters... during peak commuter times (7:45am and 3:30pm), the heli-pad is completely full, with other helicopters hovering nearby waiting for an opportunity to land. It must be nice to be able to take a helicopter to work each day...

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The first day of class went really well - we had a group of about 11 in our class, and the subject matter was interesting and engaging. Class wrapped-up promptly at 5:00pm, which left me plenty of time to wander the city.

It turns out that Parmilla, a family friend from Malaysia, recently moved to New York, and she contacted me to see if I'd like to join her and her husband for dinner at an infamous Fish-n-Chips joint in the Greenwich neighborhood. Not one to dismiss an opportunity for Fish, I jumped at the chance, and made the 3-mile trek north to Greenwich village.

I love the neighborhoods in New York - this was taken just south of Greenwich:

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And for some reason, this intersection reminded me of the Abbey Road album cover for the Beatles...

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I arrived to A Salt & Battery, the little fish-n-chips place that Parmilla and Daniel had agreed to meet me at. The place was t-i-n-y small... literally standing room only with 5-6 barstools against the window.

Everyone in the place spoke with a thick British accent, further lending to the authenticity of the place. The menu options were limited - 4 types of fish, chips, and British beverages only. I placed an order for haddock with chips and a Moorehouse Witches Brew beer.

I chatted with Parmilla and Daniel, and caught-up with them and their NYC adventures. As luck would have it, their apartment was near the corner of 125th and 3rd; if you'll recall, that's where the M60 bus dropped me off so that I could take the 5 train south to Wall Street... how crazy?!

Our fish was soon ready, and it looked spectacular:

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I'm pleased to say that the taste matched the looks. And for good reason - the fine folks at A Salt & Battery recently beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a food challenge competition for fish and chips. The fish was absolutely divine - flaky, fresh, and clean, with an expertly applied batter that was almost to die for. It was so good, in fact, that I bought a t-shirt from the proprietors. I can't wait to wear this to my next Wisconsin-based fish fry adventure...

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After inhaling our fish, we walked over to a small pub called "Fiddlesticks," where we had an after dinner drink and a small dessert. The dessert looked awesome - a flourless chocolate cake with a tres-leches ice cream. While I didn't partake, it looked fantastic.

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After the fish and drinks, I walked back to the hotel - nothing like a 3-mile walk back to the hotel to help work-off the greasy goodness of a fish fry. :-) Along the way, I passed Maserati of Manhattan, where I spied my next car:

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Yummy.

Parmilla made a collage of photos from our visit to A Salt & Battery and sent it to me the next day; she used her iPhone to take the photos, edit them, and assemble them into this neat presentation. I've since downloaded the photo applications as well - I can't wait to start using them.

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Thursday arrived, and it was one again time for class. Only this time, rather than suffering through the "breakfast" at the class, I stopped by Leo's for a breakfast bagel. Check out this monster - it's an everything bagel with an egg, turkey bacon, and Vermont cheddar. It was darned good, if not too big to eat... I had to remove one half of the bagel so that I could eat it.

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Just like A Salt & Battery, Leo's was a tiny little place that was packed with people. I was able to make my way through the line in almost no time, and was shocked that my breakfast, along with a 1-liter of water only cost $7. And here I thought New York was pricey... I guess so long as you know where the good "local places" are, you'll be OK.

For lunch, I wandered over to Crumbs Bakeshop... I'd heard of Crumbs while listening to the Howard Stern show on Sirius, and had wanted to sample their cupcakes for quite some time... the case of goodies looked promising:

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I selected a small lemon cupcake (only 300 calories!!) and then walked over to another local pizza joint called Underground Pizza. A few locals had tipped me off to this place, and am I grateful for the suggestion. The pies looked amazing:

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(Thank goodness I was running each morning and walking everywhere)

I ordered a slice of sausage pizza and enjoyed it, along with my cupcake from Crumbs Bakeshop.

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Talk about tasty. I think the Underground Pizza was better than the pizza from Lil' Frankie's - it seemed more authentic and true to the NYC style of slice. I folded it like a pro and enjoyed every bite before returning to class.

After class was done for the day, I returned to the streets, where I wandered around a bit. I walked past the infamous Wall Street Bull...

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And then I worked my way up to the SoHo district, where I stumbled across the headquarters for my favorite cologne/perfume shop - Bond No. 9.

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I was excited to sample their latest fragrances, but didn't purchase anything - there weren't any intriguing new scents, and I've been pleased with my current collection, so I saved my sheckles and kept on walking. Many thanks, however, to the friendly and helpful folks at the Bond No. 9 store - I appreciated their time and patience as I sniffed and sampled countless fragrances. :-)

By around 8pm, the 'ole food pit was grumbling, so I started investigating food options. After a few misses, I landed at the Fraunces Tavern and Restaurant. The place looked good, and the Yelp reviews were favorable, so I wandered in and requested a table for one. I was promptly seated and presented with a massive beer menu.... I decided on a porter, and also requested a side of "bourbon-ginger roasted mixed nuts."

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The porter was good, but the mixed nuts were extremely ordinary. They didn't taste any different than what you'd find in a regular can of Planters mixed nuts... my server returned and asked what I'd like for dinner, and based on her recommendation, I went with the fish-n-chips.

And boy, am I glad that I did - they were stellar - perhaps even better than the stuff from A Salt & Battery... the fish featured a crispy Guinness batter that was as flavorful as it was plentiful. Wow, was it good. I only wish that I hadn't been sitting directly beneath a huge red neon sign, because I wasn't able to capture a good photo... this is the best of the bunch...

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After dinner, I returned to my room, watched some television, and called it an early night. My final day of class was on Friday... I had planned to skip the last half so that I could browse around Manhattan, but the class was so good that I decided to stay until the very end.

At the end of the day, I received a text from Parmilla, who invited me to join Daniel and her at a little pizza place near mid-town. Once again, I laced-up the walking shoes and trekked the 4.1 miles north to 53rd street, where I met them at Don Antonio's for pizza.

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Along the way, I passed several cool places, including this doggy day care:

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And the infamous New York Times headquarters:

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But enough about that, let's get back to dinner... :-)

Don Antonio's features some interesting pizza options, including a pizza that is partially deep-fried before being finished in a wood-fired brick oven. Parmilla, Daniel, and I ordered like kings - we started with caprese, which featured house-made mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil. It was divine:

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Before long, our first pizza arrived - it was the aforementioned specialty pie... by par-frying the crust before baking, the dough puffs up and becomes slightly pastry-like. It was topped with smoked bison mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. It was delicious.

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To follow-up the specialty pizza, we ordered a sausage pizza and a margherita pizza. Both arrived, and both were spectacular, although I think the sausage pie stole the show.

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With our gullets full of pizza, we took a walk toward Times Square; the crowds were unreal.

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We also walked past several infamous landmarks, including the Ed Sullivan theater, which hosts the Late Show with David Letterman. As it was a Friday night, the show wasn't active, but that didn't prevent me from snapping a photo of the marquee.

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While walking around the Times Square area, we spotted this little beauty - a Lamborghini Gallardo convertible. Nothing like seeing a $200,000 car casually rolling around the busy streets of downtown Manhattan... on a Friday night, nonetheless.

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Seemed like such a shame to have a 550-horsepower, all wheel drive, clutchless manual transmissioned beast like that in the city. I'm guessing it spends the majority of its time idling around, stuck in traffic. If the owner of that fine automobile is reading this, I'd be happy to help it stretch its legs out here in Wisconsin.

We kept walking around midtown - the area is almost surreal. There are so many signs, lights, businesses, and people...

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Parmilla led us to the "2-month store" on 42nd Street; this store changes every two months, based largely on current events. As luck would have it, the store was set-up for the pending NFL draft day - the draft would be held at this store in New York. They had tons of NFL gear, including all of the new jerseys/uniforms on display:

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More interestingly than the jerseys were the game shoes that were on display - these were actually worn by folks like Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and so on. Here are Cam's kicks:

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Upstairs there was an interactive exhibit; the fine folks from Wilson were on-hand to demonstrate how they manufacture footballs. Wilson is the exclusive supplier of all footballs to the NFL, and they brought actual employees and equipment to demonstrate how footballs are assembled. It was pretty interesting watching them cut the leather blanks, sew them together, insert a bladder, lace the ball, and then inflate and test it. Here are a few pictures from the process:

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The lady in that last photo (lacing the ball) has been lacing footballs for Wilson for 35 years. That's unreal!

And finally, we got to see the actual Lombardi trophy. This wasn't the copy that each team receives after winning a Superbowl, but instead, was the original trophy. It weighs 15-pounds as is crafted from solid silver. This is the trophy that you'll see on TV right after a team wins the Superbowl; after the game it returns to NFL headquarters.

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After wrapping things up at the NFL Draft Store, we continued walking south toward Union Square. We stopped-in to Mario Batali's Eataly, which is like a self-contained food court, grocery, and wine store. Inside, we found four different restaurants, a massive grocery store, dessert retailers, a pasta counter, a butcher shop, and more. To say it was impressive would be an understatement. Here are some photos from inside the place:

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Those are imported olive oils - there were several rows of shelving like that full of olive oils.

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That's one of the common eating areas... after you grab your gelato, desserts, wine, and sandwich (or pizza, or lasagna, etc) you can assemble in the common area and enjoy your bounty. As mentioned, there are also 4 "sit down" restaurants inside as well.

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A row of scrumptious looking desserts...

We left the crowded Eataly venue and continued over toward Union Square, where the Occupy Wall Street group was in full effect. It was amazing how busy the area was, especially considering that it was nearly 10:00pm...

We took a peek at the national debt clock and quickly became depressed...

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Having walked nearly 8.5 miles, I decided to call it a night. Parmilla, Daniel and I all bid each other a farewell, and then I boarded a train for the FiDi. It felt good to sit down and relax for a bit; between the running and walking, I managed to log nearly 13 miles that day... not bad.

Before I knew it, the train had me back near the hotel.

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I made sure to pack my bag that night - I had to be awake and on the train by 7:30am the following morning so that I could make my 10:05am flight from LaGuardia back to Milwaukee. My poor backpack didn't know what hit it - to say it was stuffed full would be an understatement:

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Saturday morning arrived far too quickly; I took a shower, grabbed my things, paid my hotel bill ($1672 for 4 nights!!!), and hit the street. I made one last stop at Leo's for a final breakfast bagel:

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I shared my bagel with a flock of birds while sitting on a bench near Battery Park. I think they were grateful for my generosity; there was no way I could eat the entire bagel, so I gave them the half that I couldn't fit into my trap. :-) There's something so great about sitting in downtown New York on a Saturday morning... it's eerily quiet and relaxing.

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With breakfast in my belly, I walked over to my local train station, where I planned to take the 5 train north to Spanish Harlem, where I would pick-up the bus to LaGuardia.

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There was only one problem with my plan: the lower Manhattan trains were all closed for maintenance work... yikes!! I quickly consulted with my Google maps and found that I could catch a northbound subway from Canal Street... some 1.25 miles north. I hoofed it up to Canal Street, got on the 2, and after 45 minutes arrived near 125th street. I hoofed it some more and found the M60 bus near Lexington, boarded and breathed a sigh of relief.

The relief was short-lived; I had less than 1 hour to get my plane ticket and make it through security. Thankfully, everything went smoothly - I made it to my gate just as they were calling for "last chance" to board the plane. I'm so glad I didn't have a suitcase to worry about!

I hopped on-board, took my seat, put in my earphones, listened to some more Adam Carolla, and enjoyed the return flight.

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Back in Wisconsin, I drove to Watertown to pick up the love of my life - Flea. It was good to see her, and I'm guessing she was happy to see me as well... she wouldn't leave my lap during the drive home:

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I also made a detour while heading home so that I could enjoy a dinner with Dan & Tara - we ventured over to Crawfish Junction to catch-up with one another. It was a stellar dinner, although it wasn't real good for my waistline... here's the "burger" that Dan and I split:

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That beast was called "The Hangover Burger" and featured a deep-fried 1/2-lb patty of beef, along with onion strings, bacon, a fried egg, "funeral potatoes" (cheesy hashbrowns) and barbeque sauce... I'm not sure if it's meant to help cure a hangover or if it's supposed to induce a food hangover... I definitely felt a food hangover after eating half of it.

We called it a night, and I called the whole week "great." I can't wait to get back to New York - I absolutely love it, and was thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit again. If you've never been to New York, you must go. I'd recommend staying in the Financial District - I've stayed uptown, midtown, and downtown... I like the FiDi best - it's reasonably priced and thanks to the subway, you can get anywhere quite easily. The walking isn't bad either - just bring comfy shoes.

Once again, I was drawn to the Dorf Haus. The sweet siren's song of silky smooth cod, bountiful fries, and an excellent selection of German brews was simply too much to resist.

Our small group of four diners made the 15-minute trek north to Roxbury, put-in our names for a table, and bode our time at the Dorf Haus' excellent bar. Spaten Optimator, Oktoberfest, and Pilsners were ordered and consumed. Dishes of the cheesy bar mix (pretzels, Cheetos, Doritos, and rye chips) were demolished. Fun conversations filled the air.

After waiting for nearly two-hours, our names were called and we were led by the hostess to the infamous "banquet hall" area, where a fireside table awaited us. A friendly waitress stopped by to inform us of the special - snapping turtle - and to inquire as to whether or not we required refills.

Intrigued by the turtle, we placed an order for a plate, along with two rounds of AYCE (All You Can Eat) cod, a chicken sandwich, and an order of broasted chicken (we had two non-fish aficionados with us). Our waitress trotted off with our order, and returned with the Dorf Haus's notorious "easter egg" (a term used by video game fans that discover hidden gems within a game) - the pre-dinner fritters.

Those golden-fried puffs of airy dough are simply delicious, especially when dressed in a shot of local honey.

After a brief wait, our food arrived, and things looked as stellar as usual. The AYCE code plate featured several large pieces of delicious fish:

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I immediately tore into the plate and in doing so nearly melted the skin from my fingertips. That fish was fresh from the fryer! The Dorf Haus uses one of the best batters in the biz - it's light, clingy, crispy, and flavorful. There's just a hint of salt, and it's backed-up by wafts of corn and beer. It's so good.

The batter surrounds some of the area's best cod; the fish is creamy white, firm, flaky, moist, and robust. There's never a soggy piece; there's never a chewy piece - it's perfect every time. Exactly what you'd hope to find in a quality fish fry.

The accompanying fries were excellent as well; they have that "steakhouse" flavor, and are fried to a perfect golden brown. I don't imagine they're homemade, but it doesn't matter. They're excellent, nonetheless.

Our surprise guest (the snapping turtle) looked extremely interesting... it didn't resemble turtle so much as it did a beef pot-roast:

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And the flavor matched the looks; it honestly tasted almost identical to a beef pot roast. The only discernible difference came by way of a bunch of unexpected bones. The dice-sized bones were a complete surprise... but they didn't affect the overall experience - I'd order turtle again.

Our waitress stopped-by several times throughout the meal to refresh water glasses and plates of fish - and each additional plate of cod was better than the last. How they can maintain such high quality while serving what has to be thousands of plates of fish is beyond me.

Dorf Haus = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 5 stars
Value = 4 stars
MISC = 4.5 stars (atmosphere, brews, fritters)

The Dorf Haus continues to maintain it's strong showing in the ranks here at Geekysteve's Wisconsin Fish Fry Reviews. :-)

The only downside? The long wait, but that's not really so bad, especially when it's so enjoyable to spend time at this place.

Go. Order the fish, and don't be afraid to try the turtle if it's on the menu. Seriously.

I used to think that Wisconsin had some decent drinking water. But then I moved to Arkansas, and I was shocked to find that no one in that area used a water softener. I even questioned my home builder about the lack of a softener, and he made some quip about us Yankees and our bad water "up there."

When I moved back to Wisconsin, one of the first things I noticed about the water was how "greasy" I felt while rinsing myself off in the shower. That's a side-effect of soft water, I suppose. I also noticed that the faucets in the kitchen of my apartment were covered in mineral deposits, and, that the water tasted odd. I chalked a lot of that up to the old age of my first apartment.

Apartment #2 had a refrigerator with a built-in water filter. That helped with the taste of the water, but I noticed the same mineral deposit build-up on the faucets, and, I found that I had to replace my water filter every two months or so - the water would slow to a trickle as the filter clogged with sediment.

The new house here doesn't have a water filter in the refrigerator, so I went back to drinking tap water. And, well, it stunk - both literally and figuratively. Some days it would taste literally like fertilizer. Other days it tasted like pure metal.

Having given-up diet soda in February, my beverage options are quite limited - water, unsweetened tea, and the occasional carbonated mineral water. I spoke to some neighbor friends about the drinking water, and all agreed it was of dismal quality. I mentioned it to my good friend Chris from work, and he told me that he "makes" his own reverse-osmosis-filtered water for his massive salt-water fish tank.

He showed me his water-making set-up, and I was impressed. It had a really complex-looking filtration system with large tubs of water, sand filters, pumps, coral pools and more. He needs to clean, treat, and prep the water so that his fish will stay alive. If that doesn't say something about the water quality here, I don't know what else does.

So, I asked Chris for some help with a water filter system at the house, and he suggested a system from Spectra Pure - the same company he uses for his tanks and his drinking water.

The price for this stuff was a bit shocking - it's not your $19 Brita or Pur system - but, it's effective and is the real deal. So, I bit the bullet and placed an order. Within a few days, the system arrived, and I was ready to install it.

Here's what the kit looked like after I unpacked it from the shipping containers:

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Four cartridge filters, including a reverse-osmosis membrane, a pressurized storage tank, a faucet, and a bunch of lines. Good times were in my future.

The system is sold as an under-the-sink unit, however, I thought it would be best to install it in the basement and then run the supply line up to the sink. However, upon closer inspection and in talking through it with Chris, it made more sense to install it under the sink. So, I cleaned-out the cabinet under the sink, made a mark for drilling the faucet hole, and got to work.

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I had to buy a special drill-bit to cut through the stainless-steel sink, and boy was that money well spent - the bit made short work of the stainless.

With the hole cut, I set about preparing the sink connections - I had to insert a supply-line ball valve, cut a small hole in the existing drain pipe, and run all of the lines.

The only downside to my new filter kit was the inclusion of some super cheap-o compression fittings. Rather than including copper fittings, the company used these skimpy plastic fittings that failed with every attempt to create a leak-free connection. One particular fitting failed in spectacular fashion - spewing gallons of water around the kitchen at around midnight. Ahh. Good-times.

The next morning, I stopped at the hardware store, purchased $0.92 worth of copper fittings, and within 30-minutes, the system was live.

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The supplied faucet matched the sink fairly well (although it didn't match the goldenrod wallpaper). :-)

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After draining and filling the system a few times to flush the new filters, I was able to enjoy the fruits of the new system - a fresh, clean, clear, and completely tasteless glass of pure water. Ahhhh.

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Lordy, Lordy...

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Guess who is forty (40)?!

I cannot believe it, myself. I don't feel as though I'm that old and I certainly don't act like much of an old man... If someone would have told me that I'd feel virtually the same at 40 as I did at 20, I would have suggested they seek mental health advice. Granted, I don't feel as spry or healthy as I did a year or two ago, but I have no one to blame other than myself for that - eating like a jerk and not exercising much will do that to a guy.

I find myself heavier today than I have been since December of 2008... that's a bad sign, especially for someone my age. I'm as serious as a (pending) heart attack when I say that I must get back on-track with some sort of responsible eating pattern and workout routine. My face looks so unbelievably chubby in this photo, it's embarrassing.

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But enough about my poor eating choices and lack of exercise. I'd rather (at this moment) talk a bit about the excellent birthday party from this weekend. I truly do have a marvelous bunch of friends - from life-long pals like Dan and Tara to my co-workers to my friends from around Madison - you're all a great bunch of people. Thank you so much for attending the get together, for the good times, the cards, and for the well-wishes.

I have to extend an extra round of thanks to Steve and Molly - they played hosts for the shindig and they did an amazing job in every respect. Regular blog readers will recall that Steve has a great house, the Green Egg smokers, and an excellent selection of whiskys, scotches, and bourbons, so when he offered to host the event, I jumped at the chance. Thank you!!

It's hard to say which items were most popular at the event, but it's probably safe to say that the smoked turkey and baby back ribs were near the top of the list. Here's the turkey and one set of ribs, fresh from the Green Egg smoker:

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That, my friends, is a 10-lb bone-in turkey breast and 5 full racks of ribs; another 5 full racks were still smoking in the Green Egg. At the suggestion of a coworker, we tried Famous Dave's Rib Rub on the ribs, and it was phenomenal - super good stuff. For the turkey, Steve used a poultry rub from Whole Foods - another win.

I was a bit nervous that we'd have too much food, but we managed to get nearly 30 people at the party, so the food went quickly:

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Both the turkey and the ribs were unreal. They were perfectly cooked and featured a delicious smokey flavor; the turkey was incredibly moist and the ribs were super meaty - they were more like little pork chops than ribs... Accompanying the ribs and turkey were some grilled chicken breasts:

grilled_chicken.jpg

We also had a plethora of dips, chips, salsas, guac, and other goodies - here's an avocado black bean dip/salsa that Ian's fiancee, Mandy, made for us. It was super delicious - people plowed through it almost as fast as they did the meats:

dips.jpg

I ate a boatload of turkey, ribs, and that dip. So much, in fact, that I've surely met my smoked food quota for the year. :-) That said, there was still room for some Craig's Cake Shop cake:

cake_before.jpg

You're looking at a chocolate cake, with raspberry buttercream filling, covered in Craig's signature white chocolate flake frosting. And here it is after we tore into it:

cake_after.jpg

I snapped other pictures aside from the food - here's a photo from the kitchen, where a few people were hanging out.

kitchen.jpg

If the weather had been a little nicer, we would've spent more time outdoors. Odd as it sounds, as the night wore on, the weather seemed to warm-up, so by 9pm, we were outside sitting around the fire pit, making s'mores.

One of the highlights of the night was receiving a homemade card from Kate and Michael - they're my coworker Brian's kids (you may recall seeing them in the Livestrong fundraiser event photos from October of 2011). They crafted this awesome card that featured Luke Skywalker (dressed as a ninja), fighting General Grievous, with Yoda assisting. Accompanying the card was a custom-made bottle of "Colt 40" (it's normally Colt 45, but it was my 40th, so Brian made some edits to the 40-ouncer). If you look closely, you can see Brian's wife, Brenda, in the background with Michael and Kate.

card.jpg

And lastly, I managed to snap a photo with a group of my pals - you'll definitely recognize Tara in the photo; she's flanked by Chris (next to me), Bryan and Josh. I'm fairly certain this photo was taken rather late into the evening, so that help's explain the fun expressions.

group.jpg

So, there you have it. 40 years old. A wonderful party with close friends, great food, and good times. There's not much else to say, other than "thank you" to everyone who attended, and a huge "thank you" to Steve and Molly for the hospitality.

Oh - I almost forgot... the first two photos were taken by another good friend of mine, Jackie. She is a photographer and did an (dare I say "killer") awesome job with the photos. If you like her work, she has a website - be sure to check it out.

There were a few other photos that she took, including this one:

40_2.jpg


40_4.jpg


Thanks again to everyone. Now it's back to the workout and eating-like-an-adult wagon.

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