June 2012 Archives

A (potential) new Number One...

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I know that many of you like reading about the fish frys... I also realize that many of you don't appreciate that I've been slacking with my reviews - I've not been indulging in the fish fry with any regularity, and for that, I apologize. As much as I wish I could review several fish frys per week, my waistline simply won't accommodate it.

And so it makes for a tricky "ratings" system. You see, the fish fry is a fickle event. I might visit an establishment on the 1st, sample the fish, and report that it was absolutely excellent. In turn, you might visit on the 7th, sample the fish, and report that it was absolute rubbish. This has been the case many the time...

There are simply too many variables at play - the fish monger may not be consistent. The batter might vary from week-to-week. A fryer might not be holding temperature as consistently as one would expect. A new cook might have been responsible for preparing the meal. A server may have left your plate in the kitchen a bit too long. And so on.

As such, ranking fish frys in numerical order isn't really fair. I've heard from several folks that places such as Dexter's Pub (currently ranked 17th and 18th) was "the best they've ever had" - yet on my four (4) visits (I've only reported on 2), the fish has been "off."

I've heard that the Avenue Bar fish fry is suffering these days (I currently have it at #3 overall, based on visits from 2009). Christy's Landing (currently #8) also delivers mixed reports from folks.

Long story short, a single visit shouldn't really be used to qualify or rank an establishment. I realize this. But, I am just one man, and I don't put a lot of priority on stuffing my gullet with grease-laden fish on a weekly basis (not that I don't enjoy it). So, I hesitate to announce this, but I believe I may have found a restaurant to bump The Schaumburg Dinner Club from its number one rating.

Take this review with a dash of malt vinegar; give it a try for yourself and let me know your thoughts and experiences...

I contacted my cousin and her husband to inquire about a possible fish fry for Friday, June 22, and thankfully, they were available and interested in joining me. So, I loaded my carcass into the Prius and made the drive out to Buck and Honey's Restaurant in beautiful Sun Prairie.

The weather was absolutely perfect, as evidenced by the massive hordes of people dining in the outdoor patios. That's right - I said patios with an "S" - Buck and Honey's has two (2) patios to select from.

We put in our names for a table and grabbed a perch at the bar. The inside of Buck and Honey's is quite nice - lots of brick and heavy timbers. The bar is large and accommodating, and the service was prompt and attentive. While waiting for our table, we put in for an order of homemade cheese curds.

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The curds were solid. Not quite as good as those from Middleton Sport Bowl, but a very good effort, nonetheless. They were perfectly prepared - there weren't any blow-outs or undercooked curds. The breading was just thick enough to appreciate without overwhelming the curd. The ranch was zesty; the marinara a tad watery.

After approximately an hour's wait, we were escorted to an outdoor table on the front patio. Our server immediately introduced himself, presented menus and specials, and offered to refresh our beverages.

The fish offerings were many - Atlantic Cod (fried or baked), pan seared Walleye, pecan-crusted Tilapia, or the Sampler (Swordfish, Crab Cakes, Scallops). We opted for two orders of fried cod and one order of the Walleye. We also sampled the soups - options were French Onion or Clam Chowder.

Our server departed, orders in hand, and we set about enjoying the wonderful weather. Within a few minutes, our soups arrived. I went with the French Onion, which was absolutely delightful:

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The broth was bursting with caramelized onion flavor, with just a hint of a salty finish. There were two large pieces of dark bread and a heavy draping of cheese. I would've liked to have seen less cheese, but it was a great bowl. I'm told the chowder was "the best ever" - that's a bold statement.

We had no sooner finished the soups when our server arrived with the entrees. Jeff and Leanne went with the cod plates, which came with cheesy hashbrowns, coleslaw, and a roll.

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They were kind enough to allow me a sample of the cod, and wow - it was absolutely spectacular. While the fish appears to be "fish stick-like" in the photo, it was actually quite substantial and delicious. The breading was superb - it clung to the fish like a burdock on a Spaniel. The fish itself was light and flaky. Not a sign of grease anywhere. A perfect fish fry if ever there was.

My walleye came with grilled asparagus and homemade baked macaroni and cheese. I couldn't wait to tear into this:

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I started with the asparagus - while not as thick as I would prefer, it was nicely grilled and featured a very light hint of garlic and black pepper - just the way I like it (and make it when at home). Next up was the mac and cheese, and again, it was superb. The cheese sauce was smooth, with just a hint of bite. The shells were al dente - just perfectly done.

The walleye was insanely delicious. The breading was similar to that of the cod - there was just the right amount of crunchy goodness enveloping the delicate walleye. I mowed through it in no time - picture the cookie monster going through the Keebler Elves tree...

I'm venturing a guess that you would be hard pressed to find a better fish fry in the area. Buck and Honey's was perfect, from beginning to end. As such, I'm awarding it a conditional number one slot; give it a try and let me know your thoughts.

Buck and Honey's Restaurant = WIN

Food = 4.75 stars
Service = 4 stars
Value = 3 stars (walleye was $19; cod $13)
MISC = 4.25 stars (great atmosphere and seating options)

...and with that, I think I'm done.

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I had such a busy weekend, that it's hard to recall the details of exactly what I did, but I'll give it a shot. After the work whistle blew on Friday, I snuck-in a quick run of around 4 miles before working on the Harley for a bit.

With the Hog all cleaned and ready to roll (complete with new tires!), I took it for a quick spin down to the Memorial Union, where I listened to a really terrible band play some "music." It was so bad that I left almost immediately; that and it was incredibly hot outside - high 80s, no breeze, and humid - all at around 8:00pm...

Saturday had me riding in a truck with my co-worker, Dan Christy. He purchased a 1971 VW Beetle from a VW-nut that lived somewhere in the middle-of-nowhere-Iowa. The VW didn't run, so he needed someone to ride along to help him load and unload it. I volunteered, and as such, spent many hours riding shotgun in his 1997 Dodge Ram truck.

The Beetle was in shockingly good condition; very little rust, and aside from needing some minor work, appeared to be nearly road ready. We pushed it onto the trailer, secured it, and hit the road for our 5+ hour return trip. I thought I took some pictures of the Beetle, but either my phone failed, or I accidentally deleted them...

One nice thing that came out of the trip: Dubuque, IA. What a cool looking town. I think I might sneak over there on the bike some weekend and hang out for a bit. I'm not sure what there is to do there other than gamble, but I liked the vibe of the place.

Because we left for Iowa at an ungodly-early hour, we returned with plenty of time to do things at night. So, I once again fired-up the cycle and went for a ride. I stopped in Mount Horeb and snapped several pictures - here's a teaser photo (there will be more to come; I have to edit/clean-up the photos a bit):

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After the ride, I went for a run (man, was it HOT - 90F+, humid, windy), and then met my friend Chris Shubak out for some beverages in downtown Madison. It was great to hang with him and his girlfriend - they're super nice and I enjoy chatting with them.

I woke-up early on Sunday morning so that I could go for a run before the weather got too unbearable. 4-ish miles at 6:00am were just what the doctor ordered. After a shower, I hopped in the car and made the drive out to Seven Hills Skydiving Center, where I would meet-up with a large group of friends from the MidTown Pub for a day of diving.

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You may recall that it was this very same group that inspired me to try skydiving last year. Well, they decided to return in 2012, only this time, they coordinated the jump with the Sevenhills Boogie.

A Boogie is a large gathering of skydivers from various clubs from around the United States. This Boogie had folks from Iowa, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, and other places. They brought up a special plane from Chicago so that they could accommodate larger numbers of divers, and so they could get up to altitude faster.

Every dive that I did last year (I did a total of 21 jumps) was from a tiny, rickety Cessna 182 that could hold a total of 4 people. To exit the Cessna, you had to climb through an opening about half the size of a normal car door, and stand on a super tiny platform while grabbing on to the wing strut.

Conversely, here's the plane the club rented for this year's Boogie:

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That thing could hold at least 16 divers and featured a large opening at the rear of the plane that you simply jumped out of. It was so much nicer. It also climbed to 13,000 feet in a matter of minutes; the Cessna took at least 30 minutes to reach 10,000 feet. Talk about an improvement!

So, the Boogie was breaking all sorts of skydiving records. From what we were told, they shattered the record for number of sorties flown by that type of plane - it made 37 flights on Friday; the world record was 34. They also set some skydiving records with respect to formations, but I didn't catch the specifics. To say they were in a good mood would be an understatement.

Now, I would normally have jumped solo - I'm close to earning my A-license, but with the nature of the weekend, the club wasn't offering any instructor assisted jumps. You either had to be fully licensed to jump solo, or you had to jump tandem.

Since I had never jumped tandem, nor had I jumped from 13,000 feet, I figured it was worth the price to try it. I paid my $179, put my name on the manifest, signed all of the waivers, and waited.

...and waited... and waited... The MidTown crew consisted of nearly 30 people, all of whom were jumping tandem. There were also nearly 100 other divers all waiting for opportunities to jump, so the queue was quite long.

We arrived to the school at 9:00am, and I didn't jump until around 3:30pm. That's a lot of waiting around, with absolutely nothing to do, other than watch people land.

But, at around 3:00pm, I received the call to "suit-up" - or, in this case, put on my tandem harness.

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The tandem harness allows you to be tethered to a jump master, so that the two of you fall as one. He has the parachute strapped to his body, and thanks to the special harnesses, the passenger is attached via four points to the master. The master rides on the back of the passenger.

In what can only be described as a bit of comedic irony, my jump master (Leon) was all of 5'6". Here he is behind me, cinching up my harness and making sure the attachment points are in-line.

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We boarded the plane and made the quick ascent to 13,000 feet. The door opened, and four solo divers lept from the plane, doing somersaults as they exited. I asked Leon if we could somersault and he said, "Absolutely!"

We made our way to the open door, knelt to one knee, and catapulted ourselves from the plane. I counted at least five somersaults; that's quite a rush when you're falling at 140mph. We stabilized ourselves and then free-fell at 140mph for over a minute.

I deployed our canopy (parachute) at 4,500 feet; it cleared, everything looked good, and we were enjoying the spectacular view and peaceful calm of the canopy fall. Leon mentioned that we could do some windmills - he pulled hard on one of the toggles and went into a high-G turn that would have us "windmilling" over the parachute.

Windmilling drops altitude quickly; the loft from the canopy is lost, so you fall at a much faster rate. We scrubbed 1500 feet in a matter of about 20 seconds, so we quickly found ourselves nearing final approach.

Leon was kind enough to let me guide us in, so I took the toggles and with his navigation, brought us in to our true final approach. When we hit about 100-feet, he took over for the final landing.

Here you can see how much bigger I am than Leon, as we're attached in the tandem rig. We're at about 60-feet at this point.

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Leon was an absolute master with the landing - he set us down just perfectly, although the wind caught the chute and we toppled over while trying to separate the tether. I felt bad for crushing the guy... Here we are, just prior to toppling over.

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Despite the awesome experience of jumping from 13,000 feet, somersaulting, windmilling, and all of that fun stuff, I think I'm done skydiving.

Why? The time commitment is simply too great. I lost the entire day to being at the jump site, and I got in one, single jump. That's about par for the course... there's just too many things to do rather than sit around a rural airfield for 8-10 hours. Not to mention the hour+ drive to and from the place.

It's also expensive. A solo jump runs about $60. And once you do get your license, the equipment is outrageously expensive. A used solo rig will run around $5k. A new one can eclipse $10k very easily. Granted, you're trusting your life to the stuff, but that's still a lot of cash.

And, while it's fun, it just doesn't excite me like it did last year. There are other things I'd rather do than climb into a rickety Cessna and sweat for 30-40 minutes before skydiving for 5-8 minutes.

Truth be told, I'll probably do the MidTown jumps if they continue to be an annual event, but aside from that, I don't foresee making any future trips to the drop zone. :-(

Oh well. At least I did it.

Some new wheels...

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Picked-up a new set of wheels today.

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That's a 2004 Harley Davidson Road King Classic. And it's mine.

1450cc's of good 'ole V-Twin American muscle, with a smooth-as-butter ride and a great, deep sound. Gloss black on gloss black with chrome, leather soft bags, and tons of accessories...

(For comparison, the Prius has a 1497cc motor - 47cc's more than the motorcycle - that's a Honda Spree moped's difference between the two vehicles)

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I've been itching to get another motorcycle for over a year - I started looking at Ducati touring bikes, then considered sport bikes, but something kept drawing me back to a V-Twin. They're torquey, smooth, and they just ooze cool. I wanted something really comfortable, yet not so "single-minded" that I couldn't cruise it down a boulevard every now and again...

I started to read the reports/reviews/magazines/web sites/message boards - you know how I am... I get into something and I go "binary" - from "off" to "on" - no real middle ground. I compiled "short lists" of bikes, complete with pros and cons.

And eventually I decided a Harley Davidson FLHRCI Road King was exactly what my OCD-driven research had prescribed.

I searched Craigslist, eBay, and the dealer websites from Minneapolis to Chicago. And, as fate would have it, I stumbled across this bike in Verona, WI. "Well, that's close enough," I thought. I sent off an e-mail, and within a day had began a dialogue with the owner.

Turns out he was trying to buy a dual-purpose on-road/off-road bike and had to sell the Harley to finance the new interest. We chatted for a week or so; and I eventually made my way over to look at the bike. It was immaculate, complete with service records, and more than $2k worth of extras (seats, backrests, windscreens, etc).

We haggled over the price for a few days, and struck a deal at around 2am. He offered me a test ride the following morning at 8am, and I arrived promptly at 8am, having only slept a total of about 23 minutes that night...

During the test drive, the bike felt great, until the shifter completely collapsed on my foot. I was stuck in 2nd gear, with no way to up- or down-shift... hmmm. Thanks to the Harley's massive torque curve, I was able to easily start-and-stop, even with only 2nd gear at my ready.

Once back at his house, we quickly discovered the issue - the shifter linkage rod that connects the shifter assembly to the transmission actuator had snapped at the heim joint. Of all the freaky things to have happen during a test ride...

A quick search of the internet revealed it was a common problem, and that it would cost around $20 to repair. The internet also suggested that a temporary fix could be applied through the use of zip-ties. Easy enough. We tied the linkage back-on; hit the bank to complete the sales transaction, and viola - I was officially a Harley Davidson owner.

Here's the broken linkage, as it sat on my garage floor (after I removed it from the bike):

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I called the local Harley Dealer, and they had plenty of linkage rods in stock, so I loaded the Flea into the Prius and we hit the road for Sauk Prairie. Here's a contradictory photo of my garage:

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The Flea and I hit the dealership, grabbed some parts (replacement linkage, a dress-up cover for the linkage, tune-up parts, fluids, a jacket, some gloves, a helmet, and a t-shirt), and then drove back to the house. 15 minutes later, the shift linkage was repaired, and looking better than ever, compliments of this chromed cover:

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I donned some riding gear and took the bike out for a jaunt to help warm the fluids prior to replacing them. It rode like a dream and I received more than my fair share of "thumbs-ups" and nods of approval from folks while out-and-about.

Back in the garage, I replaced the transmission fluid and did a light tune-up. I'll do an oil change and will drain-and-fill the primary gear drive fluid later in the week.

So... I now have some wheels that I'm not ashamed to drive nor am I worn-out after riding. I'm looking forward to some light day trips and the occasional ride to-and-from work. I'll have to find a side-car or something similar for the Flea to ride in. Can you see her with a leather motorcycle "helmet" complete with a traditional German spike on top?

Here are a few parting pictures, taken from the garage at around 9:30pm...

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And here it is with one of the windshields in place - this makes for a super comfortable highway ride.

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...and a final detail shot of the badging on the windscreen on the photo from above:

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Still here.

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Hi Folks,

Sorry it's been so long since my last entry. Many things going on, primarily in the work-front... Been extremely busy with two major projects and they've been taking up more time than I imagined.

I managed to swing a trip to Minocqua, WI over the labor day weekend. I'll talk more about it when I have some time. For now, here's a picture of one of the small lakes we visited.

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We'll talk soon.

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