Kyle Ate Here - The 2011 in review edition

Here we are, at the end of this year-long experiment in journaling -- something I've never been good at doing, and didn't always attend to properly throughout 2011. But I've filled two notebooks with this year's dining notes, and a little retrospection is only fair.

And there is, of course, the matter of December. It was a pretty slow month, what with Christmas shopping and travel and what-have-you. So many other gifts and bounty, I'm sure December won't mind if it gets a little short shrift.

December dining

The defining social movement of 2011, I'm sure.

The defining social movement

of 2011, I'm sure.

Even a mild winter gets me all cozy for the coffee shop experience: leisurely mugs and pressed sandwiches. Redamté on State and Firefly in Oregon did a fine job of scratching that itch. (Though, I found it odd that Firefly doesn't offer hot breakfast options, only house-made baked goods. The lemon cream scone wasn't Lazy Jane's-caliber, but satisfied nonetheless.) And Barriques' BLT wrap is just so perfect. Papa Bear's BBQ amazed once again with a luscious BBQ pork po'boy, topped with crisp cabbage and spicy ranch. On the flip side, Brickhouse BBQ was a major letdown from our last trip; a meal full of off flavors and poor finish made me glad we used a gift certificate and didn't pay full price. Odd flavors also marred what would have otherwise been a nice sandwich at Carmella's, a very popular bistro in Appleton; my shaved prime rib panini was pleasant but for a burnt-tasting fried caper and fennel aioli.

Even for a slightly abbreviated month of dining out, exemplary dishes shone forth. A late-month trip to Tipsy Cow saw my beloved PBR tacos return to form. I finally visited Ian's Pizza on State in its remodeled...state, and a sausage alfredo slice left nothing to be desired. That Papa Bear's po'boy would have won any other month, but the best present I unwrapped outside of Christmas morning was the double-smoked brisket sandwich at Stalzy's Deli. Gloriously smoky, perfectly cooked, just fatty enough -- everything you want from a piece of smoked meat.

It's 2012, and 2011's check has come

So, kids, what have we learned? I can tell you what learned through these posts.

-I learned that Papa Bear's BBQ is more than just quick-n-easy barbecue; it has to be considered as one of the best 'cue joints in Madison.

-I learned that throughout all the protest crowds, all the social media chatter, and even a closure and re-opening, Tipsy Cow still hasn't figured out how to either offer anything more than the minimum level of service, or even build a basic website. (But feel free to peruse the defunct King and Mane branch of the Lombardino's site.)

-I learned that Madison's Bakery Row (Willy/Atwood area) has probably reached saturation. RIP Bea's Bonnet, but glad to see you're still buzzing at Victory.

-I learned that shelling out for food at Michael's or Java Cat (gelato excluded, as I still haven't tried it) is almost never worth the cost.

-I learned that getting to the Library Mall lunch cart corridor -- even if you have to drive there -- is absolutely worth it.

-I learned just how wonderful San Francisco is for a guy who loves to eat, and only scratched the surface.

-I learned that I still have a lot to experience in the world of Madison restaurants -- and 2012 is going to be a great year to discover more.

The best things

January - Chicken francaise, jacs Dining and Taphouse

February - PBR-battered tilapia tacos, King and Mane

March - Brussels sprouts with lemon, Merchant

April - Montrachet goat cheese tart, Brasserie V

May - Roast beef sandwich, Johnson Public House

June - Bananas flambé chocolate, DB Infusion Chocolates

July - Drunken shrimp with XO and ale butter sauce, L'Etoile

August - Krupuk udang (shrimp chips), Bandung

September - Blueberry pie, Graze

October - The Bada Bing pizza, Luigi's

November  - The G breakfast sandwich, Gotham New York Bagels

December - Double-smoked brisket sandwich, Stalzy's Deli

Whaddaya say: wanna do this again in four weeks?