The kids are back in school now, settled, but in September they were still chafing under the yoke of a new academic year. All the sugary sodas and Totino's Pizza Rolls have been replaced by...well, let's not pursue this one any further. Suffice it to say, whether you're a kid or not, or have one or not, September always brings youth to mind.
So maybe it's no surprise that I found myself eating like a high schooler again in September, with too many tacos and subs and DQ frozen treats to justify. But as all wild youths must, I matured as the month went on, spending less time at the doughnut shop and eating mini Blizzards instead of large ones. (Actually haven't eaten a large Blizzard in probably 15 years; I'm never going back to that old-school.) All that said, I'm watching Ghostbusters as I write this, and still quoting as many lines as I did in 1995. Some things never change.
The Freshman 15
Stress-eating is never a great choice, but there are worse ways to sweat the unknown in life than with Culver's and Capital Creamery. (When you order your salted caramel shake at the latter -- and you will -- be sure to speak loudly. The nice ladies don't always hear the right flavor.) Back in my younger days, I'd take up residence at the local Mister Donut; today, Madison has seen the return of its descendent, Dunkin Donuts. I tried an old fashioned, and it was not good. Leave it in the realm of nostalgia.
Noodles, Qdoba -- this is food you generally don't have to think about. What I can tell you is that in the eight years or so since my last Qdoba burrito, the quality has improved to the point where at least I don't feel like the place might fail an inspection. (It's still not particularly good, but the nachos are an evil sort of comfort food.)
Cafes! Bake shops! Food carts! All signs of a crude palate sophisticatin'. Quick runs to Fitchburg and the south side of Madison hit on a couple lunch joints. Nettie's Cafe is a safe entry point, with good sourdough and friendly service. Rolling Pin Bake Shop's muffuletta was, no joke, nearly two inches thick with meat, cheese, and olive relish. The lemon bar was oddly salty, much less pleasing. And the food cart-turned-restaurant Banzo keeps on making some of the best falafel in town, even if they just can't seem to get all three sauces onto my order when I order all three. (And when are they going to finish work on their dine-in space?)
Bonfyre pleased the in-laws, though the mountainous children's portion of rotisserie chicken goes beyond "generous" to "actually too much for a child." (My lamb burger was well-topped, but a little mushy.) The tonkatsu at Umami made a good friend (and mommy-to-be, yay!) with Japanese ancestry quite happy, and the hiyayakko (chilled tofu) appetizer made everyone at the table happy. And somewhere between sorority sister and Sex and the City, the Food Fight group has opened the swanky burger/milkshake/cocktail spot DLUX and begun marketing it to women as the place to be the night of, or the morning after. I'm in none of those groups or parties, but I found the burgers to be good but a little under-seasoned, the fancied-up fries both tasty and reasonably priced, and the milkshakes slim but flavorful. (Toasted marshmallow, topped with actual toasted marshmallows!)
The best thing I ate
Funny thing: when you eat a bunch of junk for half the month, it's hard to find something exceptional to talk about. Surprisingly (or not, if you read A Hamburger Today), the Colby Jack Pub Burger from Culver's was a pretty exceptional offering from the Land of Butter Burgers. Unlike AHT, however, I would have preferred a stronger hit of A1. Two specials from Stalzy's -- a smoked pork loin breakfast sandwich and the double-smoked brisket Reuben -- were salty, rich, and huge; these are all, obviously, good things at a deli, and demonstrative of just how great Stalzy's has become.
But because of the value, and the portion, and the general unexpectedness of the quality, the blue cheese and bacon fries at DLUX take this month's top honors. A lot of websites, food- and dating-centric, claim that messy foods aren't good choices for nightclubby, potentially romantic nights out. I say there's a way to eat amply-topped french fries somewhat neatly, but with the occasional Finger Lick of Alluringness. These fries -- $5 for a shareable portion -- make the grade.