Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
The Book of Revelation 3:20
The end of the world didn't turn out to be the end of the world. Quetzalcoatl is still preening. The Four Horsemen are sitting in their spectral living room watching another season marathon of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. So we can all sit here and talk about the food that was, and the eating to come. At least until the 2013 solar flare melts all of our faces.
Unpack some of the freight of the word "revelation," though, and you're left with a word describing discovery. Food writers employ it when a dish or technique or restaurant vastly exceeds expectations, or has been hiding its excellence in plain sight. Mayan calendar notwithstanding, December has been full of revelation.
The month started off with another visit to the Minneapolis area. I'd love to spend more time there during these trips, but other obligations limited the opportunity to dine out. My wife and I did manage to hit one of the seven locations of Pizza Lucé (Uptown, if you're curious), and enjoyed the Spanish Chicken pizza despite it being a little dry and light on the smoked gouda. The cheese bread was exceptionally cheesy, and anyway, tap Surly covers a multitude of gripes.
Closer to home, Madtown Pizza on Johnson impressed me -- and put my wife over the moon. The menu of pre-built pizzas is small, but a Mad Veggie Eater plus half-sausage (a Greenbush family recipe according to the Madtown folks) should make most diners happy. The pizza style is vaguely New York-ish; it's hard to categorize but don't fret the details. Just check it out for yourself.
I made a lunch trip to Oregon's Lil' Buddy's Popcorn for a Chicago-style dog, and ended up buying a hefty bag (not a Hefty bag, but hey, close) of caramel corn/cheese corn mix for the true Chicago experience. I've had the Chicago Mix from Garrett Popcorn, and it's quite good; Lil Buddy's could be the best that the Madison area has to put up against it.
There's no mystery to the kung fu wielded by the Underground Food Collective, but I found the work done to transform the new Underground Butcher shop to be truly exemplary. Hanging salumi, meat primals, and a wide variety of foodstuffs produced by the Collective and other artisans. A takeaway sandwich of house culatello, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and mustard on a Madison Sourdough demi-baguette was as good as any sandwich served at La Baguette or Fromagination, Madison's reigning royal family of the Parisian-style picnic lunch.
Perhaps the biggest "how have I been missing this for so long?" moment of December was a happy hour outing to Tempest Oyster Bar. The drinks are creative and reasonably priced, the small plates are equally inexpensive (somewhat startlingly so, actually), and the quality is there to make it all worthwhile. The Awniker cocktail is based on jalapeño tequila that made me inordinately happy, and the miniaturized food offerings -- clams casino and the Smoke Stack in particular -- balanced our booze intake perfectly.
The best thing I ate
Underground Butcher's culatello sandwich (to say nothing of the house-made plum butter and chocolate sandwich COUGHoreoCOUGH cookies) was balanced, simple, delicious. The "Lil' Buddy's Mix" paired crisp caramel corn and rich, cheddary cheese corn in the glorious oddball symphony that only caramel and cheese can perform. These, plus some really enjoyable tacos al carbon from El Azteca in Appleton, are the top three contenders. (Three tacos of charred sliced skirt steak, thick tortillas, and a gooey cheese-pepper sauce that we should probably never speak of again, ahem -- they might be my new favorite dish there.) It's getting to the point that I shouldn't be surprised by superb American classics in little Oregon, but Lil' Buddy's popcorn managed to wow me all the same. It's the last Best Thing of 2012; what a relief it is that I'll be able to try more in 2013.