Happy New Year's Eve, guys. 2014 is breathing down my neck, so quick! Enjoy 2013 in review before next year gets jealous.
Top 3 Wisconsin beers
3. Central Waters Brewers Reserve Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale
I guess things are ready when they're ready, but it's still weird to me that this dark, rich, boozy creature would be unleashed in July. When I wrote it up for the Isthmus Drinks magazine, I worried that it wouldn't last until colder weather. But when I shopped for a beer trade with out-of-town friends, there was still one four-pack left -- maybe the last in Madison. This should be a fall release in anticipation of Central Waters' bourbon barrel stouts; I hope CW times things a little differently in 2014.
2. Black Husky Sproose Juice
This was another mention in that Drinks article, and Black Husky's star in Madison has only brightened since then. Balanced, drinkable, and just a little novel thanks to spruce tips. Thankfully, Black Husky knows how well-received this beer has been, so I envision a steady level of production and Madison distribution going forward.
1. New Glarus Wild Sour Ale
Wine Enthusiast published its Top 25 Beers of 2013 list [PDF] in November, and New Glarus Brewing's Wild Sour Ale was at the very top. I could have told you that much, what with the small stash my wife and I have squirreled away in our basement. This is a complex beer that will only get more interesting over time. If it never appears again (and that'd be a real tragedy), we're all incredibly lucky to have seen it for a couple months over the summer.
Worth noting: I'm going to be opening the first of our two bottles of New Glarus Very Sour Blackberry tonight, and I could very well see that one bumping one of these beers off the list. EDIT: Okay, yeah, it's good. Really good. I'm going to leave Wild Sour at the top here, but Very Sour Blackberry, as a semi-retail release, will be slotted in as a tie.
Top 3 Out of Town Meals
3. Wild Tomato, Fish Creek (October 19)
Kristine and I have been to Wild Tomato before, and it's gone from being a diamond in the rough to a known commodity for quality pizza. The special that day was a pie with pumpkin sausage, squash, leeks, pears, onion jam, kale, spinach cream sauce and candied ginger chèvre. Best of all, proceeds went to Habitat for Humanity. I can't say I was aware of the beer list before our 2013 fall trip to Door County, though. O'So Brett Dank and Green Flash's Green Bullet? Sign me up!
2. Butcher and the Boar, Minneapolis (June 29)
Okay, so a bunch of beers and a hot dog -- even a massive, elaborately topped hot dog -- isn't the most proper of meals, exactly. But it's a testament to the quality of those beers, that hot dog, and the scene in Butcher and the Boar's outdoor beer garden that it's number two for the year. The beersball crew has already started plotting our next trip, and Kristine still hasn't experienced the phenomenon that is a footlong boutique hot dog. Suffice it to say, I'll be back in 2014.
1. Denver Biscuit Co., Denver (October 13)
Come to think of it, a syrup-soaked biscuit turned into French toast sausage and egg sandwich alongside a milk stout-infused Bloody Mary isn't much different. But oh, what a sandwich and bloody. Denver turned out to be Biscuit Central, and the Denver Biscuit Co. topped the heap.
Worth noting: A limburgery birthday bar lunch at Baumgartner's in Monroe; hot dogs at Hot Doug's in Chicago; a nostalgic pizza dinner at Frank's Pizza Palace in Appleton; the last day of business at Capital Creamery in Oregon.
Top 3 Madison Meals
3. Christmas Day at Forequarter
Thanks to a shitty set of circumstances at work, I had to cut short our usual holiday trip to see our families. The up-side to this annoyance is that we were home in time to hit Forequarter for its second annual Christmas Day Chinese dinner. The crowd was lively but we were able to get a seat at the bar within 15-20 minutes. We had soft pork noodles in a pool of salty, rich broth (that both Kristine and I sipped by the spoonful after the noodles were gone); duck buns with daikon radish; sweet, luxurious dry shredded veal out-luxed by roasted eggplant; and salted fluke fried rice that was a little soft, but studded with chunks of amazingly savory fish. Even with no dessert course, this meal was one to remember -- and hopefully, one to repeat whenever the Christmas circumstances allow.
2. L'Etoile, July 27
You don't need me to A) tell you how great L'Etoile is, or B) tell you again how great L'Etoile was on July 27th in particular. If you want to read about it, though, go ahead. I'll wait.
1. Los Agaves, taco truck in Fort Atkinson, March 23
A big dumb road trip to a Lowe's I thought was significantly closer to Madison -- totally my fault -- resulted in the dumbest luck ever: the revelation that is the Los Agaves taco truck, parked on a wide stone bridge in Fort Atkinson. I urged my editor at Isthmus to check it out, and she wrote up an accounting of the small town, south central Wisconsin road food scene. This spot is definitely worth a detour if you're heading to either Milwaukee or Chicago.
Worth noting: a spring brunch at Graze; a late meal at the Sardine bar with good friends; another Forequarter trip, for Montreal-style pastrami and a carbonated beer negroni.
Top 3 Dishes
3. Lomo saltado al pisco, Surco
I reviewed Surco's new brick-and-mortar restaurant for Isthmus, and the experience was remarkable for two reasons in particular: the prices (not in a good way) and the beef (in a very good way). Lomo saltado is a Peruvian favorite, and the beef in Surco's version is jaw-droppingly tender. I would not be shocked if it was cooked sous vide and browned quickly on the grill, except I wouldn't expect that level of fussiness in the Surco kitchen. Literally the most tender beef I've eaten that wasn't still a steak.
2. Burrata, Salvatore's Tomato Pies
2013 was a great year for Salvatore's, with a second chef coming in to broaden the menu and a second, Madison-proper location hopefully in the works. One of the dishes that distinguished Sal's this year was the burrata -- a fresh pulled mozzarella-and-cream cheese, almost like a soup dumping made out of rich, snowy-white cheese. Sal's is a slightly firmer version, without a pool of cream spreading out of the sliced outer skin, but that's no complaint. With a drizzle of olive oil and a rotating cast of accompaniments (heirloom tomatoes, cloves of roasted garlic, crusty bread), this unicorn of a dish is worth hunting.
1. Brisket, Underground Butcher
My work commute occasionally takes me down Willy Street -- sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon, sometimes both. One of my new favorite traditions in Madison is the Wednesday brisket special at Underground Butcher on Willy. There are few folks in town who I feel a real meat kinship with, but Underground co-founder Jonny Hunter is one of those brothers. The East Texas roots at the core of the Underground Food Collective are on full, fatty, smoke-ringed display with this excellent brisket, available on Wendesdays only, by the pound, from 3pm until it's gone. I'll race you for it.
Worth noting: the bluegill pimento BLT at Gates and Brovi; AJ Bombers' sriracha burger patty; the Farmers Market breakfast bun at Umami Buns; the breakfast sandwich #2 with ramps at 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe; Blowin' Smoke's Thursday rib dinner special; goat cheese fried curds at Tipsy Cow; Famous Yeti's Yeti Spaghetti stuffed pizza; the eponymous pelmeni at Paul's Pel'meni.
Top 3 Gateau Basques at Madison Sourdough Co.
3. Saffron custard
2. Cherry custard
Worth noting: I didn't see the chocolate cherry version come around in 2013; I hope this changes in 2014. EDIT: Wife informs me I'm wrong, and that we did indeed have chocolate cherry in 2013. That bumps saffron custard out for third place, and also illustrates how poor my note-taking was this year. To a more aware, present-in-the-moment 2014!