An expo for the pros


The Wisconsin Restaurant Expo (put on annually by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association) is not open to the public, but I was there on Wednesday. I got comped in to a trade expo. There, I said it.

The Member Communications Coordinator for the WRA (who also has connections to Isthmus) sent along an open invite to Isthmus' food writers to attend any of the Expo's three days of presentations and activities. My buddy Marcelle Richards and I were the two whose schedules coincided with some free time mid-week, and we hit the road Lemmon and Curtis style.

Steampunk cakes are designed to look broken.

Since this is a trade expo, and not a consumer festival, the lines are short, only bottlenecked by professionals networking over deep fryers, knife blocks, and samples of duck bacon and pre-vinegared sushi rice. And since Marcelle and I aren't trade professionals, we could skip past the sales pitches and supply-side schmoozing with little to no compunction. It was sample time.

The fishing was good that day, my friends. We tasted Nueske's bacon cheddar brat, and bacon cheeseburgers with Strauss grass-fed beef; pizzas made on pre-fab Baker's Quality crusts (employed to great effect at Madison's own Diggity's, on the east side), and a great Berliner Weisse only available at the Expo (at least until the national Craft Beer Week, anyway).

We saw the other Kyle of Wisconsin food media -- Kyle Cherek of Wisconsin Foodie -- presenting some tasty trout cookery with Minneapolis chef and food advocate Scott Pampuch. Marcelle and I both thought the savory granola sprinkled over the whole pan-seared trout was a unique touch, and carried off well.

Grape Ritz Crackers, your next limited edition flavor.

But if there was a new knowledge we came away with -- other than how good duck bacon is, and how funny Flamenco Coffee Co.'s tasting notes are -- it's that starting a restaurant is no small task. All the infrastructural doo-dads -- prep stations, fryer oil storage and disposal systems, knives and more -- are so much more expensive than you realize.

So props to the people who can make it work, because it's not cheap, and it's not easy. Industry folks deserve a little party like this, where they can maybe negotiate some deals and if nothing else, eat a bunch of cheese and sriracha chicken bites, on the house.

(That chicken were really damn good y'all.)