Kyle Ate Here - Q1 2013

When last we met under this banner, 2012 was coming to a close; I was singing the praises of Merchant and Tilia, Forequarter and L'Etoile; and this whole site was hosted somewhere else. It's a new year, indeed.

No, this doesn't mean I'm done praising those restaurants in the same way that I'm done with Blogger as a platform. What it does mean: this edition of Kyle Ate Here -- which covers the first three months of 2013 -- will feature coverage of restaurants you've never seen covered on Irony or Mayo before. Some are old, some are young, and some aren't from these parts. But you're reading about them here for the first time.

The Old

Some corned beef's peekin'.

As you may know by now, I didn't attend UW-Madison. I've used this as an alibi for not having love (or even experience) for certain campus-area Madison institutions, but at some point it's just a lack of initiative to blame. I'm a grown-ass man, and I'll eat a Reuben omelet when I want to. Mickie's Dairy Bar was quiet on that Badger gameday, though the 4G network groaned under the weight of surrounding undergrad CBS Sports streaming. The omelet was heavily browned, but the ingredients had legit Reuben flavor: sour, creamy, fatty, salty. Though the pancakes were overthick and undercooked, Mickie's was still an important Madison experience to finally have.

So too was my very first run-in with the Plazaburger, and -- I'm not going to lie -- it was pretty damned satisfying. I get that The Plaza probably deploys low-grade beef. I get that the bun is simple and the whole thing is fairly tiny, especially by bar burger standards. The Plaza sauce hit me just right, though, and I don't know why the whole cut-in-half thing charms me so much, but I'm smitten. It's a fun burger; who cares if it's not pedigreed?

The Young

Got me right in the burger.

There's a trend in American restaurants that favors the ampersanded title (Butcher & the Boar, Longman & Eagle, etc.), and I don't think State Street's Buck & Badger has any connection to it. It's goofy and totally without pretension. There are a lot of interesting meats on the burger menu; my bison patty was cooked appropriately and served with a dramatic stab. But the Bloody Mary was a letdown, and the atmosphere felt awkward, muted.

Middleton's Free House Pub fared a little better. The bacon-topped cheese bread was fun, though even more impressive was the fractional bill-splitting. A nice tap list helped it to fit right in on Bockfest weekend. Valhalla Tacos set up shop at Isthmus' Beer and Cheese Fest in January, and boy, this place needs a full-time cart. The Njord, a massive trout taco topped with crisp rutabaga slaw, is the best fish taco in town that isn't PBR-battered.

The Distant

For those of you who don't have Appleton experience, the area has a long history of thin, greasy-yet-crisp pizza that Serious Eats would probably categorize as Midwest-style. Sammy's, Cranky Pat's, and Frank's Pizza Palace are the exemplars. I had some Frank's pizza for the first time in years back in March, and it was terrific: cheese with a little bite, cracker crust, house-made sausage, lots of oregano. And served in bags, oh yes.

In the southern tier of the state, Hack's Sports Page in Oregon was the site of a retirement party for some lucky soul at work. My expectations were low, but the roasted garlic burger did indeed have a nice layer of roasted garlic. The patty was nondescript, but the bun was toasty. When talk comes of exceeding expectations, though, this conversation must end with the Los Agaves taco truck of Fort Atkinson, which provided:

The Best Thing I Ate

One happy food writer. (photo credit: my wife)

My wife and I stumbled across the Los Agaves truck on our way back to Madison from an absurdly long trip to Lowe's in Delavan. (Protip: Delavan is not the same as Delafield, and only one of those is en route to Milwaukee like you planned, KYLE.) It was literally parked on a bridge -- one with parallel parking, sure, but it's still surreal -- and there were a couple folks waiting for their order on the sidewalk. Had to stop, just had to.

Boy, am I glad we did. The lengua was the most tender I've ever had, with pure, clean beef tongue flavor. The chorizo was spicy, hot, and oily, but somehow managed to not eat through the tortilla. And man, the pastor. Crispy around the edges, perfectly seasoned -- just a joy to eat. After we ordered one of each, I went back for four more to bring home. They're dirt cheap, filled to the brim with tasty meat, and served fresh as can be. It's a brave new Fort Atkinson, that has such tacos in't.