You know the saying about April showers? Well, it seems Nature's on as big of a kick for reliving April in May as I am here, because it's gonna rain all week and this is my second April callback post in a row.
But this is Kyle Ate Here, so you're used to the hindsight thing, right? After a break in the pattern with January through March of 2013, it's time to discuss the fullness of April's spring bounty.
Since we're talking about aphorisms, I could give you a new one: "Never trust a food writer who doesn't sit at the bar." There's just no comparison for the experience up there. Sardine has one of the better eating bars in town, with a special menu I've mentioned here and elsewhere before. But even a straight-up brunch order works, especially when the house is packed. Sardine's croque monsieur felt like a shuffled version of the bistro dog, with lots of tender ham, melted cheese (all of it on the inside), and a mess of matchstick fries.
The bar at Eldorado Grill frequently escapes my notice, I think because of the partition blocking it from the rest of the dining room. But even in the cozy corner -- you have to seat yourselves single-file -- we had a fine meal, and again: no wait! The chicken fried chicken biscuit plate is a mountain of food, but all components are prepared carefully. The egg was runny but with set whites, and the chicken, the tenderest, juiciest chicken-fried style I've had since Graze.
I spent a lot of time in drinking establishments in April, for a couple writing projects. My review of the taprooms operated by One Barrel, Karben4, and House of Brews was researched in April; that was fun. And Jenni Dye and I hit the Main Street Pour House in Stoughton for a Hunger Danes post, which you can read here if you haven't already.
Second City. Third Coast. Windy City. It's Sweet Home Chicago, the City of Big Nicknames. My wife and I visited one of my oldest friends, his wife, and their two cute children, and one of the reasons why I love this guy is that his first question after "When are you coming down?" was "Where do you want to eat?" First on my list, because I've managed to not get there in a half-dozen trips to visit this friend in Chicago: Hot Doug's. For four people, there were seven dogs ordered. The red curry dog had great flavor, but the toasted coconut was a bit too chewy, like toffee. My lamb merguez dog topped with halloumi needed a little moisture because the cheese didn't/doesn't melt. But oh man, the foie gras and Sauternes dog. That thing's worth all the press, and I'm not even that gaga for foie. Rich, tender, with just a little funk from the wine. I'll go back for a dine-in experience, because Doug's legendary duck fat fries are not built to travel well.
Our opening dinner was from Smoque, with a side order of mac and cheese from Kuma's Corner. (The little portions of mac at Smoque were just too wee to imagine; perhaps I'll get back to try them -- they may be delicious -- but they're like kiddie ice cream cups!) The brisket was fall-apart tender, with a nice smoke ring. The ribs and pulled pork both had good flavor and texture. My friend has been talking up Kuma's mac and cheese for some time, so that kitchen picked a hell of a time to both botch his order and fire up a generally lackluster, not-cheesy-enough batch. But hey, it was all right.
At our Sunday brunch destination, Kristine turned to me and asked, "What kind of hipster hangout have you taken us to?" True, it was a bit heavy with plaid shirts, deep-V collars and skinny jeans at first. But the rest of the crowd at Nightwood was a mix of clientele that Madisonians would find familiar at Graze or Alterra. From the very (perhaps too?) tight brunch menu, my meat-free Anti-Cochon555 sandwich was sloppy, but full of nicely seasoned vegetables. The bagel sandwich with Wisconsin trout looked pretty amazing, but equally difficult to handle. The star of the show was the pair of items listed first on the menu: doughnuts. Five dollar doughnuts, to be precise. A bacon butterscotch was heaped with hot, crisp, salty cubes of pork, and the blueberry-glazed, lemon curd-filled option was bursting (literally) with tart lemon flavor. It'd be hard to just choose one, so go with a fried, or just order both. (The second doughnut rotates regularly, so check the online menu before getting your heart set, or broken.)
The best thing I ate
In fact, though the chicken fried chicken biscuit from Eldorado, the foie gras dog from Hot Doug's, and the previously unmentioned Farmers' Market breakfast pork bun from Umami's cart operation (a six-second review of which you can see if you follow me on Vine) were really strong, I'm going to give Nightwood's five dollar doughnuts the win this month. I'll even award a tie for both the bacon butterscotch and the lemon curd blueberry, just so you can still eat one of April's Best Things if you're down there. Plus! My Chicago friend Tom tipped me off to a recent Red Eye Chicago article about the creator of these doughnuts, Enoch Simpson, and how his new restaurant, Endgrain, will sell his doughnuts for a paltry three bucks! Hard to believe, but I'm here to say that even for $5, these fried masterpieces are a steal.