Kyle Ate Here - We are family

The end of the year is all about family -- giving gifts, traveling to visit, sending cards -- and so much so that by the time January rolls around, I'm ready for a break. Indeed, the traditional New Year's Eve celebration in my house is a night in with my wife, some takeout sushi, and beer/champagne. (I'm sure I've talked about this before.) No parties, no crowds, just us.

This year, the post-holiday shut-in phase seemed to run its course a little faster than usual. By the end of the month, we were jammed in to breweries and restaurants with friends and strangers alike, eating, drinking and celebrating. The world of food and beer is a whole different kind of family.

The month started with my review of That BBQ Joint, which was a disappointing experience on the plate even if the staff were some of the friendliest I've encountered. We got an order of ribs that had no business leaving the kitchen, but I think the problems there are fixable. By the end of the month, I was finishing my review of Nonno's Ristorante Italiano on Whitney Way. Fewer problems to fix in that kitchen (one that had been running as Cancun Mexican Restaurant), and some really enjoyable dinner mains.

The pulled pork po'boy and a heap o waffle fries from Dexter's Pub.

My wife and I made our first visit to Grampa's Pizzeria on Willy Street, and it was spectacular in every way I'd hoped it would be. The pizza -- the Brassacre, topped with bacon and Brussels sprout leaves -- was crisp and tidily proportioned. A starter order of olives was both generous and devoid of the usual "I don't like this particular variety" stinker olive. The bar (where we ate) featured a small, well-curated tap list, and the bartender was great. Best of all, the sticky ginger cake: warm, caramelized around the edges, moist and extraordinarily flavorful, this is a Mount Rushmore dessert, on the Willy Street scene at least, if not citywide.

The Sardine charcuterie plate. An old standby for bar dining. (Photo credit: Kristine Nabilcy)

A trip to Brothers Three with friends Alyssa and Jesse was a blast, and my wife finally learned firsthand just how monumental the burgers are there. Thursday night's the night to go if you're a Reuben fan; they're on special that night. Strong drinks, lovably brusque service -- this is a classic east side hangout. Kristine and I had a bar date at Sardine as well, and I'll take this opportunity to mention that there really should be more bread included with the charcuterie plate. The exquisite duck liver mousse alone exhausts the meager standard supply.

4 & 20's breakfast sandwich #2 continues to be a favorite. Another favorite, the G at Gotham Bagels, has added a sambal cream cheese, but it doesn't add much to the sandwich besides goo. The gyros at People's Bakery -- which I can't believe I haven't had before now -- are big and cheap and just what you want in your gyros. A quick lunch visit to Cafe Porta Alba with my longtime BFF Tom (in from Chicago to visit his family) showed that the pizzas there haven't lost a step. Salsiccia, Capricciosa, and Burrata, all delicious.

And then there was the end of the month, with two trips to central Wisconsin for beer release events and attendant visits to Mikey's Bar and Grill in Plover. I discussed this pub briefly in my beercation post, and while Mikey's website has lapsed, I trust (hope?) that the place is still open and serving the same excellent if unassuming haddock for its Friday fish fry. Big crowds at both breweries as well as at Mikey's. And the Forequarter meal that closed that weekend out was something special -- if also well-attended. That's no complaint, though, as (nearly) everyone was in joyous spirits.

The Best Thing I Ate

Contenders for this award, which I hand out in every Kyle Ate Here post, include the fried haddock at Mikey's, the gyros at People's Bakery, damn near everything from Forequarter's Funk Factory menu (but the smoked mackerel course in particular), and Grampa's Pizzeria's ginger cake. I'll remember the experience and flavors of Forequarter's dishes for a long time, but I'll be able to go back to Grampa's for the ginger cake, which gives it the edge. If I still lived on Willy, I'd be spending quite a bit of time with that dessert.