Madison: No appetite for Chow

The majority of the Chowhound forums are divided geographically, and Wisconsin falls into the Great Lakes section. This lumps Madison in with cities from Illinois (excluding Chicago), Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota (excluding the Twin Cities), Ohio, and the rest of Wisconsin. Madison is the ninth largest city in the mix, while Milwaukee is the fourth.

Of course, you'd never know that by looking at the traffic in the Great Lakes section.

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2014, a Beersball retrospective - Two cities, one ball, and a hell of a lot of beers

The Major League Baseball winter meetings just wrapped up in December, as did the second annual Beersball Christmas bottle exchange (I got a Mobcraft Arabian Date Night, pretty excited tbqh*), and it's the end of the year -- okay, technically the start of a new one -- so what better time than now to look back on Beersball 2014? We hit two cities this year, and recommendations? We've got 'em.

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Four men, a plan, the Twins, Beersball.

Last year, three guys came together with little to no track record of hanging out or anything, and put themselves in a car for 5 hours, a Minneapolis hotel room for a weekend, and the close seats of Target Field for a game between the Twins and Brewers. The event was named Beersball, and it kicked ass.

This year, a fourth joined the group, and we decided that Minneapolis was more fun than trying to follow the Brewers anywhere else in the Midwest. (One of us is an actual Twins fan, which is as many Brewers fans in the crew; plus, I had unfinished business with a Minneapolis hot dog -- more later.) So it was back to the Twin Cities for another go 'round.

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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.)

Like food? Like Dane County? Read this!

You may know that my good friend Jenni Dye, AKA @legaleagle, was recently elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors for District 33. Like me, she is a fan of dining out, and enjoys exploring the various things that make Madison, Dane County, and the state of Wisconsin fun and unique.

It is with these two passions -- civic pride and eager palates -- in mind that Jenni and I are excited to announce a new ongoing series here at Irony or Mayo. We'll be dining out at one restaurant per county district – preferably one that doesn't get a lot of press, or is generally overlooked. Every few weeks, you can look forward to a new restaurant review posted here exclusively.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Hunger Danes.