Wisconsin and Minnesota cross coffee beer swords, or Make mine a doppio

Packers versus Vikings? Badgers versus (I can barely say it) Golden Gophers? Pfft. How about Furthermore versus Surly in a badass beer-off? I happened to have both breweries' coffee beers in my refrigerator not too long ago, and thought it'd be fun to pit them against each other. Since there are two Wisconsin/Minnesota football matchups this weekend (and college hockey, too, with the Badgers faring well in both), what better time to see whose coffee beer kung fu is stronger?


Furthermore Beer is brewed in Spring Green, Wisconsin--about 37 miles west of Madison--and it holds a place very close to my heart. Sure, a really good beer doesn't have to do a whole lot to find my soft spot, but Furthermore Oscura was one of the two beers Kristine and I chose to serve to our wedding guests.

The brewery describes Oscura as a "warm-fermented, cold-lagered cerveza oscura", which I guess is kind of like describing the color red by calling it reddish. Oscura is cold-soaked with whole coffee beans in more or less the same technique used to make cold-process iced coffee. This keeps the coffee sweet instead of bitter.

The beer criticism site Beer Advocate gives Oscura a B+, or "very good", average out of 134 reviews. A couple East Coast knobs gave it a D, which is probably screwing up the curve. As far as specs, it's a beer with relatively low bitterness and density, and a moderate ABV, so you can totally have it for breakfast.


Where Furthermore is the home state beer with a schmoopy personal backstory, Surly is a flashy new toy that I'm developing an obsession with. After reading a handful of articles about the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, brewery, I finally had the chance to drink some at Great Taste of the Midwest.

Surly is only distributed in Minnesota (similar to New Glarus in Wisconsin), so beers like Coffee Bender are only available to me when I know someone from Madison who's visiting the Twin Cities. Coffee Bender is brewed in the same fashion as Oscura (cold extraction), and is similar in terms of density, bitterness measurement, and alcohol by volume.

Furthermore is like the local band you love; Surly is the indie circuit smash hit. With all the press Surly gets, it's not too surprising that there are over 600 reviews for Coffee Bender on Beer Advocate; it averages an "excellent" A-, with only three D-level reviews. I point out the D's to demonstrate that these aren't really very polarizing beers. People generally like them. So how do they line up side-by-side?


I decided to be lab-precise with this, and open the beers at the same time, making notes as they breathed and warmed. Please remember: I am not a beer professional; my analysis may be completely for shit.

:03 after open and pour. First sip. What little head was there for the Oscura was pretty much gone. The body is thinner than for the Coffee Bender. The Oscura has some malty flavor along with the dark black coffee. The Coffee Bender retained its head, and its flavor was more of an espresso than black coffee. Coffee Bender also seems hoppier from the start, brighter.

:12 after open and pour. Wife samples both; likes neither.

:14 after open and pour. The zing has dissipated in the Coffee Bender. A sweeter flavor--malt?--emerges. The Oscurs holds strong.

:21 after open and pour. The coffee aroma of the Oscura is fading. It seems to be taking on some almost estery, banana-y flavors. The Coffee Bender is still strong with the dark side, and is leaving some moderate lacing on he glass.

:27 after open and pour. Wife, bound and determined to pollute the sensory environment, pops some popcorn.

:29 after open and pour. Oscura's lager characteristics are coming through now, with a little more of that pilsenery funk. Coffee Bender is largely unchanged by this nursing process.

:35 after open and pour. At this point, the coffee flavor of Oscura is really flagging, and Coffee Bender's profile is becoming reminiscent of a Coffee Nip. Neither appear entirely well-suiting to slow sipping.

:43 after open and pour. Oscura throws one last punch, with a blast of coffeeness at the end. Coffee Bender is finally shedding its coffee prominence, leaving mostly hoppy tang.

So, the verdict? I'm in Minnesota as I finish this post, so I'll be a little political. Oscura's original season is summer (though its popularity has expanded the production into a second season), so I'm more inclined to say that if you're out on the lawn, or a party late on a summer night on someone's deck or balcony, there could be nothing better than a cold bottle or pint brimming with Oscura's refreshing strength.

But, if you're more likely to be drinking a beer at a moderate rate, and maybe in the cooler months--like right now--then the year-round sweet, heady Coffee Bender is going to satisfy.


If you're my wife, this photo is more your speed.

I'll be political here, too, and say a cup of espresso would be just fine. You never want to start a border war with someone who sleeps right next to you.

Kyle Ate There, or I Left My Cured Tuna Heart in San Francisco

I've included travel stops in previous Kyle Ate Here posts, but it just didn't seem fair to San Francisco to lump it in with Appleton and Door County (stay tuned!) restaurants. The first thing I did when we decided to visit our friends in SF was build a Google Map of potential restaurant stops. A city that inspires that level of planning deserves the full treatment--and this is kind of an epic.

The fact that one of our friends in SF is a meticulous planner and enthusiastic promoter of her city didn't hurt the development of a tight itinerary of eating. Despite landing in California well past what normal human beings would call dinner hour, we still ventured out from their Golden Gate Park-area house to the Mission. Chinese food was calling.

Mission Chinese Food is one of those places that plain has figured it out. Literally--the guys running the show out of a dingy storefront had never cooked Sichuan before opening MCF, working it out as they went. The result? One of Bon Appetit's ten best new restaurants of 2011.

Spicy buckwheat noodles with Asian pear. Hainam chicken rice. Broccoli beef cheek. General Tso's veal rib. Kung pao pastrami. This place is right up my alley, and it looks like is should be in an alley. Deep flavors, meats cooked and caramelized to delicious perfection, and a soundtrack split between gangster rap and the best easy listening of the 1980's--I didn't want to leave. That beef cheek dish was maybe the best thing I've eaten all year.

Hard to come down from that cloud, but how about a pub that brews its own beer, has an intricate and gorgeous design aesthetic, and looks out on the hot corner of Haight and Masonic? Magnolia is that place, and the cod and chorizo sandwich I had for Friday lunch speaks well of it. My wife had a watermelon salad that was nice, but come on. Chorizo, people. You know where my allegiances lie.

Friday night, though, was the centerpiece of the whole trip. The one place I insisted upon. The place we made reservations for weeks in advance. Chef Chris Cosentino's Incanto.

You've seen Tony Bourdain eat here on No Reservations. You've seen the chef on Food Network's Chefs vs. City. If Cosentino and his kitchen at Incanto have a claim to fame, it's odd bits. Offal. The kind of stuff my Fringe Foods brain gets all worked up over.

And brain it was for course number one--a brown butter-sauteed calf's brain (yes, a whole brain, creamy and hot), over buttery toast, topped with a smoked caper salsa verde that every single person at the table went a little slack-jawed over. For the main course, my second serving of pork belly in two days (after MCF) came crispy alongside polenta, squash, and smoked apples; I was going for a smoked theme, and it paid off. Dessert was a fig leaf panna cotta with quince that capped the meal off perfectly.

(Other plates at the table included my wife's cured tuna heart spaghettini--a kind of offal riff on carbonara; a special of sweetbread bacon terrine, breaded and fried; lardo with persimmon and pomegranate; and a ridiculous plate of goat two ways with potatoes, olives, and goat horn peppers. It was all terrific, and very reasonably priced--about $300 for four.)

Saturday, we were all over town. It started off well, with a luscious maple Bavarian log from Donut World on 9th (leave it to Kevin to sneak off and procure an illicit doughnut for me; he's a true friend) and a Blue Bottle double americano from Dash Cafe.

Due east to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, the Farmers' Market was a totally non-circular operation--strange for this Madisonian. But it was all good once I got some 4505 Meats in me. Their maple sausage breakfast sandwich is a glistening, rocket-hot bundle of sin, and I loved it. Even better are their chicharrones, which resemble nothing so much as meat cotton candy.

Meats-as-sweets continued with the Boccalone cured meat stand inside the Ferry Building. Co-founded by Chris Cosentino, Boccalone fulfills all your "salted pig part" needs. I could have filled my meat cone (not a euphemism) with nothing but their prosciutto crudo and been perfectly happy. That's not to say that the subsequent trip to In-n-Out (yes, Donny, my first time) was out of dissatisfaction. No, it just had to happen.

With all that, I'm still not sure how I managed to fit an Époisses-studded cheeseburger in there, but it happened. Heirloom Cafe, one of Bon Appetit's nine restaurants to visit in San Francisco, has an interesting atmosphere--sort of like a Victorian parlor in a modern art museum--and a tight, rustic menu. Brussels with bacon and a bacon-onion tart might make Heirloom sound like a trend-hopping artifice, but it's not. The comped bottle of bubbly--more of Lauren's networking in action--was just the bow on top of a really enjoyable experience. (And I swear I didn't realize I was following BA's advice on the burger.)

We did have to swear off a round of late beers at Monk's Kettle in deference to our full bellies, but I did at least get to drink a pint of Pliny the Elder on Friday night. Sunday--our last day--would be a "walk off the calories" kind of day. Before heading out for Muir Woods and a little winery-hopping, we stocked up with Beanery coffee and pastries and whatnot from Arizmendi Baking Co-op--holy corn-cherry scone.

And then, en route to Napa, something magical happened. Lauren, struck by the spirit, remembered a roadside sign she'd seen for a diner serving fried pies. "Lunch?", she asked. "Why are we still talking about it?", replied the menfolk. And thus did the Fremont Diner become our Sunday lunch stop.

It's slow, it's idiosyncratic, and there are about three different bottlenecks built into the experience, but man is Fremont Diner something amazing. It's a serious Southern food diner. Our friends, recent transplants to SF from Charleston, South Carolina, were over the moon. Pimento cheese on really nice crusty bread; biscuits crammed full of griddle-hot ham and peach jam; complimentary fried apple slices and onion rings--yes, yes, gods yes.

So, the pie at the end kind of got lost. We had to ask for it twice, and eventually took it to go. At least we were comped a slice of caramel cake for our trouble. Fremont Diner is country-style classics tweaked just a pinch here and there. See: horchata or salted caramel milkshakes, a Reuben topped with chow-chow, or a muffaletta with orange skin-infused fontina. Basically, there are little sheds and outbuildings all over and I want to move into one.

[[Deleted scene involving the four of us punching way over our cultural weight at three vineyards in Napa, and driving past--but dear lord, not stopping along--the murderer's row that is The French Laundry, Bouchon, and ad hoc.]]

The one negative dining experience of the trip came when we stopped at the very cute Oxbow Public Market in Napa-proper. I wasn't sure how much more I could cram into my face, so I decided to play it light with a rotisserie duck taco from C Casa. Upon receiving my (small, EIGHT DOLLAR) taco, I noticed the avocado crema was missing. The server/cashier noted that something appeared to be amiss, and took my taco back for remedy. I could see her telling the cook, who then went to the menu board to see if he'd really left it off. No, dude, I made it up. Heck, I don't even know what avocado crema is.

I have never been closer to playing the "I'm a food writer, and I know both how to read, and what avocado crema looks like" card. I didn't, but I thought about it for a second.

This would have been a bummer of a finale, but inspiration (always timely, it seems, in SF) struck. We're heading to the airport along the eastern edge of the peninsula, yes? What say you all to a quick detour for ice cream at Humphry Slocombe?

The dishes of Secret Breakfast (bourbon ice cream with corn flake nuggets), Blue Bottle Vietnamese Coffee, Caramel Apple, and/or Butterbeer (stout beer ice cream and brown butter ice cream blend) that we all kind of leisurely shared while a huge Halloween crowd filed in right on our heels speak the answer to that question.

Really. If the question is San Francisco, the answer is always going to be yes. For a food guy? It calls to me.

Kyle Ate Here - The even-hotter town edition

It's hard to imagine, on this 30-something degree morning in September, that not too long ago it was 90 degrees outside--and 104 in my little library. But it was indeed, and man, does that kind of swelter take the initiative out of just about everything. This is why I get fatter in the summer, defeating the usual winter bulk-up trend.

(Actually, I get fatter in the winter, too. I'm just generally getting fatter; to every food there is a season, after all.)

The twin concepts of hot spots and comfortable, lazy haunts guide this edition of Kyle Ate Here. A few new places were tried, a few scenes were made, and yes, there was sushi, too. Isn't there always?

Hot spots

As many have in these late days of summer, I visited Dumpling Haus at Hilldale for a lunch with my wife. Many dishes, I'm told, hail from Yen Ching; it's a parent kitchen for the Haus. The Haus pork can move out of its parents' house any into permanent DH residence any time; even Kristine ate the fat, and she never does that.

Restaurant Muramoto was bustling for a Friday night dinner stop, full of twentysomethings; I rejoiced at the reappearance of the gunsmoke roll. We also joined the crowd of people using their about-to-expire Groupon at Cilantro. A bit dry and characterless, this was not as enjoyable. Nice chips and salsa, though. Brunch at Sardine and a late Friday night at Graze added to our hipness quotient for the month. My Limburger and salami sandwich at Baumgartner's stand at Great Taste of the Midwest, less so--but the massive crowd spoke to a different kind of cool.

Lower degrees of difficulty

Ain't nothin' scene about Carnival's, but damned if it doesn't make me happy every time I go there. The mushroom and swiss burger is a thing o' beauty. The most disaffected server ever dampened an otherwise-celebratory stop at Alchemy; seriously, I think she might have been an actual zombie.

The bloody Mary at Weary Traveler was spicy-hot, but the brunch crowd was small and chill for our group. The bacon proved to be a tripping point, but the staff rallied and made right--plus, it was real good. A plate of fried calamari at Hawk's was nothing fancy, but appropriate for its time and place. (If Appleton's Cena, which I also visited in August, was in Madison, it would be Hawk's. This is fine.)

The best thing I ate

This is really challenging. The deep-fried bacon on a stick at Great Taste (via The Smokin' Cantina) was glorious, and that Haus pork was luxe and wonderful. But neither--made of pig parts as they are--can compete with memory and nostalgia. And here, Bandung steps in and takes the prize. We'd gone eight-some years in Madison before trying this Indonesian spot, and since my dad was born in Indonesia, this delay itself is kind of a crime. But their starter menu includes hot, crispy-fried krupuk udang--shrimp chips--and these take me way back, to my dad at the stove. I lost my dad in 1996, but this reintroduction to shrimp chips brought back the best of warm memories.

Kyle Ate Here - The second anniversary edition

Two years ago, July turned into perhaps the most important month of my year. My birthday's in May, and October holds a lot of value for Kristine and I (her birthday, and our dating anniversary). But July 18th, 2009, was the day July trumped them all. We married after 11 years of dating, and suddenly July was anchored in our own little firmament as a Big Deal.

This July's dining calendar was dominated in one respect by Jimmy's American Tavern, my most recent review for Isthmus--it's linked in the sidebar to the right. But while some new experiences in Madison and beyond certainly made July noteworthy, there was one dining experience that quite simply destroys the curve.


Five years ago, there's no way I'd have guessed that Kristine and I would be one of the couples who returns to L'Etoile for an anniversary dinner each year. But after last year's amazing experience at the end of 25 North Pinckney, we couldn't resist. Four courses later, we're hooked for sure.

An amuse bouche of slightly deconstructed gazpacho was playful and vibrant--it's always nice to start a meal with a laugh. Salade Lyonnaise for her (the smoked mushrooms a pleasant surprise), beef carpaccio with pea vine and equally outspoken pickled mushrooms for me. The midcourse was an easy choice for Kristine; a delicious reprise of her favorite dish from our honeymoon, tempura-battered squash blossoms. I loved the drunken Gulf shrimp in a Tyranena Three Beaches Blonde Ale and XO butter sauce; the hunk of soft pretzel was an absurdly glorious addition.

The fruits of the seas/oceans/lakes were the order of the day on this particular menu. Corvina done in a Mediterranean style and a bucatini di mare both sounded tremendous, but Kristine chose the rockfish with two treatments of cauliflower (truffled purée and caramelized); it was lovely, atop garlic-braised collards. I continued my roughly Asian through-line with a Chinese takeout-style feast: rare seared duck breast, radish pods, broccoli, snow peas, sweet onion fried rice topped with a hen egg, braised bok choy, and a tart cherry sweet-and-sour sauce. It was unparalleled in the world of Column A/Column B Chinese food, and yet entirely reminiscent. Every bite was another little celebration of Chef Miller's imagination.

Three courses of professionally unimpeachable wine pairings were the icing on the cake, and the desserts, coffee, and complimentary petit fours wound the meal down in all the right ways. Whenever we think of this meal, we wonder if it would cheapen the anniversary experience to find other reasons to treat ourselves. We're beginning to think it'd be a shame not to.

The rest of July

Barbecue at Papa Bear's on Independence Day (glad to discover they were open on maybe the perfect holiday for BBQ), and first visits to Bea's Bonnet (holy sandwich cookie!), Harold's Chicken Shack (an over-cooked letdown), Restaurant El Pastor (acceptable), Habanero's (will likely replace 60-80% of my Chipotle trips), and China Inn (forgettable but for the fried sweet biscuits) made for a very educational July. The pulled pork at Brickhouse was an imposing mountain of meat; it generated three meals. The Old Fashioned has a couple new burgers since our last visit; the spicy burger is indeed hot, and any burger from the Old Fashioned kitchen will satisfy, ultimately.

Venturing out of state for the first time in a long while, Kristine and I visited friends and took in a couple meals in the Windy City. Sunday brunch at Kitsch'n was crowded (though not as much as previous visits to Toast were); the bloody Mary was far blander than a chipotle bloody Mary has any right to be, and my chicken and waffles (appropriate for a diner on Roscoe) were okay, but that's about it. Dinner at the recently-reviewed Owen & Engine (three stars from the Tribune's Phil Vettel) was much more successful. Reminiscent of the charms of Underground Kitchen, O&E's British-tinged pub fare was dark and hearty, the ginger beered house Pimm's Cup bright and enlivening. There was a funeral home next door with a truly gorgeous front door; I wanted to open a lounge in there just to sop off Owen & Engine's happy excesses.

The best thing I ate

This is a little unfair. Pitting China Inn's sweet fried biscuits--simple, but the Platonic ideal of fairgrounds-style fried bread, served at 10 for $4--against anything from one of the country's 50 best restaurants would be a challenge to even the judges at Westminster. And what of the No. 6 lazy Susan at The Old Fashioned? Braunschweiger, pickles, two Widmer's cheese spreads, smoked trout, creamed herring, and sausage? Ye gods, yes. Even the sausages from Brickhouse hold some electors in their sway. The compromise inherent in marriage tells me that I should choose L'Etoile's zucchini blossoms; Kristine loved them, and truthfully so did I. But dangit, I'm still my own man! I choose beer and pretzels! The drunken shrimp were rich, hot and even though there were no heads to suck, they were still a little naughty. Sopping one's plate with a piece of bread feels more than a little gauche at such a fine restaurant, but damned if I didn't do it anyway.

Kyle Ate Here - The solidarity edition


There just aren't enough hours in the day--there's so much to oppose, and so much to accomplish. The month started quietly, but by the end of the second week of February, it was clear this wasn't going to be like any other time in my life to date.

The new governor of the state of Wisconsin introduced a piece of shameful, cynical, vengeful legislation that promised to harm me and thousands like me, and wouldn't you know? That actually managed to turn my entire life upside down, eating habits included. My Arabic genes are screaming for me to call our protests a peoples' intifada -- just to throw the Fox Newsies into a tizzy--but I'll resist further temptation, and just call it an uprising.


My wife started February with a doozy of a cold. When she gets sick, she really feels it, and this required brothy countermeasures. Despite having lived a couple blocks away, we'd never been to Wah Kee Chinese Noodle and Restaurant until this month. Their noodle soups are terrific; American Chinese food staples like General Tso's, less so. I was also passive-aggressively schooled on pronunciation by our first visit server, which was particularly galling for two reasons. I normally try to be educated on basic pronunciation rules, and there was a typo in the menu that led me astray in one circumstance. Regardless, I recommend anything with BBQ pork--are you surprised?

A visit from an old friend brought us to Underground Kitchen again. Our server was a bit vacant, but the rabbit tagliatelle special (it was the night before Chinese New Year) was amazing, and the cocktails continue to impress. (A trip later in the month, unfortunately, featured some of the haughtiest and sloppiest service I've seen in Madison.) We also hit The Old Fashioned for their new weekday breakfast menu. Get there for it. Really. You can spend the money you're not spending at Ella's Deli there; I haven't ever been more unimpressed with a legend than I was with our meal of matzo noodle soup and hard salami sandwich.

The uprising

I'm certainly not going to say "post-uprising," because it's still happening, at this very minute on the grounds of the Capitol and all around the state. But on Valentine's Day was when everything really changed. And from that point forward, we've been protesting, and shouting, and paying attention to who supports us and who doesn't. We've enjoyed a couple meals at Mermaid Cafe, who has been donating coffee and other treats to the protesters (try the Erik the Red ham and Swiss). We've become familiar faces at The Old Fashioned. Hawk's Bar and Grill has been a great supporter and serves a heaping Mediterranean plate.

The Coopers Tavern is crowded and the service was iffy, but their Reuben is an all-star. They may not have the BL(F)T sandwich anymore, but the absence of fried tomatoes doesn't make Alchemy Cafe a bad choice; I'd never noticed their very promising cocktail menu before, but will give it more attention next time. And we did manage to eat off the isthmus once, meeting for a lunch date at Sushi Muramoto. It is seriously always good there; the fennel chutney was a new flourish on a familiar chicken katsu.

The best thing I ate

Sorry, pancakes at The Old Fashioned. Apologies, guong chow noodles at Wah Kee bibimbap at Graze (EDIT: whoops. you got a sneak preview of something from next month, and I didn't realize I'd omitted Graze). Maybe next month, steak torta at Antojitos El Toril. Even the now-emblematic Ian's mac and cheese pizza being donated from supporters worldwide can't beat out this month's best thing: the PBR-battered tilapia taco at King and Mane. They're fresh, they're satisfying, and they have pickled onions and chipotle mayo. I'm not lying--we've been there five times, almost exclusively for tacos (and beer), since the 22nd. My wife might love them more than me. We certainly love them more than Scott Walker, and we'll continue to fuel our chanting and fist-pumping with PBR tacos as long as we have to.

Show me what democracy looks like!

Sell me on the Terrace

I know, I know, I often rely on the "I didn't go to school here" line of reasoning for why some Madison traditions escape me. But the Memorial Union Terrace in summer is nonetheless one of those things that I just don't get.

(photo credit:  bouwmagearhart )

(photo credit: bouwmagearhart)

I love the chairs. I love the scenery. I get the appeal of the Terrace at sunset. I've certainly enjoyed taking in a concert there on more than one occasion (Jackie Greene and the Violent Femmes come to mind). But I look at this picture, and the crowd doesn't scream "relaxation" to me.

Pressing crowds don't relax me. I've seen the Terrace during the day on a nice afternoon. I can't imagine having enough room to lift my beer to my mouth, much less sit back and relax. Plus, the bugs. Not a fan of mosquitos.

Kristine tells me that I've probably never seen the Terrace when school's not in session. That may be true, but again, none of what I've seen--regardless of when it was that I saw it--tells me that the Terrace on a nice warm sunny day is anything but packed.

What am I not getting? I'm not single, so girlwatching's out. I'm not a boater/rower/windsurfer/canoer/, so that's out too. Is the beer really cheap? Because for my part, I'd much rather go to Cabana Room or Roman Candle or Magnus and sit outside and enjoy a beverage, where there's at least a smaller finite crowd than at the Terrace.

Do you have Black Albert in a can?

No! It's on tap.

To be fair, it was on tap, at Brasserie V here in Madison. After tonight -- and I'd put dollars to donuts that it'll be by the time I finish writing this post -- Black Albert will be gone again.

Black Albert is brewed by De Struis in Belgium, and it is really good. It gets an A on Beer Advocate (87th overall worldwide), and gets a best-possible 100 from RateBeer (91st overall worldwide). There's a nice summation of its history at The Beer Wench.

The most important thing you need to understand is that there were only 20 kegs that arrived upon our golden shores. Green Dragon in Portland got one. So did Brasserie V (and it's moved so quickly that only on the cached version of the V's site still mentions it).

We were lucky to make it there tonight. When Kristine and I can't decide on a dinner out, we make lists. Top three. Top five. Something like that. And whatever crosses over, wins. Tonight, my list was Brasserie V and Weary Traveler. I couldn't come up with a third. Kristine, on the other hand, offered four: Cafe Porta Alba, Eldorado Grill, Monroe Street Bistro, and Brasserie V. It was settled; Brasserie V it would be.

The rest is pretty much history. Sandwiches, frites, and sweet, sweet beer. I personally took out two of the last ten or so pours of Black Albert. If you ever find yourself staring down a bottle of old Al, don't blink. You'll definitely miss it.

Old food

Stone Cellar Brewpub is a fine little microbrewery in the Between the Locks building in Appleton. The space has a long tradition, and housed the Geo. Walter Adler Brau brewery from 1918 to the 1970's.

The Between the Locks building is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, and Stone Cellar hosted a party in its honor. For the week of 8th, Stone Cellar offered a special beer made from an archived Adler Brau recipe from 1948, as well as a 1880's-era throwback menu.

Russian wild boar chops, pottage stew, and roast turkey leg were the party fare. I made a special trip up on Monday the 8th, and joined my mom and her husband for a drink, a meal, and a Packer game.

The food was well-received by all, even if the beer was less universally hailed. The seasonal pumpkin ale was a little thin and bitter, but the Stonetoberfest was great.

Check out my Flickr stream for more pics and comments.

A full calendar of food adventures

Saturday: Heirloom tomato tasting at Fresco in Madison, featuring free-flowing Prosecco and awesome BBTs (the 'L' replaced by basil).

Tonight: Sesquicentennial celebration at Stone Cellar in Appleton, featuring Russian wild boar, the Oktoberfest beer premiere, a new Pumpkin Spice Ale, and (hopefully) a throwback brew from an archived recipe of the Adler Brau days.

Photo narratives are soon to follow. In the meantime, another totally appropriate doodle from Drew:

RIP coffee maker

Every now and then I get the itch to buy a new coffee maker. I'm not a total bean freak, but I'm not a moron either. I read Coffee Geek (which doesn't seem to be as good as it used to for reviews, in my opinion), I check the reviews in Consumer Reports... but it really comes down to a fundamental and biological desire to get something new for the purpose of running water through ground-up beans.

I'm running on this fellow right now. It's a Krups Aroma Control, with a delayed start timer. I like that feature, even if it's done brewing before I finally stop hitting Snooze. But the little Pause n Pour button at the base of the backsplash isn't making full contact with the basket at the other end of the lever. This results in a bunch of water pooling unpredictably in a closed-off basket compartment, and it's only a matter of time before it starts overflowing. My quest is not wholly based on purchase lust. I might actually need a new one (lord knows I don't want to try to crack that thing open and fix it myself, nor do I want to pay someone to do it).

First, I really wanted this horrible monstrosity. It's so ugly that it isn't ugly anymore. It's brown, for chrissakes! But I read some reviews on a variety of sites, and it appears to be not quite as "good" as it is "quirky." In every sense of the word.

So I'm back to browsing the store shelves and Internet, lamely trying to stumble onto the next idée fixe. I don't need a ceramic carafe, although it'd be cool. I don't want pods. Dear sweet Jesus, no pods. I'm also not made of money, so I'd prefer the machine to be under $150. And that's being extravagant.

It would be funnier to close this post with "hit me with your best shot" if I was shopping for an espresso machine, but it is what it is. Help me out.

I'm an idiot.

Really. You can say so to my face. I won't argue.

I thought, for some reason, that Taste tickets went on sale on, like, Tuesday or something. It's an event I've never been able to make in the 5+ years we've lived in Madison, mostly because I never pay attention to when the tickets go on sale.

I live about two blocks from Star Liquor. Hrmph.

So...if anyone's got two they could spare at (or at close to) cost, I'd be interested.

Finding a new spot

My food writer buddies JM and Nichole of Eating in Madison A to Z have apparently coined a really great term. Swivel factor. Found first in their write-up of the Hody Bar & Grill, swivel factor refers to the frequency or severity of the barstool spin the regulars do when a newbie walks through the door of a bar/pub/tavern. I say that they apparently coined it because, when I Googled the term, I got a lot of Epinions reviews for computer monitors and chairs. So it's hard to tell.

But I love the term, and I've been thinking about it lately. The missus and I need to branch out a little, and we don't know enough people (sad but true) to ride along on a bunch of coat-tails. So we want to find a spot or two that are new (to us), good, and relatively welcoming to virgins. I don't want to have to know no damn secret handshake to get a burger and a beer.

It falls, then, to you, Madison readers: gimme some low swivel-factor joints that either serve reasonably good food, feature a lot of good beers, or are just good clean fun. We're not looking for the place that secretly circumvents the smoking ban. On the contary, we're big ban fans insofar as our dining is concerned. I'm particularly interested in Mickey's, since they're just down the road. But they're so damn tiny, I can't help but feel that walking into the place when it's busy might incidentally result in a minor sexual act.

For you non-Madisonians, please check out thedailypage.com/eats in the next day or so. I should have a new column appearing soon, this time on soft-shell crab. Come read about me biting into a whole creature, not just some faceless part.

The nightly booze

Nothing works better at inspiring a missive to the Internets than a nice, stiff drink. At least for me. I've got enough abv in my party cabinet to start an E85 station (living across the street from a corn field helps).

Tonight's discussion is twofold. First, a throwback to an old January post about Dogfish Head's Midas Touch Golden Elixir beer. You may recall (and if you don't recall, just take some time to go back and read the post) that I mentioned another obscure DFH brew therein, called Immort Ale. I mention it again now because, like with the Midas Touch, I stumbled upon Immort Ale months after initial discovery, and took a flyer on it.

You know how you put salt on your hand and lick it off before drinking a shot of tequila and biting into a lime wedge? Imagine putting some dark brown sugar on your hand, licking it off, taking a shot of bourbon, then gnawing on an old leather couch. That would be the Immort Ale experience.

Which is, surprisingly, not to say that Immort Ale is bad; it's not. But if Midas Touch is sneaky in its intoxicating ability, Immort Ale is the guy at the bar who tells you what he does for a living in agonizing detail. It's sweet, it's a little bitter, and it is in no way an easy drink. You should expect to have to write a report after one bottle. And at $12 for four, you better get crackin'.

And now, from a beer you can only get for a short time, to a liqueur you can only get after a long flight. Thanks to some intrepid cruise-takers in our family, we've acquired a bottle of Sheridan's Coffee Layered Liqueur. Only available across the pond, Sheridan's is sort of the binary explosive of liqueurs. The bottle is split in two, with a little more than half of the overall volume dedicated to the coffee chocolate liqueur, and the rest filled with vanilla cream liqueur. Two spouts allow the liquids to pour in separately, creating a layered cocktail similar to an unstirred White Russian.

My initial sip reminded me of licorice, but only a little. The rest of the glass (and the subsequent glass filled higher than the first) shed that impression. The resultant taste is something akin to Starbucks liqueur and cream, but with a little more brightness to the profile (thanks, I'm sure, to the vanilla). It's really quite good, so if you know someone who's going on a Carnival cruise, have them pick up a bottle. It's at least $5 cheaper than an Internet order, and a bigger bottle. Have your mule snag one on the first night, though; word is, this stuff sells out quick.

And with that, I bid you good night, and I shall again return to my lovely beverage.

A good beer and some ribs

Okay, so weeks later, I finally get around to telling you about my birthday dinner. That's all right, though, because I might still be digesting it.

A little biography first:

My dad was an actor, and one of his many roles was a small turn as Death in Stop the World I Want to Get Off! I had the benefit (as a very young man) of being a castmember's son, and as such I was given an equally small role (Little Littlechap, y'all! Represent). The play was put on at the Between the Locks stage. The building still stands, and has housed a number of businesses and a few eateries over the years.

So, other than one very short trip to the no-longer-with-us Dos Bandidos, my birthday dinner marked the first time I'd been in Between the Locks since I was about 5. It was a little surprising how familiar it felt, including the fact that we went in the back door rather than the front. It smelled the same. Wild.

The new establishment is Stone Cellar, most recently known as Adler Brau. They've got a really wide menu for a brew pub, and I was happily torn as to what entree to order.

It should be noted that my first beer of choice was a porter. If you're a porter purist, perhaps this would not be for you; it was surprisingly light, and didn't stick to the tongue like many dark beers can. It was very drinkable, if not totally faithful to the Fuller's London-style of porter.

Anyway, I went with the BBQ ribs in a crazy-good stout BBQ sauce. This is where the stick-to-your-mouth experience began. The sauce was clingy and sweet, with a definite stout presence, and the ribs were so well-cooked that nothing was left on the bone but teeth marks.

With my lovely rack of ribs, I enjoyed a special brew at Stone Cellar--the vanilla stout. Again, it was a fairly light drinker (for a stout), although it was thicker than the porter (as it should have been). The vanilla drew my attention, but didn't scream at me, and it was a great way to bring out the sweetness in the BBQ sauce.

I'm dropping the ball as to what I had for dessert (this is what I get for waiting so damn long to post this), but I know it was tasty.

The atmosphere at Between the Locks is very appealing; obviously, it has a quality that sticks with you over time. I'm hoping that Stone Cellar continues to thrive, because it's a great place to have a brew pub. If you're in the Appleton area, it's worth the safari into the middle of town to visit Stone Cellar. If I might borrow the grade scale of my friends at Eating in Madison A to Z, I'd give Stone Cellar a solid A. I will definitely be back, and at the risk of offending the fine folks at the Fox River Brewing Company, I'd like to say that that's how you craft a brew pub menu.

Dogs of the Internet

Monty is officially a superstar. He's on the Internet on no fewer than two otherwise unrelated websites. Mine, of course, and the website of the Capital Brewery in Middleton, Wisconsin. Go to the Events link, then click Recent Events, and you will see multiple pictures of the little guy from Dogtoberfest 2005. He got the woman and I free beer because the girl who worked there thought he was the cutest dog there. You Readers out there be sure to let me know the next time your Doberman or lhasa apso gets you free, fresh, cold, award-winning beer.

In other doggie news, Monty's been accident free for almost two weeks now. He's still crazy, still trying to eat things he shouldn't be, but he's had a remarkable transition to almost complete potty-trainedness, and is taking quite well to the "sit" command. He starts school next week. I suspect he'll be a stellar student.

I'm off to go buy a few Powerball tickets, since I don't think I'm going to be getting that call about the Supreme Court vacancy I was expecting. I was hoping to bring my "diversity of experience" (read: NONE) to the bench.