Poor man's redirect

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Hey, Irony or Mayo readers. I'm excited to tell you you're reading the wrong website.

Today, I'm launching the official ironyormayo.com, which will be the home for future installments of Kyle Ate Here, The Hunger Danes, and any other thrilling Irony or Mayo content. So revise your bookmarks, update your blogroll, and strap yourselves in for -- oh, who am I kidding, it's only a blog.

But still. Go over there and prepare to get reading.

The Hunger Danes: District 2 - New Orleans Take-Out

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Kyle Nabilcy is, among other things, a food writer. Jenni Dye is, among other things, a Dane County Board member. We'll be visiting a restaurant, cafe, or bar in each of the county's 37 board districts in a feature we're calling... The Hunger Danes.

I headed into the most recent Hunger Danes with high expectations -- or perhaps just excitable expectations; while I’ve often passed New Orleans Take Out’s Monroe Street location, I’ve never ventured in. This episode of The Hunger Danes took us to their other location, on Fordem, in District 2. I’ll confess I actually didn’t know this second location existed prior to our excursion -- which, I suppose, was part of the original idea of dining forays through Dane County's districts.

We both opted for the smaller of the two entree sizes offered, which was still plenty of food to fill you up at a reasonable price. Where the shrimp Creole (my choice) is listed on the menu as "Very hot," the crawfish etouffée (Kyle’s choice) is "Very, very hot.” Reader take note: this doesn't seem to be hyperbole; the etouffée started to burn from the first bite, and never stopped. The crawfish, though, was tender and amply portioned. Alongside an order of dirty rice, this is a dish not short on flavor -- even if you're sweating the entire time.

Kyle assures me that there was a noticeable difference between the “very, very hot” crawfish etouffee and the “very hot” shrimp Creole, but I found my shrimp Creole to be just over the edge to too spicy (and I generally like spicy). It may have been more manageable had I not paired it with dirty rice which packs a heat of its own. The dirty rice, however, was perfect and I’m glad I didn’t pass it up even if I wouldn’t pair these two in the future.

Red beans and rice with smoked sausage is always a strong choice, one Kyle’s wife makes at pretty much every visit. Cornbread (or good, crusty French bread) is a nice sop for the heat of whichever dish you decide on, as is the white rice served underneath many items. Kyle and I agreed we would split a dessert in addition to the entrees and sides we’d already ordered. Perhaps this is a hidden benefit of take out -- you order dessert simultaneously, before you realize how much you don’t need it.

Regrettably, the sweet potato pecan pie we both wanted to try was out for the night, and if we’d been smart we would have simply passed on dessert at that point. Once you have given yourself permission to indulge, however, it is difficult to turn back. Sadly, the fudge pie we settled on was unimpressive. But then, you don't come to NOTO for dessert.

Kyle noted that there seems to be a little less joy in the operation at the east side location of New Orleans Take-Out, compared to its Monroe Street counterpart. It's probably a foot traffic/college student thing; the east side NOTO is butted up against the railyards between Fordem Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. But if the ambience is more somber at the Fordem location, the food is consistently equal to the more popular Monroe Street spot. District 2 is lucky to have a spot like this to, as they say, “eat mo’ bettah!”

Kyle Ate Here - 2012 in review

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As I hit Publish, 2012 is mere hours from ending. You're all hopefully stuffing your faces with hors d'oeuvres, or Lil' Smokies, or something tasty. Take a couple minutes to read, discuss, debate what I think were my best food experiences of 2012, and let's all do this again in 2013.

The 20 Best Things (in chronological order)

  • Roasted pork tenderloin, Tilia (Best Thing, January)
  • Confidently pink-centered and surrounded with flavorful accompaniments like Brussels sprouts and bacon, this was a dish to make a fellow fall in love with a restaurant. This place is earning every accolade, which includes City Pages' Best New Restaurant. 
  • Tortino, Nostrano
  • Everything you've heard about Elizabeth Dahl's hand with desserts is true. This dish was a fine composition -- bourbon gelato, moonglow pears -- and the chestnut cake at its heart was a multi-textural masterpiece and delicious as well.  
    Ol' Virg. (Famous Yeti's)
  • The Virgil, Famous Yeti's
  • Of course a sandwich named after the character who leads Dante through the Inferno would be served by a restaurant that closed for much of 2012 thanks to a fire. I'm glad that the Yeti has resumed slinging pies, and this salty, oily, crusty gem is back on the menu.  
  • Haus beef, Dumpling Haus (Best Thing, February)
  • Dumpling Haus puts its own name on a number of dishes on the menu, and appropriately, they're all delicious. The Haus beef might challenge the timid diner, one whose appreciation for fat stops at the
    Haus beef. Rawr. (Dumpling Haus)
    steak's edge. But this is one marbled meat you've got to embrace.  
  • Fried smelt, North Bristol Sportsman's Club
  • Fish french fries. That's really what we're talking about. They're crispy, they're breaded, and they're dippable. You can get fried smelt at a handful of spots around town (Sardine, Orient House, Craftsman) but the North Bristol (Gun) Club is the pater familias for smelt in Dane County.  
  • Duck Duck Goat pizza, Salvatore's Tomato Pies (Best Thing, April)
  • Owner Patrick DePula warned that he might name this pizza after me, for all the raving I was doing over it this year. I don't need an eponymous pizza, but I do want to know when this limited release comes out again. Named for the dual toppings of 1) duck breast cooked in duck fat and 2) goat cheese, this pizza is an instant local classic.  
  • Sablefish, Brasserie V (Best Thing, May)
  • I had this fine fish for my birthday, as part of a surprise meal at Brasserie V. Seems the best meals at Brasserie V are often surprises -- not because of any doubt of the kitchen's skill, but because we so often go there for a sandwich and a beer, and end up charmed by some main course or another. Chef Rob Grisham has a knack for subtle excellence, and the asparagus, white truffle purée, and pickled ramps that supported a crisp-skinned piece of sablefish were just the thing to enchant a quiet birthday meal.  
    Buffalo mac and friend. (Target Field)
  • Buffalo chicken mac and cheese, Target Field
  • Elliot, Chris and I did some serious eating during our baseball weekend in Minneapolis. Of the concessions we consumed during the actual game, the Food Network stand's buffalo chicken mac was perhaps the concensus favorite. All expected flavors present and accounted for, served in embarrassing excess.  
  • Pancakes, Al's Breakfast (Best Thing, June)
  • Same guys, same weekend, same ample portioning. The best pancakes are cooked in enough fat to fry the edges just so, and the crew at Al's have been doing this for a while now. They've got the process down. If you don't mind being shoehorned in for your breakfast, this is a classic joint you absolutely must visit.  
  • Roasted duck curry, Curry in the Box
  • If I hadn't been to L'Etoile in the same month as this trip to Fitchburg's Curry in the Box, you'd have read Best Thing at the head of this entry. Curry in the Box is a fine takeaway spot, with some weak points on the menu but generally quite reliable. This is easily the best dish I've had there.  
  • Chilled cucumber soup, 4 & 20 Bakery and Cafe
  • My review of 4 & 20 was one of my favorite to research in 2012. The crew at Forequarter gets a lot of press in Madison, but as far as young restaurateurs go, Team 4 & 20 is sticking their landings. This soup is nicely layered, with cool, rich, and crunchy elements. As soon as summer rolls around, I'll be running-not-walking to 4 & 20 for another bowl. 
  • Roasted pheasant, L'Etoile (Best Thing, July)
  • I was at a loss for words in describing the excellence of this dish back in August; I'm not sure I could add anything to it this time around -- except to say that the cherries here were unexpectedly precious given the way the 2012 cherry harvest turned out. Just another layer of magic.  
  • Veal meatballs, Forequarter
  • Seasonal fluctuations led to a last-minute substitution with our plate of veal meatballs, and eggplant stepped into the main vegetable position. In my opinion, there couldn't have been a better vegetable for this dish. Mustardy, smoky, juicy, and excellent.
  • The Banzo pita, Banzo
  • I've had the eponymous pita at Banzo a number of times since August, but the young brick-and-mortar kitchen has this bad habit for forgetting one of the triumvirate of sauces (tahini, yogurt, hot sauce). Back when Banzo was just a cart, the pita I had on the way out of Great Taste was indeed a great taste, and not just because I needed a sop for all the alcohol. Falafel fried to a crunch, fluffy pita, and those three sauces working in harmony. All that and a couple house-made chips.  
Pel. Friggin'. Meni. (Oasis Cafe)
  • Pelmeni, Oasis Cafe
  • Bless Jenni Dye for providing the necessary push to get me over to Fitchburg (that's twice on this list) for some Russian dumplings. I'd been hearing the raves, and was among those who mourned the loss of Arbat, but Oasis Cafe's hours are just short enough to be inconvenient. But now that I know how good curry powder, sriracha, cilantro and sour cream go together with beef and potato dumplings, I'll never give them up. (And if this State Street plan works out, it'll be that much easier.)  
  • Bánh mì, Jordandal Cookhouse
  • The first thing I ate for my review of Jordandal in Verona was probably the best thing I ate there. The bespoke Stalzy's hoagie roll was just the right vessel for a sandwich with rich, slippery fillings. The menu here shifts frequently, but via social media you can always ask when the bánh mì's on next. 
  • Chocolate cherry gâteau basque, Madison Sourdough Co. (Best Thing, October)
  • I had it once, and then I never saw it again. Well, I saw the large version. The smaller serving is about the size of a tea saucer; the large one is the size of a dinner plate, and appreciably pricier. Who knows when cherries will rebound to the point when they can once again fill this almond flour-based delicacy? I'll be waiting.  
  • Pork kee mao, Weary Traveler via Isthmus Food and Wine Fest
  • Chef Joey Dunscombe and I put on a little tasting demo at the Food and Wine Fest this fall, and the assembled crowd seemed to really dig his pork shoulder drunken noodles -- one of my favorites from the Weary. This dish turns up as a special at the Weary on rare occasions, but if we all bug Joey and his kitchen crew, maybe it'll make a return engagement.  
  • Walleye and eggs, Cottage Cafe (Best Thing, November)
  • The November post was only up a few days ago, so I won't go on at length again. Just set aside a morning and get yourselves to Cottage Cafe. You won't regret it.  
  • Octopus, A Pig in a Fur Coat
  • Remember when I put up the December post, and acknowledged that there were still a few days left to the month? I did my best to make those most of those few days, with my first (and long-overdue) visit to A Pig in a Fur Coat. I still don't like the name, and struggle with what to call it instead (Pig? PFC?) -- but boy was it a fine meal. I'll go into more detail momentarily, but I'll say here that you're unlikely to find a better-cooked octopus.   
  • Honorable mention
  • Beef potstickers, Hinterland. Bluecy in the Sky with Bacon burger, Sardine via Burgers and Brew. The last Cheese Tasty, Nifty 50's.

The 12 Best Meals

  1. The Fountain, April 18th. Great little bar, with honestly local food that's just a bit daring. Sad to see the poor relationship between Fountain owner Harold Langhammer and the former bakers of the Baker's Window.
  2. DLUX, September 28th. This place got the business from Isthmus' review, but my little party left this meal quite happy. Fun cocktails, fries and shakes worthy of attention, and if the burgers are just okay, they're at least inexpensive for the Square.
  3. Nostrano, January 28th. My wife and I loved our banquette seat, where we could silently judge the other dates in progress throughout the restaurant. Some of the dishes felt needlessly complicated, but the quality of preparation is as high as you'd expect, and the gnocchi were great. See also: dessert.
  4. Toby's Supper Club, February 17th. Friday night madhouse. Walk in, order, and your first course is waiting for you when you're seated. Too bad the bluegill isn't served on Fridays. But really, no Toby's fish is a bad fish.
  5. Bone Luge, lookin' a fool. (L'Etoile)
  6. Al's Breakfast, June 17th. Speaking of madhouse. 14 precious seats, charmingly dictatorial line cooks who will shift diners to accommodate newcoming parties. Terrific food, staff, coffee -- just don't accidentally salt it. (CHRIS.)
  7. L'Etoile, March 25th. Bone Luge! Three courses of decadence, with a shot of cream sherry on top. A ridiculous treat, and something of a Madison food writer kibbutz.
  8. Salvatore's Tomato Pies, January 20th. My first visit, of many. The house-made sausage won me over; the fig and bacon pie sealed the deal. Seriously, Madison. If you aren't eating here yet, I'll be very disappointed.
  9. A Pig in a Fur Coat, December 29th. Just under the wire, and gloriously so. Duck fat fries (annoyingly dosed with unadvertised truffle oil, but still perfectly cooked); a rich, out-sized egg yolk raviolo; the best pork belly I've had in Madison, served atop sweet squash purée; slightly overcooked dry-aged strip steak with perfect sweetbreads and a rich marrow bone; that octopus. The communal tables can be annoying when the people next to you leer over your shoulder, but then kind of charming when they ask for your help with the menu. Return trips are required for trout, porchetta, tripe, and desserts.
  10. Brasserie V, May 20th. Even when we don't get a bar seat, Brasserie V is always a great meal. It'l be closed for a couple weeks while the expansion is finished off; my hope is that the bar vibe remains as appealing as it always has been.
  11. Merchant, March 22nd. This night started as a hunt for a spot to watch the Badgers and get something to eat. Merchant was far from the first choice. By the time we were seated, though, my back was to the bar TV and I couldn't have cared less. The only meal we've had in Madison that could, in creativity, quality, and price, rival...
  12. The bar is almost always the best seat.
    (Tilia)
  13. Tilia, January 7th. Bonkers. A must-visit for any Madison food fan visiting the Twin Cities. Worth every minute of the not-insignificant wait, but again: there's the bar, with the best seats in the house.
  14. L'Etoile, July 21st. 2012 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Midwest. You all know what's up. My main advice, as I've said before, is to order anything shellfish, any time you're here. Chef Tory Miller straight up dominates shrimps and scallops. The quaintness of the old location is certainly missed, but for better or worse it doesn't really reflect the brash confidence of the new guard. The boss might have some brotastic tendencies, but there's no denying the skill at work at Madison's highest-profile restaurant.

Kyle Ate Here - Revelation

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Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.
The Book of Revelation 3:20 


The end of the world didn't turn out to be the end of the world. Quetzalcoatl is still preening. The Four Horsemen are sitting in their spectral living room watching another season marathon of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. So we can all sit here and talk about the food that was, and the eating to come. At least until the 2013 solar flare melts all of our faces.

Unpack some of the freight of the word "revelation," though, and you're left with a word describing discovery. Food writers employ it when a dish or technique or restaurant vastly exceeds expectations, or has been hiding its excellence in plain sight. Mayan calendar notwithstanding, December has been full of revelation.

The month started off with another visit to the Minneapolis area. I'd love to spend more time there during these trips, but other obligations limited the opportunity to dine out. My wife and I did manage to hit one of the seven locations of Pizza Lucé (Uptown, if you're curious), and enjoyed the Spanish Chicken pizza despite it being a little dry and light on the smoked gouda. The cheese bread was exceptionally cheesy, and anyway, tap Surly covers a multitude of gripes.

Closer to home, Madtown Pizza on Johnson impressed me -- and put my wife over the moon. The menu of pre-built pizzas is small, but a Mad Veggie Eater plus half-sausage (a Greenbush family recipe according to the Madtown folks) should make most diners happy. The pizza style is vaguely New York-ish; it's hard to categorize but don't fret the details. Just check it out for yourself.

I made a lunch trip to Oregon's Lil' Buddy's Popcorn for a Chicago-style dog, and ended up buying a hefty bag (not a Hefty bag, but hey, close) of caramel corn/cheese corn mix for the true Chicago experience. I've had the Chicago Mix from Garrett Popcorn, and it's quite good; Lil Buddy's could be the best that the Madison area has to put up against it.

There's no mystery to the kung fu wielded by the Underground Food Collective, but I found the work done to transform the new Underground Butcher shop to be truly exemplary. Hanging salumi, meat primals, and a wide variety of foodstuffs produced by the Collective and other artisans. A takeaway sandwich of house culatello, Pleasant Ridge Reserve and mustard on a Madison Sourdough demi-baguette was as good as any sandwich served at La Baguette or Fromagination, Madison's reigning royal family of the Parisian-style picnic lunch.

Perhaps the biggest "how have I been missing this for so long?" moment of December was a happy hour outing to Tempest Oyster Bar. The drinks are creative and reasonably priced, the small plates are equally inexpensive (somewhat startlingly so, actually), and the quality is there to make it all worthwhile. The Awniker cocktail is based on jalapeño tequila that made me inordinately happy, and the miniaturized food offerings -- clams casino and the Smoke Stack in particular -- balanced our booze intake perfectly.

The best thing I ate

Almost gone. :(
Underground Butcher's culatello sandwich (to say nothing of the house-made plum butter and chocolate sandwich COUGHoreoCOUGH cookies) was balanced, simple, delicious. The "Lil' Buddy's Mix" paired crisp caramel corn and rich, cheddary cheese corn in the glorious oddball symphony that only caramel and cheese can perform. These, plus some really enjoyable tacos al carbon from El Azteca in Appleton, are the top three contenders. (Three tacos of charred sliced skirt steak, thick tortillas, and a gooey cheese-pepper sauce that we should probably never speak of again, ahem -- they might be my new favorite dish there.) It's getting to the point that I shouldn't be surprised by superb American classics in little Oregon, but Lil' Buddy's popcorn managed to wow me all the same. It's the last Best Thing of 2012; what a relief it is that I'll be able to try more in 2013.

Kyle Ate Here - The little guy

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Okay, so we're in that time of year where schedules tighten up, priorities shift, and (for us, anyway) leisurely dining-out takes a back seat to travel, family feasts, and shopping for presents.

As such, the November big list is shorter, and more modest. Coffeeshops, small meals, and takeout dominated the month. Appropriately, my review of Gates and Brovi was published in November; compared to its sibling restaurants (Marigold Kitchen and Sardine), G+B is a step in a smaller, less ambitious direction.



Big place, little meal

Apropos of nothing except that this
is what a lot of November
dining resembled.
Certainly, the biggest little deal of the month was a quick lunch at The Rigby following a (nearly) front-row spot for President Barack Obama's visit to Madison on the day before the election (thanks, Jenni!). The menu is full of ultra-dorky Beatles puns, but the Sunshine Burger was juicy and topped with an egg and a sauce that called to mind egg-devilry. Quirky, but fun. (The prez was pretty entertaining, too.)

I wish I'd been to the Avenue Bar before its Food Fight days, but I have no complaints over its current operation. The Sunday baked hot ham special was thickly sliced and not lacking in white gravy. While not literally small (it was enough for three meals), it was quaintly old-school and unrefined. And an early dinner at the Forequarter bar was a nice way to spend a Saturday. The fennel purée next to the finochiona was remarkable, sweet and smooth. Plus, bar witch Hastings Cameron brought out an experimental holiday cocktail that my little group was happy to weigh in on. You may have sampled it as the Buttered Hot Potato. Woulda been a great dessert with the Sunday ham.


Little place, little meal

There were dueling exurban meatball sandwiches, at Alberici's Delicatezza of Oregon (formerly Evansville) and Famous Yeti's of Stoughton (formerly closed due to fire). The former sandwich was well-balanced and reasonable; the latter was doused in strongly herbal marinara, and huge. Both satisfied the primal meatball urge. There were also dueling slices at two pizza joint's named Sal. The Appleton version offered complimentary garlic knots (especially delicious late at night); the Sun Prairie one put on a great private party for a lucky friend (hey, John!).

Nanobrewer One Barrel Brewing serves up food from surrounding eateries in addition to a small menu of house-brewed beers. My wife and I had chips and salsa from neighboring Tex Tubb's, while I lusted after the pizzas from Fraboni's. (The beers were great, especially the Strong Ale No. 2, a boozy Belgian dark.) And oh boy was the Hunger Danes outing to little Cottage Cafe a treat.


The best thing I ate

November was, frankly, a heads-up battle between two plates: the baked ham at Avenue Bar, and the walleye and eggs from Cottage Cafe. Avenue's ham came with all the fixins (salad, soup, bread -- the menu doesn't lie) plus a boat-load of the aforementioned gravy. The ham itself was thick and full of salty flavor, and the server was one of those pleasant, no-sass-allowed gals that you'd hope to find at a place like the Avenue Bar. Cottage Cafe is full of similar ladies and straightforward food. I was pretty well blown away by the crisp batter on the walleye, and the precisely-cooked eggs. As you might have guessed from reading the District 17 Hunger Danes entry, the walleye and eggs wins November's Best Thing; against a time-honored joint like the Avenue, that's no small feat.