Saturday, February 19, 2005

Kringle Follow-up

The Bendsten's kringle has been gone for several days, and I have yet to post. As I mentioned to a fellow kringle lover the other day, I wish to expound on the kringle but fear my skills will not do it justice. Perhaps, the mere fact that I ate a Bendsten's kringle pretty much solo in about two days makes a statement. Yet, when do hounds associate mere gluttony with sublime taste? I could not stop myself from eating this pastry because it was so good.

Great. How many times shall I say it. Great. The five letter word of one with little else to say. I shant have a post on kringles just saying great, great, great, great, great, great, great. How was the kringle great. Well, as someone else who recently ate a Bendsten's kringle knows, the defining feature is crisp. You think of Danish pastry as buttery, flaky, rich. Does crisp come to mind? The Bendsten kringle was krisp. Crisp almost in an odd way because it was both crisp and moist. It is as if a thousand layers of pastry were crushed under a hydraulic press. Inside the kringle you can still see some of the layers, like certain types of geology, but it was one stone. And it was like the heat of that press altered those top layers into something burnished. Inside could be gooey--and I would be remiss to say that it was great goo, not at all cloying or artificial tasting. In fact, the balance of the interior layers and the fillings against those top layers of crunch made that crispness all the more remarkable. Yes, it was great!

Luckily for me, I reside not in Racine, but its neighbor 100 miles south. My waistline cannot stand very many kringles in the house. I have no willpower around a Bendsten's kringle. Like some crazed rat in an experiment, I eat kringle until my stomach aches. I eat kringle past when my stomach aches because its pleasure overrides all other sensations. It is only the revelation that I have hacked off my third chunk of kringle that gets me to stop. Hack I say. The urge for kringle was so strong that after the initial try, after I was initially hooked, I did not wait for plate or knife. I would reach into the kringle bag and rip out some kringle. Eat it in bliss and then rip out another slab. And you wonder how I could eat that in a mere two days.

In conclusion, please get your own Bendsten's kringle to learn what my words cannot describe. What's more, I have concluded that one cannot actually control their kringle consumption. It is actually something someone should buy for someone else. Purchase Bendsten's kringles for me. Ration me. Help me eat a regular portion of kringle. We will all benefit.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Kewpie was Klosed. We Still Kringled

Probably like a lot of families, the VI family vacillates between Saturday’s crammed with plans and Saturday’s devoid of obligations—actually like most families, we have much less of the latter. But we did yesterday. A plan less day. And we were not gonna let that go to waste (especially with the false spring weather). We reduced our choices to Strongbow Inn, for an out of season Thanksgiving lunch or Racine for the never visited “Hamburg with pickle on top, Makes your heart go flippity-flop” Kewpie’s (plus a Kringle for dessert). Well, you can see the math here right? Racine = burger AND kringle, Valparaiso = just turkey lunch. It was off to Wisconsin. And of course, Wisconsin is one of the most chowiest states around. It would be a FULL day of eating.

Travel north to Wisconsin just a few times and you know exactly when you cross the border. I am not sure the reason for the boundary between Illinois and Wisconsin. It follows no river or other obvious line. Yet, it is very apparent when you are in the state to the north of ours—and I do not mean just because all the cars fly their green and yellow flags, and the frontage roads are lined with adult book stores. Physically, the state looks different, even before you hit any rolling kettle moraine. And Illinois does not have cheese shops off of Interstate exits.

It does take two exits to get to the cheese. One must be a patient traveler in Wisconsin. The Mars Cheese Castle beckons, but Bobby Nelson seems 100% more real. In fact, Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop is so obviously non-obvious, that I feared it would be less good in a Larry David kinda way. Mars is big and prominent and looks of many recent additions. It is right there. Bobby Nelson’s is small, retro, and with Wall Drug allure, the mysterious sign advertising, mitt or mittout. Since this is Wisconsin, that chowiest of states, both places are worth a visit. Yes, Bobby Nelson’s is better, more real, with an engaging owner who runs through the mitt and mittout (with or without garlic) and talks up the bison-pheasant farm made by 400 lb Tiny who runs a nearby bison farm. At Bobby Nelson's, we also pick up some smoke salmon and the de rigueur cheese shaped like the state of Wisconsin. I wanted to buy nearly everyone of the Koepsel Door County canned products, so instead got none. Mars has a huge and intriguing selection of Wisconsin booze, a classic backwoods Wisconsin bar where one can eat cheese spread and drink brandy old fashions, and a ton of other things to buy--this would be the ideal store to shop up pre-Super Bowl. The irony of the day is, that Mars, while not as good as Bobby Nelson’s, turned out to be better than a few shops in Racine not geared towards tourists. And since this was Wisconsin, we picked up excellent cheddar cheese bread and King of Clubs cheese spread (preternaturally delicious) at Mars.

The road to Kewpie’s goes right through Old Racine, once the heart of Danish America. Which means the oval flaky pastry called kringle. We stopped for kringle. Put money in the meter, then decided lunch should come before dessert. We continued on downtown, where we found, to our sadness, Kewpie took the week off for vacation. Undaunted, we immediately turned to a place we saw on the way towards Kewpie, The Balkan Restaurant. After all, I figured, one of the most famous place’s in Racine’s northern suburb, Milwaukee, was the Serbian Three Brothers, why not in Racine proper. (I’ve never been to 3 Brothers, but years ago, it used to bother me that the Stern’s included the ethnic place for Milwaukee in their book, but did not include similar places from Chicago.)

While we still crave a Kewpie burger, Balkan highly satisfied. The owners come from Slavic Macedonia. They limit their traditional fare to a few items, borek wedges served with hime-made chicken barley soup, sarma (stuffed cabbage) and kebapi, the archetypical Balkan “sausage” of ground meat and baking soda. Many a time, I have not loved kebapi (or its variations), but this place fried them real well and served them with a highly spicy red pepper-eggplant condiment. Great. Chunks of potato, American fries, crisp on one side, also helped ease the pain of missing Kewpie.

If seeking out tiny hamburger chains is Dad’s thing, the chowhounditas HAVE to get up close and personal with any major body of water. From Balkan, we walked to the edge of Lake Michigan. There, a panic attack hit me worse than the one over controlling myself with Bobby Nelson’s inventory. Would the kringle shops still be open? Bakeries do close early on weekends, no? Luckily, I have noted Racine-phile, Chowhound SethZ’s number on the speed dial. He did not know exactly when the Danish bakeries closed, but he was kind enough to get me some needed telephone numbers. Finding out I had (at least) a few hours to spare, let me enjoy the lakefront, plus time to shop downtown Racine’s Century Market. Earlier in the day, we theorized that there would be a relationship between the quality of food shops and their distance to the Interstate, but Century and later Borzynski proved us wrong. This store was nothing special and had way less Wisconsin stuff than Bobby Nelson or Mars. Because we are chowists, we bought out nearly all the vintage cook books at a bookstore on 6th Avenue (including Luchow’s German Cookbook from 1952 and a 1948 Scandinavian book). Still, there was the problem that the Kondiment Kween demanded an espresso before her daily cut-off at 3 PM.

Downtown Racine is no Harlem Avenue. We returned though to Old Racine for coffee and pastry. Bendsten’s, probably considered the best kringlery has a cafĂ©, but it looked pathetic. We decided to get a few kringles (well one for us and one for SethZ). JeffB notes that this is the best version of coffee cake he’s ever had, and he passes on the fact that the pastry is about 85% fat. Down the street from Bendsten’s is Wilson’s Coffee and Tea. They roast their own coffee but over extract their espresso. I ran across the street to Larsen’s, one of Bendsten’s prime kringle rivals. I skipped the kringels here (knowing by the time I finished my Bendsten's kringle, the other would be stale) but took full advantage of Larsen's end of day special. Most of the donuts and Danish cost only 25 cents. The one I ate on the spot, a cherry diamond, tasted only worth 25 cents, too dense and sweet, but the cake donut I had the next day was good—and I have about $2 still to try. We also picked up 2 half pounds of Wilson’s coffee. Hopefully the beans beat the brew.

And we could not leave this stretch of Racine without trying DeRango “the Pizza” King. It cost less than $6 for a 12 inch, cheese heavy, thin-thin pizza. A little too much garlic powder in the sauce made it a tad less than ideal for me.

On the way out of Racine we visited Borzynski’s Farm Market. I finally gave in and bought expensive Wisconsin cherry jam and expensive Wisconsin Kallas honey (for the impending household honey tasting). As I mentioned above, this place was not as impressive as Mars or Bobby Nelson.

I would say our last chow stop of the day was Miro’s Charcoal House Little Europe, but after dinner and when the kidz should have been hitting the hay, we caught the outlet mall still open. There, there is a gourmet shop where Ms. VI picked up some needed glass bowls, and I got an extra bitter orange marmalade from Maxim’s de Paris (really!). Our original plan was Ray Ratigan's, but Miro's tempted from the expressway. It need’s its own report, which I will do.

Bobby Nelson's Cheese Shop Fine Cheese, Gifts
2924 120th Ave.
Kenosha, WI

Mars Cheese Factory
2800 120th Ave
Kenosha, WI

520 Wisconsin Ave
Racine, WI

Three Brothers
2414 S. St. Clair
Milwaukee, WI

The Balkan Restaurant "A Bit of Balkan"
605 Sixth Street
Racine, WI

Martha Merrell's Books
312 Sixth Street
Racine, WI

Century Market
506 Sixth Street
Racine, WI

Bendtsen's Bakery
3200 Washington
Racine, WI

Wilson's Coffee and Tea
3306 Washington
Racine, WI

Larsen Bakery
3311 Washington
Racine, WI

DeRango "The Pizza King"
3114 Washington Ave.
Racine, WI

Borzynski's Farm and Floral Market
11600 Washington
Racine, WI

Miro's Charcoal House Little Europe
6613 120th Ave.
Kenosha, WI

Le Gourmet Chef
11211 120th Ave.
Pleaasant Prarie, WI