Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Cheating on Halina

About a month or so, I poked my head into Zascianek, a Polish restaurant on Belmont a few blocks west of Central. The bilingual menu with selections under veal, beef, pork and chicken seemed interesting--veal tongue anyone? Moreover, the place was packed (early on a Sunday night). I've been wanting to return since, especially as it is a lot closer than my darling Halina.

The Condiment Queen and I had lunch there today. Yes, I am not gonna draw too much of a conclusion from one meal, but boy was it good. Really good. One must have soup at a Polish restaurant (no?). There are three regulars: chicken noodle, tripe and red borsht, plus a soup of the day. We went with the SOTD, pickle. And boy did it taste like pickle. I admired the high thriftiness of the kitchen that took probably those last pickles from the jar and combined them with a smooth and creamy stock (and a potato or two for contrast) to make a great soup. Then again, I do not think I have had a bad soup at a Polish place.

I was curious to try the contractor's special, the menu has a lot of dishes that are mysterious in name. I s'pose it is something to keep you fortified for a hard day's worth (or reward you after a hard day's worth). It's an oblong potato pancake underneath a breaded pork cutlet, both the pork and the pancake are the same size. Next comes a ladle of mushroom gravy, finally two slices of cheese are melted on top. Out of guilt, I only at 1/2. It was like a Polish version of ReneG's Diner Grill Slinger. Good too. Crisply fried, fresh mushrooms, I could taste the potatoes in the potato pancake, and the cheese gave it a unifying element as it dribbled down.

My wife ordered boiled beef with a horseradish-apple gravy. Sauce on the side was noted upon ordering but not in execution from the kitchen. The meat was a tad stringy but in a good way. It came with two mounds of pure mashed potatoes topped with fried onions. Both dishes came with a tri-part mix of homemade salads.
The woman in the kitchen, Anna I believe, was glad we came. We talked chow a bit and she showed me what her dumplings looked like. I am eager to continue the relationship.

5752 W. Belmont
Chicago, IL
More Time in Wisconsin

We were driving from Oconomowoc to Oak Park on Sunday. After extensive research, it was decided that it was only to Milwaukee that we would get decent chow. The first and last place that came to mind for Milwaukee, the place I most want to try in the land of butter was the Jewish deli, Jake's. A quick check on the chow hot-line, however, educated me of no Jake-y's on Sundays. We ended at Mader's, which was the choice all a long of the Condiment Queen. Later, we arrived too late for hot ham and buns (PLEASE EXPLAIN!) but had an early dinner of burgers and custard at Omega. We finished the day with some shopping at Woodman's in Kenosha. Wisconsin remains a great chow state.

We pulled into Mader's lot around 1 PM and were initially disappointed to learn it was buffet. By the end of the meal we realized this was an intensely good deal. The buffet encompasses most of the Mader menu. More aptly put, most of the Mader's menu is no different from what is on the buffet. In other words, if you ordered sausage or sauerbraten, it's coming from the same holding cell regardless of whether you can see it. Same thing with appetizers of various Usinger meats. There are little secrets on this buffet. Which means it is food that works very well on the buffet. Fat brats and even fatter knockwursts in an onion broth, goulash that tasted almost of Texas chile and kessler ribs with sauerkraut all went down well with my New Glarus Spotted Cow beer. Before these hot meats, I ate a bunch of Milwaukee cold cuts, some herring and a big portion of smoked coho salmon--how can they get that in Wisconsin? Roast beef stood up amazingly well to the heat lamp but dessert were like school food--sheet cakes with plain frostings.

We parked between Glorioso Brothers and Peter Sciortino's Bakery on Brady Street, just north of downtown Milwaukee, both advertising hot ham and fresh buns, only to find both places just closed for the day. Must come earlier to find out. So, we wandered the shops a bit, later getting one of the most over-extracted espressos I have ever tasted at Anodyne. We got a bum lead on a custard place that turned out to be Cold Stone Creamery!!! Around 5ish, we started south on in Rt. 32, passing through some more of Milwaukee's frozen in time neighborhoods, also got to drive right up to a lake freighter, something you cannot do in Chicago. We decided to stop at the Milwaukee chain Omega for custard and burgers. Omega is just the place to have handy on a Sunday evening. Nothing extraordinary. No gobs of butter on the burger, just a discreet swipe on the soft bun, yet the burger had that real taste I also associate with Fatburger or In'n Out. Again, the custard was not extraordinary yet real tasting. It fortified us to wander Woodman's.

A few years ago, there was some debate on Chowhound on whether Woodman's was a great store or just a big store. I would say that for a long time on Sunday night, I was in the big, just big category. As has been noted, the store is claustrophobic, poorly organized and filled with a lot of just stuff. The produce is cheap but seemed on the verge of spoilage (similar to Stanley's in Chicago), and granted it was Sunday night, but the bakery stuff did not impress--hey if I skipped the kringle you know it is not so impressive. Still, the longer I wandered Woodman's, the more it grew on me. Within all those miles of shelves are tons of Wisconsin products, all those honeys and door county preserves and summer sausages and cheese spreads but always a few dollars less than at the specialty shops. We spent a while ruminating over which Wisconsin mustards to take home. Of course, there was the Tenuta's giardinaras, and we bought a jar of the finely diced mix. The selection of Usinger and Klements sausage was huge. Most interesting to me was a range of wild caught smoked fishes from different Wisconsin providers. In addition to the more common chubs and whitefish, there was smoked blue fish, smoke lake (i.e., larger) trout and even smoked carp. Woodman's is well worth the time even if it is not a great store.

[All addresses Milwaukee unless stated otherwise]

Jake's Deli - 1634 North Mader's - 1041 N Old World 3rd St

Glorioso Brothers 1020 East Brady Street.

Peter Sciortino's Bakery 1101 E. Brady Street

Anodyne Coffee Roasting Co. 1208 E. Brady Street

Omega Custard and Burgers - 32 and Kinnickinnic (among other locations)

Woodman's - Just off of Highway 50 and I-94, Kenosha