Settle Down (Madison, Wisconsin)


Alright, we’re almost at the end of the meal reports from our Madison trip in August. This was lunch on our second and last full day in the city. We’d spent the morning on a lake and once it got nice and hot—like really hot—we ventured forth in search of another restaurant with outdoor seating. Settle Down had been on the list—thanks to another recommendation in the comments from Todd who’d also recommended Ian’s Pizza—but after the non-appearance of the advertised outdoor seating at the Old Fashioned the previous evening we were taking nothing for granted, Thankfully, a phone call to Settle Down confirmed the existence of a lot of outdoor seating and on arrival we saw that it was indeed so. The entire street in front of the restaurant was closed to traffic and strewn with tables and chairs. We picked one and then another and then another before finally finding one that was completely out of the blazing sun. And then we ordered some food and got down to the eating of a pleasurable lunch. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Ian’s Pizza (Madison, Wisconsin)


And so now I am at the midpoint of my meal reports from our trip to Madison in early August and this is a report on our first non-Asian meal in the city (see my earlier reviews of Strings Ramen and Bandung). Ian’s Pizza—recommended by a commenter, Todd—was not originally on our itinerary but it was our fallback option when one of the places that had been recommended from multiple directions didn’t work out: The Old Fashioned. We’d planned to eat dinner there on this Monday evening but when we pulled up alongside we couldn’t see any sign of the outdoor seating that they were supposed to have. We called them from the car and were told they were not doing outdoor seating on account of the storm about to roll in. Now, while weather on our trip was not great, this evening actually was completely rain-free. The sky was blue, the sun was out. Indeed, after dinner we repaired to the Memorial Union Terrace at the University of Wisconsin for ice cream and sunset by the water. Far more likely is that they didn’t want to deal with staffing outdoor seating with enough people willing to eat indoors. So we ate dinner instead at Ian’s Pizza instead. And a very good dinner it was too. Continue reading

Gates Bar-B-Q (Kansas City)


Here now is my last meal report from our brief visit to Kansas City in July and quite appropriately it is of a meal eaten at one of the city’s most sanctified barbecue institutions, perhaps second only to Arthur Bryant’s in that sense. I am referring, of course, to Gates Bar-B-Q. It too traces its history back to Henry Perry—the father of Kansas City barbecue and the man whose restaurant evolved into Arthur Bryant’s. The original location of Gates was founded in 1946, with the Gates family partnering with another of Perry’s employees/students, Arthur Pinkard. Unlike Arthur Bryant’s, Gates is still black-owned and indeed still in the Gates family. That original location, at 18th and Vine, does not appear to still be extant. Gates does have six locations in the Kansas City metro now. Of those, we dined at the large restaurant on Emanuel Cleaver Blvd., selecting it for its proximity both to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, which was our previous port of call and to access to the highway back to Minnesota, which would be our next. It was a fine meal and a fine farewell to Kansas City. Continue reading

Voltaire (Kansas City)


My reports on our meals in Kansas City in the second half of July are almost at an end. Here is an account of our penultimate meal in the city, at Voltaire. This was one of two meals we ate on this trip that were not centered on barbecue and both were positioned to break up the consumption of barbecue so we wouldn’t get stuck in a (smoky) rut or die (at this point we had already eaten smoked meats at Joe’s Kansas City, Arthur Bryant’s and Pigwich). The first of those meals was our dinner the previous night at Waldo Thai Place. Like that restaurant, Voltaire had been recommended by the same friend of a friend on Twitter. And given how much we’d enjoyed our dinner at Waldo Thai we had high hopes of our meal at Voltaire as well. These high hopes were mostly met. Read on for details. Continue reading

The City Market and Lunch at Pigwich (Kansas City)


I do very much enjoy walking around urban markets in cities I visit. Accordingly, a stop at Kansas City’s City Market was on our itinerary. Originally, this was supposed to be our last stop on the Thursday of our trip. It’s located in the north of the city, right by Highway 35 and the plan had been to go for a walk by the river, browse the market, eat a quick lunch at Pigwich and hit the road. All of this got thrown for a loop by my lame trip planning. I’d put a visit to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on the agenda for Wednesday (preceded by lunch at Gates-Bar-B-Q). Of course, since I only bothered to look at the museum’s website closely on Wednesday morning I discovered rather late in the game that the Nelson-Atkins is closed on Tuesday and Wednesdays. (Isn’t all this detail fascinating?!) So we went to the Nelson-Atkins and Gates on our last day and on Wednesday started out with a walk by the river, a stroll through the City Market and lunch at Pigwich. Here’s how it went. Continue reading

Arthur Bryant’s (Kansas City)


Our eating in Kansas City began at the original gas station location of Joe’s Kansas City, a few hours after our arrival. When I say the “original” location I don’t mean to suggest that this is a very old restaurant: it opened in the late 1990s. Arthur Bryant’s, where we ate lunch the next day, on the other hand goes way back to the beginnings of Kansas City barbecue, being indeed the place where the genre solidified and gained renown. The original proprietor, Henry Perry, the “father of Kansas City barbecue, had begun to sell his wares in the early decades of the 20th century, first at a stand and then to a restaurant in the 18th and Vine neighbourhood. On his death Perry’s business passed to his employee, Charlie Bryant in 1940 and his brother Arthur took over in 1946 and moved the restaurant to its current location at 18th and Brooklyn in 1949. (All this information is from Wikipedia, in case you’re wondering.) Continue reading

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que (Kansas City)


Okay, let’s get the Kansas City meat-a-thon going. As I said at the end of last week, we drove down to Kansas City for three days for a trip that was largely built around the eating of barbecue. As you doubtless know, Kansas City is one of the four traditional centers of barbecue in the United States—Texas, Memphis and the Carolinas being the others. The major differences between Kansas City barbecue and the others is first of all a more catholic approach to meat: there is no meat that is given emphasis over others in Kansas City. Anything that can be barbecued is. The other is the deployment of a tomato-based sauce with more than a little sweetness to it. Our main desire with the eating of barbecue was to eat at places with historical/cultural significance rather than places that top “Best of” lists. To this end I looked up reviews and articles online and canvassed recommendations on social media. We settled on Arthur Bryant’s and Gates for the historical/cultural significance. But we began our eating at the relatively much-newer Joe’s Kansas City which does often land at or near the top of those “Best of” lists. We had dinner there just a few hours after arriving in Kansas City. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 65: Matt’s Bar (Minneapolis)


I have a confession to make. Despite living in Minnesota—and in the greater Twin Cities metro area—for almost exactly 14 years now, I’ve never had a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, or for that matter at any other restaurant in the area. Yes, I’ve made my own versions at home but I’ve never eaten it at Matt’s Bar or at any of the other places that claim to make the ur version. If you’re not from Minnesota and not up on your Twin Cities cliches you may not know what a Jucy Lucy is: it’s a cheeseburger where the cheese is in a hollow inside the beef patty, where it melts as the patty cooks and comes oozing out when you bite into it. Sounds a bit repulsive, yes, and it is but there are contexts in which it makes sense. And at any rate the Fifth Law of Thermodynamics states that one must not enter one’s 15th year in a region without having eaten all of its iconic, if occasionally dubious, culinary specialties. Having now eaten a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s, I believe I have all the local iconic specialties covered but long time Minnesotans and Twin Citizens should feel free to test me. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 61: Rack Shack (Eagan, MN)


In the last year we may have eaten more barbecue in the Twin Cities metro than in our previous 13 years here. We’ve certainly eaten barbecue from more restaurants than ever before: Ted Cook’s 19th Hole, Smoke in the Pit, Firebox, Black Market StP. Hell, we even got barbecue at opposite ends of the spectrum from Tenant during their pandemic takeout pivot and the far humbler Quarterback Club here in our town. Some of these have been among the best restaurant meals we’ve eaten since the pandemic began; all have been at least solid. Which brings me to our latest round of takeout barbecue, which we picked up from Rack Shack in Eagan on Saturday. Located right off Cedar Avenue (on Cliff Road in the strip mall that also houses Atomic Liquors), they’ve caught my eye in the past as well and so I was interested to finally try their fare. I’m sorry to say that while there were a few things we like fine, on the whole, this was the most uneven of our barbecue outings. Herewith the details. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 11: Tenant (Minneapolis)


Last week I had a review of takeout barbecue from a restaurant in South Minneapolis. Today I have a review for you of takeout barbecue from another restaurant in South Minneapolis. The two restaurants could not, however, be more different. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole is a 51 yo Black-owned restaurant that is takeout-only and which serves no-nonsense barbecued meats and sides. Tenant, on the other hand, is a 3 yo hard-to-get-into, cheffy prix fixe restaurant in what I call the Global Cosmopolitan school. That’s in normal times. The pandemic has caused a temporary convergence as Tenant, like most other local fine dining restaurants, has pivoted to a takeout model to keep its doors open and its staff employed. The restaurant’s bare bones structure—very few people in the kitchen, doing all the jobs—has perhaps allowed it to be more flexible in this regard than most of its fine dining peers. They’ve not, however, been serving the food people normally book six weeks in advance to eat. For the first couple of months of the pandemic they were selling takeout soup and sandwich packages; as of about a month ago they’ve pivoted to barbecue. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 10: Ted Cook’s 19th Hole (Minneapolis)


I had planned to post this review of this large takeout barbecue meal earlier this week. But the prefatory comments I’d wanted to make about American food media and race became a much longer thing, and rather than have this review disappear into that I posted those as a separate piece on Thursday. One of the things I noted in that post was how little awareness I have of Black-owned/run restaurants in the Twin Cities metro beyond Somali and Ethiopian places. Indeed, the other two that I have reviewed—Big Daddy’s* and Handsome Hog—are also barbecue restaurants, albeit at different ends of the price and ambience spectrum. Ted Cook’s 19th Hole is even more informal than Big Daddy’s—it’s takeout-only here and things are as functional as you might imagine for a takeout-only establishment: a counter where you order and pay, the kitchen behind and a few seats in the bare bones room in front for people waiting (in non-pandemic times) for their orders. There is little here that signals the history of the restaurant—it’s been around since 1969. You pick up your food, you pay, and you go on your way. Continue reading

Pandemic Takeout 05: Quarterback Club (Northfield, MN)


It took a pandemic and a “stay at home” order but I finally have a review of the food of Quarterback Club, possibly the most iconic restaurant in our small town of Northfield, Minnesota. This is not because we’ve never eaten their food before. We’ve stopped in a few times over the years for their signature fried chicken; and that same fried chicken features every year on the table at our neighbourhood’s annual fall potluck, paid for by some communal pool of money that the neighbourhood was bequeathed at the time it was incorporated by the city. This fried chicken is quite good but it never seemed like enough of a reason to write them up. And with El Triunfo at the other end of the large parking lot they anchor, we never quite seemed to make it to Quarterback Club very often. But now that our options for food made outside our house have shrunk—long round-trip drives to the Cities don’t appeal for take-out—the variety offered to us by Quarterback Club seems more appealing. Here therefore is a quick write-up of a recent meal of fried chicken and more. Continue reading

At Coney Island (New York, August 2019)


On our last full day in New York we took the subway from the Upper Westside all the way to Brooklyn and out to the sea, to Coney Island. I’ve always wanted to go to Coney Island. I’ve never had much of a sense of it—a hotdog stand and a beach is all I could have told you if you’d asked me to try and describe it before getting there—but it is an iconic piece of Americana. And there’s no guarantee that it will still be around when our kids are our age. They may not be able to take their kids there when their turn comes but we could take them now and so we did. And, unlike me, they’re really into hectic amusement parks and boardwalks. We met a friend and his family there for lunch and beach lounging. Before lunch the four of us spent an ungodly amount of money on the rides and attractions along the boardwalk. Is there any reason you should not look at pictures of all of this? No, there is not. Continue reading

Foxface (New York, August 2019)


[Upfront disclosure: this write-up is of an establishment owned by friends and of a meal at which we received a significant comp.]

Foxface, a tiny—and I mean tiny—sandwich shop in St. Mark’s Place in Manhattan, opened late last year. Ori and Sivan, who own and operate it, are not strangers to the once vibrant, now moribund American food forum world. I’ve known them for some years now, mostly online. Some of those who’ve followed their restaurant reports over the years might well have been surprised that on their return from a five year sojourn in Tokyo they decided to sell sandwiches; but nobody would be surprised to learn that these are some bloody excellent sandwiches (in some cases literally so: blood shows up in the ingredients of a couple of sandwiches in their ever-changing lineup). Continue reading

Gray’s Papaya (New York, August 2019)


On Friday I had a quick report on casual lunch at the Upper Westside location of Luke’s Lobster, an establishment whose proximity to Central Park and the Museum of Natural History I appreciated. Today’s report is of an even more casual lunch at a far more iconic and certainly far cheaper restaurant: Gray’s Papaya. The flagship location at Broadway and 72nd is also easily walkable from the Museum of Natural History, though a bit further than Luke’s Lobster. But a large part of the charm of being in New York is walking the streets and despite the heat and humidity we did not object (we averaged about 6 miles a day over our 10 days). And without making over large claims about the quality of either the hotdogs or the juice I can say that we enjoyed our meal at Gray’s Papaya as well. Herewith a few details. Continue reading

Luke’s Lobster (New York, August 2019)


We stayed on the Upper Westside while in New York last month in no small part because we were going to be spending a lot of time with the boys in the museums and in Central Park. For food-obsessed people like us, however, this presents some challenges as both the UWS and the UES are relative interesting food deserts, especially in close proximity to the big museums. On our first full day, however, we had a nice casual lunch at the UWS outpost of Luke’s Lobster, a chain with locations all over Manhattan and other places on the East Coast as well Las Vegas, San Francisco, Japan and Taiwan. Herewith a brief report. Continue reading

Empire Diner (New York, August 2019)


We ate dinner at Empire Diner in Chelsea on our second evening in the city. Why did we eat there? Reasons are there two: 1) we needed to eat somewhere within relative proximity to both our apartment and to the theater where the missus was scheduled to watch Say Something Bunny that evening ; 2) we tried a walk-in at the Midtown Ippudo Ramen location and were hit in the face with a ludicrous projected wait at 5.15 pm. So I checked the list of recommendations I had been given by my compadres on Mouthfuls and gave Empire Diner—a short walk from the theater—a call. They had many tables available and so we hopped back on the subway and went over. We didn’t really know what to expect or whether this would be a meal up the boys’ alley. But it turned out rather well, albeit not very reasonably priced. Continue reading

Hill Country (Washington D.C.)


Our eating in DC was organized almost entirely around proximity to the Smithsonian museums (where we spent our days) and our hotel (where we spent our evenings). I’ve already reported on two of our hotel-adjacent dinners (at Baby Wale and Bantam King); here now is a report on the first place at which we had lunch: Hill Country.

As you may know, Hill Country, a specialist in Texas barbecue, started out in New York city. The flagship restaurant is still there, as is another location; DC is the only other city with a branch. It is an easy 10 minute walk from the Museum of Natural History—and you will probably walk even faster if it is drizzling, as it was on the day of our visit. Either way, I’d say it’d be well worth an even longer walk. Continue reading