I am a planner. I never go on a trip without scoping out what there is to do and the best places to eat. We never do everything on the list, but I hate to be bored or to eat boring food. We aren’t fancy, 4-star restaurant people, but we don’t eat at chains either. Eating local is where it is always at. When we decided to head to Milwaukee to attend Summerfest, I had one restaurant on my “must-visit” list. Wisconsin is most well-known for their sausages and cheese, which are outstanding, but my first choice was The Smoke Shack. I know, the mid-West is not known for their BBQ, but the owners, Joe and Angie Sorge, spent time researching in the various renowned regions before they opened this joint in the spring of 2012.
It looks like the roadhouse-style building was picked up by a tornado in the South and dumped into the middle of Milwaukee. The place is tiny inside with only 47-seats, mostly communal, though it does have a fairly large patio, which was already filled at noon. They smoke all their meat onsite, sourcing locally and humanely-raised animals that are antibiotic and hormone-free. Coming from CA we decided to eat inside (it’s always sunny where we live), because we just hate to wait. They do not take reservations and some of their items sell-out, so it’s best to skip breakfast and just come here early. Just skip breakfast and make this your first meal of the day.
Have you noticed how easy it is to make a meal of just appetizers at a restaurant? On a trip to the Twin Cities last week, my husband and I paid our first visit to 112 Eatery. Located in the warehouse district of downtown Minneapolis, it’s a popular spot for the after-work crowd to stop for drinks and eats. It’s also the place diners hit when they want to eat food prepared by Isaac Becker, chef/co-owner of both 112 Eatery and Bar La Grassa in downtown Minneapolis. Becker was named Best Chef: Midwest by the James Beard Foundation last May.
We started our meal with a luxurious appetizer of fresh ricotta with white truffle honey and crostini. From that starter we went onto another appetizer, lamb scottadito with goats milk yogurt, which we paired with two sides, cauliflower fritters and pan-fried gnocchi with Parmesan Reggiano. That was dinner. Done. Not even room for one of the fantastic-sounding desserts.
I’ll do dessert on my next visit to 112 Eatery. And, there will definitely be a next time. Our server was the best, the food was wonderful and the prices were surprisingly reasonable. But, if you have a 5:00 dinner reservation, don’t bother getting there even a minute early. They won’t unlock the door until 5:00 on the dot.
I am not a cook. It’s not that I’m a bad cook, per se. I just choose not to participate. My best friend Anna can attest to this better than anyone. She made me every bite of homecooked food I had during college. She would ask, “Do you want a snack?” which meant “Can I please cook you some real food so your skin won’t look so sallow and your teeth don’t decay from blow pops and cigarettes?” Anna was just like my brother. They should get married, but that’s another story.
My brother is an excellent chef. He makes going home to Oklahoma a thrill for me, which is something most people wouldn’t ordinarily say about the panhandle state. A week ago, he, along with his partner Russ, opened a farm to table restaurant in Oklahoma City. It’s called Ludivine, which coincidentally, is also the name of Anna’s favorite clothing boutique in New York. Just sayin’. I flew home for the soft opening in mid-September, and as I sat there, along with fifty or so people I’ve known my whole life, my eyes swelled with tears. The food was extraordinary.
Hemmer Brothers Burgers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is easy to drive by as it is placed inside an office building on bustling S. Phillips Avenue. But make sure you find it. They make a nice burger. I parked in the nearby garage and went inside. The décor is basic tables with red vinyl covers, faux plaster exposing faux bricks, but that isn’t why we come to a burger place is it? The brothers put all their creativity into the food and it shows.
I ordered the Piggy Back Double Bacon Cheeseburger ($5.99). Hemmers’ grinds their own beef on site and in a little twist they grind in the bacon as well into each quarter pound patty. The single patty version is called the Squealer ($4.29). I ordered mine with American cheese. All the toppings and condiments are laid out fresh in the nearby condiment bar. I threw lettuce and onion under my bun, along with some mayo. The bun looks kind of crunchy on top, but in fact is fresh and soft. The first bite yields a sausage patty like effect, but I grew to like it more and more with each bite. The beef was juicy and flavorful.
The Hotel Crandon Restaurant in Crandon, Wisconsin came highly
recommended from the ladies at the local visitor’s bureau. Seems the
husband of one of them liked their Hotel Heart Attack burger very much.
How could I resist. I had stumbled into the visitor’s bureau after
being unable to find Ed’s Main Street Grill, which turned out to be 20
miles farther off my path in another town. (Never trust a free tourist
I walked into the restaurant and all heads turned to see the interloper into their small town haven.
Undeterred, I sat at one of the tables covered neatly in red vinyl tablecloths. A very pleasant server greeted me in that familiar northern Wisconsin accent and I was put right at ease. I ordered the Hotel Heart Attack ($5.95), which features both burger and bratwurst patties, pepperjack cheese and grilled onions. The menu states “Doctor’s Release Required”. My cardiologist recommends such fare and also encourages I wash it down with scotch. I added fries for an additional $2.