Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Baconology

Baconology

noun ⎮ ba∙con∙ol∙o∙gy ⎮ bā-kən-ä-lə-jē

The gastronomic pursuit of bacon divinity. 

I had to write about it sooner or later.  Those wonderful strips of smoked, sliced pig belly can seduce the best of us, even if you may be watching your waistline.  I've actually considered trying to eat more vegetarian meals for health reasons, but if somebody puts a plate of bacon in front of me, vegetables be damned.  I'm all in when it comes to the crispy, chewy, smokey goodness of bacon.

It's no surprise that many non-believers are declaring that bacon-inspired restaurant dishes are on their way out.  Bacon, they say, is a fad that has passed and been declared D.O.A.  Bacon, they argue, has been overdone.  I respectfully, or for that matter, disrespectfully, disagree.

Bacon can be a meal.  It can be a side dish.  It can be incorporated into many recipes.  Heck, in our house, it's even a condiment.  Here in Milwaukee we have some great institutions that serve that bacon-y goodness as the main attraction.  Let's explore, shall we?

Bacon is, and forever shall be, one of the finest gifts put on this green earth.  And we have some distinguished establishments here in Cream City that have made a point of featuring this fine delicacy.  Following is a compendium of some of the best bacon joints in town.




First up is Comet Cafe.  Located in Milwaukee's east side at 1947 N. Farwell, Comet Cafe is famous for their bacon Sundays.  Come in on Sunday night, pull up a bar stool, and the friendly servers at Comet will bring you plates of bacon (free!) to enjoy with your favorite beverage.  Personally, I think it's just a ruse to get you to eat that succulent, salty bacon, making you thirsty to drink more on a traditionally slow bar night.  But really, who cares?  Comet is also recognized for their great breakfast, lunch and dinner menu choices that may, or (sadly) may not, include bacon in them.  As a matter of fact, you can take your vegan or vegetarian friends with you to Comet - They feature many dishes that they can enjoy without fear of bacon, or any other kind of meat, as an ingredient, though I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them turn in their vegetarian club membership cards when in the presence of so much bacon temptation.

If you're from the Milwaukee area, odds are good you've heard of, or been to, Comet Cafe before.  Anyone not from the area needs to put this place on the top of their list of things to do when in our friendly city when they visit.  By the way, they don't take reservations, so expect a wait when you get there.  No worries, the wait is worth it.



Sadly, I've yet to get to Saloon on Calhoun With Bacon in Brookfield.  It's definitely at the top of my mkEATS bucket list, though.  How can anyone resist a joint that has "With Bacon" in their name?  Located west of Milwaukee in the suburb of Brookfield at the corner of Capitol Dr. and (surprise!) Calhoun, the Saloon prides themselves on their bacon-inspired menu.  Any place whose motto is "Everything Is Better With Bacon" is worth investigating.  Under new ownership, the Saloon features a page on their website devoted to nothing but bacon-infused menu items.  The B2LT sandwich has two types of bacon along with lettuce and tomato in between two slices of bacon-buttered Texas toast.  Toss in bacon wrapped mozz sticks, bacon pizza, and bacon wrapped brownies - Who doesn't want to go to this place?  Keep in mind that this is also a sports bar, so it may not be the perfect place to bring the kiddies.  Get a baby sitter and make it a grown-up night (or day) out.  Did I mention that they have FREE bacon everyday during happy hour from 4:00 - 7:00?

The original Sobelman's on St. Paul

My next pick is not really known as much for their bacon dishes as they are for their incredible burgers and Bloody Marys, but it should be.  Sobelman's Pub and Grill has four Milwaukee area locations, two in Milwaukee proper.  This place is fast becoming a local institution, and rightly so.  Dave Sobelman is a success story, who, along with his wife, opened this place without any restaurant ownership or management experience.  His efforts have paid off handsomely for him.  Seven of his signature burgers feature bacon prominently, and the appetizers include Bacon-wrapped Jalapeno Cheese Balls and deep-fried Bacon Cheese Cracks.  All of Sobleman's bacon offerings are made with Nueske's bacon.  More on that later.  On a non-bacon side note, you must try the Gouda Mac n Cheese Bites. 

Yeah, that's Bacon-wrapped cheese balls and a slider in a Bloody Mary


Sobelman's Bloody Marys are known for their outrageous garnishes (The Beast is a pitcher full of Bloody Mary that includes a whole deep fried chicken on a stick), and bacon is given its due here, also.  The Baconado is a Bloody that includes a cornucopia of garnishes including shrimp, cheese, sausage, various vegetables, and a skewer of their Bacon-wrapped Cheese Balls.  The Bourbonado is a Bloody with all the trappings and a skewer of Bacon-wrapped Bourbon Chicken.  And just for good measure,  a small glass of beer on the side!  These Bloodies are a cocktail and a meal all in one glass.  USA Today did a small article on them earlier this year.  You can find the article hereNothing against the Marquette campus location or the newer Mequon location, but the uninitiated's first Sobelman's visit should be at the restaurant on St. Paul in the Menomenee Valley in Milwaukee.  It's in a funky old Schlitz tavern in what was predominantly a warehouse/factory district, and not far from the Potawatomi Casino and Hotel.  I've read of people that travel hundreds of miles just to come to Sobelman's.  You should, too.  By the way, after you dine at the Sobelman's on St. Paul in Milwaukee, you must visit BBC Lighting just across the street.  Even if you're not interested in buying any lighting (which they seemingly have every kind), it's worth a visit.  I can't even begin to tell you why should go, but you must if you are in the neighborhood.

Nueske's Storefront in Wittenberg, WI

I mentioned Nueske's bacon earlier in the post.  As far as this writer is concerned, Nueske's is the King Of All Bacon.  Located a few hours north and west of Milwaukee in the small town of Wittenberg, Nueske's is a family owned operation that makes wonderfully smoked meats, including a bacon that's in demand from discerning restaurant chefs all across the nation.  I discovered Nueske's more than 15 years ago while watching a show on the Food Network.  The host spoke glowingly of Nueske's bacon.  At the time, I was living in the far south suburbs of Chicago, and Nueske's bacon was nowhere to be found in any of the local grocery stores.  I asked one of the grocery store managers if they could order some, and, thankfully, he obliged.  After I had my first taste, I knew I could no longer eat any other bacon without comparing it to Nueske's.  
 
Nueske's is more expensive than your average grocery store bacon, but it's well worth it.  Make sure you ask your local grocer to stock it if they aren't already.  Additionally, the fine folks at Nueske's will happily deliver to your door when you order from their website.  You could also stop by the Nueske's facility in Wittenberg and pick up those delicious smoked meats from the retail store in the front.  Bring a cooler and fill it.  You won't regret it.

That wraps up this post on bacon, one of my favorite food groups.  I probably missed a couple of local institutions that are serving up great bacon creations.  My apologies if I did.  If you happen to know of any great bacon joints in or around Milwaukee, drop me a note and let me know.  As a practicing baconologist, I could always use more bacon destinations.

If you have any news or reviews about the Milwaukee food scene, want to share one of your masterpiece recipes, or just want to rant, please leave a comment below or email me at dave.mkeats@gmail.com.  Thanks for playing!



Monday, April 4, 2016

The Politics of Food/The Milwaukee Foodservice Expo

After a longer-than-expected hiatus, mkEATS is back with some new posts to share. This post starts with a discussion of how mixing food and politics can give you indigestion, and ends with a bonus review of my experience at the 2016 Midwest Foodservice Expo.

I'm Just a Bill

 

Set your WABAC machine for June of last year and join me on a trip to Washington D.C. for a visit to the House of Representatives.  It's June 10th and the House has just signed off on H.R. 2393.  So, what does that mean for you and me?  Essentially, H.R. 2393, sponsored by Texas Representative Michael Conaway, relaxes the Country Of Origin Label (COOL) requirements for beef, pork, and chicken.  In 2008, an amendment was passed requiring package labeling that identifies the country of origin of imported beef, chicken, and pork. This, to me, is not a bad thing.  As a consumer, I would like to make my own choice of what foods I would like to eat, and the country of origin may or may not have an impact on that decision, especially with meat.  After all, doesn't every piece of electronics and most other imports have a "Made in ...." tattoo on it somewhere?  Why should the food I eat be any different, and what would spur the creation of such a bill?

 

Well, it turns out our neighbors to the north and south were part of the impetus for such a bill.  Both Canada and Mexico felt that COOL labeling provided an unfair advantage to U.S. meat producers and complained to the World Trade Organization (WTO), of which all three countries are members.  The WTO ruled twice that the U.S. COOL requirements need to be changed, or else they would permit financial penalties against the U.S meat industry.  Those penalties could be in the form of an estimated 3.6 billion dollars of tariffs levied on U.S. exports to Canada and Mexico, making U.S. products more expensive and less attractive to foreign consumers.

 

Michigan Representative Dan Benishek, cosponsor of the bill, said “Mandatory food labeling is not about food safety.  No matter where our food comes from, regulations remain in place to ensure safety and traceability regardless of origin.”  

 

I respectfully disagree.

 

This is purely speculation, but I think, if asked, most people would like to know where their food was sourced from, and not for all the same reasons.  Here in Wisconsin there is a movement, as I'm sure there is in many parts of the U.S., to buy local when it comes to the food we consume.  Many people want to support their local growers and producers, and many people want their food to be as fresh as possible.  Ask any respectable chef and they will tell you that freshness makes a difference.  Others may feel more secure that U.S. regulations for the meat processing industry provide a safer product.  While other countries may have similar systems in place, we just don't know.  Thank author Upton Sinclair for some of the earliest regulations of the meatpacking industry.  His book The Jungle famously depicted the harsh life of a Lithuanian immigrant in early 20th century Chicago and the unsanitary conditions of the Chicago stockyards and meatpacking industry.  

 


The Chicago Union Stock Yards

The Jungle's  depiction of the horrid conditions of the meatpacking industry in Chicago spurred Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 that put an inspector/grader in every meatpacking plant.  Sinclair, who wrote the book in support of socialism, said, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

 

Of course, our growing season here in the Midwest is limited, so we depend on fruits and vegetables coming from other states or countries.  In addition, there are certain foods (like bananas) that will always be imported.  Once again, I'll speculate that most people don't have as much of a problem with imported fruits and vegetables as they might with imported meat.

 

It could be argued that all meat imported into the U.S. is inspected by U.S. officials.  But meat can be imported in many forms.  For example, I'm a fan of boutique grocer Trader Joe's.  They generally have good products, their marketing is clever, and the customer service is great.  And let's not forget their reasonably priced wines.  Once, while shopping there a long time ago, I saw cans of Trader Joe's Roast Beef in Beef Broth on the shelf.  I like to keep some convenience products in the pantry for quick meals, and canned beef can be used in a number of different recipes, so I picked up a couple.

 

One day I decided to use one, and saw something on the label that I had not noticed when I purchased it - the country of origin.  

 

 


I didn't use the beef then, and I never will use it.  For some reason the can got buried in the back of our pantry.  I thought about it as I wrote this post and pulled it out to photograph it. Upon further investigation, I found out something quite interesting.  According to the website Food Safety News, the Trader Joe's Roast Beef I had purchased was actually recalled by the producer because it was found to have high levels of Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic animal drug.  Although the products were not considered a health hazard, they are considered "troublesome."  Also, if the meat has been processed (cooked, boiled, etc) and packaged in the county of origin, the COOL rules do not apply.  That would account for the fact that, not only did the Trader Joe's Roast Beef get recalled, but so did several other brands that used the meat in the U.S., including Libby Corned Beef and Kroger Corned Beef.  Ironically, Trader Joe's was probably displaying the the country of origin on the label as an indicator of quality, not to fulfill any legal obligations.  Brazil, the world's largest beef exporter, is considered to have some of the highest quality beef in the world.  Under COOL regulations, Trader Joe's did not have to identify the country of origin of the processed Roast Beef.  The other brands, however, most likely did not identify the country of origin.  By the way, this is by no means a condemnation of Trader Joe's.  They're great stores, and I enjoy shopping there.

One of my larger concerns are the vagaries of H.R. 2393, and the precedent it sets.  "To amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to repeal country of origin labeling requirements with respect to beef, pork, and chicken, and for other purposes."  That's the title for the bill that Rep. Conaway, the bill's sponsor, wrote.  It's that "for other purposes" that makes me a bit uneasy.  Also, the bill does not specify that the new rules apply only to Mexico and Canada. If we lift the requirement for those countries, how can the U.S. deny other countries the same leniency?  Would you like to know if your meats are coming from Brazil, China, or other countries?  Taking it one step further, what is to stop the same logic being applied to fruits and vegetables in the future?  When I'm at the market buying tomatoes or other veggies, I check to see where they are grown.  Whenever possible, I always choose locally farmed vegetables.  Supporting our local economy and getting the freshest product is important to me.

 

So, did the House decide to relax the COOL regulations to avoid severe tariffs?  That may be part of it, but it is not the whole story.  Fearing WTO-allowed tariffs on their exports, meat industry representatives lobbied legislators to repeal parts of COOL regulations.  Meat processing industry members testified that any inaction on COOL regulations could dramatically hurt their business. Any tariffs on U.S. meat exports would put them at a disadvantage with other meat exporters, making their products more expensive.  Dissenters of the bill argued that the 3.6 billion in tariffs was only an estimated number, and that number could be much lower.  

 

I'm certainly not opposed to all imported meat products.  I've had some delicious imported Italian salami and prosciutto, Mexican chorizo, and more.  In fact, like many other people, I would seek these products out because of their authenticity.  Ever try any imported prosciutto? If not, you should.  I've also purchased pasta made in Italy, because, well, it was made in Italy.  Ditto for olive oil from Spain.  Sometimes, displaying the country of origin on the label is actually an advertisement for the product.

 

Some people may not care if the meats they consume are imported; they feel little cause for concern.  I understand that.  There are, however, those of us who would prefer to know where their food is coming from so we can make our own decisions; we don't want the government determining that for us. 

 

H.R. 2393 is still waiting for Senate consideration, so it's not a done deal, yet.  If you feel strongly about the bill, one way or another, take some time to contact your Senator to let them know how you feel. 

 

Meanwhile, Back In Milwaukee... 

 

 

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Midwest Foodservice Expo at the Wisconsin Center in Downtown Milwaukee.  It was March 7th - March 9th, and it was a blast.

 

A couple months earlier I had seen a notice of the upcoming show, so I applied for a media pass.  Unless you work in the foodservice industry, or are a vendor at the show, you can't get in.  I was contacted by Tracy Kosbau, Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association (WRA).  The WRA is the sponsor of the show, and they did a fantastic job.

 

 

After getting my badge at the check-in booth, I headed for the show floor to explore the event.  It was a serious kid in a candy store experience.

 

The hardest part was figuring out where to start.  There were hundreds of food and equipment vendors showing their wares.  There were high school culinary students in their chef whites competing for nearly $500,000 in scholarships.  There were incredibly designed tabletop decorations all ready to be judged for a competition.  There were interesting conferences.  And, yes, there was a beer garden where you could sample local brews.  It is Wisconsin, after all.  

 

Ignoring my first instinct, I put the beer garden on the back burner and headed over to the Art of The Cake competition area.  All lined up were rows of masterfully executed cakes designed by talented pastry chefs.  You could even say these were edible pieces of  sculpture art.  I walked past some amazing creations, one after another.  I've included photos of them - keep in mind these are cakes!

 









 

 

Next was the vendor area.  I took a few minutes to game plan how to attack this area because of the size of it.  I decided to walk each row, from left to right and back again, until I reached the beer garden in the back of the room.

 

There is actually way more about the vendors than I can include in one post.  Suffice it to say that I met some wonderful people showing some great products and services.  While I can't write about all the experiences I had with the exhibitors, I'll highlight a few of them.

 

 

One of my favorite moments was meeting Joe Widmer from Widmer's Cheese Cellars.  Located not far north of Milwaukee in Theresa, WI, Widmer's has been a destination point for our family for many years.  We love making the short trip to Widmer's, where we stock up on their amazing Brick cheese. Widmer's cheese is widely available in our local grocery stores, but there's just something about going to the source.  Joe is a third generation cheese maker.  He still uses the same open vats and bricks that his grandfather began using in 1922.  I don't know if that provides the mojo for his cheese, but he sure is doing something right.  Joe is a very accommodating, pleasant person; I can see why his cheeses are so good.  I asked him if I might come up some time to interview him for a blog post.  "Sure, " he said, "Just ask for Joe."  Joe is truly a cheese hero.  Anybody reading this needs to rush right out to their local grocery store, or go to widmerscheese.com, and purchase gobs of brick, cheddar, and colby cheese.  You won't be disappointed.

 

 

I spoke at length with Chris Gentine,  founder of the Artisan Cheese Exchange, about his Deer Creek brand cheeses.  Deer Creek cheeses, he explained, are produced by partners, not by the Deer Creek company.  He works with various cheese makers, including Widmer's, to plan and formulate the cheeses he wants.  Then, he sends his graders to evaluate the cheeses.  Using this procedure, Deer Creek brand cheeses have achieved the highest grading possible in Wisconsin.  According to the Wisconsin  Department of Agriculture website, "Certified Premium Grade AA is the highest quality cheese. This means the product garnered the maximum score based on Wisconsin grading standards."  I was lucky enough to sample some of Deer Creek's award winning cheddar, including the 3 year AA grade.  You should be so lucky.  Go out and buy some ASAP and check out the website here

 

  I could go on at length at all the amazing cheeses I sampled.  All I can say is this: California brags that there cheeses are so good because the milk comes from happy cows.  If that's the case, then Wisconsin cows must be dancing in the street.  Yeah, it's that good.

 

One of the last exhibitors I spoke with was giving samples of a product she developed in her kitchen - Squeezable Sauerkraut.  Yep, it's a thing.

 

 

Tracy Lundberg saw a need for sauerkraut that could be used without any mess and fuss.   In 2013, Sconnie Foods Squeezable Sauerkraut hit the grocery shelves in Chippewa Valley.   There are now 3 varieties available for your 'kraut cravings.  The samples I tried were terrific; it's the real deal.  Do yourself a favor - grab some of your favorite brats, snag a bottle of this stuff and fire up your grill.  If it's not available at your local grocer, tell the manager you're going to hold your breath until he orders some.  You can learn more about Tracy and her products (and get some recipes) here

 

Other samples I enjoyed included: pizza, bread, more pizza, a really good hamburger, a Vienna brand all-beef  hot dog (many Chicago-style hot dog enthusiasts consider Vienna THE hot dog brand of choice), several pasta dishes, whiskey, wine, beer, and more.  Let's just say I didn't eat dinner that night.

 

Of course, to prepare great food and run a good operation, it takes more than just a recipe.  Need a good deep fryer?  You can find an exhibitor selling one here.  Of course, if you have a deep fryer you will need a good grease trap.  No problem, the Expo can hook you up.  Need a professional espresso machine?  I think I saw a few of those.  And a pizza oven or two.  Making all those sales requires a good point of sale (POS) system to manage all the money.  No problem, there were vendors with the hardware and software you need.  While you're at the Expo you can sample the latest designs in kitchen staff and chef attire.

 

Yeah, those are live fish

 

While roaming the show floor, I happened upon an exhibitor that had tanks on display with live fish swimming inside.  The exhibitor, Nelson and Pade, Inc., was at the Expo to show off their aquaponics systems.  Nelson and Pade sells systems for commercial use, home and school, and greenhouses.  Aquaponics is a fascinating way of combining a fish farm and vegetable garden.  Their website defines it as "the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) and hydroponics (soilless plant culture). In aquaponics, the nutrient-rich water that results from raising fish provides a source of natural fertilizer for the growing plants. As the plants consume the nutrients, they help to purify the water that the fish live in. A natural microbial process keeps both the fish and plants healthy. This creates a sustainable ecosystem where both plants and fish can thrive. Aquaponics is the ideal answer to a fish farmers problem of disposing of nutrient rich water and a hydroponic growers need for nutrient rich water." If you're interested, home systems start out at $3,000.  The basic home system can produce 17-27 heads of lettuce per week and 110 pounds of fish per year.  Of course, other vegetables can be grown, also. You can find a lot more information on their website.  

 

While the sampling was great, the Expo is about much, much more.  There were many presentations designed to assist restaurant owners in maintaining and growing their business.  I attended a session for training restaurant owners how to protect their reputations online, which was very interesting.  Small business restaurant owners have many hardships to overcome.  The age of the internet has produced another potential problem.  A disgruntled customer can take to Yelp and other social media sites to voice their displeasure with a restaurant.  The presenter identified ways to cope with those situations and how to prevent them in the future. 

 

As I expressed in the earlier part of this blog, I am a proponent of buying local, whenever possible, when it comes to food.  One of the more interesting topics of the Expo was the Buy Local conference.  The conference included training on how to incorporate local sources into their businesses.  That alone is worth the price of admission for attendees.  I hope this is a topic that is continued in future Expos.  This was only one of so many different sessions that helped to educate foodservice professionals to better run their businesses; I wish I had time to visit all of them.  Some of the other subjects included marketing, labor control, menu concept, customer experience, crisis management, food safety, and much more.  Any restaurant owner or manager could truly benefit from the experience. 

 

The Neenah High School Culinary Team

Amazing-looking 3 course meal prepared at the competition

 

 

The Expo also did a great job of fostering new talent.  133 students from 26 high schools participated in two different competitions at the Expo.  The Management Competition and the Culinary Competition challenged the students at both developing a new restaurant and preparing a 3 course meal.  This wasn't just a local competition; the winning teams move to compete in the 15th annual ProStart Invitational in Dallas.  Did I mention that sponsors are also contributing almost $500,000 in scholarships for winners?  Gordon Ramsey should send some recruiters. 

 

The Expo was no small affair.  Billed as the largest and most inclusive show in the Midwest, it drew exhibitors and visitors from around the country.  For anyone in the foodservice industry, this shouldn't be missed.  My thanks go out to Tracy and her team - I had a great time and learned a lot.  Maybe next year?

 

If you have any news or reviews about the Milwaukee food scene, want to share one of your masterpiece recipes, or just want to rant, please leave a comment below or email me at dave.mkeats@gmail.com.  Thanks for playing! 

 


Monday, December 14, 2015

mkEATS Meets The USS Milwaukee

Sometimes, cooking at home can be challenging.  Cooking in a restaurant can be more so.  How about cooking on a ship for an entire crew and guests?  A ship that searches for submarines, sweeps for underwater mines, and can engage in battle with pirates and enemy ships?

Those are some of the challenges the Culinary Specialists aboard the newly-commissioned USS Milwaukee can face on the Littoral Combat Ship.  

The ship was commissioned on November 21st while docked in the waters of Lake Michigan near Veteran's Park in Milwaukee.  The USS Milwaukee was built by the Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette, WI and is the 5th Littoral Combat Ship of a proposed 52 the U.S. Navy wants built.  A Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is designed to be a smaller, faster combat ship that stays closer to the shoreline and can travel in shallow waters.  The ship can travel up to 45 knots and uses 4 waterjets instead of propellers.  In a CNN article Crew Commander John Korchendorfer of the LCS USS Independence describes the ship as "a military jet ski with a flight deck and a gun."  It's 389 feet long and features a flight deck that can accommodate one helicopter or one VTOL aircraft.

Because of advancements in technology, far fewer personnel are needed to operate the ship.  A crew of 54 sailors staffs the ship, but oftentimes there could be over 100 people on board with guests and contractors.

I had read reports of the ship's commissioning in Milwaukee and thought it would be interesting to tour the ship's galley for the mkEATS blog.  Like that would ever happen.  Who would ever let a culinary school drop out like me get on a warship?  It couldn't hurt to ask though, right?  On the ship's official website there is a contact page with the option of sending a message, so I made my request and hit "submit".

I was fully expecting no response or a "Thank you for contacting us with your request, however..."  Instead, less than 24 hours later I received an email from the ship's Public Relations Officer, Ensign William Foster.  "Good evening Dave, Thank you for reaching out! I spoke with our head Culinary Specialist, and she would be happy to have you spend Tuesday morning on board as they prepare lunch for the crew. Would that work for you?"  Uh, I'll be there at 2:00 AM if that's what works.

The time was later changed to 2:00 in the afternoon, so at 1:00 I headed downtown on a dreary, misty, rainy afternoon.  When I arrived I called Ensign Foster to let him know I was outside the gate.  There was probably 25 other civilians at the gate waiting to board.  The Navy had offered a limited amount of tickets for tours of the ship, but tickets were snapped up almost immediately.  A sailor in camo garb approached the gate from the other side.  "Are you Mr. Daniels?"  Why yes, yes I am.  He opened the gate.  "Come on in."  I received glares from all the other folks waiting to get in.

We walked along the shoreline until we got to the gangplank where we boarded at the flight deck.  In front of me was a cavernous entrance with a giant "garage door".  



As we entered Officer Foster suddenly snapped to attention and saluted.  In front of us was a higher ranking officer.  It took me back for a minute.  Officer Foster moved quickly towards a hatch door that led down some stairs/ladder to the galley.  The steps going down were STEEP and he navigated them like he's done it a few thousand times before.  I went a little (okay, a lot) slower so as not to break my neck on the way down.  At the bottom of the ladder from hell was another hatch that opened into the mess hall and galley.  Ensign Foster introduced me to Liliana Wheeler, Culinary Specialist 1 (CS1), the leader of the galley crew.  The mess hall was smaller than you might think; unfortunately I didn't get a photo.  Separate from the crew's mess hall was a room where the officers dined.

CS1 Wheeler was very gracious, and I thanked her for taking time out of her day to show me around.  "No problem," she said, "I'm excited that anyone wants to see the galley."  They had finished with lunch for the day, which was Taco Tuesday, and were busy preparing dinner.  The entire galley crew consists of Wheeler and three other Culinary Specialists.  Though the ship has only 54 total crew members, Wheeler said they often serve up to 100 people when guests and contractors are aboard.  That's a lot of cooking to do for three squares a day.  In addition to doing all the cooking, the galley crew has to wash all the kitchen utensils and pots and pans, unlike some of the other larger ships Wheeler has served on.  They had assistants to help with that, said Wheeler.  I guess that's part of the newer, leaner Navy.  Wheeler and her crew also serve the ship's crew members at the buffet whenever possible.  "They're our customers."

One thing they don't have to do is wash the dishes, glasses, cups, and utensils the crew uses.  Each crew member is responsible for washing their own dishes when they're done eating.  Even the Captain.  

When CS1 Wheeler told me she's been in the Navy for 16 years, my jaw dropped.  She looked not much older than 25.  Seems the Navy grub and regimen is a fountain of youth.  Wheeler, from Arizona, had to go through training not unlike traditional culinary school students.  She had to learn sanitation, food costing,  presentation (you don't serve chicken, rice and cauliflower together; just like a commercial restaurant, the food has to be visually appealing).  Like an executive chef, she is also responsible for all the ordering and inventory, which can be a challenge for a ship at sea.  In addition to her culinary duties, she and the other members of the galley crew work on a fire crew and on the helipad.  Now that's multitasking.  I'll think twice before I complain about having too much to do in a day.  

Wheeler showed me around the small galley.  I've seen restaurants with smaller kitchens, but they don't serve as many people as Wheeler's crew does on a regular basis.  A small room (more like a hallway) just off the kitchen holds the supplies for the galley.   Like a commercial kitchen, there were wire shelves stocked high with canned goods and dry goods.  Unlike a commercial kitchen, the supplies were roped off in front to keep them from falling in case of rough seas.  Wheeler commented that at one point during the trip from Marinette to Milwaukee the waters became uneasy and trays of chicken cooking inside the ovens began sliding violently, crashing into the oven doors and spilling bird fat and juices.  

Wheeler plans meals according to Navy protocols.  21 days of meals are set up in advance.  I asked her if there was any room for changes or adding her own creations to the menu, to which the answer was mostly no, though occasionally, and with permission, she can modify part of the menu.  It is the military, after all.  Wheeler's ordering schedule is on a 10 day cycle.  Supplies are either picked up while in port or delivered to the ship.

In the supply room there was a long row of refrigerators and freezers.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, and meat are stored here.  They use ultra-pasteurized dairy products to ensure nothing spoils.  There were also some surprises in the supply room.  Among the shelves of canned and dry goods were Sam's Club-sized cans of Campbell's tomato soup and chicken vegetable soup, along with large bags of Uncle Ben's wild rice, among other convenience foods.  I glanced at them and then at Wheeler and immediately she knew what I was thinking.  We always try to cook from scratch, she said, but sometimes the supplies she needs are not on hand.  The convenience foods are mostly there when needed in a pinch.  Makes perfect sense.  After all, if they're exchanging fire with pirates or hunting submarines, stopping at port for supplies or receiving deliveries just might take a back seat to the task at hand.

So, I inquired, what is the favorite food item with the crew?  Surprisingly, it is one of my daughter's favorites - Mac and Cheese.  I asked the crew if they used the blue box stuff and was promptly laughed at.  It's from scratch all the way.  Taco Tuesdays, the day I was there, is also popular, as is pizza.  I should've asked Ensign Foster if I could come for lunch.  Oh, well.

Though I wanted to stay longer to watch them work, it was time for me to get out of the way and let them do their jobs.  I again thanked them for their time and packed up my notes.  Wheeler, who plans on continuing a culinary career after the Navy, walked me to the galley door where we exchanged goodbyes.  I walked down the narrow hallway to the ladder from hell and made my way up to the helipad.

As I approached the gangplank I could see a tour group making their way up, led by a member of the crew.  I stood aside on the flight deck so they could pass.  The sailor leading them boarded the boat, looked in my direction, promptly snapped off a crisp salute, and walked away.  That couldn't have been for me, I thought, and there was no officer near me.  Confused, I looked behind me to see what he was saluting.  Attached to the stern end of the ship and waving in the wind was Old Glory.
  
If you have any news or reviews about the Milwaukee food scene, want to share one of you masterpiece recipes, or just want to rant, please leave a comment below or email me at dave.mkeats@gmail.com.  Thanks for playing! 

Note
Unfortunately the photos I took of the galley and crew while on the ship have gone missing.  I've sent a request to CS1 Wheeler and Ensign Foster for photos, but I am sure they are quite busy right now.  If I do receive the photos from them I will update the post.  In the meantime, please check out the links I have included in this post.

Update
After leaving Milwaukee and making it's way to the Atlantic ocean, the USS Milwaukee suffered a breakdown and had to be towed 40 miles to shore.  You can read about it here.
 
While visiting the page about the breakdown, make sure you explore the many photos and videos there.

Fun Facts about the USS Milwaukee (from the Navy webpage)

*While the below information indicates a crew of 98, that includes two full crews.  Actual working crews consist of 54 members.


SHIP'S CHARACTERISTICS

Class and Type: Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship

Displacement: ≈3,400 tons (full load)

Dimensions: Length: 389 feet
Beam: 57.5 feet
Draft: 13.5 feet

Main Machinery: Combined Diesel & Gas Turbine (113,710hp):
    2 Rolls Royce MT-30 Gas Turbines (96,550 hp)
    2 Fairbanks Morse Colt-Pielstick Diesels (17,160hp)
    4 Rolls Royce Kamewa 153SII Waterjets

Speed: 45+ knots

Range: 3,000 nautical miles @ 14 knots

Crew: 98 Sailors

Watercraft Launch & Recovery: Sea State 4

Aircraft Launch & Recovery: Sea State 5

Flight Deck >1.5x size of other US Navy surface combatants

Weapons: MK 31 Rolling Airframe Missile System
BAE MK 110 57mm gun
Modular weapons systems tailored by mission
Multiple crew-served & small caliber guns

Countermeasures: LM ALEX Decoy Launching System
WBR-2000 Electronic Surveillance System

Combat Data System: COMBATSS-21

RADAR: Airbus TRS-3D SPS-75 Air & Surface Search
Bridgemaster E S & X Band Navigation

Fire Control: BAE Gun Fire Control System

Mission Package: 3 types - anti surface, anti-mine, and anti-submarine
180 tons of reconfigurable space and weight for vehicles and equipment
One MH-60 Romeo or Sierra Seahawk helicopters or
One MH-60 Seahawk & three Fire Scout Vertical Takeoff & Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
Numerous waterborne vehicles over 36 feet long and 10 tons

FROM THE GROUND UP
  • Over 100 miles of electrical and fiber optic cable.
  • 1,000 tons of aluminum, 2,000 tons of steel.
  • 4 waterjets, that together pump over 1,976,000 gallons of water per minute (the equivalent of draining an Olympic size swimming pool in 20 seconds) at full power
  • Two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine engines producing a total of 96,000 horsepower.  A direct derivation of the Trent 800 engines that power a Boeing 777; provide more horsepower than:
    • 223 Chevrolet Corvettes
    • 457 Ford Mustangs
    • 580 Harley Davidson VRXSE Destroyer V-Rod Destroyer Drag Racing Motorcycles
  • Two 16-cylinder Fairbanks Morse propulsion diesel engines, each displacing 5,200 liters (317,952 cubic inches) for a combined 17,370 horsepower.  Derived from railroad locomotives, these engines together produce more power than 35 semi-trucks
  • LCS FREEDOM variant power-to-weight ratio: 38 horsepower per ton.  Compares to:
    • DDG 51 Class Destroyer: 11 horsepower per ton
    • CVN 68 Class Aircraft Carrier: approximately 3 horsepower per ton.
  • Unique maneuverability to:
    • accelerate from 0 to 40+ knots in under 2 minutes
    • decelerate from 40+ to 0 knots in about 3 ship lengths
    • move directly sideways at 1 knot
    • rotate 360° while standing still in 3 minutes

BY THE NUMBERS
1,976,000  Number of gallons per minute that go through the ship’s 4 waterjets
…can fill an Olympic sized swimming pool in 20 seconds

113,710Horsepower of the Combined Diesel & Gas Turbine engine propulsion plant

3,400Full Load displacement

2,000Tons of steel in USS MILWAUKEE

1,000+Total number of tracks the new radar can handle simultaneously

1,000Tons of aluminum in USS MILWAUKEE

360Average cost in millions for 10 ships under the block buy contract

150Percent increase in number of ports LCS shallow draft enables

100Miles of electrical and fiber optic cable in USS MILWAUKEE

98Total crew berthing – less than half the number for the Frigate it replaces

96Maximum number of hours to swap out a warfighting mission package... most swaps conducted in less than 24 hours

52Number of LCS and Frigates in the U.S. Navy’s shipbuilding plan to replace 77 other aging or retired ships:
      o 51 FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates
      o 14 MCM-1 Avenger Class mine countermeasures vessels
      o 12 MHC-51 Osprey Class coastal mine hunters

45+USS MILWAUKEE’s top speed in knots...fastest surface combatant in the fleet

40Percent of reconfigurable shipboard space in MILWAUKEE’s hull for future missions

13.5Draft of USS MILWAUKEE – permits shallow water operations

3Types of embarkable warfighting mission packages to combat:
      o fast attack boats
      o underwater mines
      o submarines

1.5Times bigger the flight deck compares to other US Navy surface combatants

1Ship named USS MILWAUKEE

Friday, December 11, 2015

Eating Capitol Drive Pt. 4 - ZaZa Steak and Lemonade

Today I hit the blacktop for the final installment of Eating Capitol Drive, and I selected a small joint that serves hot sandwiches, fried chicken and more.  ZaZa Steak and Lemonade, at 4919 W. Capitol Dr. in Milwaukee, serves a little bit of everything, including a good glass of lemonade.

I was having trouble trying to decide which restaurant I wanted to review for my last Capitol Dr. segment when I got an email from my wife.   "We got a flyer from a restaurant on Capitol Dr. & Fond du Lac Ave. called ZaZa Steak & Lemonade," she wrote.  "They do hot sandwiches, dogs, polish, gyros, cheesesteaks, burgers, wings & fried chicken.  Just thought the name was interesting and might be a thought for your blog."

Okay, I'm game.  Since when has my wife ever steered me wrong?  Google couldn't find a ZaZa website, but grubHub, their delivery service, had ZaZa's full menu online.   A copy of the flyer is below.



As you can see from the menu, ZaZa has a wide selection to choose from.  My daughter and I looked at what we should order for sharing.  Since "steak" is part of their name, I selected the Original Philly Steak Sandwich (oddly named I thought, 'cause in Philly they call them cheesesteaks).  I also was intrigued by the the ZaZa's Gym Shoe Sandwich.

So who would ever name a sandwich Gym Shoe?  Not necessarily an appealing image for a food item.  Further investigation was warranted.  Some searching on the net revealed that the Gym Shoe was most likely created on the south side of Chicago at a small sandwich joint by the name of Stony Sub.  Alternatively known as a Jim Shoe, Jimmy, or Jim Shoo, no one has really been able to peg how it got it's name.  This must be a fairly new phenomenon in Chicago, as this writer spent the better part of 40 years in the south suburbs of Chicago never knowing of the Shoe.  Stony Sub's version has a meat trifecta of roast beef, slices of gyro meat, and corned beef.  It also features hot giardiniera, tzitzaki sauce, mayo, Swiss cheese, sweet onions, green peppers, and tomatoes.  ZaZa's version comes with Italian beef (in place of roast beef), gyros meat, corned beef, onions, tomatoes, and mayonnaise.  A quick look at some of the other Chicago joints serving the sandwich indicates that both the name and ingredients vary by restaurant.  Other noted Chicago purveyors of the Shoe are Super Sub, Super Fast Food, and Sun Submarine.  Sounds like a road trip to me.  You can read more about the Gym Shoe here and here.

I told the teenager to pick the last item from the ZaZa menu for the family to share.  At first she looked at the 1/2 pound boneless wings, but there was no price for them on the menu.  I told her I would call ZaZa's to get the price, but asked her to pick a second option, which she did, the 3 Piece Legs, Thighs, and Fries.  I also decided to order a side of Mac and Cheese Wedges.  Yeah, I'm not counting calories today.

When I called ZaZa's to get the wings price there was definitely a bit of a language barrier.  The person I was speaking with was determined to know if I was calling for delivery or pick up.  After a few attempts I was able to convey that I just wanted to check a price, and after getting the info I needed I told him I would call back later to place my order.  Surprisingly, he told me to just tell him what I wanted and when I wanted it and he would have it ready for me.  Wow.  Good customer service.  I gave him my order and told him I'd like to pick it up at 5:00.  This was about 3:30, so I had time to do a bit more work before leaving.

Fast forward to 5:00.  I arrive at the busy intersection of Capitol and Fond du Lac and turn into the small parking lot.  


Upon entering there were probably 10 people waiting for their orders and 3 people in front of me at the cash register.  It immediately struck me that this place was exactly the same as the Chicago food writers described the Gym Shoe joints in Chicago - Everything is to go because there are no tables and chairs (well, there were a couple but nobody was eating at them); the kitchen and staff are separated from customers by bullet-proof glass; and the staff, and probably owners, are (apparently) Pakistani.  Chicago transplants maybe?

After a short wait I tell the guy behind the counter that I had ordered for a pick up at 5:00.  He got my order and made it a point to show me on the hand-written order ticket that they had put a time of 4:45 to start cooking and said they had just finished it.  I appreciated that; I was a bit leery about my food being cooked too soon and lingering in a take out bag for 30 minutes.  I had him add a lemonade to the order.  Total price? About twenty-five bucks.  Back at the car I put the food in an insulated bag and start the 15 minute drive home.


Yikes.  These sandwiches are massive. I could never finish one of these in one sitting, let alone any sides with it.  I can't imagine anyone complaining about small portions.  This is definitely more food than we can eat.

One thing that ZaZa should note in their online menu is that there are raw onions on the Gym Shoe; a lot of folks don't care for them, including one of our family.  Take note when ordering.  

Two out of three of us REALLY enjoyed the Gym Shoe.  I thought the odd combination of IB, Gyros meat, and corned beef worked strangely well together.  The teenager turned her nose up at both the Gym Shoe and the Philly Cheesesteak, but enjoyed the fried chicken.  Mac and Cheese Wedges would have been better if they hadn't cooled off as much as they had, same for the fries. The fries, even while not hot, still remained crispy.  Both the fries and Mac and Cheese wedges were not greasy, which is unusual for a fast food joint like this.

Counterpoint to the nicely done Gym Shoe sandwich was the Original Philly Steak.  One of the main ingredients in a Cheesesteak sandwich is cheese, which was missing from this sandwich (the menu said Provolone cheese was on it), and the small amount of beef that was on the sandwich was extremely salty. A bright note was the lemonade, which they serve with many flavor options.  The plain lemonade I got was not unlike a slushy, a mixture of crushed ice and lemonade with a huge chunk of fresh lemon lurking at the bottom of the plastic cup.  The balance of sweet and sour was very good.  Can't say much more except you should not miss this if you go to ZaZa's.

To sum up:

The Good
The Gym Shoe
Mac and Cheese Wedges
French Fries
Lemonade

The Okay
Fried Chicken

The Bad
Philly Cheesesteak

That wraps up the Eating Capitol Drive series.  Maybe soon I will pick another road to eat.

Stay tuned for my next post when I finally share my experience as a guest on the USS Milwaukee.

If you have any news or reviews about the Milwaukee food scene, want to share one of you masterpiece recipes, or just want to rant, please leave a comment below or email me at dave.mkeats@gmail.com.  Thanks for playing! 











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