I've got lots of favorite places. I've got a favorite place in Milwaukee. I've got a favorite place in Taiwan. I've got a favorite place in Mexico City. And I've got a favorite place in Barcelona. I've even got a favorite place in lovely Doolin, Ireland.
But no favorite place is like my favorite place in Monroe, Wisconsin.
My favorite place in Monroe is the bomb. Or more like, "the Baum."
Of course, if you know Monroe, you know I am talking about the incomparable Baumgartner's Cheese Shop and Tavern - Wisconsin's oldest cheese store (1931). There's so much to love about Baumgartner's it's hard to know where to start, but picking one ... I'd have to say it's the cheese. Why more places don't serve good cheese sandwiches, I don't know, but it's worth driving two hours from Milwaukee or Chicago to Monroe to dine on one of these beauties. Earlier today I ate one made from a thick slab of medium cheddar on light rye. Of course I had to upgrade it with hard salami and red onions and, at my own discretion, I slathered it up good with some stone ground mustard.
So simple you could make one right now in your own home. But, for whatever reason, it won't taste as good as one at Baumgartner's!
They also serve craft beers from nearby breweries like New Glarus, Ale Asylum and the very near (two blocks!) Huber. (I suggest not drinking TOO local, if you know what I mean.)
Besides the great cheese and beer, the ambiance and service is pure fun and classic Wisconsin. There must be $1,200 stuck to the ceiling and one young waiter will show you exactly how it's done. I dunno, they wrap a quarter into a dollar with a thumbtack or something. Give it a good hard whip and it sticks right up there. If you try, and in the process you knock some money down, it's yours to keep!
What took me to Monroe today was business. I traveled with a colleague who had never been to Monroe. At the end of our meeting, I said to the guy with whom we had just met, "You know, my coworker has never been to Monroe and there's a place that I need to take him."
Without a moment wasted, he said "You're taking him to Baumgartner's for a cheese sandwich and beer, aren't you."
"Yes," I said. "How'd you know?"
"EVERYBODY that visits Monroe goes to Baumgartner's for a cheese sandwich and beer!"
Well it's good to know that America hasn't swung completely to the corporate side and that they still recognize the quality, value and fun of a true American classic -- Baumgartner's.
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Well maybe YOUR State Fair is, but not the Wisconsin State Fair. The Wisconsin State Fair is crunchy awesomeness wrapped on a stick and deep-fried to a golden, crispy brown.
I'm an unabashed and unapologetic lover of our fair. Most years I go between 3 and 4 times and this year (2013) was no exception - I've made it 3 times so far and since I'm writing this on the fair's final day ... who knows?
Simply put, I love the Wisconsin State Fair because it makes me happy.
We spent the entire day there yesterday and, I kid you not, after about 3 hours my face hurt I was smiling so much. Well, maybe it didn't "hurt," but I definitely felt smiling muscle fatigue. What could possibly make me smile so much? The list is long, but here's a condensed version:
- Music. I love live music. Whether it be a stadium-sized venue hosting Paul McCartney or a beer tent rocking to a Milwaukee cover band that has played together for more than 50 years (The Skunks), live music abounds and I never have a challenge finding something that delights me. Watching folks older than me (there's still a few!) dance and clap to The Skunks (currently known as The Larry Lynde Band) made me smile immensely. The rolling Matt's Family Band and The Who tribute band (Substitute) also rounded out a great day yesterday, but if you go today or next year, make sure you don't miss cover band extraordinaire, The Bobby Friss Band. Bobby puts on the best rockin' good time show in the land and he has played nightly at the Saz's stage for years. (A note to teetotalers: Beware. Bobby's more fun when you drink!)
- Food. For the most part I bypass the weird foods on sticks and go with my tried and true favorites. A few include a Usinger's Italian sausage slathered with peppers on a Miller's pretzel roll in the Wisconsin Products Pavilion, a Hungarian sausage sandwich from Rupena's and the deep-fried green beans from Krautland. But my absolute favorite and can't miss annual culinary treat is Mexican Corn in a Cup. I love this sweet, hot and tangy treat. It's fresh corn cut of the cob and slathered in mayonnaise and queso then topped with chili powder. This is available under the Milwaukee Mile grandstand and if there was only one food to eat at the fair, this would be my choice.
- Farm animals and culture. For a few hours each year it doesn't hurt to look at the animals that feed us and greet the hard-working people that care for these beasts. Studying the animals is some of the fun, but the real interesting study is the interaction between the farm kids from up north and the Milwaukee locals that come to see them. There's too few opportunities in the world to break down the walls that separate us, but when a young city dweller has a chance to come eye-to-eye with a swine and the 11-year old from Merrill that raises the animal, I can't help feeling that this is a step in the right direction.
- Beer. There's two great distinctions about Wisconsin State Fair beer: quantity and quality. To address the first, one can buy a beer EVERYWHERE on the grounds. You only need to take about 20 steps onto the grounds before you'll have a chance to buy a tall cool one, and when you're empty, you won't have a long walk to replenish your cup. Second, thanks to West Allis bar Benno's, beer nerds can now slake their thirst with some quality crafts at The Micro. Chances are if you're my friend and you're at the Fair, I'll bump into you at The Micro. The Sprecher landing on the north end of the grounds is also a good place to wrap your lips around a local craft brew. (Related: Indiana, I understand your fair is dry. How can you stand it?!)
- People selling stuff. I know I'm in the minority here, but I love walking through the Exhibition Center and watching snake oil salesmen pitch their peelers, dicers, choppers and slicers. I (almost) never buy anything, but an hour watching this selling circus always entertains me.
- People watching. Face it, this is the reason many of you who go, go. You may even play State Fair Bingo. Men with 1:1 aspect ratios, women with Hello Kitty tattoos on their calves, mullets (you've played The Mullet Game, right? See a mullet first, slug your pal!), mustachioed ladies, baby stroller sightings after dark, etc. It's all here and spot 5 cultural anomalies in a row ... BINGO!!
Yep. The Wisconsin State Fair is my happy place. If you haven't gone in a while (I know quite a few of you that haven't), I suggest putting Xenophobia aside and returning with an open mind, heart and love of simple pleasures. It just may become your happy place too. :)