Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yelp's Family Style Sunday with the Bartolotta Group

Prosciutto Appetizer
Zoinks. My first Yelp event. I was excited, but also a little bit apprehensive.

"What the heck? There's food, there's beer, there's wine. How bad can it be?" I asked myself. I like to challenge my insecurities so, with the assurance of the availability of liquid courage, away I went to the Yelp's Family Style Sunday with the Bartolotta Group.

Impressed more, I could not be.

Not only was it not bad, it was fantastic. I met some cool, forward-thinking Milwaukeeans who have a vested interest in pushing our cultural and culinary community forward and were recognized by Milwaukee's top restaurateur--Mr. Joe Bartolotta--as influential and important people.

Risotto - "Comfort in a bowl," said one Yelper
Joe could not have left a more positive indelible impression--he catered us with great food, drink and hospitality. He addressed his age and the awareness of Milwaukee's changing epicurean terrain and the options faced by the local diner. He gets it. He knows restaurant critique criteria has changed and recognizes the power of technology--with a few taps on a keyboard our reviews can greatly influence the future of a business--and his intent was not to buy us out, but to make us keenly aware of the challenges a restaurateur faces and ask to make those considerations before we (possibly) excoriate an establishment.

That's pretty respectable in my opinion. Joe wasn't talking only about his joints--he was talking about his competitor's establishments too.

As far as the event went, it was wonderful. We started out at Pizzeria Piccola and then had a sit-down at the quaint and authentic Ristorante Bartolotta. Beer, wine, pizza, prosciutto, Caesar salad, risotto, pasta, and desserts (flourless chocolate cake and tiramisu) were presented in, mostly, that order.

All glasses, emptied ;)
All delicious. Every entree, every bite. Not only that, but we were served with the same level of excellence the normal patron should expect.

I don't know if all Yelp Elite events are this good--this was my first--but if they are, count me in. Bartolotta's put on a wonderful event that has set the Yelp event bar very high for me. I look forward to future events and visits at Bartolotta's restaurants--they've never disappointed before and certainly did not tonight.

Thanks for wonderful afternoon, Ristorante Bartolotta. And thanks, too, for welcoming us with genuine hospitality. Every bite and sip was most certainly appreciated! :)

Joe talks openly and passionately about his restaurants.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Yelper Skelter

I've become a Yelper and I never saw it coming.

The reason probably has to do with having a particularly enjoyable experience at a restaurant a few years ago and feeling the need to, um, "Yelp" about it. It's a "Boy, this place is really great. I'd love everybody to know how fantastic this place is and give them their support so it stays around for me to enjoy many, many more times." And we all know how tough the restaurant business is so, if I can put my love of food, writing and Milwaukee to good use to support a worthy proprietor, I'm happy to do it.

I love writing about places that are 4 and 5-star worthy. They charmed me with a good experience and I usually can't wait to return to my laptop and write a review that heaps some praise upon them. If I do it well, it will be an entertaining read too.

Three star places? Two star places? Meh. They don't motivate to write. What am I gonna say? "Their Wonder bread with Kraft american cheese grilled sandwich was divine! A must-have!! Just like Mom used to make!!" Nah. In most cases a 2 or 3-star joint provided me with sustenance and they'll likely do the same for you.

But then there's those places that really disappoint. They take your money and, in return, give you much less than you expect and deserve. You leave feeling upset and taken advantage of. In fact, you're even a little bit angry.

Now these places ... these places inspire. Much like the 5-star joint stimulates my critiquing Jones, a 1-star does the same. I want potential customers to be wary.  Caveat emptor, people, but at least we've got Yelp on our side. If you go in, at least you've been warned. Don't say it's my fault.

Recently I had a very poor experience at a popular Milwaukee restaurant. So poor that I gave it one star. Despite the crummy one-out-of-a-potential-five rating, my review was nothing more than a factual account of my visit. I documented stale product, tasteless food, slow service and poor value -- all the makings of a classic 1-star worthy review. To my surprise, one of the proprietors sent me the following message:

While I would usually start thanking any customer for their feedback, it is hard to do in this instance because Im not sure from your review if you gave us any chance to accommodate you.  Our staff works very hard to read our customers and anticipate needs.  If you and your guests would have alerted us to your desire for spicier salsa or displeasure with your choice of entree, we would surely have addressed it.  We are the heart of the latin quarter but understand people's preferences for our neighbors too.  We are all here to serve you but from your estimation, we fell short.  That I regret and truly would address would you be open to the possibility. If you consider yourself a foodie, you would find we are using  only fresh ingredients,  many local purveyors and making every dish to order.  We allow our guests to salt and add more spice to their choosing because these are relative tastes.  All i would ask is that you rethink your harsh review by reviewing your own actions too.  I cant revisit your concerns because you left. If I can at some future time, I welcome you to contact me. Nothing would give me more pkeasure than to turn your frown upside down. Our previous manager is still on site as are we 2 very committed owners.  Call or write me Mike. We love people who arent afraid to reason.

Apparently it's my fault that my experience at their restaurant sucked. "Rethink your harsh review by reviewing your own actions too"?! You GD right I'm reviewing my actions -- I should have never dined at your crappy restaurant in the first place!!

Dang that comment made me angry. I spent too much for sub-par food, poor service in an area when most businesses deliver a satisfactory experience at three-quarters the price and you ask me to rethink my review?!

No way. Ain't happening. Not now; not ever. In fact, it's too bad I can't give zero stars, 'cause you just might be my first.

And to think, I didn't even mention the flat sodas in my review either.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Glorious Puempel's Olde Taven

Puempel's Olde Tavern is positively friggin' glorious. This is everything I could ever want in a pub. It has everything that suburban eateries, Las Vegas celebrity-owned restaurants and corporate-crafted themed joints cannot deliver: authenticity.

On my recent Labor Day weekend visit, I sipped my draught Hamm's beer ($2) while noshing on a Green County cheese sandwich. There's lots of cold cut sammie choices, but when I'm in Green County, Wisconsin, I always opt for a cheese sandwich. I chose a brick on rye adorned with spinach, raw onion and tomatoes. Served with a bag o' chips and a pickle spear, this pack of foodie delight costs only $4.50 and ...


Did I just say "noshing"? Did I say "delight"? "Sammie"? "Foodie"?!

What the heck is wrong with me?!?! I didn't go to Puempel's for the food. I didn't go to Puempel's for the beer. I WENT TO PUEMPEL'S TO BE AT PUEMPEL'S!! And that's a good enough reason!!

It's no surprise that during my visit I'd be seated at the bar next to a Chicagoan. As the oompah band set up--two ladies and two men respectively playing a humstrum, accordion, accordion and banjo--the Chicagoan says to his buddy, "Can you believe how touristy this is?"

This is why we can't be friends sometimes, Chicago.

You're at Puempel's. They've been doing this continuously since 1893. I've been there on the a midweek

day--there's still seniors playing sheepshead in the corner, they're still sipping a light beer or a diet soda, they're still listening to a group at the end of the bar playing two accordions, a banjo and a humstrum. They still get their news from the newspaper curled up and mustard-stained at the end of the bar. They discuss the crypt-o-gram. They think today's was a tough one.

Did you ever think that it's only "touristy" because you dragged your butt out of the 'burbs to get a real taste of the midwest?

Sorry, Chicagoan, but that question frosted me. Can't you just sit back and enjoy the folks 30 years your senior singing their hearts out? Can't you just appreciate the 100-year old tapestries and murals on the wall? The cash register that still has a 5¢ key? The brass rail? The wood floors? The hundreds, if not thousands, of dollar bills stuck to the ceiling and wonder like everybody else "How do they get those things up there?" Or that fact that your Hamm's cost only two dollars?!

If you want touristy, go to Bubba Gump's. If you want authenticity, go to Puempel's. Hopefully you'll see me there. I'll be the one staring at the ceiling wondering, "How do they get those bills up there?"

PuempeI's. I love this place.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary - AMAZING!

The Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary celebration has been nothing short of amazing. I know many who shudder at the thought of all these bikers invading Milwaukee every five years, but I think it's one of the coolest things that could ever happen to this city.

My first love of this event would have to be the entertainment. I spent three nights in a row at the Henry Maier Festival Park (Summerfest Grounds) seeing some legendary rockers: ZZ Top, Aerosmith, Dropkick Murphys, Joan Jett, Cheap Trick, Brett Michaels, Elvin Bishop and, of course, we caught the amazing surprise of Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters) playing with Hawkins' jam buddies, Chevy Metal. Man, when Joan Jett joined on 'em on stage for the Grand Finale covering The Stones' "Bitch," I almost fainted.

I haven't enjoyed a rock and roll moment that much since, well ... ever. "Awesome" gets used too much these days, but there's no other word that describes it better.


Then there's the bikes and bikers -- the reason this every five year event even exists (besides Harley-Davidson, that is). If you've been out and about in downtown Milwaukee anytime in the past 3 days, you've had to catch yourself thinking, "Can you believe this?!" I mean, it is a SEA of motorcycles. They line up along every street for miles and miles. And if you've seen the parking lot outside of the Festival Park, you know what an eyeful of steel and chrome that is!

If you know me, you know that my current ride is not a Harley. I have German bike, but one of my favorite things about owning a motorcycle is finding preferred parking spots at nearly every event. Last night, however, I could not find a single spot to park my bike within a half-mile of the entrance of the festival grounds. It was packed with nary an automobile in site. Bike upon bike for blocks and blocks. Parking far away is not bad though, because on the walk to the grounds, I got to walk past the lines of gleaming steel, leather and rubber and gawk and admire along the way.

You know this is true: there's a lot of bikes that look and are cared for better than their owners! ;)

Another super cool part of this event is the sheer number of riders from foreign lands. Walking the grounds, it's hard not to be flummoxed by the amount of Harley-Owners that have made the trip to Milwaukee from Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Russia and Japan. I've struck up conversations with a few of these groups and welcomed them to Milwaukee. Since I've got friends and coworkers in Guadalajara, I talked to the Guadalajaran group like we were long-time pals. I took a picture of their Harley patch to send to my friends down there.

In the aforementioned group, Seven out of nine rode their cycles from Guadalajara. They rode for 10 days. Man, I put on 260 miles yesterday in a little southeastern Wisconsin circuit and my butt's sore. Guadalajara to Milwaukee for 10 days takes an ass of steel!!

Today's the final day. The festival grounds are now closed, but there's still dealership parties and a street party at the Juneau Avenue manufacturing plant (also the place where Harley-Davidson was born). I doubt this final day will bring the jaw-dropping awe that the previous days did, but if you get the chance, go take a walk along the rows of motorcycles and welcome them back home. While you're at it, find a rider and welcome them to our home, Milwaukee.

Happy 110th birthday, Harley-Davidson. Maybe by the 115th, I tell myself. ;)