Jimmy Buffet sings that everybody has a cousin in Miami. I've often wondered if the same holds true for sisters and Milwaukee. I am fortunate to have both. Visiting cousin Jimmy in Miami during stone crab season, I always insist to him, is simply a coincidence: a fortuitous quirk of the airline cartel that allows me to arrive in South Beach relatively cheaply, just as Joe's begins taking possession of giant fresh claws by the truckload.
Visiting my sister in Milwaukee follows no seasonal pattern; only some ancient primal instinct embedded in my genetic code that impels me to seek out food items that elevate meat and dairy fat to art forms. Saturday's trip was planned, ostensibly, to accompany sister and niece to the annual rite of BacchanaliabytheLake known as Summerfest. Crossing the border into the land where the milk flows like wine, I made three scheduled stops--each satisfying a progressively baser craving.
First up was that AnachronismbytheLake known as Kewpie's. I was on a schedule, so my plan was to get a burger to go. As it turned out, I had little choice, as the place was jammed with Saturday lunchers. Waiting for the cheeseburger gave me the chance to check out the old-timey lunch counter, the raised, U-shaped mini-counters dotting the room and the obligatory wall display of kewpie dolls. As I negotiated the under-construction blight of downtown Racine eating the flaccid gray meat burger, I silently paid tribute to the business mind that was able to launch a food empire on the narrow shoulders of plastic fetuses made in China--and little else.
My next stop was Bendtsen's, a place I've tried to hit on previous trips, but whose restrictive bakery hours, coupled with my propensity for sleeping late on the weekends, kept me on the outside looking in. Not this time. There's been so much hype regarding their kringle that I was prepared for a drab, danishy letdown. My cynicism began to fade as the counter girl sleeved and stickered my almond kringle. My intent was to present it to my sister, but I had already begun dismantling this ring of joy before getting back to the highway. It is to danish what Latour is to Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill. Dense and flaky, with a bottom caramelized to a chewiness akin to roasted marshmallow skin, it was the real revelation of the trip. The whole thing tasted of butter and caramel and yeasty fresh bread. Amazing.
The blood sugar spike I was now enjoying was to go perfectly with my next stop--Fireside Fireworks. No food to report on, but combining a fireworks stand with a liquor store seemed pretty damn inspired to me. Back in my car northbound on 94, trunk laden with $200 in fireworks and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon, I felt like I should be wearing a foam panel Peterbilt hat and a wallet chain. I felt the layers of civilized urban veneer falling away as I brushed kringle crumbs from my pants. I cursed myself that I hadn't also gotten directions for the Spudgun factory I knew was in the vicinity. I was in that kind of mood.
End of Part I