When I was a boy, our family used to pile into the car about once a month and make the two-hour drive from our home in central Wisconsin to visit my father’s parents in Door County where, mere minutes after we got out of the car and were welcomed at the door, my grandmother would begin to stuff us with food. And that woman could set out an impressive spread: baked hams, roasted chickens, mashed potatoes, corn and beans, dinner rolls and kolaches, and I don’t know what all else. She was an old-school housewife of Bohemian extraction who could pile on the hospitality like nobody’s business. If we arrived early in the afternoon she often had a lunch waiting for us, too, and at the end of the day as we packed up to go, she piled leftovers on a plate for us to take home. I didn’t think I would ever be fed like that again.
Until last night. We ate so much food last night that I’m pretty sure I won’t have to eat again until July.
Stalzy’s Deli, one of our very favorite places to eat, as well as one of the best places in town to stock up on lunch meat, bread and beer, set out a couple tables for dinner with food so delicious and plentiful in its variety that I couldn’t stop eating, even though my stomach threatened me with retribution of biblical proportions. “Just one more bite,” I kept assuring it.
We showed up to the party shortly after six to find they’d rearranged the tables. There was one long table in the front of the dining area and another in front of the beer coolers; we sat at the end of the table in the front and were immediately served a couple glasses of freshly-brewed beer from Next Door Brewing. The beer from Next Door is always fresh because brew master Keith Symonds is always brewing up a new batch of it in the neck-high stainless steel kettles that crowd one corner of his brew pub. From there, it goes straight to the cooler and gets drunk almost right away by the thirsty customers who throng the bar nightly. Keith was at the dinner to serve brews they’d chosen to go with each course. These beer-pairing dinners have become a thing around here, and I hope they continue to be a thing for many years to come.
The first round of beer was Wilbur, a cream ale made with rolled oats to give it a smooth, sweet flavor to go with the plate of pickled veggies they brought to our table: mushrooms and Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, onions and what looked like scapes. I tried a little of everything, and more than a few of the mushrooms because, you know, mushrooms. Well, maybe you don’t. My Darling B, a dedicated foodie, won’t have anything to do with mushrooms. She’s gamely tried a few but they don’t taste like anything to her, she says, so she won’t touch them. Or Brussels sprouts, but I understand that has more to do with a bad childhood experience. I’m not a fan of Brussels sprouts either but I enjoyed some last night, maybe the only time I’ve eaten Brussels sprouts that didn’t taste like rubber bands.
The veggies were just a small part of the “welcome course,” the rest of which included a plate of Russian rye bread and a bowl of duck liver mousse to spread on the rye, so rich that I probably shouldn’t have eaten more than a spoonful of it, but by the time I realized that it was way too late. Oops. There was also German flammekuche, a sort of bialy with carmelized onions in the center; and Latvian piragi, little buns stuffed with BACON! And what’s a welcome course without a plate of assorted Wisconsin cheeses: yummy fonegreek gouda, MonteAmore, muenster and a bowl of garlic cream cheese. B loved the cream cheese as much as I loved the duck mousse.
For the second course they brought out plates piled high with spaetzel and mushrooms in montchevre goat cheese, German-style green beans (BACON!) and boiled, sliced Yukon gold potatoes, which they paired with a foamy glass of Munchkin Rye. By the time I finished my moderate helping of spaetzel I was already feeling I might be in trouble by the end of the night because the third course was Ente gekocht in fett (which is German for “duck cooked in fat.” Those Germans don’t get too frou-frou with the names of their dishes, I guess) and smoked Labelle duck breast, served on a bed of braised red cabbage. There was no way I was missing any of that. The smoked duck breast, cut into thick slices, was almost sweet and yummily smoky. And they served the duck in duck fat as a whole leg of dark meat so tender that it fell off the bone at the slightest touch. I should have maybe nibbled just a bit of each to get the gist, but as soon as I got a taste I ate every damn bite, groaning with pleasure as I did. To go with the duck, Keith poured glasses of Sevex Ale, still my favorite Next Door brew.
Finally, each table got a Black Forest torte, four layers of chocolate cake with a deep, dark chocolate layer on the outside, whipped cream and cherries in between layers and plenty more on top and around the base. Wow. I mean, WOW! As if that wasn’t special enough, Judy, the maestro who thought up this delicious treat, told us she made it with cherries from the tree in her yard. It was fantastic, and it was the only thing I absolutely could not finish because by that time I was full to bursting. If I’d dared to eat it all, I feel confident in saying I would have literally busted a gut. My stomach still feels a little sore this morning just thinking about it.
What a night. We’re so looking forward to Stalzy’s next dinner, although we might have to go a little easy on the portions next time to make sure we can enjoy them all and still be able to get to the car without waddling.