sneaky

I had a hankering for a big plate of tater tots after work, and the one place that serves the very best tater tots in town is the Vintage brewery, where they also happen to sell their very own house-made beer. We were lucky enough to drop in when they were serving the most delicious barrel-aged imperial stout we’ve had the pleasure to drink in quite a while, a concoction they call Rye BA Max Stout. So good!

night out

There was a special at the Muskellounge and Sporting Club last night: Meat People was selling three kinds of burritos out of a food truck in the parking lot and My Darling B wanted to eat at least one of them, so off we went. She had the beef burrito, I had the chorizo, and they were both delicious. So was the beer I drank, a double IPA from Great Lakes Brewing called Vibacious. I am not being paid to say that, I just thought it was really tasty beer that I would recommend without hesitation. My Darling B tried two different cocktails, the names of which escape me now, and loved them both. We managed to score a table outside so we were able to enjoy our dinner al fresco while kids and doggies played all around us. It was a grand night out.

favorite restaurant

Daily writing prompt
What is your favorite restaurant?

I was posted to Misawa Air Base as my last duty assignment in the Air Force. It was simultaneously the worst and the best assignment I had in my 21 years of service. On the very first day, for instance, I was on a charter flight with my wife and kids over the Arctic Circle on September 11th, 2001, when the captain announced that he’d been ordered to return to Fairbanks, but he didn’t tell us why until we were on the ground. When we finally got to Misawa three days later, the whole base turned out to meet us.

What’s this got to do with my favorite restaurant? When we arrived, one of the first people to meet us was my sponsor, a person in my unit who was given the responsibility of making sure I went to all the right places and spoke to the right people to complete my change of station, a sequence of events we called “inprocessing.” After a long day of inprocessing, he took us to a restaurant just outside the front gate called Noodle House Marumiya but known to practically all the Americans as Cheese Roll Noodle.

It was a tiny shop, just a counter with maybe half a dozen chairs, and five or six small tables along the wall. Everyone in the kitchen called out “Irasshaimase!” as we walked in. We followed my sponsor to the biggest table in the back of the room.

“Order whatever you like,” he told us as we sat down. “Dinner’s on me.”

“What’s good here?” I asked.

He smiled. “Everything’s good here.”

He wasn’t kidding. I don’t recall what I had that first night, but I do remember that in the five years I was stationed at Misawa, we went back to Marumiya over and over again. Not only did they serve delicious food, it was also a cozy, familiar place to visit. It quickly became our favorite place to go for every special occasion, or for when we craved comfort food, or when we couldn’t think of another place for dinner.

In all that time I can confidently say I ate everything on their menu. Nothing they served ever disappointed me. I relished every meal, but I had a special fondness for their ramen bowl with shrimp. It was a big bellyful of warmth and tasty goodness. I nearly always ordered a side of pork gyoza to go with it, crispy on the outside, savory on the inside. It was honestly the most satisfying food I have every enjoyed.

Dinner at Morris Ramen

A hot bowl of ramen is a dinner I will almost always say yes to, so when My Darling B suggested we drive into town yesterday afternoon for ramen I instantly agreed, and off we went.

If you were to ask me for the best place in town to get ramen right now, I would point you to Morris Ramen on King Street, a little mom and pop shop with a lot of character to go with the delicious food.

lockdown day 76

The rest of the country might be open, but My Darling B and I are still in isolation here at Our Little Red House – 76 days as of today. That’s a lot of days to be isolated from everybody & everything.

Full disclosure: It’s not like we’re hunkered down inside with the doors locked. Yesterday, as on most Saturdays, I made a run into town to pick up an order of sauerkraut & brats from Stalzy’s Deli and a couple cases of beer from Giant Jones brewery. We made a decision early on to support our local businesses as much as we were able to, either by purchasing from their curbside services or by donating to any of the many support groups that emerged to help them. It seems to have worked out well: Giant Jones is a very small brewery but seems to get a good response to their weekly curbside sales, and Stalzy’s was scheduled to open at the very time the governor shut down all the restaurants, forcing them to reinvent the way they served food to the public, which couldn’t have been easy.

We’ve also taken turns going to the store for groceries, each time coming home with a car jammed to the rafters with goodies (I know, cars don’t have rafters, but the metaphor seems awkward with more technically accurate terminology). Our last trip was two weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure we still have enough stashed in our pantry to go another two weeks without having to crack open the frozen leftovers that are our emergency backup comestibles.

And although I’ve been working from home, I have been making periodic trips to the office, usually once a week, in rotation with my coworkers, because somebody’s got to collect the incoming mail, send the outgoing mail, and print daily reports and other miscellaneous documents. My Darling B has worked exclusively from home these past 76 days, as is the case with most of her coworkers, I think.

Beyond those essential and semi-essential road trips into town, the only other times I’ve left the confines of our house is to stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood (few times a week), or go for a paddle around the lake (twice now), or work in the yard (pruned the trees on the front lawn yesterday afternoon). B has left the house only to work in her garden or relax in a lawn chair with a beer.

So we are still in lockdown because the virus is still out there and, so far as we’re aware, still as contagious as it ever was, and because the reports of the disease’s effects from people our age who contracted it make us really not want to catch it. On my trip into town yesterday, it looked like my fellow cheeseheads were nowhere near as concerned about passing this bug around. Almost none of the people I saw out & about on the pavement and in the parks wore masks, and the grand re-opening of the Tiki Bar at the East Side Club appeared to be a huge success; the lawn out back was teeming with revelers. That’s going to come back to bite them in the future, I’ll bet.

dead batt

Our favorite restaurant in town reopened two weeks ago after a fire gutted their kitchen. Took them almost a full year to rebuild. They announced their reopening just as the governor closed everything down, so they had to scramble to set up an online ordering system that would allow them to provide curbside service, like all the other restaurants in town.

Of all the restaurants in Madison, they have our favorite Friday fish fry, so when they announced their first fish fry would be available on April tenth, we were dizzy with joy, until we logged in to their web site and discovered they were sold out. After noodling around in social media a bit, we further learned they sold out fifteen minutes after they put the fish fry on the menu that day.

So last week when they offered fish fry again, I clocked out of work early after making special arrangements to flex time with my boss. They added the fish fry to their menu at 3:03 pm; I know because I started hitting the refresh button at 2:59 pm and didn’t stop until the fish fry showed up. I added an order for two to the shopping cart and went straight to checkout. The last thing I saw was a message telling me it would be ready in twenty minutes, which is just about the time it takes to put on a pair of shoes, hop in the car and drive to the restaurant, so that’s what I did.

Turned out it would take them a little bit longer than twenty minutes for the fish fry to be ready for me to pick it up. When I pulled into their parking lot a little after three-thirty and dug my phone out of my pocket, I found a message in my voice mail from them saying the earliest my order would be ready was four o’clock. Well, okay. Not a big problem, I guess. I’ll just sit here and listen to the radio for a while.

I don’t remember what I noticed was wrong with the dashboard, but one of the displays looked screwy so I turned the key to fire up the engine so all the displays would be lit up. Well, they lit up, all right, but the engine wouldn’t crank. Turned the ignition all the way off, waited a few seconds, then turned the key all the way on again – lots of pretty lights, but nothing from the engine compartment. All the way off, then all the way on again (because three is a magic number) – still nothing. And now the clock said one-ten and the date was 1/1/2015. Not a good sign at all.

I had to pop the hood, get out and stare at the engine for several minutes, because that’s what you do when something like this happens. Don’t know why. It’s not like maybe there’s a big neon arrow pointing at the problem or something like that. Didn’t see any obvious problems; it all looked very mechanical. Tried starting it a couple more times and got the same results, but now the panel displays were all dark, including the clock.

I most likely had a dead battery, because why wouldn’t I? Car runs perfectly for years but the first time I drive anywhere in a week and I’m in the middle of a pandemic, it craps out. Of course.

I called a local garage, and they sent a wrecker out to give me a jump, which showed up at about quarter to five. After the guy got my car running and as he was running my credit card, he said let the engine run at least a half-hour to charge up the battery again, and warned that I might want to think about getting a new battery (I did, the next day). About five minutes later I got a call from the deli, saying my fish fry (remember the fish fry?) was ready to pick up. They’d been hugely overloaded with orders once again so it took them a little longer (!) than they thought it would.

jet setter

I had a hankering this morning for a plate of scrambled eggs, but we didn’t have any eggs in the fridge so I did what I usually do when I’m trying to figure out where to eat: whipped out my phone and began to virtually search the city for a place that looked like it served a satisfyingly big plate of eggs with their usual breakfast.

Google maps is simultaneously very good and very bad for this task. Very good because it knows where a lot of the best places to eat are, drops a pin on them in their map, and provides all the links you need to see their menu, reviews from customers, photos of pretty much everything they serve, and so on. Very bad for much the same reasons. I don’t want to see hundreds of photos of scrambled eggs. Just tell me they have scrambled eggs, thank you. Also, I don’t need to know where McDonald’s is. That should be a setting in Google maps: Chain restaurants on/off.

But on this particular morning, my search reminded me of one of the best breakfast restaurants in the city: Pat O’Malley’s Jet Room, situated right next to the flight line of the Dane County Airport and only a fifteen-minute drive from our little red house. I jumped into the car (after it had been given a fair amount of time to warm up on this fourteen-degree day) and headed north.

One critically important thing I’d forgotten about the Jet Room: How friggin popular it is. The lobby of the Wisconsin Aviation building was crowded with people waiting to get in, which gave me a moment’s pause, but I could almost taste those eggs so I went in anyway to see how long the wait was. Forty-five minutes, it turned out, but only if you don’t answer “yes” to the question “would you be willing to take a seat at the counter?” I was so very willing that I was seated immediately at the number-one spot next to the wait staff’s station — the pole position!

The service was awesome: I got a glass of water and a hot cup of coffee within minutes of sitting down, they took my order not more than five minutes later, and I was digging in to a big plate of eggs (and hash browns, and bacon) no more than ten minutes after I set foot in the place! How do you beat that? I just don’t see how. Bonus points to the wait staff for keeping my coffee mug full. And I don’t know why, but I have to mention how much I love that the mugs and plates have the name of the restaurant on them. I don’t know why that appeals to me so much, but it does.

a big delicious breakfast at the Jet Room

And here’s what my sufficiency looks like after it’s been serensified:

sufficiency serensified

new years eve

I thought I would have to fire up the snow blower for the first time in 2019 when I woke up in the morning of the very last day of that year to a fresh snowfall. My snow blower’s gasoline engine is reluctant to start after it’s been sitting unused all summer, so I dressed up in my warmest winter coat, knowing I could be out in the subfreezing weather for a while. As it turned out, I didn’t so much as lay a hand on my snow blower. There was less than a half-inch of snow on the driveway; if I had wheeled out the snow blower to remove that, it would have seemed to me at least like the most egregious misuse of a power tool imaginable. It was a preposterously simple matter to clear the driveway in just five minutes using the snow shovel. I wasn’t even winded when I finished. I probably could have used a push broom.

One of my neighbors, who owns one of the largest snow blowers I have ever seen, does not have the same reservations about how and when to use it that I had about mine. He’s one of those “I paid a lot of money for this power tool and I’m going to use it” kind of guys. His snow blower is taller than he is, and has a mouth wide enough to clear half his driveway in a single pass. After a heavy snowfall, witnessing it make short work of waist-high drifts of snow is an impressive sight to behold. Seeing him use it to clear a half-inch of snow is another thing entirely. I was at the end of my drive, clearing away the inch-high ridge of snow left behind by the city snow plow crew after they cleared our street, when I heard the roar of his snow blower coming to life. I stopped what I was doing and used my shovel as a prop to rest my arm on while I watched him follow his behemoth to the end of his driveway, maneuver it through a 180-degree turn, then follow it back up to his house, all the while wreathed by the faintest haze of snow thrown into the air as a thin, insubstantial whisp that blew apart in the breeze the moment it exited the chute off the top of his snow blower. He tried to make a bigger production of it by spending some extra time at the end of the driveway making sure he got all the snow left behind by the city plow, but it hardly took him five minutes to do the whole thing. I bet the engine on his snow blower didn’t even get warm.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have even bothered to shovel so little snow off the driveway because I’m pretty lazy when it comes to yard work, to be frank. I should probably hire some of the more enterprising neighborhood teenagers to cut the grass and shovel the driveway, but as well as being lazy I’m also a skinflint, so to this day I still do my own mowing and shoveling and other yard work, but only when I feel I absolutely have to. Yesterday afternoon was one of those times. Our good friends, Becky and John, were coming over later in the afternoon to go out to dinner with us, then come back to our little red house to spend new year’s eve playing games, and I didn’t want them to have to trudge through even as little as a half-inch of snow, because who would do that to their good friends?

We had a very casual dinner at a popular local pizza parlor not far from our house. We figured we’d have a quick dinner there, then return to play games while we noshed on some snacky foods and finally toast the new year, not necessarily at midnight because none of us are spring chickens any more. We ended up spending a bit more time at the pizza parlor than we had planned, about three and a half hours! I can’t account for this. It’s normally a popular place but there didn’t seem to be any more customers than we usually saw; in fact, I spotted empty tables and stools at the bar from time to time, but the wait staff were obviously running their legs off. We didn’t even see our waitress until about fifteen minutes after we were seated when she paused briefly — and I mean very briefly — to apologize for then wait, then add she’d be back in just two more minutes before she dashed away again. She didn’t give us enough time to ask for water. And she wasn’t back in two minutes.

When she did come back, ten minutes later, she stayed only long enough to get our drinks order before rushing off again. We managed to slip in a request for some fried cheese curds, too, but just barely. She swooped in to dive-bomb the table with John’s beer minutes later, explaining his order was easiest to fill because it came in a bottle. Becky got her cocktail about five minutes later, while Barb’s sat at the end of the bar at least ten minutes, for some reason. I got my beer last, many more minutes after B’s cocktail was delivered. If I recall correctly, the cheese curds arrived after we all raised our glasses to toast the new year, but the waitress didn’t take our dinner order until we were burping contentedly after finishing off all of the cheese curds and had nearly made our way to the bottoms of all of our drinks.

So you get the idea: service was slow and the main courses didn’t arrive until well past the time we thought we’d be on our way home. We weren’t in a terribly big hurry, though, so it’s not like we felt like complaining about it, but damned if we wouldn’t make fun of it a little bit.

Back at our little red house, I popped open a bottle of bubbly, poured a glass for everyone and we shared a toast to the new year, again. Then we played a very silly card game that required us to shout out words and phrases that were improbable under any other circumstances that didn’t involve prosecco, and had a pretty good time doing it.

pig in a fur coat

Sticking with our Friday the 13th tradition, we went out for dinner at a fancy restaurant. Last Friday we picked A Pig In A Fur Coat. (It’s apparently named for a dish from Kazakhstan, in case you’re wondering.) We’ve been there once before and liked it a lot. It’s got the kind of frou-frou foods that appeal to us: small plates of food so we can order a whole bunch of different things and share them. Last night we nibbled our way through a plate of olives with our cocktails, then ordered a charcuterie platter of three thinly-shaved meats, two cheeses (one hard, one soft), a dollop of foie gras, another dollop of mustard, and some jam, all with four slices of toasted baguette slices (I thought they could’ve added at least two more slices). After that, we split a raviolo, which is the singular of ravioli, which blew my mind because it never occurred to me before that there’s a singular form, but of course there is. Why just one? It was a big raviolo, about the size of a tea saucer. We sliced it in half and shared. And we finished off with a serving of duck-fat french fries, which we didn’t have enough room left in ourselves to finish eating even though they were astonishingly yummy.