Critiques, Cravings and Conundrums From the Madison Food and Dining Scene
Oct 17, 2010
04:29 PMSmall Dishes
Fire and Smoke
For me at least, outdoor barbecuing season is over. I know there’s a cult in Wisconsin that likes to grill out when the snow blows and it’s 20 below. But when I can no longer tend the Weber in my shorts and flipflops or light the charcoal because of the howling wind (No, I don’t use gas!), it’s time to hang up my tongs for the year. Furthermore, the directions that came with my smoker say it should only be used when the outside temperature is 50 degrees or above. That doesn’t mean I intend to forsake grilled and smoked foods until next spring.
I have thought about buying a stovetop smoker—a clever smoking device that works indoors. As a gadget it fascinates me, but ultimately seems like a make do effort. Fortunately, in the last couple of year’s we’ve seen an explosion of barbecue restaurants as well as chef’s re-discovering wood-fired grills. Yeah, and even in winter I’ll settle for gas—it’s better than nothing.
So until spring does come again—though it seems a long way off now—here are a few of the ways I’ll nurse my craving for all things fire-and-smoke kissed.
The Haze. It’s a modern barbecue joint with a split personality. Smoked ribs, pork and chicken are served two ways, American- or Asian-style. Same with the sides: pick traditional or go unorthodox.
Porky Pine Pete’s Smokehouse BBQ. Pulled pork can only properly be made by slow smoking over hardwood—don’t be fooled by any recipe that tells you otherwise! The reason to come here is for classic North Carolina-style pulled pork served up several different ways.
Smoky Jon’s No. 1 BBQ. It’s all about the ribs at Smoky Jon’s where they’re more grilled than smoked, but with a satisfying chew that’s hard to beat.
State Street Brats. When I was a kid, it was called the Brathaus but little has changed except for the sprucing up of the façade; certainly not the flame-grilled brats. It’s my understanding that State Street landmark is one of the first stops for alumni returning to campus.
Delaney’s Charcoal Steaks. The popular way to cook steaks at many upscale steakhouses is in a broiler that reaches a temperature of 1800 degrees, instantly searing the meat. For more than 35 years, Jim Delaney has grilled his quality aged beef over charcoal, giving them that distinctive backyard-cookout taste.
Lombardino’s. Grilling isn’t exactly synonymous with Italian cuisine in this country, but bistecca alla fiorentina—a super thick porterhouse steak grilled over charcoal—is a classic Italian specialty. Lombardino’s has a wood-fired grill that it puts to good use on meat, fish and vegetables.
Samba Brazilian Grill. This is not your typical Wisconsin steak and salad bar kind of place, but a South American spin on an American dining out staple. The big advantage is you to have to pick your meat or cut but can have a little bit of everything.
The Old Fashioned. It’s a mini theme park of Wisconsin eats, and you don’t have to be a Sconnie to know that its wood grill is perfect for brats, burgers and rib-eye steak. My only complaint about The Old Fashioned is it’s too small, but is thankfully about to get a whole lot bigger.
Rushing Waters Fisheries. Not a restaurant but featured at some of the best, it does fabulous smoked rainbow trout and salmon as well as cocktail spreads made out of the same.
Neuske’s. I love everything “Neuske’s”, from the signature applewood smoked bacon to the gourmet duck. I’m especially wild about a new product: uncured, wild cheerywood-smoked bacon. You’ll find their nationally acclaimed products made in Brown Deer at better markets around town.
Carr Valley Cheese. Its applewood-smoked cheddar has a subtle but sublime smoky flavor and the smoked Billy blue combined with a little butter and crushed garlic is the perfect finish tor a pan-fried steak.
Smoked Paprika. I have to restrain myself from putting this stuff in almost everything. Just like paprika, smoked paprika originally comes from Spain where it’s called pimentón ahumado and justly revered. You can buy it at Penzeys and larger supermarkets.