helped transform the way Americans think of food through its devotion to local, seasonal ingredients meticulously prepared…. Ms. Rodgers’s cooking was noteworthy for its refined simplicity, hewed and tempered by an ardent perfectionism and a finely tuned palate. Not for her the sauce-painted plates and tweezer-bits of microgreens of the modern, high-end kitchen. Instead, at Zuni, a quirky, airy space on a triangular corner of Market Street, she presented dishes that were simultaneously rustic and urbane.
As Russ Parsons describes for The Los Angeles Times,
In an era when most chefs pride themselves on re-inventing their menus on a whim, Rodgers hewed to a strong central core of well-loved dishes. Perhaps the best loved of these is a simple roast chicken, cooked in a wood-fired oven. On the menu for decades, more than 350 a week are sold at Zuni.
This approach struck a chord in tradition-worshiping San Francisco. Though the Bay Area is full of restaurants to explore, Zuni Cafe was the place people called home, a place people went not to be amused, but to be comforted….
“This is what I’ve always wanted to do,” she said. “Serve dishes that weren’t just playful and amusing but were keepers. I like keepers.”
The NYT has a similarly emblematic quote from Rodgers: “the food you eat every day is the most important food. This is what we do at Zuni.”
Rodgers published an award-winning cookbook that featured her thoughtful, meticulous approach. (I’ve given it as a gift before; its best audience is folks who are really passionate about cooking and/or food.) For a consideration of the cookbook, check out this post from Eater National, which includes reflections of chefs from around the country, among them Madison’s own Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective:
I spent hours reading the essays in the Zuni Café Cookbook. It so influenced how I think about food. How when you work with simple ingredients, it takes incredible effort and thoughtfulness to fully realize the ingredients and processes. Her roast chicken recipe is something I think about every time I work with poultry….
For more, check out the links above.
Marigold doesn’t have the capacity to process and store enough tomatoes in-house, but Marigold Director of Operations Sam Mack hoped there might be a farmer nearby who could provide [tomato juice] for them. After a bit of research, [REAP’s Buy Fresh Buy Local Program Manager] Theresa [Feiner] successfully connected Marigold with Happy Valley Farms in Black Earth, 20 miles west of Madison.
Last fall, Happy Valley owner Kevin Lucey had an abundance of Mountain Fresh Plus tomato seconds – not quite good enough for retail, but perfect for processing or cooking. With this in mind, Kevin approached the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, a shared commercial kitchen located in Mineral Point. Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen worked with Happy Valley Farms to prepare, process, and package the tomato seconds into vibrant, flavorful, ready-to-sell tomato juice. When REAP made the connection between Happy Valley and Marigold, it was win-win solution for the grower and the restaurant. Marigold Kitchen is proud to feature Happy Valley’s tomato juice in their bloody marys and hopes to continue this relationship.
You can find the full article and other locavore news from South-Central Wisconsin in the current REAP newsletter [PDF].
Dave Swanson doesn’t call himself a chef. He refers to himself as a cook. Yet his vision extends far beyond the plate.
More than 20 years in the making, Braise Restaurant, 1101 S. 2nd St., is the conversation Swanson wants with his community. It includes more than 400 farmers from southeastern Wisconsin, a culinary school and getting fresh foods on more tables. It also means storing more than 10,000 pounds of carrots each season.
Swanson put in the time and elbow grease to create his 80-seat Walker’s Point restaurant. Much of the space is his own vision, though he enlisted an architect to ensure ideas would work. He hand-stained pieces himself. Barn wood throughout the building comes from a farm in Burlington. The building’s original bowling alley floors got new life on the bar, and tables were created from recycled materials.
The interview that follows Kierzek’s introduction is fascinating, so check it out here. For more, watch this installment of Wisconsin Foodie that features Swanson and his Braise Restaurant, and check out this profile in the Chicago Tribune.
It’s been awhile (more than 6 months, in fact) since my last post that focused on food satire. So, it’s time for another laugh at the habits, restaurants, and foods that we love, hate, and/or love to hate. Courtesy of The Onion, check out these recent stories:
“When it comes to manually compressing a towering heap of meat, cheese, and bread into manageable bites, U.S. residents are far more adept than their peers in other nations,” said lead researcher Hugh Newell….
“In retrospect buying game-used, Babe Ruth–autographed baseball bats to display in each of our 900 locations was probably a mistake,” said company president Ricky Richardson, who confirmed the casual dining establishment had laid off more than half its staff, beginning with the thousands of full-time curators it employed to maintain its massive collection of memorabilia.
“Normally, having more than one Buffalo Wild Wings in a single municipality isn’t remotely feasible from an economic standpoint, but in Peoria, which is essentially the very definition of a boomtown, it’s almost expected,” said University of Chicago economist Robert Lucas….
Her senses bewitched by the intoxicating memory of peppermint-flavored syrup, local woman Kate Nothern saved herself from the bitterest of agonies Friday morning when, regaining control of her faculties in the nick of time, she stopped herself from imagining the taste of a peppermint mocha on her tongue.
Lori Rotenberk has compiled a slideshow of flora- and fauna-themed tattoos on farmers, chefs, and others who spend their lives producing food for us.
If you think you’ll see nothing but mustached hipsters, you’d be wrong. Sure, there are some of those there (and why not?), and while everyone appears to be non-Hispanic whites, you will find folks of both genders and of all ages. I found the photos to be a nice reminder of the working-class history of body ink in the U.S. (“By the 1950s, tattooing had an established place in Western culture, but was generally viewed with disdain by the higher reaches of society,” reports PBS.) They also made me smile, and with a weekend about to get underway, that’s good enough for me.
Check out the slideshow, and Rotenberk’s brief but lovely intro, here.
Last month Slate ran a fascinating article by Michele Humes that was subtitled “A brief history of the children’s menu.” A she describes,
When the English novelist Anthony Trollope toured the United States in 1861… he was astonished to see 5-year-old “embryo senators” who ordered dinner with sublime confidence and displayed “epicurean delight” at the fish course.
Prohibition spelled the end for 5-year-old epicures. Taking effect in January 1920, the dry laws forced the hospitality industry to rethink its policy on children: Could it be that this untapped market could help offset all that lost liquor revenue? The Waldorf-Astoria in New York thought so, and in 1921 it became one of the first establishments to beckon to children with a menu of their very own. But even as restaurants began to invite children in, it was with a new limitation: They could no longer eat what their parents ate.
Humes identifies pediatrician Emmett Holt as the the early 20th century’s chief designer of children’s nutrition guidelines, a “hodgepodge of medicine and morality” that dictated to “mothers, nurses, and, apparently, chefs that young children were not to be given fresh fruits, nuts, or raisins in their rice pudding. Pies, tarts, and indeed ‘pastry of every description’ were ‘especially forbidden,’ and on no account were such items as ham, bacon, corn, cod, tomato soup, or lemonade to pass a child’s lips before his 10th birthday.”
The full article is well worth a read, especially since it encourages a questioning of the current state and continued existence of the children’s menu. Check it out here.
Madison is such a hot spot of great food that even the folks at Fox News have noticed:
If someone were to ask you what’s one of the best U.S. cities for farm-to-table dining and local foods, [you'd] probably say New York, Chicago, or Portland, right?
But Madison (yes Madison, Wisconsin) — a city with fewer than 300,000 people — has one of the strongest local foods scenes in the country….
Surrounded by farmland and natural resources, farm-to-table dining in Madison is a no-brainer. It’s not a gimmick or a good PR move, as it has become in so many other places. It’s just the natural state of things.
Find the full piece here, which offers ten reasons why Madison is a “foodie paradise.”
After two posts about the amazing beer (and wine) we had on our trip to the West Coast, I’ve finally gotten around to the post I promised about some of our culinary adventures. Here are a few of the highlights, in chronological order:
Montana Ale Works, Bozeman, MT:
As I said previously, we loved the array of craft beers on tap at Montana Ale Works. The food was also tasty, with quite a few grass-fed meat options on the menu, along with veggie alternatives (e.g., tofu, portabello, or grain-based veggie burgers). I hadn’t had a patty melt in a decade or two, so I pounced on the opportunity to have their bison patty melt and was glad that I did. It was a decadent, messy affair made even sloppier when I requested an extra ramekin of Thousand Island dressing.
Just about anywhere in the Willamette Valley, OR:
Blackberries are practically a weed here, so most locals look at you a little oddly if you excitedly offer them fresh-picked berries as though they were something special. But for an out-of-towner like me who’s smitten with them, there’s nothing quite like blackberries picked with your own two hands at the peak of ripeness. During our visit, I enjoyed them on their own, atop cereal, and in a homemade cobbler. Three or four days in a row, I also feasted upon my favorite new PBJ alternative: peanut butter and fresh-picked blackberry sandwiches, in this case made on a lovely organic spelt bread from Dave’s Killer Bread.
Red Hills Market, Dundee, OR:
Before an afternoon of winery-hopping, we stopped by Red Hills Market for lunch in the heart of Oregon’s Pinot Noir country. J and I split two items. The olive tapenade sandwich with chevre, fennel and arugula on a baguette was nice, but the real star was the pizza special, which might be the best dang pizza that I have ever had in my entire life. As you can see in the photo below, their wood-fired pizza crust was topped with merguez—a North African-style sausage, made here with lamb from a local farm—padron peppers, house-made peach chutney, and arugula. The friendly, helpful fellow behind the counter highly recommended the pizza when I inquired about it, and I can’t tell you how glad I am we took him up on the suggestion. I would seriously contemplate driving another 5000+ miles for another bite of this pizza! We also picked up some nice thank-you gifts here for our friend who was our catsitter during the big road trip, including some fantastic Jacobsen sea salt.
Morning Glory Cafe, Eugene, OR:
J and I drove through both Corvalis and Eugene on our way to California, homes to Oregon State and the University of Oregon respectively. We lunched in Eugene at Morning Glory Cafe, a cool vegetarian/vegan diner (breakfast served all day) that made us feel like we were back home in Madison’s Willy Street or Atwood neighborhood. Vegan breakfast fare tends to be only partially filling for J, so he ordered two dishes: vegan biscuits and gravy with “soysage” patties, and cornmeal waffles with fresh blueberries and maple syrup. Both were very tasty, though I favored the latter. My breakfast was a concept so ingenious that I’m shocked I haven’t seen it elsewhere: a shell of crispy hashbrown-style potatoes filled as though it were the eggs of an omelet. It comes in several versions; I opted for Little Bear’s Vegan Omelette: “Broccoli, zucchini, carrots, and onions sautéed with special spices, folded into a shredded potato shell and topped with our own herbed tofu sour cream, green onions, and diced tomatoes. Served with your choice of homemade bread.” Bread is served with the topping of your choice (organic butter, olive oil or Earth Balance vegan soy margarine), and jam is available on the table as well. The space was funky and low key, the service was friendly, and the hibiscus iced tea was flavorful and refreshing.
Underdog, Inner Sunset neighborhood, San Francisco, CA:
Thanks to Yelp, we discovered Underdog when we were looking for a bite to eat after a morning at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. As a summer feature in USA Today describes, “This spot serves sausages made from ethically treated animals raised on natural feeds that are not genetically modified. ‘They’re locavore dogs: humanely raised, pasture fed,” [Man Bites Dog: Hot Dog Culture in America co-author Bruce] Kraig says. This is the wave of the future. They are very good.’ Underdog serves a variety of vegan dogs, too.” Lonely Planet concurs: “For cheap, organic meals on the run in a bun, Underdog is the clear winner. The roasted garlic and Italian pork sausages are USDA certified-organic, and the smoky veggie chipotle hot dog could make dedicated carnivores into fans of fake meat.”
J tried a couple different meat versions, including a chili dog, while I had a vegan Polish dog topped with a generous serving of homemade kraut from the toppings bar. I also enjoyed a side of their organic Po-tater-Tots. Extrovert J outed me as a food blogger to the proprietor when he ordered his second dog; seeing an opportunity for good press, she brought out complimentary orders of a couple sides including their vegan coleslaw (simple and delicious). She needn’t have bothered, though, as I didn’t need any buttering up to appreciate what they were up to and want to spread the word!
Caroline Abels at the Humaneitarian blog had a great post recently in which she she visits
Grazin’, a diner in Columbia County, New York. The waitress beat me to [the topic of their animal products] — told me all I needed to know about the meat before I even glanced at the menu. And what she told me was heavenly: that all the protein served at the diner (meat, milk, cheese, and eggs) came from farms that are Animal Welfare Approved. This means all the farms providing the diner with animal products were certified by one of the country’s top humane certification organizations. AWA is the only humane certifier that requires the pasturing of animals, and Grazin’ is the first all-AWA restaurant.
For all the details, including photos, a review of the burgers, and a link to a great video profile of the restaurant, check out Abels’ full post.
About this time last year, I posted about a great new takeout restaurant just outside of Madison. Jordandal Cookhouse in Verona features meat from Jordandal Farms and produce from area farms and purveyors. The food was truly delicious and a great value, despite their focus on humanely, sustainably raised meat and local produce. We recently stopped by the Cookhouse twice — once on our way back into town last week (watch for posts about our road trip soon), and again over the weekend after getting our new kitty microchipped at the wonderful Angel’s Wish — and I’m happy to say things are just as delicious and fairly priced as ever, and the staff continue to provide friendly and helpful customer service. The four sandwiches we enjoyed during these visits were the Cubano and Banh Mi (for J) along with the Jerk Chicken and Turkey Wrap (for me). They were all super tasty! The best side choice in my opinion is the potato salad (more on that below). Also, for $2.50 you can pick up an extra side, and I recommend the summer sausage and cheese pairing, which makes a great snack.
Don’t want to take my word for how great the Cookhouse is? No problem! Stephanie Bedford’s review was recently posted at Madison.com, and she loved it as much as we do. As she describes,
The meatball sub was a hearty treat – stuffed with small-sized meatballs for maximum saucy surface area, on a fresh and lightly crisped roll. My pork tacos were stuffed with tender shredded meat – a real highlight, letting the flavor of Jordandal’s slow-cooked pork shine through – and topped with pickled onions, shredded cabbage and crema. Each of these came with a choice of cold side. The sweet potato salad with bacon was flecked with herbs and a nice light change from the traditional, bland mayo-heavy recipe. A sweet-corn-and-tomato salad was simple perfection – a bowl of straight-up summer with just the right amount of fresh crunch. The quesadilla was a highlight: a massive serving big enough for two, with a piquant tomatillo salsa that I’d eat straight up.