Downtown Racine place takes the (pan)Cake

We asked our Facebook group to let us know where to get the BEST pancakes in Racine.   I personally have not noticed a big difference in the quality of pancakes from diner to diner — any restaurant that focuses on breakfast generally has decent pancakes.    After doing this Take Three Tuesday, I now am aware of a difference — one place made outstanding pancakes.

Not going to bury the lead, the best pancakes are being made by Robert’s Roost in Racine.

Robert’s Roost, 600 6th Street, Racine, WI  http://www.roberts-roost.com/

roberts-exterior

Robert’s Roost is a downtown, breakfast/lunch restaurant in an older building.   The interior has a “country” decor with a rooster theme –  but it is in no way tacky or outdated.  The natural lighting in the restaurant is such a welcome change over the many diners lit with florescent bulbs.

roberts-interior

The pancake menu is simple.

roberts-pancake-menu

Here is the thing: Robert’s Roost pancakes are HUGE in size and thickness.   I can’t imagine someone ordering two pancakes unless it was to share.

roberts-roost-pancakes

Pictured is the kid’s pancake and bacon for $3.95.   The pancake, was thick but fluffy, and pleasantly sweet.  Unlike the other two places’ pancakes,  which tasted just like pancakes do at almost any restaurant, this pancake had a different taste, in a good way.

We also went to Honey Bee’s in Racine and Marty’s Restaurant in Waterford.  Both places pancakes are fine, just fine, but not memorable.   Honeybee’s has some very unique things on the menu but the building is kind of dumpy.   The day we went the interior was humid and had a musty smell that affected our enjoyment of the food.

Honey Bees II, 4713 Douglas Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin   https://www.facebook.com/pages/Honey-Bees-II/111900725556209

honeybees-pancake

The pancakes at Marty’s did the job for the kids,

Marty’s Restaurant, 201 W. Main Street, Waterford, Wisconsin.  http://www.martysrestaurant.net/

shelby-pancake

What was more interesting was their Mexican breakfast menu, by the way, horchata was available as well.

martys-mexican-breakfasts

 

Take a shortcut: these store-bought salads are better than you can make at home anyway

This Take-Three Tuesday we tried deli salads recommended to us by our Facebook group as being great deli salads available at local grocery stores.   To get a cross section of tasters, we brought six deli salads to a campground and did a blind tasting with ten campers.   The salads were all purchased the day before.   One salad was the clear favorite.   Two others were liked by all.

One salad we purchased at O &H we took out of consideration because (a) we didn’t think this was the same salad as the page member recommended and (2)  the salad didn’t taste fresh after a day.    That left us we five salads: two from Festival Foods, two from Tenuta’s and one from Danny’s Meats.   These three were our favorites.

Sombrero Salad, Festival Foods, regular price $4.99 lb.

Festival Sombrero Salad

Festival Foods strong point is their deli section.  Their prices for other staples may be higher than pick-n-save but their salad, hot food, dip, cold dessert selection is phenomenal.

The Sombrero Salad was enjoyed by all of our tasters.  Black olives, shredded cheddar, rotini and a dressing that reminded me of a thin Catalina dressing with a touch of taco seasoning.   A solid salad-its not going to set the world on fire with its exotic ingredients-but its a crowd-pleaser.

Tortellini Salad, Tenuta’s Deli, 3203 52nd Street, Kenosha, reg. price $4.99 lb.

Tenutas Tortellini Salad

The ingredients in Tenuta’s tortellini salad were about as good as you can get.  First the cheese tortellini was soft but not too soft.   The large chunks of salami were not too spicy and surprisingly tender.   The chunks of cheese were also quite generous. The price, $4.99 a pound, is very reasonable given the high quality ingredients.   The only change may be to add a little Italian dressing to it when you serve it a second day as the pasta had absorbed much of it.   This may be why someone suggested that you purchase Tenuta’s Olive Salad and then mix the two together — going to have to try this.

And everyone’s favorite salad was,

Spinach Pine Nut Salad, Festival Foods, regular price $6.49 lb.

Festival Spinach Pine Nut Salad

Everyone agreed that this was a great salad.   Pretty simple actually, spinach, Parmesan shreds, pine nuts, bow-tie pasta and a dressing.  It was well dressed, not dry at all.   The spinach was not soggy even after a day in the fridge.   This was the most expensive salad of the three but its understandable; have you seen the price of pine nuts?   For those of you that haven’t tried pine nuts, it is a soft nut that doesn’t have a strong flavor and adds that perfect texture to this salad.   Even people that weren’t fans of cooked spinach and never have heard of pine nuts liked this salad.  Pine nuts are also called Pignolia nuts and here is a link as to how they are harvested.  Pine Nut Harvest

The other two we tried were Tenuta’s Supper Salad (kind of plain and under-dressed) and Danny’s Meats Jalapeno Potato Salad (too spicy and too many crunchy vegetables for most of us).

Its hot and there is sooo many things to fill your time in Wisconsin during the summer.   Cut some of the hassle by picking up one of these salads for your next party.

 

Check out these two great racks in SE Wisconsin

We took on ribs this go-round and we were a little concerned because we know there are BBQ fans out there that take this smoking ribs seriously.  We brought in some help in the form of Justin Gall, Foreman at Crystal Cabinet & Supply on Douglas Avenue in Racine.  Justin has been smoking meat for years and is a BBQ lover, knowledgeable about the various styles.   We went to three places, suggested by our Facebook page members, and we all had the same opinion:  Two of the places were great, one not so much.

Coming in at Number 3:

Southbound Saloon & Eatery, 9504 S. Chicago Road, Oak Creek, Wisconsin, 53154

Southbound serves ribs two or three days a week (Tues, Thursday and possibly Saturday.)   We arrived Thursday at six pm to an empty bar.

Southbound exterior

A “Full Rack” of ribs will set you back $23.95 but it comes with two sides.   We decided to get take-out.

Southbound ribs menu

The Full rack was actually several different pieces of ribs and the portion size was huge.   The ribs were apparently braised and then placed on the grill to warm them up and grill them prior to serving.

Southbound ribs

The ribs were very inconsistent.  Some of us had “fall off the bone” ribs and some of us had under-cooked (not raw just tough) ribs.   The ribs could have used a good trimming because there were extra hunks of meat and fat attached to the top that made them awkward to eat (as if ribs aren’t already awkward).    Some of us weren’t crazy about the sauce either.    The ribs were so cold when they went on the grill that the centers of the thick hunks of meat weren’t always warm by the time they came off.  Not recommended.

Now, on to the good news!

Coming in at 1 and 1A are two places that serve ribs as a specialty.  The types of ribs they serve couldn’t be more different – but yet equally delicious.

Oh Dennis! Saloon & Charcoal House, 4301 Douglas Avenue, Caledonia, Wisconsin (Facebook page here)

Oh Dennis Exterior

Ask anyone where to get ribs in SE Wisconsin and this place is probably the name that will be mentioned – with good reason – the ribs are tasty.    Oh Dennis! is kind of an upscale dive, dishes are served on chinet-style plastic plates and the interior is dark with no windows.     Dinner is the only meal served and watch out for the Rib-vacations the owners take.

Oh Dennis Hours

Oh Dennis Interior Panoramic

We ordered a combo which came with a small rack of ribs (normally priced at $15.95) Oh Dennis Rib prices

The place is dark so the photo does not do the ribs justice, but the ribs were on point.   These ribs are not smoked, but braised and grilled.   The ribs were well-trimmed and tender but not too tender, and the sauce was great with a little kick.   My favorite bite was when the sauce had slightly caramelized on the grill.     I can see why this place is always crowded.

Oh Dennis Ribs

Now for our final experience – and it was a great one

LD’s BBQ, 1880 County Highway Es, East Troy, Wisconsin 53120

Ok, for those of you that live in Kenosha and Racine, this is a drive, but its a pleasant one.   LD’s is actually on HWY 20 so if you just take that west all the way to East Troy, you will run into this BBQ place.

LDs exterior

LD's building

LD’s is actually located inside a gas station.  You order at a counter and there is some seating — but not much.  Don’t worry everything on the menu works well for carry-out.

LDs interior

We went with the Sampler Platter, which included 1/4 chicken, 1/4 rack of ribs, brisket, smoked sausage and two sides for $22.95.    PLEASE LISTEN: Unless you can handle leftovers, order this to share with two or even three people.  We shared with two people and a child each time and still took home leftovers.

LD's Sampler Platter

We LOVED this place and it was well worth the drive.  The ribs are traditional southern-style smoked, rendered beautifully and tender but not too tender.   We got the meat without sauce and added LD’s sauce.   The sauce was  unremarkable and actually unnecessary.   According to Justin these ribs  was as close as you can come to a Memphis dry rib (and he has made the smoked meat pilgrimage to Memphis)   We devoured the smoked sausage and chicken too.   Don’t miss the sweet and dense cornbread that comes on the side.  LD’s also caters — instead of boneless chicken breast with a twice baked potato I would LOVE to see an LD’s truck at a wedding I was attending.

LD’s and Oh Dennis’ ribs would never be mistaken for each other, but both places are at the top of the rib game in Southeast Wisconsin.

We tried three famous Milwaukee margaritas: we had one runaway favorite

For this  “Take Three Tuesday” we tried three margaritas suggested by our page members . Every three weeks we ask our members to name the best place to get a particular food or drink.   We pick three, check them out, and give you our thoughts.  A year and a half ago we tried margaritas in Racine and Kenosha; this time we focused on Milwaukee.

All of the places we visited are Mexican restaurants that sell high volumes of margaritas and use a mix – no problem.

Coming in at No. 3:

Conejito’s Place – 539 W. Virginia Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Conejitos exterior

Conejito’s first opened Milwaukee in 1972 and is consistently voted as “best cheap eats” in various local publications.   Many people glowingly talk about this place as having great food and drinks.  Unfortunately,  I don’t get it.   Yes, the prices are  cheap — but the margaritas were not as drinkable as the other two places, the chips were hard,  and salsa had an unusual taste of seasoning salt.

conejito interior

The day we were there, twenty-somethings dominated the crowd and it probably had something to do with the $3.50 margaritas and food.  The great thing about Mexican food is that  at most places it is quite affordable.

conejito menu

We ordered the $3.50 margarita and it was certainly better than one you would get at a corner bar where the weekend bartender has to ask the owner if they can make margaritas before searching out of forgotten bottle of mix under the bar, but it wasn’t anything to make us return.   The margaritas were poured out of jug of “Evonne’s” mix which was on the sour side.   The place is dumpy, which sometimes I enjoy, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t feeling it that day, I liked the more festive atmosphere of the other two places.

Conejito Margaritas

Coming in at No. 2:

La Perla, 734 S. 5th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This is a larger Mexican restaurant in Walker’s Point,  that throughout the years has marketed itself with clever ad campaigns and billboards.  The day we walked in unfortunately it was 90 degrees and the air conditioning was “caput.”

la perla exterior

The inside is cheerful with multiple patios and two interior seating areas.

la perla margarita

We ordered the traditional margarita on the rocks for $7.25 which was the priciest of the three margaritas that we sampled.   It was a very drinkable margarita — just a tad on the sweet side.  The glass could have used more salt.   Also, no chips were offered to us as it was apparent we were there for the drinks.   There was not much wrong with this margarita except the price.

Coming in at No. 1 (WE LOVE THIS PLACE)

El Fuego, 909 W. Layton Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

El Fuego Exterior

This is a huge restaurant with a wonderfully festive decor.   It was too hot to sit outside but the patio seating is an oasis on Layton Avenue, which has more chain restaurants than anything in that area.  Expect a wait on Saturday night but don’t let that keep you away; this is one of the few Mexican restaurants to celebrate a special occasion – it has that atmosphere.

el fuego interior

We ordered the traditional margarita on the rocks, which was $6.00 individual or $12.00 for a small pitcher which seemed to equal three margaritas.

el fuego pouring margaritas

The margaritas were not too sweet or too sour, the salt was generous and glass size was adequate.  I haven’t even told you about the best deal in Milwaukee: between 2:30 and 6pm every day these margaritas are only $3.00 each!   I can’t end this without mentioning that the chips that they served with the margaritas were the most fresh, crispiest, hottest, chips I have had in my entire life.

Suggestion, head out to El Fuego right around 2:30 on a summer Saturday or Sunday.  Make sure you have a designated driver though because these drinks packed a punch.  Eat the glorious chips and salsa, sit on the patio, enjoy these few weeks of sunny warm weather we have in Wisconsin.  These are the days.

You’ll want to get involved in this Club

One of my absolute favorite classic sandwiches is the good ole’ club.   And let me tell you, if it isn’t cut in four pieces with tooth picks holding it together (preferably with plastic colored pom pom things on the end), I get sad.    We had two decent clubs and one very good club in this Take Three Tuesday go-round this week — on to the results.

Coming in at number three

Water Street Brewery, 7929 S. Howell Avenue, Oak Creek  — Water Street Brewery Website

Water Street Brewery Interior

Water Street Brewery in Oak Creek is a humongous restaurant with a very large menu.   Saturday night was hoppin’ with customers which is a good sign for the many new restaurants to come in Drexel Town Square.

Water Street’s Club ($10.95 including a side) was generously made with turkey breast, ham, bacon lettuce. tomato, cheddar cheese — all traditional ingredients — with one exception, chipotle mayo.

water street club

I love a new twist on an old classic, but this one didn’t work for me.   Maybe an herb mayo, or a ranch mayo — chipotle mayo just seemed out of place.    Also, they didn’t put enough mayo on the sandwich and tasted if it was toasted a while ago.   No complaints with the size, meat or other ingredients though.  If I ordered it again, I would simply substitute regular mayo – and use a heavy hand.

 

Our No. 2 club sandwich was in Kenosha. 

Andrea’s Gift Shop/Jack’s Cafe, 2401 60th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin   Jack’s menu website link

I was a first timer at this little soda fountain inside a gift shop in the heart of Kenosha.   Not a lot of seating, but this place was cute as can be.   I was shocked how busy the shop and restaurant were on a Wednesday afternoon.

 Jack's Interior

We ordered Jack’s Club for $8.25 which came with chips.

Jacks club

Jack’s club was LOADED with meat, they certainly did not skimp out.   However we had two somewhat minor issues with the club.  First, they did not put mayo on the club, they served it on the side.  It was kind of a pain to spread mayo on the club yourself and spread it on the bread without messing up the sandwich.  Second, the sandwich was so loaded with meat and bottom heavy that the top part had a tendency to fall off.   Maybe the two meats should be spread evenly throughout the sandwich for ease of eating.

And our absolute favorite club sandwich was

Ivanhoe Pub and  Eatery, 231 Main Street, Racine, Wisconsin, Ivanhoe’s website

Ivanhoe exterior

Ivanhoe is a bar that serves great food, and its clear that whomever is designing the menu has made efforts to be creative and give Racine something more than typical “bar food”.

ivanhoe interior

We ordered the Turkey Club for $9.00 which came with a side – we got the fries.

ivanhoe club2

The club was very good and what put it ahead was the toasted, buttery, bread, the fresh-tasting turkey and the Swiss cheese.   I also liked the thinly-sliced onions — not typical for a club but it worked.   Next time, give us enough fries to finish that ketchup though.

 

 

Chips and Salsa: a double, a triple and a strikeout

With Cinco de Mayo this week, its the perfect time to check out the chips and salsa at some of our local restaurants — kind of a little guide for our readers that are hitting the town on Thursday.   Our members suggested several places, and we chose three of those suggestions.

At all locations, the chips and salsa were brought quickly after we were seated.    We didn’t cheap out and eat the chips and salsa and leave; we also ordered food, and sometimes margaritas, which didn’t always work out…

Coming in at No. 3

Samano’s Mexican Restaurant, 3431 East Plankinton Avenue, Cudahy. Wisconsin.  http://www.samanosrestaurant.com/

Samanos exterior two

Samano’s prides itself on serving Milwaukee Mexican food for over forty years.   The location is a historic building that has been completely rehabbed on the outside and the interior has an old-fashioned intricate wooden bar.  According to Samano’s website, this historic building was originally a Miller Brewery Tavern in 1894 and the Samano family took it over in 1967.   I love everything about the history of this place.

The chips were warm flour tortilla chips which is not common to my observations and not my preference, but they were fine flour tortilla chips.   The salsa was chunky, had some spice and was very flavorful, however I think this salsa was homemade but not fresh-made.   It seemed to have the texture of salsas that you buy in the store – but more flavorful.   If you are looking for a fresh chopped or blended salsa, (we were) then this may not be your cup of tea.

samanos chips and salsa

The bigger problem was the margaritas – they were simply undrinkable and had a chemical- like flavor.   Three of us ordered margaritas and not one of us drank more than a few sips.   We struggled with how to convey this opinion — this is not a margarita take-three after all.  However, you really can’t just show up and order chips and salsa and leave — and most of us like a margarita when we go to a Mexican restaurant.   Here is your warning – don’t order the original margarita on the rocks at Samano’s – I can’t speak for any of the other 200 flavors.

Coming in at No. 2  – Javier’s Cuisine, 2011 Lathrop Avenue. Racine, Wisconsin, Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/javierscuisinee/

Javier's Sign

This place doesn’t look like much from the outside but the inside is good-sized, tastefully decorated, with playful touches.  I especially love the print of Guanajuato, Mexico (a city I have always wanted to visit) with the note that this is Javier’s hometown.   Certainly tells us a little about our chef and his roots in Mexico.

Many of us think of “Mexican food” as being just a singular type of food but certainly “grits” are an American food that not many of us in Wisconsin eat or know how to cook.   Don’t even think of asking for a brandy old-fashioned outside of Wisconsin.   My point is that Mexico is a very large country with regional specialties.   Many times this is evidenced by the naming on Mexican restaurants in the area.   (Guanajuato is the name of one of the highest-rated restaurants in Milwaukee as well as Guadalajara (large Mexican city), Jalisco Restaurant, Rivieria Maya, Mazatlan, etc.)

On to the chips and salsa – of which Javier’s hit a solid double.

Javier's Chips and Salsa

The chips were corn, warm and crispy.   The salsa was fresh, with a definite chipotle flavor.  We would have either (a) liked a little more heat or (b) liked second “hot” option.   Regardless, we bottomed out the chips and the salsa, as well as a frozen sangria.  I would also love if Javier’s opened for lunch or on Sundays.   Nothing like a margarita-Sunday type of day.

And the best of the chips and salsa we tried was at:

Mi Jacalito, 1318 Douglas Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin..  http://mijacalitoracine.com/

Best I can gather, Mi Jacalito mean “my little place” and this Mexican restaurant is deep on Douglas Avenue and (as of now) looks like the type of restaurant you may see in Mexico.   This is going to change as the owners have requested a grant to modernize the exterior which in my opinion will definitely bring in more diners.  Excellent job also on the helpful website – websites can be made at a relatively low cost and its hard to understand restaurants that don’t have one.

Mi Jacalito exterior

People want authentic Mexican food but sometimes these little places are intimidating — maybe they only speak Spanish and I won’t be able to order or the menu will be all in Spanish.   The new exterior that Mi Jacalito is planning will help break down that fear people have of trying something different because it looks so inviting  — at least according to the plans.  http://journaltimes.com/business/local/fa-ade-upgrade-planned-for-mi-jacalito-restaurant/article_6da63b3f-e45f-5ffa-b29a-a909f5d86570.html

Ok, so on to the salsa and chips.   The chips were warm and crispy.   Mi Jacalito served three salsas.  One was pico de gallo – fresh chopped.  Another was a blended spicier salsa and the third was, well, best i could tell not much more than a slightly thicker tomato juice.   We like having a choice, and other than the tomato juice one, both of the salsas were pretty good, not mind-blowing, but solid salsas.   In baseball, this salsa offering is like a triple, not a home run.

Mi Jacalito salsas two.jpg

I hope that along with the exterior update, a little money is spent on the interior – it could use a fresh look as it feels cluttered.   Also, although the Mexican TV shows added to that authentic feel, the TV was loud making it hard to talk at times.

Mi Jacalito Interior

Bonus is that Mi Jacalito is opens for breakfast at 8am and is open until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.  They also deliver – not sure of the boundary though.

No chips and salsa home run but its all about the on-base percentage anyway, so we will just keep stepping up to the plates.

 

Our favorite appetizer: Fried Pickles

Fried pickles have come on strong in the last ten years and now almost all  bars offer a version on their menu — mostly purchased from their frozen food supplier.    Commonly, fried pickles are in the form spears — less common are the pickle chips.  All of the places we checked out served the spears, but I am not  yet convinced spears are the best cut for fried pickles.

Coming in at Number three:

The Village Tap, 1489 Mill Street, Lyons, Wisconsin.  Village Tap’s Facebook Page

The Village Tap is located in Lyons, in western Kenosha county.   You’ll never  just “drive by” this bar/restaurant — you have to make a point to get there.   Its basically a country bar that appears to serve some decent burgers and fish fry — but we came for the fried pickles.

village tap exterior

Inside there are two rooms: the bar and another room with a handful of tables.

village tap interior

The appetizer menu offered the fried pickles at $1.75 each or $6.75  for five of them.  Hmm, why would you buy one we wondered?

Village tap menu

Here’s why they sell by the pickle: these aren’t typical  fried pickles.   Instead, Village Tap hand makes won-ton wrapped pickles along with  what I thought was monterey jack cheese but the bartender said was pepper jack.   Either way it wasn’t spicy.  Each one is huge and the won-ton wrapper is quite thick.

village tap fried pickles

According to the bartender, these “fried pickles” are big sellers at Village Tap.    I can see the appeal, but I can’t agree that these are truly “fried pickles” which is why Village Tap is coming in third place in this “fried pickle” category.   These are more like egg rolls with cheese and a pickle spear (served with a side of ranch).   One is very filling because of the thick won-ton.     We love to see places like Village Tap coming up with something unique like this and I bet their Reuben Rolls are tasty.

Coming in at Number Two:

Standing Room Only, 635 75th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin.   http://www.srophilly.com/

In case you are wondering, seating is not really an option at this small food stand near the lake in Kenosha.   There was one table inside.   SRO makes some of the best local Philly sandwiches, but again, we were here for the fried pickles.

standing room only exterior

SRO’s “breaded pickle spears” are $3.50 for about five of them with a side of ranch.  The pickles were decent, I just don’t think that they were handmade.  Will we find any truly house-made fried pickles?

Fried pickles

Our  Number One place to get fried pickles in SE Wisconsin is:

Uncle Mike’s,  6611 120th Avenue, Kenosha, Wisconsin.   Uncle Mike’s website

s

Uncle Mike’s is a bar that serves stellar food located right off I-94 in Kenosha.   The fried pickles appetizer for $7.95 didn’t disappoint.

Uncle Mikes picklesThese pickles were everything that fried pickles should be.   The batter was crispy and not greasy whatsoever.  Better yet, the breading actually stuck to the pickles unlike some places that serve pickles where the breading comes off with the first bite.  Uncle Mike’s offers your choice of dipping sauce and the Jalapeno Ranch paired well with the pickles.

Still looking for some good fried pickles chips (non-chain) if anyone has a suggestion for those. Also, I think Village Tap is on to something with creatively using pickles in other appetizers.  You heard it here first – fried ham-roll ups – whaddaya think?