Beer Cheese Soup was Big Disappointment

*sigh*… I don’t even know where to begin with this week’s Take Three Tuesday. I was REALLY looking forward to sampling beer-flavored, cheesy goodness and ranking them, but, unfortunately, I cannot recommend two of the three soups that we tasted.
Let me give you the bad news first…
Grab’s Burger Bar – 2324 18th Street, Kenosha ($3.95 cup/$5.95 bowl)

I really like the burgers and fries at Grab’s. And I love their maple bacon shake so much, I would totally marry it. But we went there to try their Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup as recommended by our page members, and I was let down.

The bacon crumbles were nice, and the popcorn added a pleasing crunch. But the consistency… UGH… almost like slightly melted peanut butter or wallpaper paste (Yes, it was that thick!).   Whats more is that it had a grainy, mustard-like feel in my mouth — I just could not get past it and I cannot recommend this soup.

On to Bourbon Legends – 2200 60th Street, Kenosha ($2.95/$4.95)

This was our first trip to Bourbon Legends, and I wasn’t very impressed. I ordered a dirty martini on the rocks when we walked in, and the bartender asked me to explain to her how to make it (not a good sign, especially with a very uncomplicated drink like a “dirty”). Things can only go up from here, right? Wrong!

  

First, the Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup at Bourbon Legends was downright watery, and so was the flavor.  Second, the chunks of carrot and celery in the soup were basically raw; as if they were added as an afterthought. The one bright spot was the the homemade croutons.

Are we catching everyone on a bad night? Maybe… But if that’s the case, then there’s a big problem with lack of consistency at those two spots.

On to the good news…
Wells Brothers – 2148 Mead Street, Racine ($3.50/bowl) 

From what I can tell, Wells Brothers doesn’t have one particular way they make their Beer Cheese Soup. Looking at their Facebook page, I noticed “cheesy beer”, “cheddar ale” and “cheesy beer brat chowder” listed on their daily soup menu (changes daily). When we stopped in, it was Cheesy Beer Bacon & Jalapeño — and it was good!

With an almost cream of chicken-like base, this soup had the perfect amount of cheesiness with a subtle hint of beer. There was plenty of smoky bacon bits throughout, and jalapeno added a nice kick – not overpowering at all. So the next time you stop in to Wells Brothers for a pizza, make sure to taste some of their homemade soup as well.

This is Wisconsin — we are the home of cheese and beer —- we are better than this.

This small bar makes the best chili in SE Wisconsin

Gray skies, leaf-less trees and cooling temps tend to put me in the mood for hearty comfort foods. And even though temperatures have been warmer than usual for December in SE Wisconsin, chili-eating weather is here.

Just like we’ve done in the past, we asked our readers to send us their favorite chili hotspots. Three locations were selected, chili was enjoyed, and our results are as follows…
#3 – Shirl’s Frozen Custard 7943 Sheridan Road, Kenosha

Shirl’s is a popular spot in Kenosha for burgers and frozen custard, and I’m a little embarrassed to mention that I’d never been here before. So, needless to say, I was excited when Shirl’s was mentioned for our chili challenge.

The chili at Shirl’s (small $2.79, large $3.39) was decent (I’d say it kind of reminded me of Wendy’s chili), albeit a little inconsistent. One serving was pretty greasy with a really strong oregano flavor and a medium heat level with grilled onions. But a later other serving didn’t seem greasy at all and without the overpowering oregano (yay!), but had virtually no heat (boo!) and raw onions. Maybe one bowlful was scooped and served without being stirred up a bit first; that’s my theory anyway. We also asked for cheese and onions to be added. I kind of dug that Shirl’s used nacho cheese instead of shredded cheddar. It seemed like a very “drive-in” thing to do, and I wish similar places would offer a cheese choice – shredded or whiz.
#2 – Swingin’ Door Exchange 219 E. Michigan Street, Milwaukee

This is a bar/restaurant in downtown Milwaukee that has been slinging drinks since 1931.  The vibe was great and the menu went beyond bar food to steaks and complicated salads.



This chili (cup $3.50, bowl $5.50 + $0.50 for cheese/onions) tastes exactly how chili should taste. Thick and spicy and meaty with diced onions and peppers and exactly the right amount of heat. Shredded cheddar and diced raw onions were served on the side so you could decide exactly how much of each you’d like to add. Simply, really good chili.

I just want to take a quick sec to talk about what a fun place this is – from the kitschy decor to the delicious Moscow mules to the 70’s and 80’s music that was playing overhead to the waitstaff singing Little River Band songs with us – I cannot wait to go back to this place. Great time!
 #1 Toad Hall 611 Wisconsin Avenue, Racine



As delicious as the chili was at Swingin’ Door Exchange, the chili at Toad Hall (cup $3.50, bowl $5) is on new level. It’s just so… complex. Smoky, spicy, but also a touch sweet. You can tell after just one bite that this is a recipe that was developed over time. And topped with shredded cheddar and diced red onions – whoa… Corey, Pope of Chilitown, (the creator of the chili recipe mentioned on the Toad Hall menu), well done, sir!


Just to make your mouth water a bit more, Toad Hall also serves up Frito Chili Pie ($7).

You Really Can’t Go Wrong with Kenosha Thin Crust Pizza

 Living in or near Kenosha is like hitting the pizza lottery.  Like kringle in Racine or bars in Cudahy, there seems to be an Italian restaurant on every corner in Kenosha – and everyone has their favorite they swear is the BEST. 

Three local favorites were selected. At each location, we ordered a pepperoni and cheese pizza as well as one of the house specialty pizzas. So, ranked from “I’d crave this every once in awhile” to “This is my new addiction”, here we go…
#3 – Ruffalo’s Pizza 11820 Sheridan Road, Pleasant Prairie

 

The interior can probably best be described as… dated. One big, open room with tables varying in size. The full bar is a plus – I occasionally like to have an adult beverage with my pizza. 

 
 

The pepperoni and cheese pizza (small, $11.18) was fair. The thin crust was crispy, thumbs up. But the sauce was thick, almost paste-like, and applied very sparingly.  I also would’ve like a little more cheese. 

 

The specialty pizza we chose was Giuliana’s Special (small, $13.99) – the extra-thin crust was extra crisp and sauceless and topped with mozzarella, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, sausage, chicken, bacon and pepperocinis. That sounds overwhelming, but it was really quite balanced and good. And I liked the little bit of heat the pepperocinis added. FYI – Ruffalo’s does have gluten free options, including pizzas.

 

  #2 – Kaiser’s Pizza & Pub 510 57th Street, Kenosha

 

Walking into Kaiser’s always reminds me of restaurants “up north” – I love all that exposed brick and wood. And their holiday decorations are now up and fabulous. On to the pizza…
  

The first thing I notice about the pepperoni and cheese pizza (small, $9), is that it’s cut in triangles as opposed to squares. This could very well be my OCD speaking but, I like my restaurant pizzza cut in squares. Triangles are for the frozen cardboard pizzas. Anyway, back to tasting… Everything about the pepperoni and cheese pizza at Kaiser’s was good. Crust – crunchy. Sauce – decent. Cheese – plentiful.  Overall, we all enjoyed it. 
  

We selected Kaiser’s Special (small, $12) for the specialty pizza. And once again, this pizza topped with cheese, sausage, mushroom, onion and green pepper was good.  No doubt that we’ll be back again and again for more. Gluten free pizzas and pastas are options, as well. 
  

But our favorite… #1 Luigi’s Pizza Kitchen 7531 39th Avenue, Kenosha

 
 

The cozy atmosphere was great. And this placed was PACKED by 5pm on a Saturday night. 

 
 

Luigi’s cheese and pepperoni pizza (small, $8.50) was phenomenal.  The crust was light and crunchy. The sauce had just the right amount of seasoning. And the cheese… the cheese was piled on to create a melty, gooey taste of heaven (yes, I’m a Wisconsin girl… Why do you ask??).

 

The margherita specialty pizza (small, $10.25) was my favorite out of the 6 pizzas that were tried.  Cracker thin crust covered in garlic olive oil, topped with tomato, plenty of mozzarella and basil. My idea of pizza perfection. And did I taste a hint of smoke in both pizzas? Does anyone know if Luigi’s uses a wood oven? 
  

I’m of the opinion that there is no such thing as bad pizza, but I’d move mountains for really good pizza. I would recommend any of these locations, but Luigi’s won the battle on this night. 

French Onion Soup – We found perfection

We received a ton of great suggestions as to where we could find the best baked french onion soup.  Traditionally, this deeply flavored soup is topped with a large crouton or croutons and melty, gooey cheese with a crusty top.    This would be my soup course if I was on death row.

Although there was a lot of things right about the soup at three places we tried,  there was a clear winner. Here are our results –

Number 3 – HobNob– 277 Sheridan Road, Racine, $5.25

Hobnob exterior

I always love the vibe of the HobNob. The vintage atmosphere practically forces you to imbibe in a martini (or two). I overheard one of the bartenders telling a patron that since the closing of Ray Radigan’s in Kenosha, the HobNob’s business has picked up. And that makes sense – we LOVE the supper club experience in SE Wisconsin!

Hobnob interior

As far as their french onion soup goes – it had its good points.  Plenty of onions in the bowl and tons of  cheese baked on top, giving it an almost creme brulee-like crust. However, we didn’t care for the soggy, tasteless “crouton” plopped under that cheese.  It was too mushy.   As for the broth it was oniony but lacked overall flavor.

IMG_2550

Number 2 – Erv’s Mug– 130 West Ryan Road, Oak Creek, $5.49

Erv’s is just north of Racine County and it is locally famous for its fish fry and starting this week, Erv’s Mug’s interior will be Christmas crazy with lights and decorations.  Although they have a bar, the dining area is large and kid-friendly.

Ervs Mug Interior

Erv’s also has good reason to be proud of their Crock of Baked French Onion Soup.   The broth was great, the crouton was  shaped to fit the mug, nicely seasoned, and retained some exterior crispness.   Another soup Erv’s offered that night was crocked Cajun buffalo chicken cheese….very interesting but we didn’t have room to try it.

Erv's Mug French onion with spoon

And the winner…  No. 1 – The Corner House– 1521 Washington Avenue, Racine, $6.75

Corner House Exterior

The Corner House is a supper club in the Uptown area of Racine that has been in operation since 1945.   The celebrity-signed menus that decorate the entry area mostly make references to their famous prime rib.

If the french onion soup at Corner House isn’t perfection, then it’s damn close.

IMG_2544

The rich, beefy and oniony broth was loaded with caramelized, julienned onions. The mozzarella and provolone cheeses on top were bubbly and but baked so nicely that we were scraping the sides of the bowl to try to pry off the cheese.  But what really put it over the top was the crouton.  It remained crunchy until we finished the entire bowl as if created by some sort of crouton wizard.   The bartender told us that their secret is to deep fry the crouton — well, this was a difference-maker.  It made my mouth happy to have that bit of crunch to accompany all those soft onions. In fact the next day, I found myself craving more.

If you don’t want to spend a ton of money on a compete dinner, you can have the soup and a brandy old-fashioned at the bar.   It’s a great time of year for a delicious bowl of soup. I’ll be heading back to the Corner House very soon to get my next fix.

Servin’ Them Up On a Plate – Packers vs 49ers

Before every 2015 Packer game, we’re giving you a fun recipe to share at your Packer party courtesy of our favorite SE Wisconsin home-cooking extraordinaire, Stacy Joers*.  For this weeks game – Sunday, October 4th – we’re serving up CIOPPINO.

(photo courtesy of cioppinosf.com)

Cioppino 

Serving Size : 12   

1/2 cup olive oil

2 onions — chopped

1 green pepper — chopped

3 cloves garlic — minced

1 bunch Italian parsley — chopped

1 1/2 cups white wine

2 cans (14.5 ounce) stewed tomatoes

1 can (8 ounce) tomato sauce

3 cups clam juice

1 cup water

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 1/2 pounds shrimp — peeled and deveined

1 1/2 pounds bay scallops

18 mussels — cleaned and debearded

18 clams — cleaned and debearded

2 cans (6 ounce) lump crabmeat

1 1/2 pounds fish — your choice, cubed

 Heat olive oil in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions, green pepper, garlic and parsley and cook slowly until onions are very soft, about 8 minutes.

Add white wine to the pan and bring to a fast simmer. Allow wine to reduce by 1/4.

 Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, clam juice, water and seasonings. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Stir in all seafood just before serving and allow to cook for 5-7 minutes. Serve with a warm, crusty bread.

 Per Serving (excluding unknown items): 298 Calories; 12g Fat (37.8% calories from fat); 32g Protein; 11g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 137mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 2 Fat.

NOTES : Cioppino can be made with any seafood. Add or subtract seafood to your personal taste; lobster chunks and crab claws are particularly good. 

Red wine may be used in place of white for a deeper flavor.

GO PACK GO!!

  
*Stacy Joers is a Caledonia resident, has her degree in Culinary Arts and teaches cooking demonstrations all over SE Wisconsin since 1992. Information about her classes is availalbe at www.cookingwithclass.com

The General Tso’s Chicken Champ is…..

“Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken…” – One Week by BareNaked Ladies

  

General Tso’s Chicken – a dish named after General Tso Tsung-tang (or Zuo Zongtang), a Qing Dynasty general from Hunan province, is typically sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chunks of chicken.  Sweet and savory flavor combos in the same dish isn’t really something that’s done in Hunan province, so it’s highly unlikely General Tso ever had one bite of this chicken. Yep, it’s very much an Americanized dish.  

The documentary “The Search for General Tso” explores the origins of Chinese-American food and is available on Netflix. I highly recommend it. But enough of the history lesson, on to the countdown…

  

#3 – Yee’s Oriental Inn, 5034 6th Avenue, Kenosha – $10.50/quart

  

  
I know this is a Kenosha favorite, and I don’t want a mob gathering on my front lawn with pitchforks and torches so, PLEASE, hear me out. I liked the flavors in the dish. In fact, I liked all three of the GTCs from the places we went. In the end, what it came down to for me were the smaller things. The Oriental Inn used chicken breast; I really like that. There seemed to be a lot of breading that fell off the chicken before it was fried leaving the meat almost jerky-like in spots; I did not enjoy that.  The heat usually comes from red chili peppers. But Oriental Inn used jalapeños. I found that to be… well… odd. Is there a chili pepper shortage? I Googled it (seriously) and didn’t find anything. And the broccoli seemed somewhat limp, as if it was frozen and reheated instead of fresh and steamed. It’s possible I caught them on a bad day, so I’ll give them another shot in the near future.

   

Anyway, on to #2 – Tony Chen’s, 4700 Washington Ave, Racine – $9.95/quart

  
 
Like I said above, overall, I liked the GTC from Tony Chen’s. Sweet and spicy, neither of which was too overpowering. The broccoli still had some crunch to it as well, so that’s good. The chicken had more breading on it here then the other places we visited, and it seemed to be a mixture of both white and dark meat. I’m ok with that, but when I bit into a piece of gristle, I was done. I just cannot do gristle – once I bite into it, I’m always fearful that it’s going to happen again, and my gag reflex just won’t allow me to go any further. 

  

Our favorite place for GTC……..

#1 – J.J. Chen’s, 10722 W Oklahoma Ave, West Allis – $9.75/quart

  
 
Crispy chicken, an actual crunch when I bite into it – CHECK. Bright green, crunchy, freshly steamed broccoli – CHECK.  And this was the only location where I was asked if I wanted my GTC mild, medium or spicy. The servers were very friendly, and the dish was delicious.

  
 
What more could you ask for? Steamed dumplings, maybe? Well, they were yummy as well. 

 

(There’s 4 to an order, but my husband couldn’t wait for me to take the pic.)

 
You’re going to get a tasty meal at all three of these locations, I’m just most excited about my next trip to J.J. Chen’s. 
Do you have a favorite place for GTC that we missed? Let us know. 

Servin’ Them Up On a Plate – Packers vs Chiefs

Before every 2015 Packers game, we’re giving you a fun recipe to share at your Packer party courtesy of our favorite SE Wisconsin home-cooking extraordinaire, Stacy Joers*.  For this week’s game – Monday, September 28th – we’re serving up SMOKED BRISKET.

(photo courtesy of epicurious.com)

SMOKED BRISKET

Serving Size : 12   

10 pounds beef brisket

15 cloves garlic — peeled

2 cups bbq rub — your favorite

Trim fat cap down to 1/4″ on brisket and make criss cross cuts into the fat cutting to the meat, but not into it. 

Pierce the meat in several locations and insert one peeled garlic clove into each hole. This is called larding and will infuse the meat with a rich, garlicky flavor.

Rub the meat all over with bbq rub and let stand if your fridge for several hours or up to overnight.

Prepare grill or smoker for indirect grilling. Soak 6 cups wood chips (I like hickory) in water for at least one hour or up to overnight.

Insert probe thermometer into meat and set temperature to 185.

Place meat in smoker and smoke until meat reaches an internal temp of between 185-190. This is the temp where connective tissue will liquefy and meat will become super-moist. When using a whole brisket with round and flat, wrap the flat in foil after a few hours of smoking to prevent it from drying out. How long you smoke depends on your taste. I generally smoke for the first 3 hours, then discontinue smoke for next several hours and then finish up by smoking for last few. Allow up to 12 hours to reach proper internal temp.

To serve Kansas City Style, cut off burnt ends and serve those with bbq sauce for dipping.

(photo courtesy of seriouseats.com)

Be sure to let us know what you think. GO PACK GO!


  

*Stacy Joers is a Caledonia resident, has her degree in Culinary Arts and teaches cooking demonstrations all over SE Wisconsin since 1992. Information about her classes is available at www.cookingwithclass.com.