Belly up to the bar for these burgers

We asked our members to suggest  “off the radar” burgers in Racine and Kenosha and our Facebook group delivered — over 100 places were suggested.   We couldn’t just limit our review to three places — we hit nine and gave ourselves a little extra time to do it.

Even with trying nine burgers, not one of these places was a strikeout. Clearly every one of theses places cared about putting good food out to their customers.  The five places below are not our winners but we gotta say, they were still pretty good.   Suds and Grub, Husher Pub and Greg’s Catering were decent burgers, but our winners just had something slightly extra special.   Danny’s Meat Market and Cabbage Heads were good flavored burgers, but the burger was overcooked — next time it could be cooked perfectly, who knows.

Suds and Grub Two

Greg's Burger

Cabbageheads bacon cheeseburger

Husher Pub Burger

2016-03-10 13.26.12

Now for the BEST of the BEST:

Choo-Choo Charlie’s, 13th Ave, Kenosha, Wisconsin (at the train depot).   www.eatatchucks.com  

choo choo sign

Choo-Choo Charlies is off everyone’s radar currently because it is so new.   Unlike all of our other picks, the atmosphere is train-crazy, loud and geared towards kids — no beer here.   It made the top of the list because the burger is darn good and the price is reasonable.

2016-03-13 13.28.15

The buns on Choo-Choo’s burger were wonderfully crunchy – reminded me of the old Pinocchio’s.  This wonderful burger was $6.49 and that included fries.   Grab your kids and go, you don’t have to sacrifice tasty food to eat at a place your kids will love.

Buckets Pub – 2031 Lathrop Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin.   www.buckets-pub.com.  Buckets is certainly not off the radar for Racine folks. — everybody knows about their hot wings.  However, you don’t hear a lot of talk about Buckets burgers.

We ordered the cheeseburger (only half-pounders served here) for $7.95 with cheddar and comes with fries.   Out of all the places we visited, Buckets was the only place that asked how we want our burgers cooked — medium rare please.

Burger

As requested, the burger was cooked a perfect medium rare with a classic beefy burger flavor.   No special sauces, avocado or fried egg topping available – just a juicy traditional burger.   I would eat this burger instead of wings any day.

The Garage, 3001 60th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin.   www.garagebarkenosha.com.

The Garage is a bar and burger place, but it is new and not yet on everyone’s radar.

garage sign

We ordered a egg-topped cheeseburger and a cheddar-stuffed burger topped with bacon and grilled onions for $11.   With the burger came your choice of kettle chips or seasoned hand-cut fries.  The meat was seasoned perfectly and the burger cooked perfectly.  Bonus for interesting toppings that added to the burger without overwhelming it.

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Uptown Pub & Grill, 1510 Junction Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin.   https://www.facebook.com/uptownpubgrillracine

Uptown exterior

This is a bar on a small street in the Uptown area of Racine that you would never find if you didn’t make a special effort to go there.    Don’t give up though, you will be missing an excellent burger.   Uptown pub has a few tables, a few tvs, but by and large this is a bar – probably not a place to bring your toddler.

Uptown interior

Uptown offers build your own burgers – 1/3 lb grilled for $6.50 and a stuffed burger or $7.50.  We had one of each – Bacon cheese burger and a Stuffed blue cheese burger with swiss and grilled onions.

Uptown menu

The burger tasted just as delicious as it looks in the photo.   Pink in the middle, great bun, perfectly cooked bacon and cheese.  The chipotle mayo was a perfect addition to the typical bacon cheeseburger.  The stuffed burger with blue was transcendental —  the blue cheese melted in the middle into like a creamy sauce.  (The picture I had didn’t really do it justice so I omitted it)  Paired with the bacon and the grilled onions — hot damn!

uptown pub burger

I suspect we will do an off the radar burgers round two sometime in the future, but for now, I need some celery sticks and wheat grass shots.   Well, maybe for a day or two.

Cupcakes: Head to Kenosha

We sampled cupcakes this week for our latest Take Three.   We all love the top of the cupcake, but when I get to the bottom, it seems like wasting calories to eat the dry cake.  I was hoping to find cupcake to enjoy all the way through.

Coming in at Number Three: Honeypie Cafe, 2643 S. Kinnickinnic Ave, Milwaukee, Wisconsin – open seven days a week.

Honeypie is a small restaurant/bakery in the Bay View section of Milwaukee.

Honeypie exterior

Honeypie has a glass case with baked goods and there were about six flavors of cupcakes.   We chose the Chocolate Strawberry and the Mexican Chocolate.

Honeypie Chocolate Strawberryhoneypie Mexican Chocolate

The chocolate strawberry was moist with a strawberry center.  I wasn’t in love with the strawberry filling, but others liked it.   The chocolate cake was missing the density that I craved. Unfortunately, the Mexican Chocolate must have been sitting  for a few days because the part of the top that was unfrosted was hard.

Coming in at Number Two: SweetEats Bakery and Cafe, 2700 22nd Avenue, Kenosha, Wisconsin

SweetEats is a stand-alone location that offers the largest selection of cupcakes of any of the places we visited.  Although the cupcakes were slightly smaller, they were the most reasonably priced of the three places.

sweet eats sign

There are a couple tables inside, but I suspect most people get their baked goods or food to go.

sweet eats interior

We ordered the Better than Hoho cupcake, the Banana Cream Cheese Cupcake (not pictured) and the Peanut Butter Puff.

I loved the Better than Hoho and the Banana Cream Cheese cupcakes.  First, the light but sweet frosting was perfect for the Better than Hoho.  Like a Hoho, the cupcake was filled in the middle with frosting.   The banana cake cupcake tasted exactly like banana bread.  This would be my flavor choice for cupcakes.  The only thing I wished was that the bottom cake had a tad more moisture and density.     This is why SweetEats did not come in at No.1.

sweet eats hoho and peanut butter

Pictured, Peanut Butter Puff and Better than HoHo

Coming in at number one….

The Buzz Cafe, 5621 6th Avenue, Kenosha

Buzz Cafe Interior

This restaurant/bakery/coffee shop/beer seller was HOPPING!   I have no idea how these people even knew about the place because the signage was non-existent.

The Buzz does not offer a wide assortment of cupcakes.   When I visited, there were only two available; the Red Hot Chocolate Chili Cupcake and the Pink Velvet Champagne Cupcake.   The Red Hot Chocolate Chili cupcake is not for everyone, myself included.  I don’t like cinnamon red hots.   The Pink Champagne was nice, but probably wouldn’t have been my choice if there was another flavor.

The reason the Buzz Cafe is our winner is that the cake part is dense, moist and had a perfect texture.  Everyone that tried it agreed:  We may not love the flavor, but the cake part is great.   The Red Hot cupcake was freshly made and the pink velvet champagne was a few days old, however both cakes tasted equally as fresh.   I just wished they would offer an everyday common flavor in addition their new interesting flavors.   They seem to post the available cupcakes on their Facebook page if you want to check it out.

buzz cafe  red hot chili chocolate cake

Whomever makes the cupcakes at the Buzz Cafe is doing something right, but the flavor selection is limited.   If you are getting cupcakes for the office or a party, Sweet Eats is the place to go.

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’re in Kenosha and craving awesome buffalo wings. What do you do?

Here is what you do — drive to Racine.

We asked our readers to nominate Kenosha places that have the BEST buffalo wings last week and we only received a smattering of responses.  This was curious.   Wings are not difficult to make but do require cooking precision and some trouble shooting.   We took three of the page suggestions and tried the wings.  One place we can’t recommend, the second place the wings were passable, and the third place the wings were decent but the wing menu was limited.

Coming in at No. 3

Rivals Sports Pub and Grille, 6325 120th Avenue, Kenosha.  Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/Rivals-Sports-Pub-and-Grille-212848568732170/

Rivals exterior

Rivals is adjacent to I-94 in Kenosha and is a sports bar with a fairly good-sized menu.  We arrived Saturday shortly before the Wisconsin game and only a few tables were filled.

Rivals interior

We ordered six buffalo grilled wings for $6.95.

Rivals Wings Menu

Grilled wings have become increasingly common in Racine with local favorite Scores (Facebook page linked) leading the charge.   What’s great with grilled wings is that the sauce is given a chance to caramelize and adhere nicely to the exterior of the wing.   Unfortunately the Rivals wings didn’t make the cut.  The wings were overcooked and the sauce was almost non-existent after the wings were placed on the grill.   Not recommended.   We also tried the deep fried wings with the New Orleans Bourbon and although the sauce was visible, it wasn’t great.  Plus, the wings were again overcooked.   The ranch served with the wings was low quality.   Homemade dressings make a HUGE difference.

Rivals Buffalo Wings

Coming in at No. 2

Siebert’s Pub, 8403 Antioch Road, Salem, Wisconsin.   

This historic pub dates back to 1880 and looks like an old stagecoach stop.  The interior is updated and decorated for autumn but still retains the historic charm.   We liked this place.

Sieberts Exterior

Sieberts Interior

Siebert’s offers a full dinner menu and seating.   The appetizer list included many items that were a step above typical bar food, so we were intrigued.   The wings were reasonably priced at six for $5 with several sauces.   We tried the Buffalo Sauce as well as the Stout Sauce, which was sort of a bbq-beer sauce.

Sieberts Wing Menu

The wings arrived with ranch and chunky bleu cheese dressing and a couple pieces of celery. The plating was nice.   The wings were nicely cooked but the sauce wasn’t sticking to the wings and they didn’t have that crisp exterior.   The wings were decent — but unremarkable.   The Stout Sauce wings were the same.

Sieberts Buffalo Wings

Coming in at No. 1

Ron’s Place, 3301 52nd Street, Kenosha.

Ron's Place exterior

For being a place that focuses on burgers and long islands, Ron’s wings were pretty darn good — as long as you are fine with one flavor of sauce and ranch not bleu cheese dressing.

Ron’s Place opened in 1972 and is a favorite of SE Wisconsin Food Talkers for their burgers and drinks.  Located directly next to Tenuta’s Italian Grocery, Ron’s Place is an easy stop for a drink after stocking up on parmigiana and salami.  Just make sure to move your car to Ron’s back lot after shopping.

Ron's Place Kenosha Tenutas

“Ron’s Hot Wings” are buried in the middle of the finger foods section of the menu for $7.95. CAUTION: the menu also contains a finger food called “hot wings” which are sauceless, breaded and fried wings.   Make sure to get “Ron’s Hot Wings.”

Ron's finger food menu

There are no sauce choices – the standard sauce is a hot buffalo which had some heat and good flavor.  If you don’t like spicy food then do not order these wings.   Ron’s wings did not come with  celery or bleu cheese.  Bottom line the wings were decent hot wings but with bleu cheese dressing or celery or any alternative sauce choices, its not really a wing destination.   The price was certainly fair for the amount of wings served.

Ron's Hot Wings

Don’t worry Kenosha residents, simply head up to Racine, which has at least three places serving top-level buffalo wings with an array of sauces.   My favorite is Racine-style: sauced and grilled.

Looking for Choice Clam Chowder? Set your GPS to Racine

Clam chowder was logistically a difficult “take three” to tackle as most places only serve it on Fridays.   We asked if anyone wanted to ride the chowder circuit with us and we got some help from one of our page members this week, Racine resident, food lover, chef/grillmaster, beer and bike afficianado, Jerry Springer.

jerry making sausage

We went to three places; two knocked it out of the park.

Coming in at No. 3:

Bartley House, 1212 58th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin.  http://www.bartleyhouse.com/Bartley House exterior

Bartley House is a true Wisconsin Supper club, first opened in 1959.  The cement block building is next to train tracks on a side street in an undesirable section of town.  Basically, you are not going to “happen” upon the Bartley House; you have to know its there.   Every seat was full at 7 pm on a Friday night in a dining room where the chef prepared all the meat at an open hearth located in the corner of the restaurant.

Bartley House Interior   open hearth

In true supper club tradition, dinners include bean salad, seasoned cottage cheese, which of course we paired with a Brandy Old Fashioned muddled to perfection.   We very much enjoyed the complimentary salads and our fine-dining dinners as well as the vintage atmosphere.

The Clam Chowder was bargain-priced at $1.75 a cup, $2.50 a bowl.   It was cross between New England and Manhattan Chowder. —  the color was pink/salmon.  Despite the interesting appearance, we can’t recommend this chowder.  We are not sure why it was called chowder because it was missing the potatoes.   Bottom line: the clams were tough and chewy.

chowder menu  chowder close up

No. 2 (or 1A) – Soup Shanty, 6022 Douglas Avenue, Caledonia, Wisconsin.  https://www.facebook.com/soupshanty

Soup Shanty is so cute you want squeeze it like a baby.  It was spotlessly clean and well-decorated in an updated country theme.  The menu offers three to four soups a day along with salads and sandwiches.

soup shanty large exterior

Its not simply a take out place – the Soup Shanty has several tables inside.  (Isn’t it just so cute, I want to eat it up!)

soup shanty interior

As far as the New England Clam Chowder — it was  excellent.  A satisfying, thick herbal cream base, large potatoes, carrots, and bacon is always a plus.  Lots of clams that were tender and not chewy.  The only downside was the first bite of clam was extremely gritty.  The rest of the clams were grit-free and the thick base made you want to take a nap after you ate it – comforting.

soup shanty chowder two

Just beating Soup Shanty (although not on all the judges scorecards):

  1.  Yardarm Bar and Grill, 920 Erie Street, Racine, Wisconsin   http://www.yardarmbargrill.com/

yard arm wide angle

The Yardarm is a sailboat-themed establishment tucked along the Root River.  The interior is oddly divided and has rooms named the quarterdeck, upper deck, and oarhouse.    The Yardarm is famous for its Sand Dollar potatoes and sky high ice cream cakes, not to mention the fish plates.

yard arm chowder

The New England Clam Chowder was just right with a creamy base, potatoes, red peppers, and bacon.   The seasoning was spot on and the large piece of bacon at the bottom of the bowl of soup may have put this chowder over the top.  The clams were tender and plentiful.

Being that its more than a days drive to New England from SE Wisconsin, if you get a craving for chowder, head on over to the Yardarm or Soup Shanty and get your fix. If anyone wants to help with the next take three, email us at Jill@wisfoodtalk.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.