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

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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.

Sauce puts Racine Gyros spot on top

Ok, before we get started on these monster, meat-loaded pita sandwiches, lets talk about three things:

  1. How to say “Gyro”     When I see the word,  I want to say  “Jai-ro” but I force myself to say “Year-o.”     I researched the correct pronunciation and there is not an absolute consensus, but the majority of authorities seem to agree that it is pronounced like “Hee-ro” but with a very soft “g” sound in front, so “gheero”, I guess.   See, e.g.  http://www.chowhound.com/post/pronounce-gyro-443408.    Actually, Greeks do not use the singular “gyro,” that’s an American thing.
  2. What kind of meat is this?   Gyro meat is made like a meatloaf, using different meats and spices.   Most, if not all, of the places that serve gyros, buy their gyro cones (the meat cylinder placed on the vertical spit) from Kronos Foods, which manufactures the meat cylinders just across the border in Illinois.      Kronos gyrokones are made with a combination of beef and lamb. (Amazon has 20 lb Kronos Gyrokones for $75)   http://kronosfoodsinc.com/products-and-brands/food-service-products/meats/authentic-gyrokones/ 

krono gyrokone

3.What about that sauce?  The yogurt, cucumber, garlic, lemon sauce is called Tzatziki (pronounced Zaa-Zee-Kee according to the Kronos website)  By the end of this Take Three I convinced myself that gyros were diet food because of the abundance of meat and the low fat yogurt sauce.   Seriously, gyros (sans pita) must be A-OK on low-carb diets.

On to the gyropalooza.   Our page members overloaded us with suggestions with places to try; as usual we chose three of your suggestions.   We liked all three places, but the meat wasn’t really different or a deciding factor.  It came down to the sauce.

Coming in at number three:

Oakland Gyros, 530 W. Layton Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   (No website)

Oakland Gyros exterior

Oakland Gyros has two locations – one on the North side of Milwaukee, the other near the airport.   From what I can tell, it is Milwaukee’s go-to place for gyros.  When you order one of their platters –no joke– a skinny family of four would be fine ordering just one platter.

Oakland Interior

We ordered the Gyro platter for $8.99.    With the platter, Oakland offers a choice of French Fries, Rice or Greek Salad, but they will let you do halfsies.  So you can get half rice, half salad etc for the same price.   Further, I was told by the knowledgeable order taker that you can also split the type of meat (1/2 gyros, 1/2 chicken).   End result, a huge amount of tasty food for $8.99; there is no comparison.

We chose the rice as our side which was topped with a sort of tomato-based gravy.   Very good.  Loved the huge chunk of feta and the kalamata olives on the side as well.

Oakland Gyro

Unlike the other two places we visited, Oakland puts the tzatziki sauce on the side, which is what I am accustomed to.  Actually when you eat-in, they give you an entire ketchup squirt bottle full of the stuff.

The onions were slightly thicker than I like and off season tomatoes are off season tomatoes — not ideal.    The meat was tender and the pita on the bottom was soft and pliable.   The only place that this gyro fell off slightly for me was the tzatziki sauce.  It was just not as flavorful as the other places.  I saw no spices or chunks and tasted only a very slight garlic flavor.

That being said, if I were going out for a gyros platter, Oakland would probably be my first choice simply because they offer a variety of sides and not just fries.

Coming in at number two:

Tino’s Carry Out, 1100 Washington Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin.  (No website)

Tino’s has two locations in Racine, we only tried the one on Washington avenue.   This is truly a carry-out only place with a drive-through pick up window, however, there is some outdoor seating.   There is something like a Tino’s on every major corner in Chicago.

Tinos exterior

Whenever you order a sandwich or a gyro at Tino’s, it automatically comes with fries and a can soda.   We ordered the original gyro and got a can soda with fries for $6.45 — a bargain.

Tinos Gyro

As with all the other places, the gyro was HUGE.   The tzatziki, or cucumber sauce as Tino’s calls it, was automatically added — not on the side.   The meat was tender and the pita was soft.   The onions were thinly sliced which I appreciated.   The sauce was unexpectedly sweet tasting but at least it had flavor — I still wanted more garlic in the sauce.  For an extra fifty cents you can buy an additional side of the cucumber sauce.

Coming in at number one:

Gus’s Gyros, 2100 Douglas Avenue, Racine, Wisconsin.   www.greasybag.com

Gus’s is newer to Racine and is connected to a BP Gas station.

Gus Gyro exterior

The interior is cute, 1950’s decor with many tables for seating.

Gus Gyro interior

We ordered the 1978 Gyros “The Original” for $6.25.   Unlike Tino’s, this price is the Gyros only — fries and drink are additional.

Gyros at Gus’s are served almost like a wrap with the tomatoes, onions and sauce rolled up with the meat and the pita.

Gus Gyro

The meat was tender like all the other locations, the onions were a little thick cut for my taste, but Gus’s sauce was tops.   You could see dried herbs right in the sauce and taste a healthy amount of garlic.   Get an extra cup of sauce for fifty cents (although it wasn’t really necessary).

In summary, because we were solely judging gyros and not sides, Gus’s is tops because of the sauce.   If you are looking for a cheap full meal deal, head to Tino’s.   If you want a load of food (enough for two) with a variety of sides take the short trip to Oakland Gyros in Milwaukee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Crispy Fried Tacos – Racine has Cornered the Market

Our Take-Three Tuesday this week was crispy tacos or tacos fritos.   All of the places our members suggested were in Racine.   We checked out menus of some Mexican places in Milwaukee and Kenosha and we couldn’t see these tacos specifically listed on the menus.   Are crispy tacos a Racine specialty?   One of my favorite food bloggers from Chicago, really seems to appreciate Racine’s tacos fritos.   Check out his Racine taco reports here.    We got a little crazy and went to five places in Racine to try these tacos, and here is the report.

Coming in at No. 5,

Pico’s Tacos and Cerveza, 550 3 Mile Rd, Racine, Wisconsin.   Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/picostacosandcerveza/info?tab=overview

Pico's exterior

Pico’s is  a new kid on the block and there is a lot of excitement about a new Mexican spot on the north side.

Pico's interior

The interior is attractively furnished, however, there is no clear place to go when placing a take-out order, which I think many people will do.   The menu includes a few items that are uncommonly on Mexican menus and I look forward to returning.

Pico's Fluffy Tacos Menu

.We ordered the Fluffy Tacos with ground beef with rice and beans for $7.50.

Pico's Fluffy Tacos

The tacos came out super crispy and not fluffy in the slightest.   That’s fine, I like crispy, but the term fluffy may throw some people off.  Like most of the crispy tacos in Racine, the toppings are lettuce, tomatoes, and queso fresco.    One suggestion I would make is for Pico to put a little more rice on the plate — rice is inexpensive, and their portion is less than the norm.

As far as the tacos, these were bust up upon the first bite crispy, and they were decent.  The only thing that threw us off was the inclusion of the herb cloves in the ground beef.  It was a little different and I wasn’t really on board with it.   It certainly made Pico’s ground beef stand out as all the other places tasted about the same.

Coming in at number four,

Baja’s Supermarket, 2145 Mead Street, Racine, Wisconsin  Facebook page (perhaps) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baja/100504303341970 

Bajas Supermarket exterior

There is no seating at Baja’s, just a deli counter in back, but you place your order up front.   Despite the name, neither the store clerk or the cook appeared to be of Mexican descent.

Bajas Menu

Talk about a bargain, four $3.49. Baja’s will serve you four fresh-fried hard shell tacos. Although the shells were tasty, these were the least authentic tacos of the group.

Bajas tacos

Unlike the other places, Baja uses shredded cheddar cheese.   Also, the tacos come with sour cream on top.  Finally, Baja does not offer a salsa, instead tops the tacos with an Ortega-like taco sauce.   The biggest complaint I have with Baja’s is the lack of an appropriate take-out containers.   There is no seating, so everything is by default  take-out.  It is pretty hard to handle a paper plate full of tacos covered with aluminium foil that sticks to the sour cream.

The last three that we tried were all fairly similar, all very good, and all recommended.

Coming in a tie for second place,

Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta, 3700 Durand Ave, Racine, WI (No web page)Taqueria Nuevo Vallarta sign

and, Santa Fe Liquor & Groceries, 516 High Street, Racine, WI http://www.santafeliquorsgrocery.com/ 

santa fe sign

First, Nuevo Vallarta.   Unlike some of the places, this is a restaurant only, not a store.  We went at 11am and by noon most of the tables were filled.

TNV Interior

Nuevo Vallarta offered four tacos fritos for $5.50.   (The only filling offered was ground beef which was the case at most of the places.)

TNV menu

These tacos were super crispy, authentic and fantastic.

TNV Tacos Fritos

Santa Fe, unlike Nuevo Vallarta, is a corner grocery first, taco stand second.  There are two tables at Santa Fe, so dining-in is possible.   You order and then pay at the cashier up front.   We grabbed these tacos before the Packer game and ordered a container of guacamole to take to the Packer party we were going to.  The guacamole was fresh made and for a little over $4, a good take-out option.

Santa Fe interior

At Santa Fe, the tacos fritos were not specifically listed on the menu but, upon request, we received four ground beef tacos fritos for $3.89, another bargain.

Santa Fe Menu

Santa Fe’s tacos were expertly fried and topped with the perfect amount of lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.   Santa Fe served them with a green sauce and a red sauce, the red sauce having a strong chipotle flavor.  I think I may be the only one that doesn’t love the flavor of chipotle, I went with the green sauce.

Santa Fe Tacos

and our WINNER is

La Tapatia, 1951 Mead Street, Racine, Wisconsin.  Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/La-Tapatia-362542481687/   (La Tapatia posts a lot of delicious food photos on the page so make sure to “Like” the page.)

La Tapatia Exterior

La Tapatia is a store but it also has several tables inside to dine-in.  Like the other store-front taco sellers, you place your order with the cashier.

La Tapatia menu

La Tapatia sells four ground beef hard shell tacos for $4.59.   Hard shell tacos are the default ground beef option at La Tapatia.   Soft shell tacos are actually 40 cents more than hard shell which seems odd because there is much more prep with the hard shell tacos.   For people who prefer flour tortillas, La Tapatia also sells hardshell flour tacos. $4.99 for four.

La Tapatia tacos

When we first opened  the container of tacos, we initially thought that the shells were Ortega or Old El Paso, because they were so perfectly formed and fried.    After tasting the tacos, we knew that these were the real deal, fresh fried.   The shells are actually what propelled La Tapatia to the top in this Take-Three challenge.  The shells were crisp, but they still had a little “give” to them, which was perfect if you don’t want a major spillage of the toppings each time you bite into the taco.    I want to talk to someone at La Tapatia to learn how they go about forming and frying those taco shells   Better yet, send us some pics of the process to Jill@wisfoodtalk.com.

Anyone remember these Potato Chips?

Potato Chips have been around since turn of the 20th century.  Initially sold in eating establishments, then packaged as snack foods.  These chips were advertised and sold in SE Wisconsin from the 1950s to the 1970s.   People that ate chips in this era claim the chips tasted much different than the chips of today.  I was surprised that chips were flavored chips in the 1950s in addition to the plain.  Best flavor of potato chips: Salt and Vinegar, no question.   Best new flavor:  Hot Dog Pringles.

Blue Star potato chips

Blue Star Potato Chips.  This company was founded in Madison and moved to Rockford Illinois in the 1940s.   Blue Star potato chips were manufactured until 1977 when the company was sold to Vintner’s.  http://www.rockfordreminisce.com/Snack_Food.html

Jane Parker

Jane Parker Potato Chips.   This was a A&P store brand of potato chips.   The name Jane Parker was recently up for sale by A&P as part of a liquidation process.  http://www.northjersey.com/news/a-p-looks-to-sell-brand-names-1.1440182

Geisers

Geiser’s Potato Chips – Frank and August Geiser immigrated to Milwaukee and in 1931 and set up a potato chip business in a garage on Wright and 2nd Street in Milwaukee.  The company grew and moved to Burleigh Street, eventually selling out to Borden Foods in 1983.  Source: Frank Geiser Obituary, Milwaukee Journal, March 13, 1990.

Scott's Super Tuber

Scott’s Super Tuber Potato Chips – Manufactured by Potato Products Corp. of Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Ad from Moravian Union, September 2, 1948.

Mrs. Drenk's

Mrs. Drenk’s Potato Chips – Manufactured in Milwaukee, 1523 N. 9th Street, starting in the 1920s, this brand faded out in the 1970s.

Red Dot Madison Chips

Red Dot Potato Chips.   Made by Red Dot Foods in Madison, founded in 1938 and by the early 1960s the company had become the leading snack food manufacturer in the Midwest.  In 1961, the founder, Frederick Meyer, sold to out to Frito Lay.   Three days after the sale, he shot himself.   http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/Content.aspx?dsNav=N:4294963828-4294963805&dsRecordDetails=R:CS2611.   Red Dot potato chips were last made in 1973.

 

Silver Buckle Potato Chips.  (no photo) Silver Buckle was the brand created by E.R. Godfrey and Sons in Milwaukee, a wholesale grocer, in the early 1900s.  In 1960, the company formed its own grocery stores, Sentry Foods.  http://www.theshelbyreport.com/2015/03/06/former-hawaii-food-executive-godfrey-passes-away/

 

pringles

Pringles are popular to this day but in the 1970’s the packaging actually used the word “newfangled.”   Delightful.

chipos

Chipos from what I can tell were a 1970s precursor to Munchos.  Can anyone confirm this?