I'll be away from a computer for a few days and won't be able to post for the next week. I promise the blog will continue on or about May 1. So hang tight and I guarantee that I'll have some good stuff to talk about (and show you) when I get back.
I'll be away from a computer for a few days and won't be able to post for the next week. I promise the blog will continue on or about May 1. So hang tight and I guarantee that I'll have some good stuff to talk about (and show you) when I get back.
I've probably garnered more comments from my post last week regarding my beer refrigerator than any other thing I've written about over the past six months. However, all of them came via e-mail to me. (Come on people - don't be shy. You can make comments on this blog. It won't hurt you. That's what the comment thing is for at the bottom of the post.)
And probably the most comments within the comments I've received about the beer 'fridge have to do with the thermometer that I have prominently displayed in front of the beer on the top row. My cousin's girlfriend, Bonnie Loman, works in the food service division that oversees the food canteens of Veteran's Administration hospitals and she was very impressed that I had a thermometer in the 'fridge. She said, "Correct temperatures are a must in the food business."
Correct temperatures are a must in the beer business, too, Bon!
A couple others commented that the thermometer was a "nice touch" and showed that the temperature in the refrigerator was perfect for cold beer.
Someone else wanted to know if the thermometer was there for "show". Come on - I know that not everyone who reads my blog is a member of Mensa, but that's the type of stupid question that makes me want to "out" the person who asked it.
But I won't...
Actually, when the above picture was taken I had the door open about a minute and the temperature rose about five to seven degrees on the thermometer. I believe the thermometer shows it to be 40 degrees in the 'fridge. I like to keep my beer around 33 to 35 degrees.
And I had a couple people (both from Canada) who asked, "What's with the huge bottle of Tabasco?" Actually, that's a bottle of Tabasco Bloody Mary mix, which is something they don't get in Canada, so they thought it was a big Tabasco bottle. And it had been in there for a long time and I just threw it out. Besides, it was taking up room for more beer.
Some of the other comments have been predictable ("You're my hero!" "Awesome!" "I'm coming to Will's house!"). Others have been a little sarcastic and cool ("You must be very proud of yourself." "The beer refrig...isn't that a little over the top?")
My wife came home last week and immediately ran over to the 'fridge after she parked her car in the garage. She opened the door and shook her head. (Of course, I'd drank a few beers from the time that picture was taken earlier in the week and it wasn't quite as full.) She said that she heard from someone at her workplace that I had an unbelievable post on my blog site regarding the beer refrigerator and she was absolutely horrified that I wrote about - and celebrated the fact that I had all these beers in the garage.
Come on, it wasn't like I just sprung this on her by going out and bringing all this beer home a week or two before I stocked up. When I travel, I like to find good beers (that's also why I like to talk about the places I buy the beer on this blog, as well). I've been doing it for years. I guess it just hit home with Cindy when she read about it.
Besides, if it weren't for Cindy we wouldn't have a beer 'fridge. Years ago, she won a complete kitchen through a radio station contest. Everything - stove, dishwasher, 'fridge - the whole nine yards. When she moved in with me, one of the first things she dictated was that there was to be NO beer in the refrigerator in the kitchen. We put her 'fridge out in the garage and used that for the beer. And it's been working great as the beer 'fridge ever since.
Actually, having so many different types of beer is a little cumbersome at times. But I certainly do like the variety and the ability to change the choice of beers I'm drinking at any time.
There are two places that I have to stop every time I go through East Dubuque, IL. The first place is Mulgrew's for a foot long chili dog, and the other place is Van's Liquor Store to pick up some good bargains on beer and wine.
Van's has been around since the mid 30's, started by John Vanderah. Vanderah's family sold the store to Ron Jansen in the late 80's. Van's was originally on the infamous Sinsinawa St. until about 7 or 8 years ago when they moved to their present and much larger location on Highway 20 just over the Mississippi River bridge from Dubuque (see map).
(As an aside - Sinsinawa St. is known for the number of strip joints and late night bars that stay open until about 4 a.m. Here's a picture of Sinsinawa Street looking north with Mulgrew's on the left.)
Van's has long been known as being a great place to get good wine at good prices. I've bought a number of bottles of wine at Van's over the years, but I usually gravitate more toward their beer selection when I go in.
Van's has a large selection of both domestic and imported beer, along with a good selection of regional and micro-brewed beer in stock. They usually have great prices on hard to find beers from the Capital Brewery and on Special Export bottles.
For the "do-it-yourselfer", Van's carries a large amount of home brewing essentials. I've always wanted to brew my own beer, but it's somewhat messy, smelly and time consuming. I'm not certain that Cindy would let me use our hot tub in the basement bathroom to brew beer in.
Their wine selection - for an area the size of Dubuque - rivals some of the wine and liquor stores I've found in much larger cities. Ron Jansen's son (whose first name escapes me, I want to say it's Jerry) has turned me on to some pretty good wines, including the B.R. Cohn Cabernet, the Meridian Merlot, and the Hess Select Chardonnay, which is a very good value for a crisp white wine.
They usually have wines available at any time for tasting. The younger Jansen is always there to help with wine selections and I thoroughly trust his judgment because he's never steered me wrong.
And their prices on wine are extremely reasonable. They usually have some of the lowest prices on wine (outside of Sam's Wine in the Chicago area) in the Midwest.
Van's also has a large selection of liquor including a great selection of vodka's and tequilas. They have mixers, snacks, cheese and a number of items for the weekend boaters who come in by the droves to stock up before they hit the river.
And Van's also stocks high priced cognacs, brandies, and liqueurs. They had a $1000 dollar bottle of cognac on display in the case one time. I once asked if they ever sold a bottle of that stuff and I was told that, yes, one time a guy won a ton of money on the Diamond Jo Casino boat over across the river in Dubuque and came over and bought a bottle. I suppose if I had money to burn, I'd give it a shot, too.
Van's is large and spacious, it's clean and well-lit. There's a very small parking lot up front that is very had to maneuver around in if you have a larger car, but they have a larger parking lot across the street. They have guys that will help carry out cases of beer or wine to your car. I always flip 'em a buck or two for their help.
Van's is great, one of the better liquor stores in the Midwest - both for selection and for price. It's worth the stop if you ever get through the Dubuque area.
The grand opening of the new Redstone Room at the River Music Experience here in Davenport occurred over this past weekend. Friday night, Martin Sexton (above) officially opened the place with two shows. And on Saturday night, Iowa born and based folk singer/songwriter Greg Brown played.
I used to see Greg Brown play quite a bit at Gabe's Oasis in Iowa City in the early 80's when I was going to school at the University of Iowa. Brown had penned a song called "The Iowa Waltz" and there was some lobbying going on to make it the official state song of Iowa. I don't know what ever happened, but in the end "Iowa, O Iowa" is still the state song.
Greg Brown garnered some notoriety as he wrote "They All Went to Mexico", a song that was a chart maker for Willie Nelson and Carlos Santana that was featured on Santana's great "Havana Moon" album from 1983
Brown moved on to Minneapolis and lived there for a number of years, recording and performing. He was a featured performer on "A Prairie Home Companion" a number of times, as well.
Brown married the great country/folk songwriter and singer Iris Dement in 2002 and moved back to Iowa to live on his grandfather's farm in the hilly old coal mining country near Douds, IA. He continues to perform and record periodically.
Brown played the River Roots Live event last August in Davenport. Before I went on stage to introduce him, I went up and introduced myself to him and I said, "I know you don't remember, but I used to see you play at Gabe's Oasis in the early 80's. And I haven't seen you since."
He said to me, in his deep, gravelly voice, "Well, we've got to stay in touch a little better than once every 20 years, don't you think?" We both laughed at that.
Both at the River Roots Live and at the Saturday night show at the Redstone Room, Greg was accompanied by the great blues guitarist, Bo Ramsey. I first met Bo Ramsey when he was known as Bob Ramsey and playing guitar with the old Patrick Hazell and the Mother Blues Band in 1977. They played that year at the annual party that I used to throw in my parents pasture. Pat Hazell told me that at that time Bob had only been playing guitar for about two years. You certainly couldn't tell it.
Patrick Hazell and the Mother Blues Band played at my pasture party again in 1979, but this time Bob Ramsey was now known as "Bibby Ramsey". He became "Bo Ramsey" sometime after his somewhat acrimonious split from Hazell's band a year later. Since then, Bo Ramsey has worked with a number of musicians including the alternative country artist Lucinda Williams.
In fact, when Cindy and I got married in 1995, I asked Bo Ramsey and his band, the Sliders, to play for our wedding reception. Bo had gotten so big that his fee at the time was around $1200 per performance - a little more money than we wanted to spend on a band for our reception. In retrospect, we should have kicked in the money to have him and his band play at our reception.
Greg Brown's music isn't for everyone, but his lyrics are strong, his voice is forceful and his musical talent is quite evident. Paired with Ramsey's mournful and wailing electric guitar, Brown's performance at the Redstone Room was one of those moments that was both magical and engrossing.
Opening for Greg Brown was his daughter, Pieta Brown, also accompanied on electric guitar by Ramsey. I first met Pieta when she and Bo played for the grand opening of the River Music Experience in 2004 and I was the stage manager and master of ceremonies. Cindy really liked her haunting voice and bought a couple of her CD's.
We saw her and Ramsey again during an outdoor show they did in the courtyard next to the RME last year. She's got a somewhat hypnotizing voice and a slightly shy demeanor on stage. But she's always done a fine job each time we've seen her play. And her performance with Ramsey that evening at the Redstone Room was excellent, as well.
For the encore, Brown and Ramsey were joined on stage by Iris Dement, Pieta Brown and Constie Brown, the middle one of Brown's three daughters. They played a song that was written by Dement and the three ladies backed up Brown on the chorus. It would have been just too cool had they stayed up there for one more song. Unfortunately, that was the end of the show.
Once again, the Redstone Room sounded good, the lighting was wonderful and the service with the bar crew was stellar. They still have some kinks to work out, but once they do, this is going to be a first class small venue to see a show.
(Many thanks to Lon Bozarth of the River Music Experience for the above photographs, with the exception of the solo Pieta Brown shot which is from Jordan Lewis Reed.)
A large tornado hit the Iowa City area last Thusday evening, April 13. Thankfully, there were no lives lost and only about 30 injuries were reported. But the devastation is unbelievable. From the pictures I've seen and the reports I've heard, the damage is widespread from the downtown area to the northeast side of Iowa City. (Photo courtesy of Cedar Rapids Gazette)
The University of Iowa was spared a large portion of the damage. The Cambus barn (see map) lost its roof, but the buildings on the Pentacrest area around the Old Capitol had little damage to them. However, due to the extensive damage to the area east of campus - which houses a number of students - classes were canceled the following day.
The hardest hit area was just on the east side of downtown Iowa City and to the residential area just to the east of that. Our daughter, Sara, lives on Burlington St. and it so happened that the tornado just missed her place, but damaged a number of homes and businesses to her north and east. This is a picture taken by Marcia Schroeder as Scott and her were in Iowa City the following day to be with their son, Greg.
It turned out that Sara was in Cedar Rapids when the storm hit, and she went back to Iowa City that evening to make sure that everything was OK. She had a large chunk of metal in her parking spot and she told me it was all she and a friend could do to move it out of the way. The only damage she could see (other than having no power for about 20 hours) was that the windows rattled so hard that the sprayed on texture on the drywall around the windows came off.
The intersection of Gilbert and Burlington was hard hit (Sara lives 1 1/2 blocks to the east of that intersection). A pizza place, a convenience store and the Iowa City Rec Center all sustained heavy damage. The law offices of Randy Larson, a guy I've known for years, was also heavily damaged. The picture to the right, one of Randy's assistants carries files out of the building. (Photo courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Gazette)
One of the most hard hit buildings was St. Patrick's Cathedral on the south side of the downtown area. There were 75 people inside the church when the tornado hit. They sought refuge in the rectory next to the church (photo by Marcia Schroeder). It's not known at this time if the church will have to be razed or if they can salvage the basic foundation of the building.
The Alpha Chi Omega house at the corner of Washington and Governor was also heavily damaged. About 35 members of the sorority lived in the house. (Photo by Marcia Schroeder) Well, not any longer. They were moved to an old fraternity that was closed a couple of years ago.
One of the most high profile buildings in Iowa City, the Dairy Queen on Riverside Dr. was also wiped out. Here's a picture of a before and after shot of the Dairy Queen that was sent to me. The Dairy Queen stood there for 54 years and the owners fully intend to rebuild.
Here's a shot Marcia Schroeder took of three cars under a tree behind the Pentacrest Apartments on Burlington St. Scott and Marcia's son, Greg, lives in the Pentacrest Apartments, but there was little to no damage to them (in fact, Greg was in Davenport with his parents when the storm hit).
All in all, storm damage to Iowa City will be probably well into 8 figures before everything is totaled up. Iowa City Police initially set the estimated damages at $3 million dollars. However, my friend, Al Kern, who works for WSUI in Iowa City, was told by the owner of the Honda automobile dealership in Iowa City that his business, alone, suffered about $2 million dollars in damage.
Looking at all the pictures people have sent me along with the news reports I've seen, it's difficult to imagine that no one was killed or seriously hurt in the tornado.
I have some acquaintances who grew up in Ottumwa, IA (and they have my condolences). When the talk gets around to Maid-Rites, they would talk about their own loose meat sandwiches from the Canteen Lunch in downtown Ottumwa (see map).
I was told that I had to go to the Canteen Lunch sometime when I got in the area, but, unfortunately (or actually, fortunately) my travels with my present job never took me through Ottumwa. Well, that is until I had to drive from Newton, IA to St. Louis recently and I drove through Ottumwa.
I was told the Canteen Lunch was A) Extremely small; and B) In an alley and off the street. They weren't kidding on both accounts.
I was driving around downtown Ottumwa (which isn't all that large) and I saw a sign attached to a parking ramp that said, "Canteen Lunch". I slowed down and looked into the ramp and I saw what looked to be the back of the place next to the ramp. I went around the corner and there it was - down an alley.
I went into the place (it's official name is "Canteen Lunch in the Alley")and the counter is horseshoe-shaped with the steamer for the loose beef for their sandwiches up front by the cash register. And it certainly is not very big. There are only 16 seats around the counter. But the thing that struck me as kind of funny - there were five women behind counter. All of them were - possibly - not younger than 55 or 60.
One lady took my order, another lady made my Canteen sandwich, one other lady asked me what I wanted to drink (and got it for me), and when I was finished one other lady took my money. The only lady who didn't talk to me, well, she didn't get a tip. Actually, I sort of thought that having five ladies working in a place that sat 16 people was, well, sort of a service overkill.
Now, I was in Newton earlier in the day for the funeral of the mother of my pal, Denny Duncan, and I stopped into the Maid-Rite to have a quick one before I left town. It was great - as always. The meat was moist and flavorful. Just the way I like 'em.
When I discovered that I'd be driving through Ottumwa on my way to St. Louis, I had to stop in and have a Canteen. I thought that since I had a Newton Maid-Rite about an hour earlier, I'd be able to gauge a Canteen against my favorite loose meat sandwich.
My impressions? Well, they weren't as moist as the Maid-Rites in Newton, nor did I think they were as flavorful as the ones from Newton. They were big, just like the ones in Newton, and filling. But they were still good.
When I finished mine, the lady who brought me my small Coke asked me if I wanted another. I couldn't have eaten another one.
One Canteen and a small Coke was $3.53. I gave the lady five bucks and told her to keep the change. Hell, how could I divvy up the tip to four women?
A friend of mine, John Stewart, who grew up in Ottumwa and now lives in Florida, is a fierce Canteen loyalist. He's been on me for quite some time to try the Canteen Lunch. I told him I would let him know when I finally made it in to have one. I e-mailed him the night I went there and I told him the Canteen's were good, but not as good as the Maid-Rite's in Newton.
He wrote me back and said, "Will, unfortunately you must have got a substandard Canteen. Besides, you have to eat at least 3 Canteens to really appreciate them. And, finally, being from Newton, you are just plain prejudiced!"
I don't think I need to eat two more to appreciate the taste. They're good, but nothing beats the Maid-Rites in Newton. But I'm glad I got to try 'em. If I ever get back toward the Ottumwa area, I'll stop again.
(Update - Road Tips did stop back to do a more in-depth entry on the Canteen Lunch in the fall of 2010. You can see that entry by clicking here.)
In the winter, I usually store a lot of my beer on shelves in the garage. (There's nothing better than using Mother Nature to keep your beer cold during those long Iowa winters. Unless it gets way below zero for a few days in row, then we have troubles.) But with the warmer weather coming, it's time to get it back in the fridge.
As my friend, Scott Schroeder, told someone one time, "Veber has more varieties of beer in his refrigerator than most bars." So, let's see what I've got in the garage today in time for the summer drinking season (by the way - not all are in the fridge):
Budweiser - The King of Beers. Enough said.
Miller Lite - I think there's only one person who drinks Miller Light who comes over - Marcia Schroeder - but I always keep some on hand for her.
Natural Light - I keep this around for Scott Schroeder who made the mistake of saying that he liked Natural Light one time. It's funny, because when Scott comes over and roots through the refrigerator, for some reason he never picks out a "Natty Light".
Sol - The "Pabst Blue Ribbon" of Mexican beers. It's my favorite Mexican beer. It's not available in Iowa, but I can find it in Chicago and Milwaukee. The only problem is that it used to be $4.99 a sixer, but with it's growing popularity, you usually can't find it any where for under $6.00 a six pack now.
Schneider Aventinus Weizen Bock - Mark Townsend, who formerly worked at the 3 Corners Liquor store outside of Owatonna, MN, gave me some of this to try. It's a very smooth German wheat doppelbock beer, taking into consideration that I don't care for wheat beers. It's got a smooth flavor and a big kick. It's something like 8% alcohol content. I wouldn't have bought it on my own.
Guinness - I don't know where I got this. I'm guessing that maybe my friend Jim Kellogg brought this by. I wouldn't buy Guinness in a bottle. Then again, I doubt Kellogg would either.
Pyramid Pale Ale - A pretty good pale ale from the state of Washington. They don't make just the pale ale any longer (they now make an India Pale Ale) so I'm going to have to drink what I have left and go from there.
Sierra Nevada Stout - I don't exactly know why I have these here. I'm guessing someone brought these over and left 'em. I like the taste, but it's a little too heavy for me.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - Sierra Nevada's flagship beer. One of my all-time favorite pale ales. By the way - here's a tip. If you can find it in the winter months, be sure to pick up some of the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. It's a great seasonal beer. I was only able to find two six packs of it this winter and it was gone in no time.
Pioneer Lager - The Pioneer Brewing Company was recently bought by the Sand Creek Brewing Company of Black River Falls, WI. I like this beer. It's a lager with a little bit of a bite to it. I hope Sand Creek continues to make it, or something similar.
St. Croix Maple Ale - The St. Croix Brewery is a small micro-brewery in St. Paul, MN. Their Maple Ale is kind of their signature beer as they've made it for a number of years. It's kind of balanced between a bold and a smooth taste, and I do like the little tinge of pure maple syrup that you taste at the end.
Scapegoat Pale Ale - A pretty good pale ale from the Big Sky Brewing Company from Missoula, MT. It's tough to find (only available in Minnesota and Wisconsin around here - and spotty, at best), but it's worth picking up a sixer or two if you find it.
Upper Canada Lager - Upper Canada is a small brewery from Guelph, ON, about halfway between Toronto and Kitchener, ON. About 8 years ago it was bought by the Sleeman Brewery also located in Guelph. The Sleeman beers I've had (Honey Brown Lager, Original Draught) are *OK*. Nothing special. The Upper Canada Lager is not as good as those. It just has a biting aftertaste that I don't care for. I only have a couple three of these left and I'll have to figure out what to do with 'em.
Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale - Named after the long ago incidents of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, OH catching on fire, Burning River Pale Ale is one of my favorite beers to drink. The hops in the beer are deliciously forward and offer a full and robust taste.
Capital Bavarian Lager - The first Capital beer I ever tried back in the 1980's was the Bavarian Lager. It's still one of my favorites to this day.
Capital Munich Dark - I got this for friends who like to have a good dark beer when they come over. I don't drink it all that much, it's a little too heavy for me, but the taste is still very good.
William Brennan's Golden Pilsner - A full bodied pilsner brewed by Capital Brewery for the Brennan's stores in Wisconsin. I bought it at one of the Brennan's in Monroe, WI and I just never really cared for it all that much. I still have a couple three bottles left and I try to pawn it off on unsuspecting beer neophytes. It will more than likely get tossed or used to cook brats in.
Berghoff Classic Pilsner - Actually, I picked up two six packs of this when I was in Wisconsin recently thinking they were actually the Berghoff Hazelnut Winter Ale (see below). The bottle labels are almost identical and they were situated next to one another on the shelf. When I got them home and looked at the label I was crestfallen. Oh well. The Berghoff Classic Pilsner is a good light, yet crisp beer. I don't like it as well as their Original Lager, but I'll have to drink this first before I pick up any more of their lager.
Schell Pale Ale - The August Schell brewery of New Ulm, MN has been brewing good German recipe beers since 1860. Their Original Lager is a pretty good beer, but I do like their pale ale which is strong in taste and smooth with its finish.
Schell Zommerfest - I recently picked up a 12 pack of Schell seasonal beers when I was in Minnesota and this was one of the beers featured. It's good, but a little too "wheaty" for me.
Leinenkugel Creamy Dark - I think Kristy Adams brought this over (she likes to drink dark, full-bodied beer). I've had it before, but it's not one of my favorites.
Schell Octoberfest - Another one of the seasonal beers from Schell. It's got a good bite to it and a nice caramel flavor with a smooth finish. And it can really give me a major headache if I drink too much of it.
Schell Snowstorm - Schell does something interesting with their winter seasonal beers - they change the recipe every year. It goes from a Scotch Ale to a raspberry/chocolate stout to a cherry/vanilla porter. This year's version - well, I don't quite know WHAT it is. I've had a couple and I do taste a little caramel in there, with a strong malt smell to it, as well. It's somewhat light, but the aftertaste is a little "blah". It's OK, but I wouldn't go out and buy another sixer.
Buffalo Bill's Orange Blossom Cream Ale - Craig Evert brought this over when he and Kathy moved. I tried one and it's OK, but I just don't like the fruity taste in beers. I gave one to Scotty, our sewer guy (who, believe it or not, is a beer connoisseur) who came over to unclog a drain around Thanksgiving. He told me later, "You know, when you handed me that beer, I thought, 'What kind of gay beer are you handin' me, Veber?' But I really liked it!" Well, come on over and drink the last three I have, Scotty.
Boulevard Pale Ale - My all-time favorite pale ale. Period.
Summit Oktoberfest - The Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul, MN is the home of many great specialty and craft beers. Their seasonal Oktoberfest is no exception. I need to finish off the remaining three or four here in the next couple of weeks before the robust taste goes away.
Summit Extra Pale Ale - A very forward and hoppy pale ale. I like it a lot, but it's almost TOO robust in taste. Almost too heavy for a pale ale. But it's still one of my favorites.
Leinenkugel Northwoods Lager - Leinenkugel makes a lot of good beers and have for years and years. They established a cult following with vacationers who came to Wisconsin each summer. When Leinenkugel was bought out by Miller Brewing Company in the 1980's, it allowed them to A) Increase their distribution; and B) Increase the number of beers they brew. Northwoods Lager is, hands down, my favorite Leinenkugel Beer. It's difficult to find around Iowa or Illinois, so I'm always picking some up when I go to Wisconsin. I think I have two cases of it in the garage right now.
Old Style - I like to drink Old Style. It's a great summertime beer. Nothing better than an ice cold Old Style on the deck on a warm summer's evening with a baseball game on TV in our "lodge".
Special Export - "The poor man's Heineken" - Will Veber. Special Export is getting tougher and tougher to find in bottles. I don't even know if Special Export in cans is available in Iowa any longer. About the only place I can find Special Ex in bottles is in Chicago and Milwaukee. Oh, and sometimes up in East Dubuque, IL at Van's Liquor Store. I can usually find it any where from $5.99 to $6.99 a twelve pack so it's still a killer value and a good beer.
Capital 1900 - When a number of micro and regional breweries in Wisconsin celebrated the millennium in 2000, they had a contest to find who could make the best beer from a recipe that was used to make Wisconsin brewed beers from around 1900. (Basically, it was Old Style's original recipe.) The Capital Brewery won the contest and Kirby Nelson, the brewmaster for Capital, decided to come out with the beer. It's very good and I try to keep a case of it on hand at all times.
Capital Winter Skal - Capital's winter seasonal beer. Good, smooth flavor and a nice finish. I'm sorry when I run out of this stuff in the spring.
Capital Special Pilsner - My favorite beer in the whole world. A great balanced beer with a smooth finish. I love this with steaks or pork chops. Since we eat a lot of those in the summer, I drink a lot of this in the summer.
Boulevard Irish Ale - This is my favorite seasonal beer of all-time. A great roasted and robust taste and a smooth finish. I found this beer last year and I have stocked up tremendously as it usually runs out in May. I may have to hide a six pack or two to have later in the summer.
Berghoff Hazelnut Winter Ale - I'm not a coffee drinker, but I love the smell of hazelnut coffee when Cindy orders it. Berghoff's winter seasonal has a great hazelnut taste to it. Not too bitter, too flat at all. It really is a good cold weather beer, but I like to drink it when it's 70 out, as well.
Bell's Winter White - I bought some of this to give it a shot and I found it to be a winter wheat ale instead of a more heavy, forward tasting beer you normally find for a winter seasonal. I'll be offering it to friends who like wheat beers.
Smithwick's - Smithwick's Irish Ale (pronounced SMID-dick's, or I've also heard it pronounced "SCHMID-dick's") was only available in Europe until about 10 years ago, then it was made available in Canada. Two years ago, the Guinness people made it available to a handful of selected Irish bars in America in time for St. Patrick's Day. The response was overwhelming, to say the least. It was then made available in a number of bars across the U.S. and for sale in stores in some areas. It has a rich brown color and a very smooth and forward flavor to it. I like it a lot.
Bell's Pale Ale - My second favorite pale ale. Bell's makes some good beers, but I like their pale ale the best.
Lake Superior Special Ale - Lake Superior Brewing Co. is a small brewery located in Duluth, MN. It's a relatively new brewery, starting out in 1994. On the advice of Mark Townsend of the 3 Corners Liquor store outside of Owatonna, MN I picked up a sixer of their pale ale-type beer - their Special Ale. Very hoppy and very flavorful.
Point Special Lager - The Steven Point Brewing Company in Stevens Point, WI has fallen on some hard times lately, but their beers are still some of the best brewed in Wisconsin. Their Point Special Lager has been brewed since 1857 and it's still a good beer for summertime drinking.
Stop by for a beer some time!
A Happy Birthday greeting today to my oldest sister and the matriarch of our immediate family, Nancy Geiger, who is hitting a milestone birthday this year. I'm not going to say which one, but it's getting up there.
Nan and I have always joked that we're the only "true" brother and sister of the family because we were so much alike growing up. I sort of broke out and took a left turn when I hit 16, whereas Nan has stayed pretty much stayed on the same course.
I'll be hitting a milestone birthday later this month, too. And I'm not ready to admit to it, yet...
One of the great things about the Midwest are the steakhouses and supper clubs that are a ways out in the country. We had one not too far from where I grew up. One of my favorite places to dine in my late teens and well into my 30's was The Oak Room at the Oakland Acres Golf Club in Oakland Acres, IA.
The Oak Room was where we had birthday dinners, wedding rehearsal dinners, romantic dinners and just good ol' plain good eating. Their signature was their steaks and chops, but everything was usually pretty good at the place. They had good lunches and a very good brunch on Sundays.
I especially liked their salad bar and their homemade French dressing. I would CRAWL for that stuff. It was a sweet and tangy mixture that was just outstanding. I tried for a long time to get the recipe, but I could never get anyone to give it to me.
My mom used to love to tell the story about how she got them to change the salad bar set up. Not long after The Oak Room opened up, my dad and her were out there eating one evening. The salad bar was set up where the plates were at the end of the bar where the dressings were, not at the head of the line next to the salad bowl.
People had to get their plates at the one end and then head back around to the other side of the line to get their salad and toppings. She thought it was just plain dumb and she told the owners that. And she was right. The next time she came out, the salad plates had been moved next to the salad bowl.
The Oak Room and the golf course went through a series of ownership changes in the 80's and The Oak Room finally went out of business around 1990. I believe there's been a few attempts at reopening the restaurant, but nothing has been done. The golf course - a hilly 18 hole course - is still going strong. But the restaurant hasn't been opened for years. It was a great place to eat in its hey-day. There's not a lot of those kind of places left out there.
The River Music Experience in downtown Davenport has been a welcome addition to what ever type of music scene we have here in the Quad Cities. Lon Bozarth came up from Austin, TX to take over as the head of the RME a little over a year ago and we've seen a number of interesting things happen over the last year. From the River Roots Live festival last August to the current "30 Years of Austin City Limits" exhibit that will continue through the end of this month, the River Music Experience is something that I wholeheartedly support.
However, possibly the biggest impact the RME will make in the community will be the new Redstone Room venue on the second floor of the museum. Named after the original title of the building that houses the River Music Experience, the Redstone Room will host a number of shows of all different genres of music. Other than the Rock Island Brewing Company in Rock Island, the Quad Cities have never had a small venue that caters to some of the regional and lesser known music acts that tour.
Jeff Wagner, the owner of Blues on Grand in Des Moines, told me that he had been approached to run a blues club that would be housed in the RME's basement, but he passed on the offer. Jeff gets a number of good blues touring acts to come through his venue in Des Moines, but he told me that he seriously doubted something like that would work in Davenport. "People don't like to go out and see the blues through the week in Davenport," he told me. "But if you had a number of different types of music to play there, it may work."
And he's probably right. But we've never really had a venue that was nice and comfortable to go to around here.
The Redstone Room fully addresses that and then some. The room will seat 225 people and possibly add an additional 75 standing room patrons. The bar is nice and long, and there are a series of tables and chairs throughout the floor area. There's a good sized stage with a sizable dance floor up front. And the great thing for guys like me who don't smoke - there's no smoking in the room.
The Redstone Room opened for a shakedown last Monday with a jam session featuring Terry Hansen of The Ellis Kell Band, Dave Cox formerly with The Blue Collar Band and Tom Swanson from Jim the Mule. The first scheduled show was this last Saturday night with The Ellis Kell Band playing. Their grand opening will be this coming weekend with two shows on Friday night from Boston-based rocker Martin Sexton, and Greg Brown with Bo Ramsey and Pieta Brown on Saturday night.
Cindy and I went up to see Ellis Kell and his band do a set on Saturday night. The only problem with the Redstone Room is the number of columns that run the length of the room. These structural columns block the view of part of the stage from the bar area, but don't detract from the architectural integrity of the room.
The one thing that absolutely blew me away about the place was how good it sounded in there. The house pubic address system is balanced and it sounded tremendously good - from the back, from up front, and from off to the side. Ellis and his guys are good musicians in their own right, but I'm such a good sound snob that the Redstone Room's P.A. made it that much more enjoyable to listen to their music.
Some of the other upcoming shows that I'm planning on seeing is Junior Brown on May 12 (Junior played the River Roots Live show last August and it will be a pleasure to see him again), and hard-core bluesman Eric Sardinas on May 17. I've seen Sardinas three times before and he is one helluva guitar player. You can check out the upcoming Redstone Room shows here.
The Redstone Room is a very welcome addition to the Quad City music scene. Now a lot of bands and acts that were either going to Gabe's Oasis in Iowa City, or just blowing by the Quad Cities on their way east or west will now have a great place to stop and play.
St. Louis style pizza is not like any other style across the nation. The pizza crust is razor thin and very crispy, they use Provel cheese - a mix of cheddar, swiss and provelone cheese that cooks up more creamy than stringy - instead of mozzarella, and they cut the pizza into little squares instead of triangular wedges.
St. Louis style pizza was developed over 30 years ago by Ed Imo, who owned the original Imo's Pizza at Thurman and Shaw in St. Louis. With pizza places popping up like mushrooms across the nation, Ed decided to do something a little different with his pizzas. He made the crust razor thin, developed a sweet and zesty tomato sauce, and helped develop the Provel cheese that gives the St. Louis style pizza its unique taste.
Over the years, Imo's has grown to over 80 restaurants across the St. Louis metro area. But there are others in St. Louis metro area who have embraced the St. Louis style and put their own little spin on it.
Farotto's on Manchester Road (see map) takes Imo's St. Louis style and puts their little twist on it - they use true provelone cheese instead of the processed provel cheese on their pizzas. The crust is still very thin, the toppings are fresh and the sausage comes in the big chunks the way I like it. I don't know if it's better than Imo's - it's a different taste - but it's very good.
Krieger's is a chain of 14 locations in and around St. Louis that is more of a sports bar than a pizza parlor. But they have a good St. Louis style pizza with big chunks of sausage and the tangy sauce. I like going to Krieger's and sipping a good cold beer (which definitely tastes great with St. Louis style pizza) and watching a game or two on TV.
Cafferata's in Bridgeton near the I-70/I-270 interchange (see map) is another place that does a St. Louis style pizza. The only problem is that they're so inconsistent. One time, the pizza will be world class. The next time, it sort of sucks. I don't know if there's only one person who knows how to make the pizza there or what. I haven't been in a few years because the pizza sucked that time, and I know that Imo's, Krieger's, or Farotto's are more consistent and consistently good.
There are a couple of other places worth mentioning that have more traditional styles of pizza in St. Louis - as in thicker crusts and mozzarella cheese.
Fortel's is a family owned chain that makes OK to pretty good pizza. Their crust is more thick than St. Louis style (which still makes it a thin crust pizza). I don't think I like their sauce more than I do at Imo's or Krieger's, and they also have other sauces (white, barbecue) to choose from.
Vito's (see map) is more of a neighborhood family restaurant that makes a pretty good pizza. Located over by the St. Louis University campus, Vito's crust is thicker than Fortel's, they have a more tangy sauce and they slather the pizza with mozzarella. They have a buffet at lunch and always seems to be packed around the noon time hours.
Frank and Helen's Pizzeria is also more of a neighborhood Italian restaurant on Olive Street near University City (see map). I like their traditional style pizza, but they also have sandwiches and steaks on their menu, too. I like the old cozy charm to their place - it's been around since the mid-50's.
If you want to make a St. Louis style pizza at home, and you live in or near a town that has a Schnuck's grocery store, you can find pre-made razor thin pizza crust in the specialty areas of the store. They're made by Roma Pizza Works, but I think Imo's owns Roma. And Schnuck's has shredded provel cheese in containers, there's pizza sauce to be found in the store, and all the stuff in their meat department for whatever topping you want on the pizza.
I know a lot of people say that St. Louis style pizza is nothing more than "cheese on a cracker", but I like it. I've always been more partial to the thinner crust pizza, not the big, doughy, yeast based pizzas you get in some places. It's an acquired taste that some people have to get used to - I'm not certain I liked it the first time I had it - but I like it now and I highly recommend trying a St. Louis style pizza if you get to St. Louis at anytime.
Back when I was in junior high and high school - circa 1969-74 - there was a professional wrestling show on Sunday nights (and sometimes on Saturday afternoons) called "All-Star Wrestling" that was based out of Kansas City. It was hokey, but it created a cult following with friends of mine who used to just laugh and carry on the next day about the matches from the night before.
When I was a sophomore at Newton High School, they had an All-Star Wrestling road show come to the gymnasium one Saturday night. And to help promote the event, Hesse's Men's Wear in downtown Newton hosted a "meet and greet" autograph session with Rufus R. Jones.
Rufus R. Jones was this large black guy who professed his love for eating "poke chops". "I loves poke chops, baby. Can't get enough of 'em," he would say during between match interviews with Bill Kersten, the long-time, schlocky announcer for All-Star Wrestling (pictured below). Rufus was one of the good guys, regularly going up against such dastardly foes as Handsome Harley Race, Cowboy Bob Orton and Baron Von Raschke. He was famous for his "head butt" - literally butting his forehead against his opponent's forehead, usually crumbling his rival to the mat and then pinning him for the victory. I often wondered that if the head butt was such a devastating wrestling move for Rufus, why didn't he use it right off the bat at the start of the match?
It was the fall of 1971 when Rufus R. Jones pulled up in front of Hesse's in his big Cadillac. He was dressed in a nice sports coat and a pair of slacks. The place was just PACKED full of people wanting to see him - that's how popular (in a strange way) All-Star Wrestling was in those days.
I was there with a group of buddies, hanging out. It was actually a madhouse in the place and Hesse's - and All-Star Wrestling - couldn't have picked a better pre-match promotion.
One of the guys who worked at Hesse's, Chris Wade, came up to me and said, "Hey, Veber. I'll buy this jock strap if you take it up to Rufus to have him sign it."
I increduously said, "What?"
Chris said, "Seriously, here's a jock strap. Take it up and have Rufus sign the thing. Go on!"
To this day, I have no idea why Chris picked me to do this little stunt. Other than he must have thought I'd be stupid enough to do it. So, he hands me this Extra Large jock strap and tells me to go over and get it signed.
A buddy, Bob Turner, and I approached the table where Rufus was seated, signing autographs with a big felt tipped pen - kind of a precursor of a "Sharpie". The rest of the guys hanging with us followed closely behind. I handed Rufus the jock strap and I said, "Hey, Rufus! Sign this, would you?"
Rufus' eyes got huge and he looked up at me and said, "Damn, baby! This is a first for me!" We were all laughing and he was laughing, too. He said, "What do you want me to do, baby? Put it on?"
He was laughing so hard when he signed his name. Except he signed it "R Rufs Jones". I don't know if he was flustered or laughing or just sort of stupid. I suppose those head butts could catch up to a person sooner than later.
We stood there talking to him for a couple of minutes and he was joking with us. This is back when I was a skinny, scrawny kid of 15 and he told me, "Baby, you needs to be eatin' poke chops. Get to be a big man, like me!"
Unfortunately, Rufus died 13 years ago so I wasn't able to show him that I took his advice to heart and ate a LOT of pork chops over the last 35 years...
I had that jock strap on my wall at home for a few years until my mom decided to take all the crap I had on my wall down not long after I moved out. When I figured out that a Rufus R. Jones autographed jock strap would have been one of those keepsakes in life, worthy of many stories, my mom had long thrown it away.
I'm not big on Colorado brewed beers. I don't know what it is, but their taste just doesn't agree with me all that much. But there is one brewery that I think is better than some others and that's the Breckenridge Brewery.
But let me clarify that - I only like one of their beers.
The Breckenridge Brewery began in the 80's in the ski town of Breckenridge, CO by local ski-bum, part-time homebrewer Richard Squire. He opened the Breckenridge Brewery and Pub in 1990, the first and only brew pub operating in Breckenridge. As the popularity of his beer grew, Squire opened a second location in downtown Denver in 1992.
Breckenridge opened their own bottling facility in 1996 as part of the Breckenridge Brewery and BBQ. They went from brewing about 3,000 barrels of beer annually to over 30,000 barrels. Breckenridge Brewery distributes in 15 states throughout the Midwest and mountain states. They also distribute in Texas, Louisiana and Virginia.
About the only beer they make that I will drink is their Trademark Pale Ale. Though it's not the best pale ale that I've tasted, it's full flavored and hoppy with a nice little dry bite at the finish. I'd put it in my top ten of pale ales, but it is way down the list from the Summit Extra Pale Ale, the Boulevard Pale Ale and the Bell's Pale Ale.
Breckenridge Brewery also makes an Oatmeal Stout that I don't particularly care for. And they also make the Avalanche Ale - not quite as flavorful as their pale ale, and it doesn't have much "pizazz" to the taste. I have also tried their Christmas Ale, too, but it's much to heavy for me and the chocolate taste I get from it doesn't thrill me.
Like I said, I'm not keen on many of the Colorado beers, but I will drink a Breckenridge Trademark Pale Ale from time to time. It's not the best, but it's drinkable.
Cindy and I make the trip up to the La Crosse area every so often. It's very beautiful up there with great vistas from bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. One little town on the river directly across from La Crosse - La Crescent, MN - is the home of a neat little place called Bauer's Market.
La Crescent is known as the "Apple Capital of Minnesota". What were once 40 different orchards are now down to about 10 large commerical orchards growing over 50 varieties of apples. Harvest begins in last July and lasts through October. The La Crescent area produces about 80 percent of the apples grown in the state of Minnesota.
Bauer's began in the 60's as a little roadside stand that sold apples harvested from many of the apple orchards that surround the La Crescent area. Over the years, Bauer's grew to include a full service vegetable and fruit market, a nursery and a garden center.
Cindy is an apple eater - I'm not - and we always have to stop in to Bauer's in the late summer/early fall when we're there so Cindy can pick out a number of apples to take with her. I look more for the more exotic foodstuffs Bauer's sells such as real maple syrup and blueberry jam.
Bauer's nursery has a number of plants and shrubs available that are great for growing in the upper Midwest. They have trees, rose bushes and other hardy plants that can handle the winter's cold. They're open year round and it's a neat place to visit in the Christmas season.
By the way, if you get to the La Crescent area, be sure to take a side trip on the Apple Blossom Scenic Drive. It's worth the trip up the hills and bluffs on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi just to see some of the spectacular sights from the top, especially in the fall.
That's a very beautiful area of the upper Midwest around La Crescent and La Crosse. Be sure to stop in to Bauer's Market when you're there just to check the place out.
I've always wanted to try Smoky's Club in Madison, WI and I was there recently on business and I decided to give it a thorough check.
Smoky's isn't much to look at from the outside - it's a typical 1950's style supper club, built long before Madison began to expand to the west. Smoky's started out just down the street from their present location (which was once known as Justo's Club). Leonard (Smoky) Schmock (pronounced Shmoke) and his wife, Janet, wanted to have a little steakhouse that would cater to the parents of kids who went to school at the University of Wisconsin.
Over the years, Smoky's has garnered a number of awards and accolades including being named the "Best Steakhouse in the Midwest" by Midwest Living Magazine in 1988, and for being named for three or four years in a row in the early 90's as one of the top 10 steakhouses in the nation by some obscure publication called "Knife and Fork".
OK, so, they got some awards. But that was years ago. Is Smoky's still as good? I wanted to find out that night I was in Madison so I invited one of my local dealers to go out to dinner at Smoky's. We were going to meet at Smoky's around 8 p.m., so I got there a little before 8 to wait for him in the bar.
I went in and was met by a hostess, probably in her late 50's or early 60's. Actually, she just sort of looked at me for a moment, then went back to writing something down. She finally looked up and said, "May I help you?"
I told her that I needed a table for two, but it appeared that my guest wasn't there yet. She replied in a somewhat cold and snooty tenor, "Do you have a reservation?" I said I didn't. But looking around the place, there were many open tables and since it was a Tuesday night I didn't expect an after 8 p.m. rush on the place. I told her that I'd wait at the bar for my guest to show up. She didn't say anything as I walked toward the bar. I thought I was being nice, but my first impression was, "What a bitch!"
I sat at the bar and had a beer. I looked around the place and it is difficult to describe the restaurant. It's dark and cozy, but there's all this "kitsch" hanging from the walls and ceiling. I suppose there are interesting stories behind each and everything on display, but it seemed awfully "busy", visually.
After about 20 minutes, I got a call from my guest who apologized that he was going to have to beg off on dinner that evening. I told him that it was no problem, I was a big boy and I've had dinner many times by myself. I went up to the hostess and told her that there had been a change of plans and my guest was not going to show up. I wondered if I could get a steak at the bar.
She looked down her nose at me like I was a bum who just walked in off the street. She then said in a rather pretentious tone, "We do NOT serve dinner at the bar. This is not THAT type of place."
Looking back, I really wish I would have made some smart ass comment like, "Oh yeah? Well, what kind of place IS this? I've eaten at the bar in a lot nicer steakhouses than this place, lady!"
She wordlessly sat me at a table in the corner of the non-smoking dining room. My waitress came over and she was a little nicer than the hostess, but not very personable. Her "give-a-shit" factor was pretty low. Who knows? Maybe she was having trouble at home or something, but I just thought she was a little too cold and unemotional for a restaurant like Smoky's. It was obvious she didn't want to be working that particular evening.
I ordered the 10 oz filet, which at $34.00 bucks I thought it had better be good. With dinner you had your choice of potato, plus a salad along with either cup of Manhattan-style (tomato based) clam chowder or tomato juice. The clam chowder was pretty good. The salad was OK, the dressing (French) was homemade and kind of bland.
Smoky's cooks their steaks at 600 degrees (F) and serve them on a sizzling platter, ala Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. I opted for hash browns with cheese on top (I usually don't eat potatoes that much any longer so I went with the least amount of potato available). The steak was still sizzling on the platter for about three minutes after it was served to me.
And it was good, but cooked a little more than the medium rare that I asked for. I don't know if it was a $34 dollar steak, let alone a top ten steak in my book, but it was good. The hash browns weren't bad, but I really didn't think they were anything special. Then again, I'm not big on potatoes that much any longer. They have to be really special to knock my socks off any more. The bill for food, three beers and a so-so tip for the indifferent waitress was about $55.00.
As I got up to leave, I wandered into a room off the entrance that had a lot of reviews and awards on the wall. I don't know who this Knife and Fork magazine is, but they certainly did have Smoky's in their top ten in the early 90's along side some great steak houses such Smith and Wollensky, Chicago Chop House, Hereford House, Morton's and Shula's. I've eaten in each of those places and I can safely say that while Smoky's is good, it is NO WAY in the same class - food, service, ambiance - as those restaurants.
Smoky's may have been something back in the late 80's and early 90's when it was getting all those awards, but today it's nothing more than a good, big Midwestern city steakhouse. Not outstanding, but good. Above average good, I'll give them that. Even with the indifferent service and the unnecessarily cold reception from the hostess, I'll say it was good.
As I left the place, I glanced at the hostess giving her every opportunity to say, "Thank you, come again!" But she didn't say a word, looking past me as if I didn't exist.
There are many choices of restaurants in Madison. Although the food was good, I was turned off by the attitude of the hostess and the limp rag nature of my waitress. It will be quite some time before I go back to Smoky's.
Usinger's Sausage Factory in downtown Milwaukee is unlike any neighborhood butcher or meat shop you'll find across the Midwest. It truly is a meat packer that happens to sell their goods in a butcher-style shop.
Usinger's has a rich history in Milwaukee. Frederick Usinger, a German immigrant who was a sausage maker in Frankfurt, Germany, began to work in a small butcher shop on 3rd St. in Milwaukee. Within a year, Fred bought the butcher shop, married the niece of the butcher shop owner and began to make his own sausages that many saloon and restaurant owners used in their establishments.
Usinger's secret sausage recipe was by far the best in Milwaukee. His business grew so much that he was shipping his sausages as far away as New York City. In fact, the original sausage recipe hasn't changed since 1880, and now the 4th generation of the Usinger family is running the company.
Usinger's is in the Old World Third Street area of downtown Milwaukee - a historic German district that is the home to such fine places as Mader's Restaurant, Buck Bradley's Saloon and The Spice House. Usinger's building is the biggest on the street and it is very tough to miss.
The sausage shop at Usinger's is the exact same as it was when it opened in the early 1900's. Spacious and ornate, the market has meat counters on three sides filled with their packaged sausages, brats, hams, smoked pork chops and other items the company makes. Ladies man the counters and take your order. Many times you have to take a number to be waited on, it's that busy.
I especially like Usinger's Summer Beef Sausage, their Garlic Summer Sausage and their Thueringer Summer Sausage. They also make great brats - including an onion bratwurst and a spicy cajun bratwurst. They also have bologna, olive loafs and real German headcheese (eeyew!).
One other thing that I like to get at Usinger's are their all-beef hot dogs and their bacon - both hickory and apple wood smoked. A lot of times, they have bacon available on their "seconds" table - it's usually end cuts, or cut too thick (nothing wrong with that) or cut in weird shapes. They're about $1.99 a pound and if you don't care that your bacon is not in perfect strips, they're a great bargain.
And Usinger's makes great andouille sausage, too. I use it when I make cajun food around the house (and that's going to happen this week). And their spicy Italian sausage has been part of many spaghetti meals I've made, as well.
Usinger's mascot is Fritzie the Elf. Elves are important to German lore as they were said to finish the work of laborers at night. Fred Usinger felt the tradition of elves in Germany had to be part of the Usinger Sausage Factory. As Usinger's grew, more elves became part of the story of the business. And in the sausage shop, a mural painted in 1906 depicts a number of elves making sausage in the factory at night.
Usinger's is a must stop every time I go to Milwaukee. Don't forget to bring a good sized cooler. I always fill ours each time I visit.
I like dumb little stuff like this.
Thanx to Dave McCoid who sent me this little ditty -
"This Wednesday, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be: 01:02:03 04/05/06.
"This won't happen again until the next century (2106)."
Will’s Beef Stew
I always make too much of this stuff so I'm pretty popular with the neighbors and our kids when I make this.
Actually, I was bored one Sunday, and I decided that I wanted to make beef stew. I looked up a couple recipes on the internet as a road map and went at it. I've tweaked it here and there and came up with my own concoction. It's great comfort food on a cool evening.
1 Tblsp – Olive Oil
2 pounds beef stew meat – cut into 1” cubes with no fat.
8 oz – cut carrot “chips”
½ medium onion cut into wedges
1 large potato – unskinned and cut into ½” to 1” cubes
6 oz – sliced mushrooms
2 tblsp – garlic powder
1 tblsp – onion powder
1 tblsp – crushed rosemary
1 tblsp – crushed thyme
4 garlic cloves chopped
1 tsp – salt
2 – 14 ½ oz cans diced tomatoes undrained
1 cup dry red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 - 16 oz. can beef broth
½ cup flour
In a deep frying pan or cooking pan, combine meat, olive oil, 1 tblsp garlic power and 1 tblsp onion powder. Brown on all sides. Pour off any excess grease. Add ½ can of beef broth and let simmer for 15 minutes.
In a large crock pot, combine two cans diced tomatoes, carrot chips, cubed potatoes, sliced mushrooms, chopped garlic, 1 tblsp garlic powder, crush rosemary, crushed thyme, salt, red wine and ½ can beef broth. Mix together.
After beef has simmered in beef broth for 15 minutes, transfer beef and remaining beef broth from pan into crock pot and mix in. Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours.
½ hour before serving, take the majority of broth out of crock pot with a ladle, making sure to not transfer any veggies or meat with the broth. Place broth in medium sized bowl. Add flour, sifting in a little at a time and whisking in broth at the same time. When no flour lumps are visible, transfer back into crock pot. Continue to cook for ½ hour and serve when broth has thickened.
You can get 8 to 12 good sized servings out of this.
My beef stew keeps well in the fridge for three or four days, but can be frozen up to 3 months. I usually put some in a number of those 1 pint plastic bowls with the lids on 'em so I can go out and grab one when I'm in the mood for some beef stew and reheat it on the stove top.
It's the start of the baseball season and I happen to be a big baseball fan. Actually, my wife likes baseball, too. She really enjoys going to major league ballparks and watching games. She is usually the one who makes the suggestion to go to games.
We've been to a number of ballparks and I thought I'd talk about a few of the ones that either Cindy and I have visited, or ones that I've gone to by myself.
One of our favorite parks to go to is Miller Park in Milwaukee. Built for the start of the 2001 season, Miller Park is the home of the Milwaukee Brewers who had played in the old County Stadium since they moved from Seattle to Milwaukee in 1970.
My cousin, John Wehrle, lived in Milwaukee for a number of years when he worked for the V.A. Medical Center heading up their canteen section. He lived right on the grounds of the V.A. facility, which was about a 10 to 15 minute walk to County Stadium. We'd go up for Summerfest and always catch at least one game at the old County Stadium.
I liked County Stadium. It was a nice open and airy park. But it was antiquated compared to some of the new "mega-stadiums" that are up these days. For instance, they didn't have luxury boxes at County Stadium. Actually, their "luxury box" was the old football press box along the first base line.
John got Cindy and I tickets up there one evening. It was bad. First of all, you had to walk across this narrow catwalk suspended about 40 feet above the stands. Secondly, it was cramped in there and it was like sitting and watching a game with no sound (they didn't open the windows). And last - they had waitress service. One waitress for about 30 people in this box (that was the other thing - you didn't really know the other people in the box). It took her FOREVER to get a beer to me. And the way I go through beer at a ball game, that was a definite problem.
After the third inning, Cindy and I decided we'd had enough. We went out, back over the rickety, narrow catwalk (Cindy still talks nervously about that), and we found an usher and explained to him that, look, we didn't like it in there, we'd rather sit out in the open. The price of the tickets for the "luxury box" was the same as a box seat near the field. The usher said that we could go down and find a seat in that section. Since it was late in the year and the Brewers were out of it - again - the seats were plentiful.
County Stadium is also the place where I got my one and only foul ball since I've been going to major league games since I was about 9 years old. But that's another story for another time.
When they built Miller Park and had their first games there in 2001, we went to a couple of games that first year. The stadium is very nice. The concourses are all wide, the seats are roomy, it's a very good place to see a ball game. The lights, however, I thought were a little wierd - almost too dim (Others must have thought so too, they've since brightened the light output in Miller Park).
The signature of the ballpark is their retractable roof. It sort of fans out when it's closed, and then fans back when opened.
Miller Park has all the amenities of a modern Major League ballpark. The luxury boxes, big scoreboard, good viewing lines. And, of course, they have lots of cold beer featuring Miller and Leinenkugel products, and great brats and sausages from Klement's. (Be sure to check out the Klement's Sausage Haus just across the road from Miller Park if you go.)
When you get a brat at Miller Park, they have the usual condiments of sauerkraut and German mustard, but they'll ask you if you want your brat dipped in the famous "Secret Stadium Sauce". Secret Stadium Sauce is a watery, tomato based sweet, yet somewhat spicy, sauce. Now, I'm usually against any type of tomato based product touching a brat, but Secret Stadium Sauce actually helps enhance the taste of the brats. You can actually buy bottles of it at the stadium.
And the brats and the hot dogs are the best of any major league park I've been at. They're grilled perfectly and served on nice soft buns. You always have to get a brat at Miller Park.
One of the highlights of going to games at Miller Park is the Sausage Race. Four people dress up in these sausage costumes (hot dog, bratwurst, Italian Sausage, Polish Sausage) and they start out near the left field foul poul, run down the left field line warning track, around behind home plate and finish just by the first base dugout.
When I first began to go to games at County Stadium in the late 80's, the Sausage Race was only held during special occassions. Since the Brewers moved into Miller Park, they run the Sausage Race every game. I go absolutely nuts when the Sausages race. It's one of the neatest things you'll ever see at a major league game.
One other unique thing that happens before Brewers games is that this may be the only Major League Baseball franchise where people come early and actually tailgate in the parking lots before the game. On the nice summer evenings, you can actually see a haze settle in over the parking lots from the dozens of charcoal grilles cooking brats, burgers and hot dogs.
And I can't forget to write about the Brewer's mascot, Bernie Brewer. Bernie is this character who sits in a little house down the left field line, called "Bernie's Dugout". When the Brewers hit a home run, Bernie slides down this half-circular slide. However, the way the Brewers play, Bernie doesn't get to use that slide all that much.
Miller Park is one of the nicer of the new ballparks that have been built since the turn of the century. Other than when the Cubs play in Milwaukee, it's pretty easy to get tickets to see a game there. But each year, I always have hope the Brewers are going to turn it around because Milwaukee is such a good baseball town.
The XMG Music Conference and Showcase is an interesting concept. It is designed to help independent bands and musicians to get an audience in front of music industry representatives with the hope of being signed to a label.
I wasn't all that familiar with the concept until a new band I've been recently listening to here in the Quad Cities - Seed - held a fundraiser recently to help defray the costs of their trip into Chicago for some showcase conference they were selected to attend. Cindy and I went and helped their cause by donating a few bucks.
A couple weeks later, I got an e-mail from Bob Kelly from Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls that said they were going to be playing in suburban Chicago for the XMG Conference later that week. It turned out that I was going to be in the Chicagoland area at that time and I worked my schedule out to be able to go see them and support them in this thing.
When I got to reading up on the XMG Conference, I found that this was the same conference Seed was going to be at. Small world.
In addition to being able to perform in front of music industry representatives, there are a number of workshops for bands to participate in during the XMG conference. These workshops include information on promotion, publishing and copyright procedures, and other things that go into helping bands grow and hopefully get them signed to a national recording label.
Over 100 bands were invited by XMG to participate in the Chicago leg of the conference. Each band is given 20 minutes to perform three original songs in front of music industry "Artist and Repertoire" (A&R) reps. They then get to sit and talk to the A&R people for a short time after their performance. And six bands will be picked to come back to perform in the finals of what will turn out to be a "Battle of the Bands" for prize money and studio recording time.
The Chicago XMG conference was held out in Schaumburg at the Marriott, and the performances were held at the Penny Road Pub (shown above) in Barrington, IL. I went out to the Penny Road Pub, kind of a neat little road house sort of in the country in the far NW suburbs of Chicago. It wasn't a big place, but it certainly wasn't crowded, either. They evidently have a number of lesser known national acts that come through and play at Penny Road Pub - mostly heavy metal and headbanger acts.
The showcase was neat in that each band or performer had three songs and couldn't go over 20 minutes. There was about a 10 to 15 minute changeover between performances. It was good because you could watch music for 15 to 20 minutes, talk to people for 10 to 15 minutes, then see someone else perform for another 15 to 20 minutes. If they sucked, well, you only had to listen for a maximum of 20 minutes. But since most are going to be playing their best stuff for three songs, you can pretty much make up your mind if they were good or not within the 20 minutes they're on stage.
I was able to see a few bands before Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls took the stage. Some were pretty good, others were, well, hmm... They sucked. You could see the judges seated at a table toward the back and I would look at them from time to time to gauge their interest of a given band. More often than not they weren't paying attention by the end of the second song if the band playing wasn't all that good.
Not so with Wicked Liz and the guys. I stood over by the sound board(the best place to listen to a band - a little tip there) and was able to watch the judges reactions. Given the fact the band sounded great - they brought their "A" game to this thing and it was probably the best I've ever heard 'em sound - the judges were pretty enthralled with their performance. They were intently paying attention the whole time the band was on stage.
Bob told me afterwards, however, that the "interview" with the A&R people was sort of lukewarm. But as I told him, these guys are probably so jaded that it would have really taken an extraordinary talent or performance to get them fired up. I said, "The way they were paying attention to you guys through all three songs, considering the way they were tuning out some of the others, spoke loudly in my book."
One of the things that I noticed in this "competition" were the number of bands and performers who used acoustic guitars within their band. I'm guessing it's probably because of the wide popularity of the Dave Matthews Band.
And one of those guys playing acoustic guitar was a Twin Cities performer by the name of Ronny Cary (shown left). (The competition showcase was open to performers from all over the Midwest. Craig Smith from Seed told me at the showcase the night I was there that there were a number of musicians and bands there from Iowa.) He did a three song set and was very good.
Another good band that I saw was a Chicago area instrumental band called Lost in Blue. They were three guys - a great little left-handed guitar player, a bass player and a good drummer - whose musical style reminded me of a cross between Metallica and Rush. I talked to the guitar player, Keith (shown above), after they played and he said they really needed a vocalist. I thought that was kind of funny because when Leo Kelly and I were standing there watching them play, Leo turned to me and said, "What this band really needs is a vocalist."
I could have stuck around all night listening to bands, but they were going to be playing until about 2 a.m. And it was the first night of the showcase. I'd really hate to be the music industry reps come the last night of the showcase. And, quite unfortunately, a new Quad City band that Bob Kelly has taken under his wing - Minus Six - is scheduled for the LAST performance of the conference. Too bad.
By the way - Wicked Liz and the Bellyswirls didn't make it to the finals on Sunday. I talked to Bob Kelly about it and he said it didn't matter to him. Besides, the A&R guys thought their name was too long and cumbersome. Bobby told me, "You know, over the last couple of years we've had maybe 50 people come up to us and say, 'We saw the name of your band and we had to check you guys out.' "
There are a number of XMG Conferences held across the U.S. at different venues. If you want to check out some up and coming local and regional bands in a short amount of time, this is a great way to do it.