Wisconsin’s Overrated Eats

I am sure this may cause debate among the few people who visit this site but I have been thinking about some of the things that Wisconsinites rave about and why.  In many cases I agree with the raves, but there are some sacred cows that to be closely examined.  So here are my most overrated Wisconsin eats:

Frozen Custard – Ok, frozen custard is pretty good but come on!  The worship of the stuff is sickening.  Speaking of sickening, my stomach usually feels that way after eating frozen custard.  It is rich and decadent and I understand that is why people like it so much, but  I’d take a couple scoops of Gelato from Divino Gelato Cafe in Waukesha before custard any day.

Polish food – Polish food is bland. Polonez is supposedly the holy grail of Polish eats in Milwaukee. I found the food to be authentically Polish, which is to say dull.  I hate pierogies too (who wants ravioli stuffed with kraut or mediocre cheese?).  Ok, Polish sausage is pretty good, but that is it.

Summerfest food – Most of the food at Sumerfest is watered-down versions of dishes that are actually quite good if you actually eat at the restaurant.  On the grounds the food is produced in mass quantities and quality is sacrificed.  Some exceptions are Saz’s combos (mozzarella marinara, cheese curds, and chive fries), most things at Aladdin, and Venice Club fried eggplant.  I think the real reason people rave about the food is because they are drunk and greasy food tastes best after downing 14 beers, which explains why George Webb is still in business, which brings me to the next overrated eat.

George Webb’s – Have you ever eaten at George Webb’s while sober or not completely hung over? The slow service, surly wait staff, and mediocre food isn’t quite as charming when you have all of your faculties.  Webb’s isn’t terrible, but it isn’t anything special either.  For some reason when drunk or hung-over Webb’s transforms into something magical. Nothing beats a combo of 2 eggs (sunny side up please), toast (wheat), and hash browns or a couple of Webb Burgers with a cup of chili.

Miss Katie’s Diner – Maybe I just have an aversion to diners, but I never got the allure of this place.  I don’t want to go out to eat and order meatloaf (unless its the veal meatloaf at Coquette) or a breaded chicken sandwich.  I also don’t think Pitch’s ribs are anything to write home about.  Rachel Ray ate here, which is another reason to avoid it.

The majority of the cheese stands along the interstate – Most of them sell mediocre cheese (usually never revealing where or who made it) at obnoxious prices.  The curds are usually not that good either.   I do like Mars Cheese Castle, but in general the state highways are littered with these tourist traps masquerading as cheese emporiums.  You want a great roadside cheese place? Check out Carr Valley in LaValle, Fennimore, or Mauston.  Some of the best cheese in the country is made and sold here. They are always winning awards for their tasty, innovative cheeses especially their mixed milk variety.  They are by favorite cheese producer in the state. Oh, and their curds are made fresh daily and they are really really good.

Racine Danish Kringle – Ok, they don’t taste bad, but they are not worth all of the accolades either. There are far better sweet breakfast treats than the kringle.  Maybe its because I am not a huge fan of sweets, but I could take or leave this Wisconsin “must-eat.”

The State Fair Cream Puff – Quite possibly the most overrated food ever.  People wait in line to get their hands on these extremely bland sandwiches of whipped cream and flaky puff pastry.  I think they don’t taste very good at all, in fact I find them very boring.  Spend your calories on something better at State Fair, like fried cheese on a stick or 6 cups of Old Style.

However to be fair, there are some things that I believe live up to the hype. 

The Door County Fish Boil – The Fish Boil is something that many people rip on, saying that the fish is bland and its all about show for tourists.  True, and  I have only eaten at one fish boil in my life at Pelletier’s in Fish Creek but I loved the experience.   The fish was moist and flavorful. All it needed was a sprinkle of salt and some butter.  It was awesome sitting outside drinking beer, watching the flames shoot up, and being served freshly made fish and kickass cherry pie.  It was fish reduced to its most basic state.  There is no crispy batter or lavish sauce to mask not-so-fresh fish or overcooking.  The whitefish at Pelletier’s was fresh and delicious.

Bratwurst – I love brats.  Johnsonville is my favorite, but Klement’s and Usingers make killer brats as well.  Some real gems can be found at independent butchers across the state, especially the onion and pepper cheese brats at The Meat Market in Tomahawk WI.

Fried Fish & the Friday Fish Fry – Walleye, Perch, Bluegill, and Crappie battered and fried.  It doesn’t get a whole lot better, unless you are eating it at a supper club in Northern Wisconsin or your favorite bar while sipping an Old Fashioned or a ice cold Leinenkugels Red. 

Fried Cheese  – Is there anyone on the planet that doesn’t like fried cheese? 

Beer – Quite possibly the best drink ever invented.  I enjoy all kinds from bland, yet satisfying Miller products to small batches of craft brews released in limited numbers by places like Tyrenena.

Beer Cheese Soup – Take Wisconsin’s two most popular exports and blend them into soup.  What is not to like?

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12 thoughts on “Wisconsin’s Overrated Eats

  1. I completely agree regarding the cream puffs…it’s pastry and whipped cream, really, what’s the big deal? I’m from Illinois so I just figured it was a WI thing, especially the way people fall all over themselves to grab one if someone brings them into the office during fair season. I’m with you on beer and the fish fry – Lakefront is excellent on both accounts!

  2. I agree with Miss Katie’s Diner. I’ve only dined there once, it was about 3-4 years ago. And I thought, “Wow…this is where President Clinton came?” I found nothing that made me want to return and all my life that’s all I’ve heard are raves of Miss Katie’s.

    However, I must disagaree with Custard! I simply love the stuff and custard in Wisconsin is the best. Ever tried Custard elsewhere? It’s ridiculously gross!

  3. You have hit the nail square in the head with some of those !!! However I really do enjoy frozen custard especially from Roberts. The saying “everything in moderation” really should be kept in mind with custard.

    I also love brats, but have a real spot in my heart for Italian sausage (also one of Johnsonville gems !!). I think they actually taste better than a brat. I do agree that butchers can make some of the best. The now defunct Hank & Charlies used to make some of the best beer and onion brats on the planet.

    Beer…..is in fact the best drink ever in the history of the world, and I for one am glad that there is such an extensive amounts of large to small breweries here putting it out. Trying new beer is a fav pastimeof mine like many.

    Great blog !!

  4. Ok. After reading through your post, here’s my take.

    Frozen Custard: Disagree.

    People from other states in the US think that Culver’s frozen custard is divine. If these same people were exposed to Kopp’s, Gilles or Leon’s they would reconsider calling Culver’s frozen custard “divine.”
    And regarding Gelato, Divino Gelato Cafe’s Gelato is ok as it’s often icy. Mondo Gelato (http://www.mondogelato.com/) in Vancouver really captures the essence of what Gelato is (in North America). If a gelateria opened in the Milwaukee area that could craft Gelato with the same careful attention to quality (as Mondo Gelato), I’d never eat frozen custard again.

    Polish food: Agree.

    I have to admit that I’m out of my element when discussing Polish food. My only exposure to Polish food, prior to Polonez, was a restaurant in Chicago (now defunct) called Orbits (Orbitz?). It was better than Polonez, but that’s not saying much.

    Summerfest food: Agree.

    “…drunk and greasy food tastes best after downing 14 beers…” Enough said.

    George Webb’s: Agree.

    George Webb’s may be an institution, but when was the last time you could say that institutional food was tasty? I try to stay away from restaurants that are open 24/7. That doesn’t leave much time for cleaning…

    Miss Katie’s Diner: Agree.

    I’ve never found Miss Katie’s Diner to be appealing. I’ve eaten at my fair share of diners and while the aesthetic appeal is fufilled, the food isn’t. There are many other restaurants in Milwaukee that have better food, with the same greasy-diner appeal.

    Cheese stands along the interstate: Agree.

    I’m also out of my element here. I’ve never really spent any time at the Mars Cheese Castle as I generally don’t enjoy the cheesy (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun) fanfair of the typical wayside stop designed to lure tourists. I do enjoy some cheeses (mostly soft ripened cheeses) and in the summer of 2006 I had a cheese named after myself from the Beechwood Cheese Co (https://www.beechwoodcheese.com/store/comersus_dynamicIndex.asp) called the MC Firecracker. It was a spicy, cheddar chipotle cheese.

    Racine Danish Kringle: Disagree.

    Before closing the book on Kringle, try a Kringle from a local Racine baker like Larsen’s. Most of the people who live in Racine are familiar with O&H (http://www.ohdanishbakery.com/), but many Racine-ites argue that Larsen’s is better tasting (http://www.larsensbakery.com/). The “Racine Danish Kringle” that’s sold in your local grocers isle is a facsmilie of Kringle.

    Door County Fish Boil: Disagree.

    The fish is fresh, and moist, but isn’t all boiled fish moist? I admit the “show” is pretty cool, but I could think of 100 other ways to prepare fish that yields a flavorful dish. I’ll pass on the next Door County Fish Boil.

    Bratwurst: Agree

    I’m a Milwaukee kind of guy and I have to root for the hometown favorites. My personal favorite is Klements (fresh, not frozen) brats followed by Usingers. In the non-brat world the Italian sausages from Dentice Bros and Glorioso’s are tough to beat.

    The Friday Fish Fry: Agree.

    I’m always searching for the “latest and greatest” Perch fry. It’s suprising that my “best-ever” Perch fry was in Michigan on Lake St Clair. This was as close to a “shore-lunch” in a restaurant setting. If anyone can name a fish fry that is within one hour of Milwaukee that could surpass the now defunct Edsel’s fish fry, post it!

    Fried cheese: Disagree.

    Perhaps I’m crazy (that are some who have called me this), but I don’t see the fanfare in fried cheese. Unless the breading or frying is outstanding, I’ll take my cheese in it’s unaltered state.

    Beer: Agree.

    Who could ever disagree?

    Beer cheese soup: Never agree.

    Yuck!

    BTW, I’ve been reading through you blog for sometime, but this is my inaugural post!

    Thanks!

  5. Polish Food: Highly disagree… but then I am Polish desent so I am biased. You definatley have a tendency towards the lighter food varieties so I can see how you would find the food bland. But it’s good to honest fill your gut tasty food in my book and exploring the varieties (admittingly hard to find) among Polish food is fantastic.

    Cheese stands: Completely agree! Amazing how much cheese is made that tastes exactly the same as the last cheese.

    The State Fair Cream Puff: AGREE! I really don’t understand this one. Messy, bland and a waste of calories. Seems to be one of those things that just get a life of their own. How many people actually crave a Cream Puff the rest of the year?

  6. I am glad you enjoy Katies. A lot of people agree with you. I think its my aversion to those types of restaurants is why I dislike Katies. There is nothing exciting or even interesting on the menu.

  7. Katie’s was good back in the 80’s.

    Polonez is good for comfort food, the brunch is outstanding.

    Mars Cheese Castle was the first, I think & is still family owned.

    Kringle–O&H is the only one worth a damn. Bentsen’s & Larsen’s & RDK, not so much.

    Webb’s is a locals kind of place. The one in the ‘Sha by the cop shop is the best. After awhile the waitresses get to know you. If what you want is poached eggs, coffee & no BS it’s *the* place. It’s like those commercials with the 2 cowboys asking for more giggledrops on their pancakes–you won’t find that there.

    Divino Gelato is the bomb diggity.

    How do you feel about Jimmy’s Grotto?

  8. You’re dead on about George Webb’s. Used to be one Madison. You had to be inebriated to like it.

    But….you are dead wrong about the State Fair Cream Puffs. I’ve tried Puffs all over the world and absolutely nothing compares to them. It’s not only the taste, it’s the atmosphere.

    Nowhere will you find so many gloriously happy people in one place, with powdered sugar all over their clothes, smiling, cream dripping down their cheeks, looking through a window while the Wille Wonka bakers strut their stuff. Nowhere but Wisconsin

  9. You seem to be a beacon of culinary knowledge. Too bad Zagat, The Journal Sentinel, the Travel Channel, and Gourmet Magazine all disagree with you.

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