Last Days of July

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Don’t get me wrong: I love the restaurant business. I feel better when I have been working many days in a row. A few years ago, I worked all of July. July that year passed while I rode a bike from my basement apartment in Harvard Square to the basement changing area at work, and in the shaded dining room of the East Coast Grill. And yet I still remember, years later, the sun and the heat of that July.

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This July felt a little wacky. There have been no heat waves this summer. Every time I walk outside the front door of my apartment, I am brought back to the first days of January, when the temperature was negative double digits. We are haunted by the arctic air. I see it reflected in the year-to-date sales numbers, and feel it on my bike rides to and from work: the polar vortex continues to stalk the Midwest.

Cortado and Cake

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My road dog DT and I have been known to press pause from the goings-on at work to take in a cortado. Let me tell you something: cake doesn’t hurt either.

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Here we are in the cooler than normal Midwestern summer and the weathermen are saying that el nino is not coming, or if it does come, he will be a very little boy indeed.

Maestro

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Jonathan started working at the bar a few months back: I am proud and happy for my friend. Now he does all the cocktail batching for Xoco. This week we started serving a raspberry mint margarita.

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Meghan met Etta for dinner: while they had their first drink on the patio, Jeff and Lucia showed up. They had a great dinner.

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Etta and Meghan went to the beach in Michigan over night, while I stayed home and put up 36 posts in one day (!!!) over here. I am the Lebron James of blogging.

Do Cash Out First

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I got the chain fixed on my bike, 2 new caballero shirts from Alcala, and 5 new Captain Phil teeshirts. I’m a new man.

I taught a chocolate class to the staff of Xoco Wicker Park. They are currently in the middle of weeks of training before the restaurant opens. Around the room, they had posted their restaurant pet peeves. One of them was, “Robotic.”

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I explained how I saw the restaurant business: its exactly like crab fishing in the Bering Sea. Whether you’re hauling in crab or shit out of luck, you have to go through exactly the same motions. It’s hard work: one slip, and you’re dead.

Captain Phil has said, “This ain’t a hamburger stand out here, y’know? This is the real deal and people really die,” while Captain Keith of the Wizard once said, “It only takes one bad wave to ruin your day.”

The best in the game, Captain Sig Hansen of the Northwestern, has said, “Robots are good. Robots don’t think. Robots are used to repetition. Robots don’t complain. Robots are little zombies.”

Wickman House Part 2

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I don’t like traveling to places, no matter how beautiful or amazing the attractions of place may be, with bad food. That’s why I love Wisconsin in general, and Door County in particular. The state has rich food history kept alive in fish boils and supper clubs. Wickman House nods to the past and does its thing in the here and now.

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This visit Etta again loved her cocktail. The grounds have been made even more beautiful. It was busy at the end of their dinner service on Monday night: I can only imagine that its the place to be on a weekend night. Its hard to beat the ambience of an old country home at the end of peninsula, the final gathering place before Death’s Door.

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We had the ribeye, a salad of locally sourced vegetables, and the lobster BLT. For dessert, peanut butter ice cream with dark chocolate tuile. Wickman House respects the past, offering the supper club standard prime rib on Saturday nights this summer (my girlfriend desperately wants it,) with all the updates a restaurant would need to succeed in competitive market, like Chicago. From the craft cocktails, local beer, sourcing the food from family farms and preparing it well, to the style of the service and the rustic vibes, I’m a big fan.

Newport State Park

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We did not stay long enough to see the glacial remnants and broken limestone along the shore of Newport State Park due to dangerous weather.

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I did get to see a terrifying thunderstorm tear away across Lake Michigan. We went for a short hike, to walk off some of Bea’s Ho Made raspberry filled donut holes.

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There were literally no human beings there, in the middle of July, except the couple that had eaten dinner at the table next to ours the previous night…

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…just nature’s quiet beauty.

Knocking on Death’s Door

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The sky turned black as a thunderstorm rolled over the tip of the Door peninsula. Hail the size of nickels fell for minutes. It was July. We pulled into the parking lot of Bea’s and waited until the weather blew over.

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There were so many things Etta wanted to buy: chopped cherry jam, homemade caramels, a frozen pie. I was traumatized by the thunderstorm, especially coming off the derecho that struck southwest Wisconsin and Chicago earlier this summer.

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I talked to the owner, maybe it was Bea herself, about the weather, thinking it may calm me down. She confirmed that they see hundreds of water spouts off both coasts of Door peninsula every summer. I felt compelled to nearly clean out the entire section of day-old treats. The cup of delicious raspberry filled donut holes soothed my nerves.

Cana Island Lighthouse

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I found it to be worth the money to visit the Cana Island Lighthouse and pay for the walk up to the top. The thing is, I did not think I would be so terrified at the top.

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I was unable to move away from the wall or look straight down. There were small children who were skipping around up there while the look of terror was frozen on my face.

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What really makes it worth a visit is a walk around the island the lighthouse sits on. The natural beauty of Door County is unreal, with boulders of limestone scattered along the shore, and out amidst the bluegreen waters.

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Etta did a small photoshoot in the July light. Her metal enclosure necklace was stunning: rust colored metal and gleeming glass stood in stark contrast to the bold turquoises of the day.

Nanaimo Bar

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I had a burger for lunch at Chef’s Hat: the meat was juicy if a little overcooked and you can’t beat that Wisconsin cheese. I ate the whole thing. The best part though, was my first nanaimo bar. This Canadian dessert, a combination of chocolate, graham cracker and more, needs to be on more menus south of the border.

White Gull Inn

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This was not my first rodeo, I mean fish boil. Years ago, with no prior knowledge that there was such a tradition, Etta and I ate at Pelletier’s. When the chef threw the lit kerosene and ignited the fish fat into a huge fireball, it was an elemental shock, an unexpected thrill on par with my first cliff jump at Cave Point County Park. It was part of what hooked me on Door County.

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White Gull Inn is the best fish boil I have ever been to. They are doing everything right. The boil itself is outside, with a bar. Maybe it says something about the Door County tourist demographic, but I was not the only drinking Clausthaler at this backyard boil, if you know what I’m saying. The chef, Tom, explained what he was doing, and the explosion of whitefish fat lit the eager faces of all of us gathered around.

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This place does it right: you watch the fish boil outside, and eat in comfort inside the historic inn. Guests are served freshly boiled whitefish from an efficient and friendly buffet line, and servers attend to tables for drink and fish refills. It’s all you can eat. Let me be clear, the amount of whitefish you are able to eat will be in direct proportion to the ratio of drawn butter and tartar sauce you garnish with. Etta partied too hard and got knocked in a classic Wisconsin butter coma.

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The whitefish was perfectly cooked, the potatoes and tartar sauce were tasty. Our server demonstrated de-boning so well I was confident and successful with my fillet. I quickly forgot her lesson and butchered the tail piece, but that’s my fault. The cherry pie was out of this world delicious It was the best fish boil I have ever eaten. No fish boil is complete without a walk to Sunset Park.

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