Posts tagged ‘Travel’

Wisconsin, Land of Cheese and Spicy Tofu


After nearly a week of chain restaurants and family diners, yesterday arrived like a flavour explosion. We drove into Wisconsin from Minnesota, and got hungry for lunch long before Milwaukee or even Madison. We pulled into the town of Tomah and as my dad was pulling into yet another Subway parking lot, I convinced the family to go to the touristy cheese store first so that we could at least get good, local cheese for our sandwiches. We walked into the Humbird Cheese Mart to find not only a variety of cheeses, but also breads, mustards, sauces and fudge. After much debate, we settled on Smokey Swiss ‘n Cheddar (which they kindly sliced for us), Garlic and Dill cheese curds and a long, tiny loaf of pumpernickel bread. For about $10 (not counting the variety pack of cheese and meat that my parents also got), we ate a satisfying lunch and never went back to Subway.

Spicy Tofu, Part One
Pulling into Milwaukee four hours later, we needed to eat before the ball game (we are going to six Major League Baseball games on this trip), and we settled on a Caribbean place called Good Life that I’d found on the internet before we left Edmonton. The restaurant itself was cute, situated on a corner and made mostly of glass with about a dozen tables, a large patio and a long bar. The menu was long with lots of vegetarian options, including curried cashew patties (that are also the veggie burger patty), jerk tofu, and Good Life Salad. We decided that the cuisine was more “Pan-Caribbean Fusion” than authentic fare, but the food was very good, the prices were fair and the atmosphere and service were lovely.

I ordered the jerk tofu plate ($13), which comes with rice, beans, and a wedge of pineapple, while my dad got the platter ($17)  (all the above plus corn on the cob and roasted veggies). My mom, still full from lunch, got the Caribbean chips and salsa ($8 ) and called it good. Excellent, actually. The chips were made from thinly sliced sweet potato and plantain, and both the mango salsa and guacamole were homemade, fresh and delicious.

The jerk tofu was great and the sides were even better. The rice was cooked to a soft, pleasant texture and subtly spiced with flavours that we loved but couldn’t quite recognize. The stewed red kidney beans were spiced entirely differently, and provided a nice textural contrast with the rice. My dad’s sides (which he shared) added yet another dimension to the platter. The roasted veggies (mostly zucchini and summer squash) were tender-crisp, and the corn on the cob was spread with mayo and cheese, a culinary choice that sounded disgusting when a friend first told me about it upon returning from Mexico, but which I actually really enjoyed.
The jerk tofu itself was cornmeal-crusted and swimming in jerk sauce, which (I tell you without a touch of irony) was almost too flavourful. The best thing about the platter, though, was its balance and the spicy, spicy tofu sat perfectly as the centrepiece of a well-balanced and delicious meal. The portions were huge, though, so while I strongly recommend the platter, I also strongly recommend sharing.

Spicy Tofu, Part Two

In between culinary adventures, we went to an incredible ball game. The Brewers won 5-0, Sabathia pitched a full game shut out, and Weeks dodged a tag to disrupt a double play and make it to third base (and eventually home). But that’s not what you came here to read about.

At the ball game, I resisted all temptations: pretzels the size of my head, ice cream sundaes, and even popcorn, because I had a mission: vegan hot wings. In searching for vegetarian options in Milwaukee, I came across many rave reviews for the Palomino, a restaurant that serves regular bar food and veggie analogues, all cooked up in their dedicated veggie fryer so that there is no chance of meat or meat juices in your vegan hot wings. After the game, we got lost on a series of interchanges and didn’t arrive at the Palomino until 10:30. Due to a city ordinance, they couldn’t serve us on the patio after 10:50, and due to wheelchair accessibility issues, we couldn’t get inside. After much pleading, they agreed to bring us vegan hot wings to go, but this means that I never saw a menu and can’t tell you anything about their other veggie options. The wings ($9), properly called “Toffalo Wings”, were very good. The portion was huge and came with tater tots and celery, as well as a delicious and presumably homemade ranch dip. The wings themselves were large chunks of battered and deep fried tofu and seitan, which were properly crispy, chewy and spicy. The only thing I would change is to make them smaller for a higher crust-to-tofu ratio, more like traditional wings. They were definitely worth the driving and the pleading, though, and I went to bed with a full tummy and soft spot in my heart for Milwaukee – land of cheese and spicy tofu.


August 9, 2008 at 9:29 pm Leave a comment

Salad Bars

The American salad bar is a wonderful thing, that Canadians don’t know about and Americans don’t know to appreciate. Unlike the Canadian (or Albertan perhaps) salad bar, which tends to bear a limited selection of pre-made salads (potato, macaroni, green, caesar, and even tuna or egg), the American salad bar is an invitation to innovation with fresh vegetables, beans, cheeses, croutons, dressings and other toppings. A proper salad bar, in my estimation, is one that lets you make your own salad from various ingredients, and although potato and pasta salads are not unwelcome, they shouldn’t be the centerpieces of the buffet.

We haven’t been eating at particularly interesting restaurants so far (hence the lack of posting), but we have had some good salad bars. One was actually at an old-style Bonanza in Regina (the Bonanza in Edmonton has gone faux upscale and replaced its American-style salad bar with Canadian-style prepared salads, so maybe this is just an Alberta thing), and the other was at Ruby Tuesdays in the Mall of America last night.

The Bonanza salad bar was classic: iceberg lettuce, raw vegetables (cut into huge chunks by lazy prep cooks), cottage cheese, yellow cheddar, chopped hard boiled egg, white croutons, fake bacon bits, and the regular Kraft Dressing catalogue. There were also things like potato and pasta salads, perogies, soups and various breaded fried meats, which is what seemed to interest the rest of the clientele. This came in at $9.49 CAD.

The Ruby Tuesdays salad bar was amazing! There were lettuce choices including iceberg, spring mix and romaine. In addition to regular toppings (fresh and cut small enough for salads), there were shelled edamame beans, marinated green beans, bleu and feta cheeses, pumpernickel croutons and homemade dressings! It was only $8.49 USD and it was fabulous, but it was also one of only two vegetarian items on the menu (the other was a veggie burger).

So, in the absence of a kitchen, here are two “recipes” based on my favorite salad bar combinations. (There are no measurements, because I really have no idea). You can make these at home and if you want to eat salad all week (which you just might in this heat), prep a variety of your favorite veggies and keep them in separate containers in your fridge to keep them fresh. Put salads together when you’re ready to eat, and voilá! Homemade salad bar.

The Classic Salad Bar Creation

Iceberg Lettuce (or bagged iceberg lettuce with cabbage)
Chopped Onions
Chopped Broccoli and/or Cauliflower
Quartered Radishes
Sliced Cucumber
Green Peas
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Cottage Cheese
Italian Dressing

Fancier Salad Bar Creation

Spring Mix
Sliced Red Onions
Sliced Mushrooms
Julienned Carrots
Broccoli and/or Cauliflower
Cherry Tomatoes
Shelled Edamame Beans
Steamed Green Beans
Bleu or Feta Cheese
Pumpernickel or Regular Croutons
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil

August 7, 2008 at 9:12 am Leave a comment



*All entries tagged "vegan" and "gluten free" meet those dietary requirements to the best of my knowledge as long as the vegan or gluten free instructions are followed (where applicable). It is always wise to double-check ingredients (especially when dealing with packaged foods) and to confirm ingredients and preparation methods at restaurants.