Oct 13, 2016

A commoner dines at That BBQ Joint, Madison, Wis.

Once I know where I’m going to be working out of town for an extended period of time, I like to do a little advance scouting for the best food and drink options my temporary location has to offer.  That preparation brought me to the Williamson Street neighborhood often while I worked in Madison, Wis., but even with all of my research the Willy Street area still managed to surprise me.

One of those surprises I literally discovered one night while walking Williamson Street in search of another restaurant.  

Ribs, pork, brisket and chicken?  A handwritten sign beckoning me to try the smoked pulled pork above all others?  I hadn’t previously considered Madison a barbecue aficionado’s town, but I was willing to have my opinion changed with the right barbecue.

The name of That BBQ Joint sealed the deal.  I had to see if it lived up to its billing.  

From the moment you walk in, you can tell That BBQ Joint is a little space-challenged like most classic barbecue joints should be, with very limited table and counter seating and a steady carryout business.  Another good sign -- the smells of smoked meats emanating from this place are certain to strengthen your appetite.

You order at the register from the up-to-the-minute menu written on the whiteboards posted on the wall.  I say up to the minute, as like most good barbecue joints, they will run out of some popular items, which are smoked daily, as the night wears on.   

And if memory serves me correctly, that may be why I didn’t try the rib platter, which is a barometer by which I like to measure most barbecue joints.  I “settled” for the rib tips instead, but it only took one bite to know I would not be disappointed. The pink smoke ring on every rib was my first clue at how wonderfully smoked these babies were.  And the glaze on each tip perfectly complemented the smokiness of the meat.  A little dunk in any of the three homemade barbecue sauces on hand -- a nice sampling of sweet, spicy of Carolina mustard style -- just made them taste even better.   

As shown in the picture, my two sides were cole slaw and brisket chili.  Both were exceptional.  The slaw was labeled as “creamy Wisconsin slaw.”  I’m not sure what that means, but if it has anything to do with the use of purple cabbage, I’m all for it.  And honestly, who wouldn’t choose brisket chili over baked beans, especially once you saw the chunks of beef in this chili?  The brisket was fall-apart tender, and the chili had a nice kick.  I was very happy with the decision.

The most offbeat choice of my dinner was selecting an Original Sin Elderberry Cider to wash it down rather than a beer.  It worked, though.  It must have been a sweet and sour thing to complement the food.
That BBQ Joint is truly excellent barbecue in the classic sense of the word.  If you’re craving barbecue in Madison, Wis., I doubt you’ll find better than this place.  

Oct 5, 2016

Most like it hot at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish

If you’re a foodie who plans on spending any time visiting Nashville, Tenn., chances are strong that you’ll eventually have to make a choice for where to try hot chicken. I know I tried my share of hot chicken places while I was working there last winter, including the one where it all started.  But if you want my favorite, Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish gets my vote.

The original Bolton’s location (and really, why would you want to go to any other?) is the type of place you might easily overlook if you’re not seeking it out.  Still, it’s getting more and more popular as a destination.  Case in point:  Bolton’s was the hot chicken of choice of Anthony Bourdain in a recent episode of “Parts Unknown.”  So, if you want to get on the bandwagon, head down Main Street toward the increasingly trendy Nashville East neighborhood.  In just a few blocks you’ll hopefully see this on the right …

That’s your cue to pull into the parking lot and go to the building in the back.

This one.

The menu is pretty simple … straight up soul food with a kick.  And ordering is easy.  Just step right up and be ready to tell whoever is behind the counter what you want.  Be sure to specify whether you want your chicken mild, medium or hot.  But be aware hot is probably hotter than most things you’ve ever eaten.  

Once you’ve made a decision on heat level that could potentially stay with you for some time (the look on the staff’s face will clue you in on if they think you can handle it), your ticket will go immediately in front of the cook … if you peek through you can see them working the fryers.  

Bolton’s has a steady carry-out business, but I’d just as soon eat in.  It’s interesting to see the odd blend of neighborhood locals and slightly confused tourists out of their element.  Just be prepared to give your order some time.  Chances are they are cooking it fresh with each order.  

The exception to this rule would be if you’ve reconsidered whether you can handle the spice level you’ve ordered.  Then I suggest you take your order to go, like I did with my first experience at Bolton’s (actually, they delivered it to go without me asking … I think they expected me to wilt under pressure).

This is just part of the chicken portion of the wing plate I ordered.  It came with six whole wings, sufficiently dusted with spicy magic at the “medium” level.  The chicken itself was certainly hot, but just as juicy and crispy.  The heat lingers, but at least at medium spice it doesn’t overpower.  And that’s a good thing, because on its own Bolton’s chicken is some of the better fried chicken I’ve ever had.  

Like all plates at Bolton’s, this one came with two “southern-style” sides.  When I saw spaghetti as an option, I couldn’t resist getting it.  And I was glad I did.  Nothing unusual about it, but a nice meat sauce with a slightly sweet taste -- a good complement to the heat of the meat.  

I also couldn’t resist the turnip greens as my second side.  Slowly simmered for who knows how long, these greens are dripping with vinegar and seasoned pot liquor.  You even get a packet of hot sauce if you still don’t have enough heat with your meal.  

The ranch dressing, of course, is for the wings.  The bread is for mopping up the spice and grease that you’ll find underneath all of the chicken.  Yes, you really should do this.

I have the feeling Bolton’s will be a regular stop on my trips to Nashville.  I took Punky there on our way through during our honeymoon roadtrip, and she was just as delighted.  My only dilemma will be whether I can skip the chicken next time, so I can try the fish instead.  

A commoner dines at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe, Wis.

I wasn’t sure a place existed that could be the perfect representation of Wisconsin life, but then I traveled through Monroe, Wis., one week...