A Visit with Purple Door Ice Cream

P1070562 My earliest memories of eating ice cream are with Bubby, sitting at the kitchen table in our one bedroom, third floor walk up in West Rogers Park.   Chocolate was her favorite flavor evident by her all too often stained house coats and pockets plump with tissue.  Deliberately she would place each spoonful of ice cream into her mouth as she closed her eyes and swallowed.  When the bowl was close to being finished, Bubby would etch the spoon around the bowl as it collected the very last bits of melted chocolate ice cream.  She wasted nothing and savored every mouthful.

During those years, our apartment where we lived with Bubby would often become chaotic and if there were any quiet at all, it usually drifted into the back of the apartment, into our kitchen. There we would sit, among the burnt orange teapots dotting the wallpaper, the lamp above the table whose painted stars we lit for Papa Jack on night’s like his birthday, among the towels which draped from cabinet handles, and the canned fruits and vegetables strategically placed so her blindness would not stop her from knowing what was in her own pantry.   It was there where we sat and munched and slurped and scooped, licked our fingers and wiped ourselves clean.  The simplicity of those moments has never been lost on me, and  with the winter in Chicago being so brutal coupled with working long days and not seeing my Olive as often as I’d like, I have found great joy in the simple moments myself, always highly aware and savoring every moment.

When I was invited by Lauren and Steve Schultz of Purple Door Ice Cream to visit their new build-out, set to open in mid-March, I was thrilled.  I had first heard of their ice cream on an episode of Wisconsin Foodies.  At that time they were working out of Clock Shadow Creamery, a cheese purveyor  down the street.  Now, with their grand opening around the corner, Lauren and her husband Steve are expanding the team at Purple Door Ice Cream to include a part-time ice cream maker.  “Up until now it was me and Steve making every batch by hand.”  When I asked Lauren about the inspiration behind her store, she said “It had been a dream of mine since middle school.”   It was that same imagination and tenacity that helped bring Lauren’s dream to fruition. What sets Purple Door apart from other ice creams is the simplicity and boldness of its flavor.  Using local ingredients and hand crafting every batch, Purple Door Ice Cream keeps its taste simple, its texture rich, and does not disappoint in flavor.  “We have eleven base flavors, but we hand swirl all of our mix-ins.  We want to keep the integrity of the ice cream.”   The fourteen percent butterfat uses milk and cream from Wisconsin dairy farms while their quality ingredients are carefully selected from local artisans including Anodyne coffee beans, Rishi tea leaves, chocolate and even liqueurs to name a few.   “Sourcing locally provides a lot of inspiration”, Lauren tell us as she pulls pints for Matt and I to sample.  With the expansion of their store, Purple Door Ice Cream will also branch out into local restaurants and stores in Wisconsin and the Chicagoland area including Whole Foods, Mariano’s and Southport Grocery.

Chicago has seen dreary weather for many months now, and although I find myself longing for the sun’s affection, I try to acknowledge the small moments that are my own bit of sunlight; Olive’s infectious smile in the morning, Matt’s grasp as he helps me hurdle the snow, tastes of rich ice cream on a blustery February afternoon.  Our visit to Purple Door Ice Cream reminded me that summer isn’t so far away, and in the meantime I have much to celebrate.  For Lauren and Steve, they are growing their company while staying close to their Midwestern roots.  For Bubby, she celebrated hugs from me and my sister and bowls of chocolate ice cream.  Former Olympic runner and noted author, Don Kardong once said “Without ice cream, there would be darkness and chaos.”  Lauren’s invitation (and the many, indulgent helpings of ice cream) helped bring light to this forever winter, evoking memories with Bubby, who in a time of uncertainty and confusion was always my forever light. 2060_771183305330_3658_n

In Memory of Diran Soulian

A few months back, Matt took me to Top Notch Beefburger for the first time.   Matt’s knowledge of Chicagoland and Wisconsin burgers and their respective restaurants, joints, drive-thrus, and diners is impressive.  His knowledge on what makes a beef burger, well top-notch, is a bit of a family tradition as his father Barry is the true connoisseur.   Talk about a  man who should write a book if not the book on the Midwestern burger, Barry carries a detailed Rolodex of his burger experiences that would fascinate any burger and non-burger foodie alike.  Top Notch Beefburger is Barry’s favorite burger and burger joint, period.   What started out as a good, quick place to grab a bite while covering high school basketball games on the South Side for the Chicago Tribune twenty years ago, became the benchmark that Barry would compare all other burgers to across the nation.  When Barry introduced Matt to Top Notch, a tradition was born, and this being a Chicago staple since the early 40’s, I needed to check it out for myself.   A few months ago I visited and documented my experience in an article for Chicago Foodies.  It was a that time I learned that the owner, Diran Soulian, who had taken over the family business nearly sixty years ago, had fallen ill.  What  I learned a few days ago is that Diran passed away last week.  Grubstreet wrote an article about Diran and his time at Top Notch and showed me a little love quoting my write-up in the end.  In Memory of Diran, I am re-posting my article here.  Thanks, Grubstreet, for showing me some love and thank you Diran for your years of quality service that made everyone from late night reporters to neighborhood families to war veterans like yourself, feel like they were right at home.

Post from Chicago Foodies with part quoted by Grubstreet highlighted below:

There are a few things we as Chicagoans know when it comes to food.  We know that mustard is the only condiment one needs on their hot dog (and celery salt, if you ask me).  We know there are only two things that are important when ordering an Italian beef sandwich; sweet or hot peppers…dipped or double dipped.  We know pizza comes one way; deep dish, piping hot from a fourteen inch pan, oozing with cheese and slices of Italian sausage.  And although you can get a decent burger throughout this entire food-loving city, the original of all beef burgers comes from a little joint with a big heart for doing things the old-fashioned way.  Top Notch Beefburgers has been serving up the South side community since 1942.

This diner style establishment located in Beverly,  does not stop at the South Side community.  In fact it reaches Chicagoans from all over the city as well as burger connoisseurs from all over the nation.  Books have noted Top Notch as one of the best burgers in the country.  Newspapers and magazines have written glowing reviews alike.  But what keeps Top Notch at the top of their game are the families that have been eating their mouth-watering burgers and fries for generations.  From the minute you walk in, it is clear that family and friendship are the priority here and that has not changed since Diran Soulian took over the family business in 1954.  But us Chicagoans, we have our opinions.  And beyond the inviting atmosphere that Diran and his staff care so much about, Top Notch does indeed make one of the best if not the best burgers in town.  What makes them so darn good?

For starters, they grind their meat in house.  That’s right folks.  There is nothing frozen or being reheated here.  Sure, a lot of burger spots are doing that now, but they have not been doing it since 1942.  One could say that Top Notch served as the pioneer for every other freshly made burger in Chicago.  And that same philosophy goes for the fries, too.   Really, they should be called the-best-fries-you-will-ever-have-in-your-life-fries, because they are exactly that.    These crispy bites are sliced fresh daily from whole potatoes and then fried to order.  What makes them really special?  They fry them in beef tallow, people!  Essentially rendered beef fat, beef tallow gives these fries that same off the grill taste.  It beats duck fat, oil, or anything else you can fry a potato in by a long shot.  The burger and fries are straight forward, honest diner food that not only satisfy your belly with each juicy bite, but warms your heart in the mix of it.  And to wash it all down, do not miss out on their milkshakes and malts!  Thick, smooth, ice cold liquid velvet in every slurp and gulp.  The perfect compliment to your fresh off the grill burger and salted, piping hot fries.  Of course, if burgers are not your thing, Top Notch has an entire menu also serving breakfast from 8am – 11am every morning.

 

But why people come here and keep coming here is for the total experience.  Top Notch is one of the last standing classic Chicago diners who truly care about their customers.  While head chef Sam graciously invited me into the kitchen to show me where the heart and soul of Top Notch lies, Jim (current restaurant manager) walked me around the restaurant telling stories and sharing pictures of Soulian and his family.  They both made me feel that I was somehow part of the Top Notch family even though it was only my first visit.  For that, I will always be grateful because us Chicagoans we love our food, but we love it more when we feel like we are at home.

“Can you tell me where I can find kelp?”

If you have been following the Butter&Yolk Facebook page, then you know my need for Korean food has been mighty as of late. Truth to be told, I started thinking about Korean food in France, about halfway through the trip as I had began to have my fill of creams, croissants, and charcuterie. Matt and I are lucky to live in a neighborhood of Chicago (Rogers Park) where legit Korean food is everywhere. In fact, Korean BBQ is what Matt and I had on our first date, and the joy of kalbi and bulgogi has not left our hearts since. If you are from Chicago or live close by, I will provide my recommendations of where to dine at the end of this post. But this Labor Day, as we were fully immersed back into our daily lives, it seemed fitting to celebrate America and our first real home cooked meal since returning by way of Korean food. I have said this before, but typically I am not one for creating my own recipes. However, I do love to cook and what usually keeps my hands moving in the kitchen is this thought, “If I like it, why can’t I make it?”. In the past, I have given chop chae and pajeon a try at home. The Pajeon was outstanding, but how can you mess up pancakes? The chop chae…I don’t know what happened. The noodles stuck together and it was a huge giant mess. And someone out there is now saying, “But, how can you mess up noodles?”.

 
Within my desire to eat Korean, came a bit of internet research which I momentarily suspended to dip into one of my favorite food blogs: Tom Eats Jen Cooks. Currently residing in Korea, Tom and Jen have crafted a well written and beautifully photographed blog that reflects on their time in London, New York, Hong Kong, and now Seoul. Jen cooks indeed as she is a trained chef and often their posts are about what they are eating, drinking or cooking, where they are living, or the restaurants where they live. Here, Jen talks about makgeolli; a rice wine…which is brewed….like beer…and ferments quickly. It looked interesting enough to seek out. I later read that Chicago will be home to the first state-side makgeolli brewery which only peaked my curiosity more. I needed to find some. And find some I did. B&Y readers…I would like to formally introduce you to HMART.

HMart. Niles, IL.

At our giant-sized grocery store, toooth-pick stabbed cheese and bits of crackers can be sampled by folks in hats and aprons. At HMart, these guys make kimchi.

There is also seafood…

…like squid.

This is the deli. Pans and pans of food that can be doled out, weighed, and priced right there.

My exact sentiments, HMart.

Ride or die.

And alas, we found the mecca of magkeolli (cue angels choir here).

HMart is a store. HMart is a market. In the simplest terms, it is a SUPERmarket. In the-real-life-up-close-version, HMart is nearly a small town. Mainly grocery store, part mall, part food court, HMart is an entire complex. Picture Walmart with several shops outlining its main shopping area and a food court with well prepared sushi, Korean food, and dumplings. It’s crazy big and stuffed to the brim with Asian inspired everything. And their philosophy on grocery shopping is hands down the way I wish every grocery experience could be. Let’s face it. Sometimes we over glamourize grocery shopping. Or maybe I used to. Really, it was when I was single. I used to imagine that I would be listlislly browsing through the aisles, purusing varities of ice creams or chips (sexy, right?) and a casual conversation would suddenly arise between myself and a realistically hot single chip buying, ice cream loving, hand holding man. Kinda like an online dating commercial, but with the essence of Summer’s Eve and the quirkyness of Reality Bites. In any case, grocery shop usually sucks these days and if it could be more like what it says below, I would be more inclined to go.  This is from the HMart website:

Why we do what we do.There’s nothing better than grocery shopping.
You spend time with your family.
Sample a new taste here and there.
Put something in your cart you’d thought you’d never try…
and you find out you love it.
You learn something new about yourself and your
taste buds thank you.
Eventually you walk the aisles and
you grow familiar with a friendly place and it feels like home.We’ve always wanted our H mart stores to
make our customers feel good about shopping
there. We take pride in what our stores look like,
and that also means we are meticulous about everything we offer you.
We never skimp.And as the years go by you remember this… the experience,
the inspiration and all the meals you’ve prepared and enjoyed.
You smile about it… what could be better than that?At H mart, this is what we do and we love it.So we try to keep it fun and always fresh.

I mean, kinda dreamy. Right?

When I got home, I pulled up this website to guide me in my cooking endeavors for the evening: Maangchi. Maangchi is my girl. Like me, she loves to cook. Unlike me, she knows a lot about traditional Korean recipes. Maangchi started creating videos on You Tube channel demonstrating her Korean recipes for people who already like and are interested in Korean food. She has spiffed up her look, now offers classes, and sometimes organizes meet-ups for fans and friends alike. With Matt lending a hand (while tag teaming the laundry I might add) Maangchi guided me through two dishes:

Gaalbijjim. Beef short ribs.

Naengmyun. Cold buckwheat noodles in a spicy red sauce.

Accompanied by makgeolli.

Here are a few more moments of what took place:

Dried anchovies.

Broth

Sauce

Noodle porn.

Mid noodle-coital.

Before we go:

Check out Jen from TomEatsJenCooks and her video promo for a friend and progressive Korean bbq artist: Linus Kim.

And as promised…

BBQ- Woo Chon
5744 California
Chicago, IL.

Take Out- Da Rae Jung
5220 N. Lincoln Ave.
*Owner is the friendliest man you will ever meet. You can dine in as well.

Quick and dirty- Rolls N Bowls
5501 N. Lincoln
*We go here mostly for their ridiculous sushi, but they are Korean owned and offer a few staples on the menu.

Current awesomeness=

Food court at HMart, but truth be told, you could go and just sample everything since everything is being sampled throughout the entire store. Some of these people were mics to advertise what they are dishing out.

Want to try:

Dancen- Bar
Noon Hour Grill

Got any favorites or places we should check out? Do share!

Part Two: Paris. It Kinda Sucks?

I am keeping this post short.  Very short. Why?  Because Paris (and I feel silly saying this because I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit, and I mean that) kinda sucks.  I didn’t get it.  Where was the magic?  The glimmering lights? The quaint storefronts?  Gently washed cobblestone streets?  Oh yeah.  Paris is a big city.  I know big cities.  Grey.  Rushing crowds.  Tourist attractions.  The only thing setting Paris apart from New York City?  It’s undeniable history, the Eiffel Tower, and the fact that I can drink outside, wherever I went and whenever I wanted (thank God).  Everywhere I went, I felt rushed, slightly claustrophobic, and dismissed.  Do not be fooled by the quaint picture above.  There were some highlights.  I’ll speak about those in the pictures below.  In general, skip Paris.  If you want a big city in France, check out Lyon.

Post Eiffel Tower visit, Matt and I accidentally walked into this restaurant:

We later found out that La Fontaine De Mars is one of the oldest bistros in Paris.  Located in the 7th arrondissement, La Fontaine has been open since 1908.  We sat upstairs in a very small room, perfectly decorated in Victorian wallpaper, checkered tablecloths, brass lamps and polished silver.  I was tickled.  In addition, President Obama and his wife dined in the adjacent room on a visit to Paris a few years back.  There was a plaque.  A brass plaque, of course.  If it were not for the obnoxious American couple sitting next to us (small room, remember) we would have had the room to ourselves.  Regardless, we ordered typical french fare including grilled top loin steak in bernaise sauce with frites, game terrine with fig chutney (probably a mix of rabbit and duck), and vanilla flan to end.

On our second day in Paris, decided to make use of our kitchen in our stylish Parisian apartment and take to the markets like a local!  Here were some of our finds (caution drool warning commence).

I have zero idea what kind of cheese we bought. There are so many cheeses. Everywhere. I told the store owner I wanted something gooey. “Gooey?” the bewildered man asked in a very deep french accent. “Um, yeah. Gooey?” I said. “Like this”, I pointed to some cheese I saw, and then I proceeded to do the worst thing I could do in a cheese shop in France. I touched the cheese. I almost felt like the man was going to slap my wrist for doing such a childish thing. I profusely apologized. I bought this cheese.


One of my favorite, favorite, favorite places five minutes from our apartment, and another accidental find, was La Maison des Tartes.  This is a must if you are visiting Paris!  Located in the 5th arrondissement, The House of Tarts has a small menu that offers up a variety of savory and sweet tarts.  They also offer reasonably priced plates where you can try combinations of savory and sweet tarts alike, a drink often included.  The pictures will speak for themselves.

Sausage quiche.

Almond pear tart.

Chocolate banana tart.

It is no secret that the French pay attention to their food and the way it is grown.  Every outdoor and indoor market is full of voluptuous looking fruits and vegetables that will make the most stubborn carnivore want to bite into a head of lettuce or a crate of apricots.  I am pretty strict in the states about buying organic due to the insane practices that are allowed by the FDA including massive use of pesticides and genetically modified organisms.  I wondered how popular organic practices were in France.  I found this article which cleared it up: France Seeks to Cut Pesticide Use In Half.

We did other stuff in France other than eat.  Swear.

Notre Dame. Breathtaking.

Hopped around to sights via boat.

Day trip to Montmarte and the Dali Museum.

The Louvre.

I’ll end this with our excursion to Christian Constant’s Les Cocotte.  Michelin star chef Constant, who often recognizes his mother as his first formal teacher and long time inspiration, owns four restaurants on Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement.  The atmosphere and food alike are clean and contemporary, offering up the best and of what modern-day Paris has to offer.  The service, very friendly.  In fact, the whole experience made us feel like we were back home, dining at a new concept restaurant with the kind of American service we were used to… but we were in Paris and the food was delicate and poignant down to the last bite.  Many of the dishes are served in Staub cocottes; cast iron pots.  This was also the first time I saw ice bags.  I now know you can order them on Amazon, but brought a few home because they were so darn charming.  These are the pics from our most favorite Parisian meal:

Gazpacho

Chilled watermelon mint soup.

Veal and potato casserole with spiced red sauce.

Langoustine filled ravioli.

Ice bag!

Now that we are at the end, and I have reviewed the draft of the post with all of its delightful photos, I think it might be hard for any reader to understand why I think Paris kinda sucks.  I think it is my own fault.  I assumed Paris would be more like the France I had always imagined.  Little did I know, that the France imagined was actually waiting for me in Provence and Burgundy (more on that later).  Perhaps this is the Paris you imagine.  If so, I will leave you with a few tips on traveling in and out of Paris.

What Sucks: *And note I am not your average look up at the sky and roll out my fanny pack American traveler.  I am experienced.  And I am a city girl.  I get it.

1. Its crowded.  Everywhere.  Be prepared for that when you visit major sights.

2. The Louvre: It is difficult to enjoy or take in the art work that tells the world’s history while you are being poked and prodded by tour groups and flashed in the face by cameras.  It was a very strange experience for me.

3. Do not expect anyone to move out-of-the-way for you on the street.  In fact, expect to get bumped.  A lot.  And ladies, men do not get out-of-the-way for you or open doors.  I never thought American men had manners until I went to Paris.

4. You should greet everybody in France with “Bonjour” and you should figure out how to say “Do you speak English” in French before you go.  It makes a big difference.  It says “I am a tourist, but I respect that I am in a French-speaking country”.

5. There are no public bathrooms anywhere.  Plan to go when you are at a restaurant or cafe and only if you purchase something.  The only place to do your business for free is McDonald’s.  And since everyone knows this, the bathrooms at Paris McDonald’s are DISGUSTING.  Take it from a girl who has peed on the side of the road and in alleys (yes, it happened…happens)…anyway, effin gross.

What Doesn’t Suck:

1. You can walk around with an open bottle of wine or beer and plop down wherever you damn well please for a spontaneous rendezvous.

2. The boulangeries, patisseries, markets, and cheese stores are plentiful.  You can get good food anywhere at most times.

3. People watching is fun and can be done from most street corner cafes over espresso or  a pint of Kronenberg. (P.S. Beer is always offered in small and large sizes).

4.  Public transportation rocks.  From electronic boards giving you the time of your next train, to an easy to use mapping system, you can get anywhere in and around Paris easy peezy.

5.  You are in Paris, afterall.  And the chance to visit does not suck.  At all.

Alas, this post was not short.  In fact, it is quite long.  Maybe Paris and I need to get to know each other better?  Maybe.

What’s NEXT

Last year at this time my wife and I were just coming back from our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, happy newlyweds and even more ecstatic that wedding planning was finally over. There was much we wanted to accomplish in our first year of marriage and much has happened over the last 12 months that have made us stronger and inspired us along the way. This blog is one of those things that has opened a new creative outlet for Jenna and I, a product of our travels and love of food, and our desire to tell a story.

Next Restaurant, a creation of acclaimed Chicago chef and gastronomy master Grant Achatz, tells a story. Every three months Achatz and Executive Chef Dave Beran create and serve a new menu representing a time and a place in the world, inspired by the history of regional cuisine.  These multi-course meals with wine pairings or non-alcoholic cocktail creations take inspiration from a region, often replicating or re-imaging dishes rich with history, culture and meaning. Next’s first menu was Paris 1906, which was so critically acclaimed that the restaurant became an instant success and exclusive destination for foodies, socialites and the rich and famous. The reviews and demand catapulted Achatz’s fame (if he wasn’t already a culinary star).  The unique, very limited ticketing system designed for Next made the restaurant in high demand, but also turned off some foodies due to the limited available tickets, the procedure for selling tickets (including season tickets) and the varying and expensive per person price.

Despite the downsides, the idea of enjoying a meal that represents a time and place in the world was very intriguing to Jenna and I.  We are not the ultra fine dining types and only have had a handful of those experiences combined (me=none).   Alinea was never really on our radar because of the price point, but we certainly considered it for special occasions. Indeed, we really wanted to try out this concept and see what all the fuss was about.

Anyway, back to Next. Reverse to a couple of months ago when and I was strategizing about how to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. I had ideas about San Francisco or New Orleans, or even back to Puerto Rico, from which we just explored in April. With a trip to Europe in the planning stages and the agreement that this was our gift to each other, I still wanted to have a very special dinner to celebrate this milestone.  I think it’s important to celebrate every year but being the first anniversary is really special.  Carefully, watching Next’s facebook page for available tickets I found that their El Bulli menu was ending and the following menu would be Sicily!  With Italian being one of Jenna’s favorite cuisines I knew this was meant to be. With a little help securing tickets we were on our way to a memorable anniversary.

We arrived at Next, which is adjacent to The Aviary and separated by a door that also leads to the restroom and a secret basement bar called “The Office” which is invite only.  The 25 or so tables and the decor are very intimate and well designed, very inviting for a great evening and a unique and delicious dining experience. We arrived a bit early but were seated immediately.

When we sat down we were greeted by a brown envelope when turned over revealed a wax seal with Next pressed within.  We immediately felt that we were opening something very secret and important. I looked around to see if anyone had the same thing or if it was just for us…silly, I know.  Anyway, we opened the envelope and what was inside appears in the picture above; a quote from Goethe and a welcome note with signatures from the chefs. I particularly liked the message under the quote which was intended to set the tone for the dinner and what Achatz and Beran were trying to accomplish: “The best food of Sicily is found in the homes and in the hearts of its people. Welcome.”

Achatz and Beran ditched their gastronomy techniques for the first time at Next for the Sicily menu, opting instead to use traditional cooking techniques used in Sicilian homes.  This resonated with us; the symbolism of this menu, the style of the food, and the way it was prepared connected us to the feelings we get making meals at home, learning the stories behind the recipes and creating narratives on our own that we can share with our kids.

In order to really serve an authentic Sicilian meal capturing and highlighting the right notes, Achatz and Beran went to Sicily to study home-style cooking and came away with some great knowledge, as it definitely translated in the food we ate.  Out of the 13 courses served, everything tasted like it was straight from a Sicilian mother’s kitchen. Rustic and fresh, oozing with layers of flavor but with great balance.  The wine pairings for each course helped too.  As you can see from the menu in the picture below, we had quite the feast.  The servers even offered us doggie bags but we powered through like the eating champs we are and savored and swooned over each forkful.  From the al dente perfection of the bucatini with an unreal butter soft fish roe, to the delectable gemelli pasta with fried sardine, or the flaky and buttery soft swordfish, to my favorite dish of the night…the large portioned and unbelievably tender pork shoulder.  There  was not a miss on the menu and we stumbled out full, sauced, and deeply satisfied.

Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the food. I know I promised in my last post but Jenna nor I could bring ourselves to be those people taking pictures. For this meal, and for this occasion, to celebrate our love and our first year of marriage, it was more important to enjoy each bite, each sip of wine, and our company, rather than focus on pictures of what we are eating.  Below you’ll find the menu that we received on the way out and I highly suggest looking at photos online of what we ate. And, if you get a chance, just one, take it and try Next for a special occasion. You won’t regret it.

Love Story

If you had told me a year ago that Matt and I would be driving 2 hours to Sheboygan for an afternoon pizza on our first anniversary, I would have laughed in your face..for a long time.  Who drives to Sheboygan to celebrate their first anniversary?  We do.  We do because one: we love our road trips, two: we love good food, and three: we love a good food find even better.  Before I get into any of this, I should admit that Matt thoroughly surprised me last month when he revealed his email confirmation to Next for their Sicily menu.  THAT folks was our real celebration.  You will have to stay tuned for a post from Matt about our experience at Next, but what I can tell you is that the restaurant was closed on Tuesday (our actual anniversary) which is why we attended dinner there on Sunday.  However, we both wanted to do something special on the 3rd and for Matt and I there is no better way to spend a day together than packing up the car and heading out of the city to discover new food, reacquaint ourselves with some old favorites, and simply spend the day together.

Thanks to Matt’s dad, we have recently been turned out to Wisconsin Foodie.  This is a show on PBS that highlights Wisconsin’s local and growing food scene.  You can check them out here: http://wisconsinfoodie.com/.   For Matt and I, the best part about this show are the stories behind the old and new generations of food purveyors in Wisconsin.  Makes sense that we would be into this.  Besides our love for food, Matt’s family has strong connections to Wisconsin as many of the Temkin clan is from there or went to school there.  They know Wisconsin in a way that we do not, and they have the stories to prove it.  Stories are important to us.  Matt’s interest in sports and sports culture stems from his father’s roots as a high school sports writer for the Tribune.  If you told me I would be married to a man who is a HUGE college sports fan (Go Badgers!) I would have also laughed in your face, but what I love about Matt’s involvement in sports are the stories he knows.  He can tell you about a player from the time he was playing basketball in elementary school to how and why he came up and who his family was…how all of these dynamics really shape the player he is today.   I really respect this about Matt and it deepened my appreciation for his nearly obsessive knowledge of everything Badgers.  For me, I can compare it to art history, something I have always been passionate about.  Learning about the artist and why they chose to express themselves this way or that way in a particular time is fascinating to me.  You cannot walk into a museum and see a canvas that appears to have been painted with one color without first understanding the artist and their technique….in my opinion.  In addition, my background in theatre and now a drama teacher,  is based in the art of storytelling.  My mother, who always encouraged writing and creative expression brought this out of me as a young child and I will always be appreciative of that.  I know now as an adult that sharing stories is important for they teach us about ourselves and the world around us.  Stories create understanding and respect for all people.  For Matt and I, our story is just beginning.  And as we discover who we are, we find ourselves immersed in the stories of food and the people who make them.  For us, those stories are inspiring.

Stefano Viglietti and his wife Whitney traveled to Europe nearly 20 years ago and when they returned they opened up the first of three restaurants in Sheboygan…all on the same street.  They went from living upstairs from their first restaurant to opening two other establishments that focus on local and organic food.  You can even shop for the same products they believe in and often use in the market located between Field to Fork and Il Ritrovo.  Stefano, who graciously chatted with us as he ran from restaurant to restaurant donned in his chef’s attire, has truly brought a sense of local and quality food to the Sheboygan area.  For that, we were truly impressed. Il Ritrovo makes wood fired Neopolitan style pizza.  There is a reason people travel from everyhwere for his pizza…its the oven.  His wood fired pizza oven is legit.  “Verace Pizza Napoletana Association as it meets all the requirements and proudly serves the true Neopolitan style pizza”.  This a statement from their website that confirms the authenticity of their oven.  And it shows in their pizza!  We are from Chicago; we know pizza…all kinds of pizza.  But at Il Ritrovo, we had a different kind of pizza experience.  It is worth the drive.  Thanks Herb for entertaining us at the bar!  We really enjoyed the sample of an iced coffee concoction that Stefano just brought back from Italy!  We cannot wait to come back.

After Il Ritrovo, we shopped around.  We scooped up some organic dates, olive oil, and a few chocolates before heading back to Milwaukee.  There, we made our usual stop for oysters at the Public Market, picked up some Pleasant Ridge Reserve (check out their story on Wisconsin Foodie here: http://wisconsinfoodie.com/2012/01/30/uplands-cheese-la-merenda/ ) and some cheese curds for our friend Noah ;-).   We did a bit of walking around near the market, headed to Alterra for some coffee and treats, and then back on the road to Chicago where we laughed about Matt’s fear of roller-coasters, sang along to random 90’s alternative rock, and discussed how we need to finalize our plans for Europe.  This is our love story, and I would not have it any other way.