Bonus book bit: Babcock Hall, & an event

Hey! Saturday afternoon, 5/7/2016, come to a reading from Madison Food: a History of Capital Cuisine - 2pm at Spring Green Community Library, 230 E. Monroe St., Spring Green. Now, a bonus post.

Lots of words didn't fit into Madison Food. Here are some more of our favorites that we didn't want to be missed. Our writeup of our A to Z visit to Babcock Hall Dairy Store was posted back in 2005.

No discussion of the UW-Agricultural program would be complete without mentioning Babcock Hall. Babcock Hall is the home of the University’s dairy plant. For a school as focused on life sciences as this one, it is not hard to imagine such a thing. Of course, what has has happened there since 1951 is amazing.

Let’s start with that name: Who was Babcock? Stephen Moulton Babcock was a chemist who came to the University in 1887. The market for wheat, Wisconsin's former cash crop, had cratered, and the state was looking to increase its milk and butter production as a needed boost to the economy. Pasteurization for milk was still a new idea in the mid-1880's, at which time there were few methods of preserving dairy products. So getting Wisconsin's fresh dairy products safely to the rest of the country looked like an impossible task. Babcock helped change all that.

His first discovery was that it was possible to determine the butterfat content of milk merely by dissolving it in sulfuric acid. (It is not recommended that one drink a glass of milk that has received this treatment.) The result of this process is that everything but the butterfat dissolves. Through a simple laboratory preparation, the fat content could be determined. As a result of this test, the quality of a batch of milk could be easily assessed, and therefore producers could be paid more fairly. Shipping would also be simplified, and most importantly, the standardized milk could be efficiently converted into longer-lasting dairy products such as butter and cheese.

Babcock Hall itself was built in the early 1950s as a modern update to UW’s dairy program. Part of this was a continuation of the school’s program of selling products to locals in an effort to test new methods of flavoring and production. While butter and milk are commonplace, the real secret of the University's dairy program is the ice cream. While consistent favorites dominate, there are a multitude of short-term and experimental flavors that tickle the taste buds while teaching a new generation how to craft quiescent dessert for both large and small scale operations. Babcock Hall dairy products are proudly sold at several Madison grocery stores and no summer trip to campus (whether for SOAR, the student orientation program, or just on a road trip) is complete with stopping in for a scoop.

The location itself was kept small in order to not compete with local dairy interests and has been updated and renovated multiple times over its 60 years. In 2001, John and Donna Hansen gave the university $350,000 to redecorate the space back into its classic "dairy bar" look.

Madison continues to be blessed with many fine types of frozen dessert. There’s everything from the decadent Chocolate Shoppe to the delicious creamy farm-fresh flavors of Sassy Cow, from the housemade gelato at Java Cat to the miles of smiles from Culver’s and Michael’s Custard. Yet no frozen treat joint quite says “Madison” like Babcock.

Source: Laursen, Bethany. “Standing in Line, Standing in a Legacy: An Environmental History of the Babcock Hall Dairy Store.” Wisconsin Magazine of History, Spring 2004.

Paul's Neighborhood Bar

In a word: Would you be mine?

The specs: #01010   
2401 Parmenter St., Middleton 53562
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Paul's Neighborhood Bar news and reviews

JM ate the chix & pig sandwich.
John ate the grilled chicken.
Nichole ate the mushroom Swiss burger.
Rose ate the ribeye steak sandwich.
We split some onion rings and cheese curds.
The bill was $33, or $8ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar an A-; John and Rose gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar a B+: Nichole gave Paul's Neighborhood Bar a B (see our grading rubric).

There are a lot of places that we missed (because they weren't on Isthmus' list our first time around) that make a certain amount of sense - small corner bars, tiny coffeeshops, c-stores etc. But Paul's Neighborhood Bar in Middleton is not one of these. It should be on every list. Just two blocks up from Three Sisters (now called My Sister's Kitchen), this tavern serves a nice range of standard Sconnie pub fare.

Onion ringsCurds

The four of us split two appetizers: the onion rings which had real onion and ended up being pretty good, and the cheese curds which arrived on the table hot, yet a little hard and definitely cornmealy.  The ranch sauce went mostly unused and was a mite too drippy to be of much help.

Chix & pigChicken breast sandwich

Everything that came on a bun was pretty great, because the buns were pretty great.  John's grilled chicken was probably the least great of the bunch, ending up a little on the dry side. Here's where the ranch dressing helped. JM's "chix & pig" was better, though the presence of bacon on his sandwich may account for that.

BurgerSteak sandwich

The burger was super buttery and had a nice Swiss and mushroom topping. It made us wonder if the meat, like that at many west side establishments, is from Knoche's. The medium rare ribeye came out to order accompanied by mushrooms as well. It too was juicy, perhaps a little too much so for Rose's taste.

Paul's has a fish fry and nice big parking lot.  There is also a ton of room, and while we ate at dinner early, it would be hard to imagine Paul's not having an open table, except maybe Friday nights or game days.  We didn't find anything on the menu that would likely make us regulars but it certainly joins Middleton's good and above list (along with Mid Town Pub, Middleton Sport Bowl, Club Tavern, and a few others).

Park Side Pub

In a word: How many more of these do you think we'll find?

The specs: #01009   
5016 Erling Ave., McFarland 53558
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Park Side Pub news and reviews

JM ate the chicken sandwich and chips with a lemonade.
Nichole ate the burger with chips.
The bill was $15ish, or $7-8ish/person, plus tip.
JM and Nichole gave Park Side Pub a C (see our grading rubric).

Dinner

The Park Side Pub in McFarland's best feature is the historic building. It's a typical bar situated in the Edwards building, which has been lovingly cared for, on the lake side of Hwy 51. We ate on the nice outdoor patio and, save an obnoxious motorcycle driveby, we had a perfectly standard meal. Between the burger and chicken sandwich, there was a noticeable lack of any sort of moisture in our meats. The chix also suffered from a lack of toppings that might have imbued moisture.  The burger was on an OK bun that was nicely toasted. The meat was served with meh cheese and meh-er veggies, and neither provided much excitement.

The lemonade was off the gun; the chips were standard. Nice pickle cups, though. Can you tell there wasn't much to talk about here? We don't recommend that people rush here for food, per se, it seems to be just a standard Wisconsin bar serving Sysco-inflected bar fare.

Paoli Pub

In a word: As expected.

The specs: #01008  
6893 Paoli Rd., Belleville 53508
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Paoli Pub news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate the Cajun burger and fries with a lemonade.
The bill was about $10, or $5/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paoli Pub a B; Nichole gave Paoli Pub a C+ (see our grading rubric).

When we reach the end of one of these kind of days where we eat and eat and eat, we can feel overwhelmed by the mere sight of the last meal. The good news is Paoli Pub is a completely standard Wisconsin bar experience (per Isthmus, the owners also run Draft House, Murphy's and Badger Tavern). That is also the bad news.

We were fortunate to have patio seating this day, as the day was nicer than the crisply air conditioned and totally light-free interior.  We ordered a special: the Cajun burger, medium rare. Perusing the burger menu, the presence of only third- and half-pound burgers captures the imagination - big food here. So we split one with fries because it was already too much.

Cajun burger

Our burger arrived nicely cut for us and a perfect medium rare. The spicy ranch sauce that was defined as "Cajun" was quite nice, if perhaps trying too hard. The bun was a soft sesame roll that probably could have used a little more toasting. The bacon on this burger was tender, just the way JM likes it.

The fries were potato planks and plentifully provided. Some were indeed left on the plate as well rolled out the restaurant. JM's lemonade was the best he'd had that day, and that alone is worth something.

It is hard to imagine that there wouldn't be a closer standard Sconnie bar to wherever it is that you get your third- and half-pound burgers or Friday fish fry -- but it's also hard to imagine that Paoli wouldn't have one of these, too. 

Paoli Cafe

In a word: Granoli.

The specs: #01007   
6895 Paoli Rd., Belleville 53508
Details at Yelp, Facebook

Latest Paoli Cafe news and reviews

JM ate the Paoli melt.
Nichole ate the nine bean salad and the kimchi.
The bill was $26, or $13/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paoli Cafe a B+; Nichole gave Paoli Cafe an A- (see our grading rubric).

This restaurant's name is a complete cipher. It could be called Paoli Café or the Paoli Grocery or Paoli Local Foods or Paoli Kitchen. Each of these signs was somewhere on the premises. The good news was that all of them fell betwixt the last and the next restaurants alphabetically (Paoli Bread & Brat, and Paoli Pub). What a fun authority control record it would have.

Maybe because of this identity crisis, the menu, posted above the counter, is wide ranging. They've got everything from vegan to veal, though the emphasis is on the hippie/farmer variety. We mean that in the nicest way possible; everything that was available here was farm fresh--probably because this place seems to be a retail outlet for Ruesegger farms.

Everything was pretty danged good. JM's lemonade came in a jelly jar that was perfect for the locale and the hot sunny day. Nichole's nine bean salad was tasty and wholesome. She also stole the kimchi from JM's Paoli melt, which he wasn't going to eat. Paoli Cafe offers five kinds of kimchi which they referred to as mild, medium, hot, hotter and Korean. Nichole settled for mild, and was quite happy with that choice.

Beans & lemonade

JM's sandwich came on a nutty bread and was prepared with plenty of butter. Nichole found the bread to be among the best she'd had.  The smoked gouda cheese was also very tasty, though the whole sandwich was a little disappointing -- it was hard to keep up on a day with three meals in it.

Grilled cheese

Nichole picked up some grocery items as we left and of all the places we visited in Paoli on this one day, this is the one we'd be most likely to come back to. Though, if the Schoolhouse Café is open, we'd likely have to flip for it or else visit the grocery again after lunch.

Paoli Bread and Brat Haus

Paoli Bread and Brat HausIn a word: Little, yellow, different.

The specs: #01006   
6890 Paoli Rd., Verona 53593
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Paoli Bread and Brat Haus news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate the pulled pork basket and Nichole had a slice'pie.
The bill was $13, or $6ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Paoli Bread and Brat Haus a C+; Nichole gave Paoli Bread and Brat Haus an A- (see our grading rubric).

Paoli Bread and Brat Haus was the first stop on our Wholly Paoli tour. We figured one Saturday spent sampling the town's three eponymous* eateries would be more fun than three separate road trips. So we ate light at each stop, beginning with Bread and Brat Haus.

The place is tiny and adorable (like Paoli itself) and the shed-like interior fits no more than three customers at once. Fortunately, the multiple patios and rolling green lawn behind the building offer plenty of places to be. We ordered our stuff and enjoyed some sunshine while we waited. And waited. Paoli has its own pace.

Pulled pork sandwich

But eventually a delicious pulled pork sandwich emerged. The pork was lean, and a little dry. The bun was good, though, and, despite its size, it was quite filling. JM had just hoped for something a little more compelling given the long wait. He'd be pretty unlikely, even on a bike ride, to choose the Bread and Brat Haus as his first choice.  

Pie

Nichole got a slice of pie to go. Apple, lots of cinnamon, pretty good.

Next up: Paoli Cafe.

*Or homonymous. Which is it? We're not sure.

Papino's

In a word: Far out, man.

The specs: #01005  
6601 Traveler Trail, Windsor 53598
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook

Latest Papino's news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate the Papino's special (sausage, ham, bacon, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, oregano) on hand-tossed crust.
The bill was $28, or $14/person, plus tip.
JM gave Papino's a B+; Nichole gave Papino's a B (see our grading rubric).

First of all, Windsor is a good distance from the city. Our trip to Papino's felt like a series of jokes being played on us city slickers by our GPS. On the way home, we discovered it had indeed gotten us a couple of times. If getting to Papino's has the feel of a snipe hunt, the good news is that their pizza is solid. And their connections to other esteemed northside eateries - Pat O'Malley's Jet Room and Café la Bellitalia, specifically - only add to the charm.

Slice at Papino's

Papino's Northwoodsy dining room was a little crowded, and was also doing a brisk carry-out trade. It was a Saturday night, after all. In addition to the pizza, pasta and sandwiches were on offer. We were in a touch of a hurry and decided to split a Papino's special, which came to our table reasonably quickly. The staff, it should be said, was very warm and high energy, and were very accommodating to our request for a box right after the pizza arrived. The 'za was in the standard American pizza family - very crowd-pleasing, which explains the crowd. The only variation we saw from standard pizza fare was a Nutella pizza that we'd have gotten had we had enough time.

Every small town needs its own pizzeria. JM grew up with Jocko's on Hwy 10 in Osseo - which he recalls for Hogan's Alley, and their sponsorship of his dad's softball team, as often as he remembers it for the pizza. If this is Windsor's hometown pizzeria, then Windsor is doing fine. And if you feel like getting lost in northern Dane County and you'd like to know a decent slice lies at the end of the road but you can't let go, Papino's is a natural. 

Papa Jimmy's Pizzeria

In a word: Fatherly without being paternalistic.

The specs: #01004   
224 W. Cottage Grove Rd., Cottage Grove 53527
Details at Yelp, official web site

Latest Papa Jimmy's Pizzeria news and reviews

JM and Nichole ate the 12" Hawaiian with BBQ on hand tossed crust, a side salad, and one soda.
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Papa Jimmy's Pizzeria a B; Nichole gave Papa Jimmy's Pizzeria a B+ (see our grading rubric).

Every little town needs its own pizzeria, and while Sun Prairie seems to have nailed down the best ones east of Madison's downtown, Papa Jimmy's in Cottage Grove is completely satisfactory. They even have a pizza drive-thru for pick-up orders, and it is nice to buy local rather than going down the street to Pizza Hut.

Our Hawaiian pizza was about average with an above-average crust. That said, Hawaiian pizza can always be quite wet, given how both Canadian bacon and pineapple are stored before use, and this pie was juicy.  Adding tomatoes to this did not make things any better. At least the cheese had some crispiness to its char, which was perfectly done.

Pizza

Nichole had a run at the salad bar, which is one of those things that one either finds necessary or silly. She was in the mood for an iceberg salad with Italian dressing on a glass plate, and that's just what the buffet offered.

Salad

It would be nice to say that this pizza is worth a special trip, but we've been to Cottage Grove a lot lately and we've found some even larger diamonds in the rough, which, when coupled with Sun Prairie's pizza dominance makes a return to trip to Papa Jimmy's unlikely. But keep in mind, it was a good slice of pizza and one can do much worse.

Palenque

In a word: Tikaled our fancy.

The specs: #01003   
5906 Hwy 51, McFarland 53558
Details at Yelp

Latest Palenque news and reviews

JM ate the combo plate 11 (burrito, taco, enchilada with queso) and a lemonade.
Nichole ate the carnitas with an horchata.
The bill was $25, or $12ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Palenque an A; Nichole gave Palenque an A- (see our grading rubric).

This location in McFarland has been home to some very unfortunate Mexican places. So let's say that our hopes were not high as we walked in. After perusing the menu, we thought the fare seemed to be fairly standard Mexican-American with a couple of twists. 

Now, briefly, the negatives of Palenque:

  1. There is no anteroom to catch cold air, so if you sit by the door during winter you get to feel cold every 4 minutes.
  2. There's a salon next door, and their scents are noticeable.

There was nothing not to like about the food, which was all at the top of the comfort food game.

Nichole got a carnitas plate which was like movie popcorn in a good way, buttery and tender.  This dish was served with the standard fajita sides of tortillas, rice & beans and a guac salad. The horchata was about the best version of it she's had in town. Not too watery nor too milky, it was loaded with cinnamon.

Carnitas

JM's smothered enchilada and burrito were tasty and filling, while the taco was a smallish letdown. The cheese sauce really was the star here and it's incorporated into many plates. The ground beef fillings were not larded with potatoes or needlessly heavy. 

Combo plate

Palenque's most notable Madison competition is the venerable (and venal) Laredo's (boo). Even if we're boycotting L's for a time, it is hard to imagine we'd end up at Palenque instead of Cuco's or Los Gemelos on account of distance, which explains the minus behind Nichole's A. But in its category, Palenque is great on a warm day.

PaintBar

In a word: Creative adjacent.

The specs: #01002  
1224 Williamson St., 53703
Details at Yelp, official web site, Facebook, Twitter

Latest PaintBar news and reviews

JM ate a pizza with a lemonade.
Nichole ate a panino and chips.
The bill was $21, or $10ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave PaintBar a C+; Nichole gave PaintBar a B- (see our grading rubric).

First things first: we didn't paint at PaintBar. So this is even less of a full picture than we usually draw. There are two canvasses of PaintBar - the first in Delafield, and the one on Williamson. They may be completely different, but we only tried the Willy St. spot, early on a weeknight during which the place hosted a couple tables of quiet painters, as well as what looked like a post-work happy hour full of young people with a co-worker vibe who were far too well put-together to be government employees.

Panino

Let's get down to the food since it is primarily what we consumed.  Nichole's panino was clearly the better of the two meals we received.  The sandwich boasted a good flavor blend of salty meat, sweet rich cheese, sharp arugula, bright tomatoes pressed hard between slices of good bread.  The chips were fine but not awesome.

Pizza

JM's pizza, on the other hand, did not really please.  It had a common pizza problem of being too damp to really be described as much else.  The flavors that should accompanying a ham pizza ended up falling into either the blah bucket or the salt lick.  Hoo boy, was this some salty ham.

But this may be too harsh for a place that is selling a fun atmosphere and mostly delivers.  Their calendar is laden with special events and small private parties, but the Bar part of their name comes honestly.  That is to say, don't bring the kids.  And without getting all gender studies on it, JM felt that it would be hard to see a strongly mixed gender group doing this without kids in tow. (The clientele, work party notwithstanding, was north of 80% female.) Nichole indicated she would return if and only if it were for a party of some kind. 

Which maybe gets into Madison's next phase of restaurants, now that we're closer to peak ethnic: places where you can drink & ______. 

NEWS

Madison Food coverOur book Madison Food: A History of Capital Cuisine is out. More updates here, and some bonus bits on Porchlight, Argus, Sunshine Supper, and Babcock.


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