Milwaukee is quickly becoming a complicated town for us to visit, because of the number of must-visit places we've found there. Polonez got added to that list on Tuesday for the tripe soup, and Kopp's was already on our list. But before we left town on Wednesday, we had to check off another favorite with an early stop at McBob's.
(The number of must-visit places thwarted my plans of sampling schaumtorte in Milwaukee. We tried to breakfast at the German restaurant across the street from our hotel because their menu mentioned schaumtorte, but they were closed.)
McBob's is an Irish bar that we first encountered on the 2011 Roadfood tour. It doesn't look like much from the outside, but it serves some really outstanding corned beef.
Lori ordered the corned beef, and it was just as good as we remembered it: luscious and succulent and outstanding. If I could make corned beef half as good, I would be a happy man at St. Patrick's Day. The accompanying bacon bread was also superb.
I ordered the walleye sandwich, because buffetbuster had tried the walleye on the Roadfood tour and called it just as good as the corned beef - and because Lori had promised to share her corned beef with me. It may be that I don't love fish as much as corned beef, or it may be that the preparation of the walleye was different from what buffetbuster sampled, but to my palate it was just a piece of fried fish on a bun… it was a perfectly fine sandwich, but I was still left gazing longingly at Lori's corned beef and hoping that she would share. (She did share generously, but I would have gobbled even more.)
The stop at McBob's was early because we had an early-closing stop in mind: Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin had been recommended by multiple Roadfooders.
Lori: We joked about it, but it's true -- Holy Hill was a nice melding of tourism for both of us -- a Catholic Shrine with homemade pie! Holy Hill was a lovely stop, and we hope to visit again someday.
The kitchen would be closing soon, so we hurried up and got to the Old Monastery Cafe for a slice of pie apiece. We sampled a delightfully tart lemon crunch pie, and a pie called "Father's Fruit," which was really a renamed fruits of the forest pie. Both were very good.
After this, we toured the Shrine, which consists of a main Basilica and several smaller chapels and shrines. For the curious, simply put, a Basilica is a Cathedral that is the home of the Pope when he's in that area of the world. The shrines are gorgeous, particularly one dedicated to Mary on the right side of the main Basilica. There is a beautiful statue of Mary with a young Jesus, and the stained glass windows were also remarkably lovely. It was just a very serene place to spend some time.
The Mary Shrine has also been a place where miracles have been reported to happen. No matter what you believe about this, the wall of discarded crutches and braces was pretty awe-inspiring.
One feature of Holy Hill that is really different is that you can climb a staircase in one of the steeples of the Basilica and enjoy a scenic overlook of Holy Hill and the country surrounding it. There are many warnings at the start that pretty much say "This will be a lot of stairs. Don't do it if you have breathing problems or otherwise shouldn't climb a lot of stairs. Also, don't do it if you have a fear of heights or enclosed spaces."
I don't much like heights or enclosed spaces, but I thought I would be okay. And at first, in the part that are relatively normal narrow staircases and landings, I was. Then we got into the area that is "really" the steeple. It is pretty much an open area with a few landings and narrow staircases circle up along the walls with a whole lot of empty space in the center. Empty space you can look into, and contemplate the benefits of dying in such a holy and serene place. Needless to say, I didn't make it to the top. I got to a certain point, my hands locked on to the rails, and I turned myself around very slowly and crept back down. We talked with a nice gentleman who offered to help if he could and said that he'd only made it to the top once on a feast day when the tower was crowded. The view from the tower was breathtaking (in more ways than one), and Ralph made it higher than I did and took some nice pictures. We were both glad to have visited Holy Hill.
Ralph: By the time we left Holy Hill, it was mid-afternoon, and it was becoming even more clear that we could not check off a fraction our list of things to do in Wisconsin. But I had a small list left of things I really wanted to try: I wanted to eat bratwurst in Sheboygan. I wanted to sample chicken booyah, ideally at a booyah. And I wanted to visit a cheese factory. So we had studied the map at http://www.eatwisconsincheese.com/assets/pdfs/WisconsinCheeseMap.pdf to pick a cheese tour. We couldn't quite find anything that provided all the qualities I wanted: a factory tour, a convenient location, and exotic cheeses. So we settled on Beechwood Cheese Company, because it had an observation window if not a tour, a "chicken soup cheese", and a location on the way to Sheboygan.
Here's the summary: We got super lucky with our visit to Beechwood Cheese, and we had a great time. But if you want to visit, we strongly suggest you call ahead.
When we arrived at Beechwood Cheese, we could tell that it wasn't nearly as touristy as, say, the place with the sixty-foot mouse. In fact, Kris, the woman in the shop area seemed a bit surprised to have tourists.
But she was very friendly and accommodating, and invited us to peek through the windows as the guys drained the whey off the cheese. She said that it was about half an hour before the curds would be ready, which was just about the right amount of time for us; it gave us some time to watch as they salted the curds and started to shape them into blocks, and time enough to ask a lot of questions.
I regret that I don't remember all the things that she explained to us. For example, I remember that cheddar curds used a slightly different process from the Monterey Jack curds that they were making, but I can't remember what the difference is.
I do remember that she had an answer to one of the questions I had been pondering on our way through Wisconsin: why is it that Wisconsin channeled its dairy talents into great cheese where places like New England have used their dairy to to make great ice cream? Her answer: it's all about distance to market. Wisconsin is spread out enough that making milk into cheese is a good idea because it lets you transport it farther before it spoils. It makes a lot of sense to me.
(She also might have mentioned that Wisconsin does have a role as an ice cream state. For example, this lists Wisconsin as third in per-capita ice cream consumption. And there is certainly marvelous frozen custard.)
She told us that as cheese ages, it gets sharper and then mellower again, in a two-year cycle, so a cheese that's aged one, three, or five years would be sharper than a cheese that has aged two, four, or six years.
Another revelation: they really do use cheesecloth and cheese hoops. Once more, I had this pleasant surprise of things turning out to be as my personal folklore describes them, like the excitement of an anthropologist who's now able to confirm stories of cannibalism as he's lifted into the cook pot.
Kris brought us out samples of half-salted cheese curds. The half-salted curds don't squeak against your teeth, though the fully salted ones do. My guess is that osmosis changes the amount of trapped water and yields the squeak.
Mark brought out salted cheese curds for us and said, "It doesn't get any fresher than this." It's true - we got the curds as soon as they were ready, and that morning, the milk of this cheese had been inside of cows. The salted curds were delicious. We bought a bag full and nibbled them eagerly as we drove down the road.
How often do you get a label like this?
We had a great time at Beechwood Cheese. But we were very lucky. As I've already mentioned, we showed up half an hour before the curds were ready, which was just the right time. We also discovered that Beechwood Cheese only makes cheese two days a week. (The cheese makers have jobs at other cheese factories.) But I'm not sure what days those are, so call ahead!
Our next stop: bratwurst in Sheboygan. This was another recommendation from Buffetbuster, for Gosse's.
I ordered the bratwurst. I was really surprised at how tender the sausage was; the casing offered no resistance, unlike the sausages I get in the supermarket. It was delicious, with a rich mellow flavor that would go well with a beer.
Lori's fried chicken and broasted potatoes were very good.
We noticed a selection of "tortes" on the whiteboard, and we wondered if the torte here was the same as the schaumtorte we'd read about. So we ordered the cherry torte. I'm still not quite sure that this is representative of Wisconsin schaumtorte, but it was not a torte in the layered cake sense. So perhaps it is a schaumtorte, or perhaps it is a sham schaumtorte. So the question at hand, of course, is "should I shun or sample the sham schaumtorte?" (Lori: "You said that without the excuse of alcohol." Ralph: "Of course. Even sober, it took me two tries to say.") Ontology and alliteration aside, this torte was most like Jell-O No-Bake Cheesecake, with the same texture of gelatin holding it all together. It wasn't bad, but not worth seeking out.
The last thing I wanted to eat in Wisconsin was chicken booyah. I have no realistic hope of sampling all the Roadfood-listed restaurants, but I still entertain fancies of sampling all the foods mentioned in 500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late and The Lexicon of Real American Food. And chicken booyah is a big chicken stew that is mentioned in both of those books. MilwFoodLovers had recommended a local magazine (whose name he couldn't remember) as a locator for chicken booyah, but we were unable to locate it in Sheboygan. (That magazine may have been the Entertainer, which we later found online – but it had no mention of local booyahs.) So we were trying to follow up a lead given us by ScreamingChicken, who had been told by a coworker of two restaurants in Green Bay that served booyah.
The first of those restaurants was the Bay Family Motel and Restaurant. We arrived there at 8:05 just as it stopped raining – only to be told that they stopped serving at 8pm. They did have refrigerated booyah for sale, but we didn't feel confident that we would have any way to heat it up. (As it turned out, we had a very nice hotel room with a kitchenette; we could have heated up some booyah. But we didn't know it at the time.)
So we went down the street to ScreamingChicken's other suggestion, the Golden Basket restaurant. We were denied yet again – they serve chicken booyah only on Mondays. We stayed for dessert because we were tired from driving and heavy rain had resumed; our strawberry shortcake and banana cream pie were so-so at best.
Time-lapse video of our drive through Wisconsin: