I'm not sure exactly what it was about these past few days, but I've been thinking a ton about Madison, L'Etoile, and Wisconsin as a whole. Everything I seem to think about these days somehow re minds me of or points me back to the dairyland. Maybe it's just because I miss everyone and the area, or it's my subconscious trying to get me back over there (even if its just a temporary visit.)
It all started a few weeks ago. I was happily enjoying ideas of trips to the city, and had just arrived back in New York when fellow Glutton, Kim Yu shared a link from one of my personal favorite food sites, Serious Eats. The link on my facebook simply read, "Our Favorite Burgers of 2010." I assumed that it was nothing more than an allusion to Kim and I's beloved Shack Stack. But when I clicked on the link I noticed a different beast. The second the page loaded, I got the chills. I knew that burger. That perfectly seared patty, with all the accoutrements. The fried egg, the tomato, the pickles, the Hook's cheddar. But first of all I noticed that English Muffin that I had made a considerable amount of times: the English Muffins that every day we made them while I was in the bakery, I made a habit of snagging a couple hot off the griddle and grabbed a little nugget of cheese or a bit of butter and horking them down before anyone noticed they were gone. It was the Pub Burger from graze, and the Head of Serious Eats' favorite burger of the year. I immediately wanted to teleport myself to the bar at Graze, and order one with a Miller High Life and an order of warm cookies and milk.
Then, after the Colts' loss to the Jets, I have converted to a Green Bay Packers' fan for the time being. I hate every other team in the playoffs, and I have spent so much time with Packers fans, and they are some of the least obnoxious NFL fans around. They are true fans. They've been through the shitty years, they've been through the great years, and regardless of the quality of the team at any given time, you can expect Lambeau Field to be packed, and the entire fan base will be hammered and ready to go in -20 degree weather. I like that. I watched the Packers put the hurt on the Falcons, and I really wished that I had been at the Avenue Bar on East Wash. I was there when the Badgers beat Ohio St, and witnessed some of the funniest, drunkest, oldest football fans I've ever come across. I wanted to yell at the big screens. I wanted fried cheese curds. I wanted to be back chilling with Craig the bartender.
Most recently, however, I picked up the February Issue of Food & Wine Magazine. I was pleasantly surprised to see "Ice Follies" and a description of an article all about Chef Tory from L'Etoile, and how he deals with the wicked Wisconsin winters. I flipped to the page and immediately saw all the familiar faces in a full page photo. They're all out on the ice on Lake Mendota running around playing Broom Hockey. They're pretty small, But I can immediately pick out Chef Tory, Talish the GM at Graze, Diane the co-owner, and right on the seam of the page they cut off most of a tall guy who I immediately picked out as Ryan, the sous chef, because of the giant nose that pokes out from the left centerfold of the magazine out onto the actual picture.
I still rock my L'* hat on a regular basis. (L'Etoile is French for "the star", therefore explaining the logo." People don't understand why I do. This article in a massive national food publication justifies my wearing of the hat. I put on the hat because I'm proud of the fact that I can honestly say that I was a part of the development of something I feel could be pretty freakin huge on the Midwest food scene. L'Etoile and Graze will both only get bigger. There's great food coming out of those kitchens, and great people behind the food, and there's ambition to do bigger and better things. I'm very happy for Tory and for the whole L'Etoile family. They all certainly deserve it, and I'm honored to have been a small part of the organization for such a small amount of time.
Just when I really missed Madison the most, my good friend Mary had some pretty damn great timing. Probably one of my favorite aspects of Madison is the drive in. I remember the first time I pulled up John Nolen Drive on my way to the Mad City last June. The road leads up between two lakes, and has a perfect view of the capitol building. And right across the street there sits L'Etoile. Mary was on her way back to Wisconsin for school, and as she was driving that particular stretch of road, she snapped a photo and sent it to me with a caption, "Madison Misses You!"
I want to visit sometime, but not until after I graduate. Who knows when I'll be able to make it back. But I'll be there sooner or later. First order of business when I do, Graze Burger, Hot Pretzel with Widmers, and a cold beer.
Until then, keep it real