She Let Me Eat Cake

Debbie Pagel loves to make a fish dinner, pizza, sushi rolls, hot dog and fries, and a whole roast pig… out of cake. The fact that she tells me this while I’m eating coconut cake with curry frosting makes it clear Debbie is not your average baker. She is the owner of Eat Cake, the place folks go when they want an out-of-the-ordinary way to celebrate a special occasion.

Debbie Pagel serendipitously sporting the team colors

Debbie Pagel serendipitously sporting the team colors

Confession: I usually pass on cake. However, if the cake is from Eat Cake, you’ll have to watch your fingers I’ll be grabbing it up so fast. Debbie’s cakes are so delicate they barely have the weight to stay on the fork, luckily there is frosting to help with that. This is not just whipped up sugar glopped on top, but subtly and beautifully flavored buttercream and cream cheese frostings.  Of course she makes the standard white, yellow and chocolate cakes. The chocolate in particular brings out the yummy noises, with a flavor that is more deep coco than “chocolaty.” The day I was there, a couple had been in to talk wedding cake. They make their own honey mead, and Debbie worked it into a cake and frosting. It is divine. A little sweet, a little yeasty, like sour dough bread and cake had a baby. Her lavender cake with passion fruit frosting is a lovely pairing. The way both flavors are just hinted at make it somehow refreshing. The coconut and curry combo is a perfect sweet and savory balance that you may have to taste to believe, and you just may have the chance as Debbie is considering it for the Food Slam. She likes playing around with the savory/sweet combo and once made a ginger cake with wasabi frosting in the shape of a blue fin tuna.

chocolate, white, coconut curry, lavender & passionfruit, and honey mead. Oh my!

chocolate, white, coconut curry, lavender & passionfruit, and honey mead. Oh my!

When I say “in the shape of” a blue fin tuna, I don’t mean the outline, I mean 3-D, just like the sushi roll, pizza, hot dog and fries, whole roast pig, etc.  “I love recreating food items,” Debbie said. “I once recreated some man’s favorite fish dinner from his favorite restaurant. It looked like a piece of salmon, red beans and rice and mixed vegetables in a Styrofoam container.”

You might think making cakes almost every day for ten years, Debbie would be sick of eating it. You’d be wrong. “I eat it every day. If I’m away I start to crave it after a day.” Her favorites: Chocolate with peanut butter frosting, yellow with fruity frosting and banana cake. “When I make banana, I always have to have some,” she said. Proving that indeed, you can make your cake and eat it too.

My musical pairing: Dead or Alive – “Cake and Eat It” Obviously, there’s the title, but there’s something about the rhythm that makes me think of stirring cake batter and anything Dead or Alive is so…sprinkly. Plus, during my musical awakening, I would call WMSE and request Dead or Alive and I couldn’t believe there was a station that would actually play it.

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

Mixing It Up with Martita’s Guiltless® Margaritas

Guiltless ® sangria and  cucumber margarita

Guiltless ® sangria and cucumber margarita

Martha Manske has a passion for margaritas, but not for calories. Of course, she is not alone. But rather than denying herself her cocktail of choice or foregoing the food that goes with the drink (not a good idea), Martha took matters into her own hands and started Martita’s Guiltless® Margarita Mix. With just 10 calories per 5 ounces of mix, when you add tequila, a 6 ounce margarita is just 85 calories. According to the authority Oprah.com, a regular margarita can run you 168-504 calories. A girl who suddenly finds herself eating burgers, BBQ samplers and a dish called “fat boy” on a regular basis appreciates such a thing. Martita’s Mixers contain natural sweeteners (and no sugar), flavorings and coloring and are gluten-free. And just in case you have fear of scurvy, each serving also contains 2720% of your daily value of vitamin C. You can up your vitamin intake even more if you, as Martha often does, throw some fruit in the blender with the mix and tequila. She likes to add mango and papaya and once even tried red pepper that she said was fun to try and “interesting,” but not destined to become a favorite. When I visited Martha, she made me a cucumber margarita that she will be featuring at the Food Slam. It was light and refreshing and perfect for a day when summer finally decides to show up in Milwaukee like it has something to prove. She was happy to share the recipe:

Guiltless Cucumber Margarita_edited-5

Joining the cucumber margarita in the lighten-up-in-taste-and-calories department is Martita’s Guiltless® Sangria. Equal parts Martita’s mix and red wine with some slices of fruit thrown in, it is more refreshing than a full glass of red. Stop by and see Martha at the Food Slam, she’s sure to be the one “guiltless” indulgence in the room.

My musical pairing: Peter Allen – “I Go to Rio”

When I have a margarita in my hand, it is hard for me not to dance and get a little cheeky. This tune has all the bounce, joy and fruitiness required. (Plus the performance featured in this video is 9000 kinds of fantastic.)

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

Gettin’ Our Motor Bar and Restaurant Run In

There I was, at Motor® Bar and Restaurant at the Harley Davidson Museum, about to dig into a dish called “The Fat Boy,” a bit of an undertaking as the name implies. Everyone was talking about the upcoming 110th anniversary celebration, and then it happened; the phrase “gearing up” slipped past my lips and I was a little horrified. Luckily, I had WMSE Volunteer Coordinator, Chris DeMay as my dining partner because A) he is very amenable to sharing dishes, and B) before I could apologize for my pun transgression, Chris said, seriously and sincerely, “It’s okay. I’ll forget it.”

It was not my first transgression of the night; as I walked in wearing all primary colors, not a stitch of black or bad-ass on me, I had flashes of those scenes in movies when Joe Civilian walks into a biker bar and burly men sporting beards and leather make him aware of his mistake. Instead, I was greeted by a friendly hostess with a warm smile who immediately made me feel at home. She even stopped by during our meal to chat. The thing is, most biker folk are as friendly of folk as you’ll ever meet, and it seems Motor has drawn on that when staffing the restaurant. After all, it’s not just a “biker bar,” but a place for all of us to celebrate the legacy of Harley Davidson in Milwaukee.

The Fat Boy

The Fat Boy

So, transgressions out of the way, it was easy to settle in to enjoy the beautiful space, food and company. Chris, who once worked on a trout farm, FYI, ordered a cup of the velvety smoked trout bisque. It had nice chunks of fish and a complexity of flavor that made me believe any other soup they make is probably pretty damn good too. The aforementioned “Fat Boy” is a plate of crispy fries topped with cheddar, mozzarella, pico de gallo , cilantro, sour cream, BBQ sauce and house smoked pulled pork. Pulled pork is ubiquitous on menus these days, but this pulled pork… well, I guess I should not be surprised that Motor takes “hog” seriously. (Damn! I did it again! Sorrysorrysorry.) It was juicy, tender and tasted both like pork and smoke. They didn’t put it on the menu just because it is popular, but because they knew how to do it well. Seems they did some serious dialing in to get the BBQ sauce just right too. Since Chris helped me with the Fat Boy, I helped him with the fish tacos; a nice big piece of lightly battered cod with napa cabbage, chipotle cream, pico de gallo and chunks of queso fresco. Chris liked how he got a little bit of all the ingredients in every bite.

Chris DeMay in the "lime light" with fish tacos

Chris DeMay in the “lime light” with fish tacos

While Chris and I leaned south of the border on our food choices, Motor features mostly traditional American fare. They are particularly known for their house-breaded cheese curds, for which, Executive Sous Chef Tom Long says, folks go crazy, and the Stuffed Motor Burger, which is stuffed with bacon and cheddar and topped with that great BBQ sauce. Our waitress called it “a 10-napkin burger.”

inside Motor

inside Motor

The indoor space is open, comfortable, industrial and classy with glass walls all around and an artful metal work screen separating the bar and dining area. I imagine whoever designed it was thinking of the experience of being on a motorcycle on the open road – a tight, cozy space would feel too confined after a day with the wind in your hair. It feels pretty good if you’ve spent the day in the office too; there’s space to breathe. The outdoor space offers plenty of that too, butting up to the river, offering a nice view of the riverwalk landscaping and, if you are lucky, as Chris and I were, fireworks from the Summerfest grounds.

outside Motor (See the fireworks?)

outside Motor (See the fireworks?)

After this week’s 110th celebration, you may just catch a little Harley-Davidson fever. Motor is a great place to engage in that spirit of friendliness paired with a job-well-done that distinguishes the motorcycle legend and our fair city. It’s a pretty good place to forget your transgressions with good food and a friend, too.

Chris’s musical pairing: Blue Oyster Cult – “True Confessions” 

Chris says, “When I think of Harley-Davidson I think of Blue Oyster Cult … not entirely sure why, but the two are forever linked in my mind. Which brings me to the recent death of Blue Oyster Cult keyboard and guitar player, Allen Lanier, who shook off his mortal coil on August 14th. Lanier’s contributions to the band’s songwriting and sound are essential—as well as his work with Patti Smith, The Clash and Jim Carroll. For all those reasons, I roll out “True Confessions” from BOC’s classic 1976 album, Agents of Fortune. The song was written by Lanier and features his fine piano playing and lead vocal. See also Patti Smith’s “Elegie” and The Clash’s “Julie’s Been Working for the Drug Squad,” which also feature Lanier’s piano work. Get your motor runnin’…”

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

Burger with a View at Milwaukee Ale House

Milwaukee may not have the most impressive skyline (Milwaukeeans are really not folks to boast) but around town you can find dozens of really lovely views of the city that show you what she’s made of. One such view can be found on the deck at Milwaukee Ale House. To the north, the business of the city, to the south the industrial buildings of the third ward. The river flows past connecting the old and the new and across the way, so does the rail line. It makes you feel at home and connected to a past Milwaukee – a port city, a brewery town, an industry hub. It makes you feel good…and hungry, and maybe like it might be a good time for a beer.

The view from Milwaukee Ale House deck

The view from Milwaukee Ale House deck

Milwaukee Ale House popped up in the Third Ward in the late ‘90s at the beginning of the district’s renaissance and has been serving up their Milwaukee Brewing Company beer, straight-forward American food and good times to the ever-changing and growing population of workers and inhabitants of the neighborhood (and even folks from out in the suburbs) ever since. It can be a hoppin’ place at night, especially when there is live music, but the deck is a beautiful respite from the office on a weekday afternoon, as WMSE Development Director Justin Shoman and I can attest.

Justin is pretty excited about this burger

Justin is pretty excited about this burger

It felt like a burger kind of day. Justin ordered the North Star Burger with gorgonzola, bacon and his own special addition: “You gotta have fried onions on a blue cheese burger. Everybody knows that,” he said. I pretended to know nothing of cholesterol and ordered the farmhouse burger special with applewood-smoked Carr Valley cheddar cheese, bacon and a fried egg. They were so good Justin managed to sign into The Clean Plate Club even though his burger was a hand length tall. (I had the good sense to leave a little on my plate.) This is clearly the place when you have a hankering for a really good version of a classic dish like spinach and artichoke dip, blackened chicken sandwich, tenderloin steak sandwich or pot roast, among many others. The menu features nine salads; that’s a bonus for when you are feeling the opposite of a farmhouse burger.

oh yes I did.

oh yes I did.

Plates cleared, I knew what Justin was thinking. “No, we can not sit here all afternoon and drink beer,” I said.

He groaned and wrinkled his nose. “But can we sit and enjoy the view a little longer?”

“You bet.”

Justin’s musical pairing: Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys – Orange Blossom Special

Here’s why in his own words: “A beautiful summer day with a beer and a burger on a riverside patio watching trains go by is about as an American experience as apple pie so I had to pick a bluegrass tune. Who better than the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.  I’ve always loved trains, and the countless country and bluegrass songs about boxcars and ramblers make me want to hop the rails every time I see one.  If you don’t see me at the Food Slam, I’ll be living a hobo’s dream.”

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

MKE Brewing Love Fest

MKE Brewing/WMSE love fest

MKE Brewing/WMSE love fest

I believe taking brewery tours is a civic duty if you are a Milwaukeean. I used to think they were just something to do when friends came from out of town, but here’s the thing; If you’re from Milwaukee, it just seems like you should be able to tell anyone who might stop you on the street how beer is made. It’s a matter of pride and history and the evolution of the city. Plus, you can get a buzz while you’re learning. Milwaukee Brewing Company  is a fun place to do just that.

WMSE Development Director Justin Shoman and I grabbed a few friends and joined the crowd gathered at the 2nd Street brewery to learn about the operation that has been bringing us Louise’s Demise  and Pull Chain Ale  since 1997. Upon arrival we were handed a MKE Brewing pint glass and asked with what we would like it filled. Then, after a charming introductory video, Jeremy, our tour guide,  gave us the agenda for the rest of the tour. “I blather at you, we go get beer. I blather at you some more, we go get more beer, etc.,” he said. The group seemed pretty amenable to this plan.

Justin Shoman and gang ready to take on civic responsibility

Justin Shoman and gang ready to take on civic responsibility

I will not lie, I seem to remember the stuff from the beginning of the tour a little better, as one might imagine, like all the great ways MKE Brewing uses green technology to make their product including solar energy, sending the used mash to Growing Power for use in compost, and water conservation. They are so committed to recycling, if a bottle is not filled properly, instead of dumping the beer out, they drink it.

Jeremy Stern gives us the brewing lowdown

Jeremy Stern gives us the brewing lowdown

I’m not going to tell you all we learned on anyway, because the brewery tour is your civic duty, too. In fact, when you take the tour, find the answers to these questions to prove your devotion to the industry that made Milwaukee famous:

1)    From what 70s TV icon  did the brewery purchase equipment?

2)    Before prohibition, Wisconsin led the country in production of what?

3)    How is the brewery kept at a reasonable temperature?

4)    Beer tastes better out of a (fill in the blank).

Milwaukee Brewing offers several year-round and seasonal beers fitting the varied palates of our party members. Justin and I were particularly fond of Black Iron, an India Black Ale. Somebody did not bother trying the other beers and stuck to refills of this black beauty.

WMSE has a mutual love fest with Milwaukee Brewing. They have been long-time sponsors of both the Food Slam and Chili Cook-off, donating a significant portion of the beer for both events. As further proof of the fine pairing of brewery and radio station, while we were there we ran into WMSE Music Director Erin Wolf and Brandon Malacara who happened to be sporting some WMSE swag.

two-fisted WMSE Music Director Erin Wolf

two-fisted WMSE Music Director Erin Wolf

more love fest

more love fest

Milwaukee may be the butt of jokes and the holder of certain reputations because of its brewing foundation (possibly, of course, because of one debatably hilarious/corny TV show ), and while perhaps we are sometimes deserving of said jokes and reputation, a tour at Milwaukee Brewing Company can bring out a certain pride of living in a city that, like the folks at the brewery, is innovative, hard working, committed to craft and, of course, fun-loving.

Justin’s musical pairing: “Drunk Girls” LCD Sound-system

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

Milwaukee Pizza Party

Last week, the WMSE conference room turned into a vulture den as the staff and I circled a couple of pizza ovens where Erik Bugos of Milwaukee Pizza Company was preparing lunch. Erick was very patient and we took turns stepping up beside him as if somehow that would make the pizzas cook faster.

It was hard to hold everyone back from the pizza long enough to take this photo

It was hard to hold everyone back from the pizza long enough to take this photo

Milwaukee Pizza Company got started almost by accident. Erik and partner Nick Smith were running batting cages and decided to make their own pizzas for the birthday parties they hosted. The pizzas were a big, er, hit, and soon they were being served at Art Bar and stocked in a couple corner stores. Two years later, you can find them at grocery stores all around town. Thank goodness.

Milwaukee Pizza Company pizzas are, as you’d expect, Milwaukee style pizza; thin, crispy, flaky crust. But it’s not just the crust that takes its inspiration from our hometown. They honor the city with pizzas called Milwaukee Beer Brat and Lakeside Deluxe, and by using locally made toppings whenever possible.

When the timer on the ovens finally went off, we descended. First up was Milwaukee Beer Brat topped with a cheddar ale base, Usingers brat slices, green and white onion and more cheddar. A general moan moved through the room as everyone took a bite. Brat pizza sounds like a gimmick, but the cheddar ale base gives it complex flavor. Two bites in and I was making plans to stock the freezer with these.

Milwaukee Beer Brat pizza

Milwaukee Beer Brat pizza

Having had our first taste, we were a little more patient in waiting for the Lakeside Deluxe, which was good because even after it came out of the oven we had to wait a bit; hot pepperoni juice is dangerous. Along with the all-beef pepperoni, this one features sausage, mushroom, green pepper and onion. This “traditional” pizza particularly pleased Tom Crawford, a pizza purist.

The Herbivore is definitely not a “traditional” pizza. Ryan Schleicher drew funny looks when he said it tasted like a really good vegetable soup, but somehow he was right on. Artichoke hearts, arugula, cilantro, onion, red pepper, cheddar and garlic infused olive oil come together atop this pizza in a well-balanced, fresh tasting blend of flavors. No wonder; Erik said that toppings on all the pizzas go on fresh, and then they freeze the pizzas themselves. Each one is shaped and topped by hand and I swear you can taste that.

I am of the belief that the frozen pizza is the most perfect convenience food; easy to make, easy to eat and gets your belly full. But when was the last time you took a bite of a frozen pizza and made yummy noises? It’s pretty cool that these guys have elevated it to a meal to actually look forward to. We’re certainly looking forward to seeing them at the Food Slam. There’s a good chance you’ll see someone from the WMSE staff circling their table.

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

Red Rockin’ BBQ

Should you find yourself on Water Street for the kind of fun Water Street is known for, you would do well to start out the evening (or finish it) at Red Rock Saloon. Nothing sets you up for a night on the town like a belly full of BBQ.

Though WMSE Station Manager Tom Crawford and I were planning a more subdued evening, we dropped into Red Rock and were treated to a sampler platter covering all the major meat groups (pulled pork, brisket and chicken wings) as well as two representatives from classic BBQ sides (cowboy beans and chipotle mac-n-cheese) and a representative of the bar food group (shoe string onion rings). The brisket, pork and wings gave us plenty of opportunities to explore Red Rock’s sauces. The KC Jones sauce is full of smoke and molasses, the RR Signature sauce is a sweet traditional BBQ sauce, and the Outlaw sauce – well, Tom said you could put a little of that on a shoe and it would taste good. It’s got a great kick, and Tom did, in fact, put it on everything but his shoes.

Southern delight in downtown MKE

Southern delight in downtown MKE

Tom also said the beans were about as good as any homemade beans you’re going to get. You can taste the bacon in these beans, giving them a nice smoky flavor. Mac-n-cheese is almost always fun; throw chipotle in there and it’s electric bull riding kind of fun. (Yup, they have one at Red Rock. Though you should probably wait a while after eating before riding it.)

Now, perhaps you are worried about our nutrition. “Where are the veg?” you might ask. Don’t worry, Mama, there was also a nice big plate of deep fried pickles with southwest ranch sauce. Tom said I needed to fess up and tell y’all this was my first experience with fried pickles. All I can say is, what took me so long? If there was ever a perfect bar food, it would have to be deep fried pickles. I hogged the ranch sauce while Tom pinstriped his with the Outlaw sauce. Being a deep friend pickle virgin, Tom schooled me in the delicacy explaining that Red Rock does them the right way; sliced long and thick. I appreciated the fact that the breading was crispy and not greasy, helping me pretend these gorgeous little suckers were actually good for me.

The veg group: deep fried pickles

The veg group: deep fried pickles

Red Rock has been a frequent participant in both the WMSE Chili Cook-off and The Food Slam. When you drop in to get yourself all full of BBQ, you’ll see their awards from the events displayed on the wall.

Tom suggests these musical pairings to go with Red Rock’s messy finger food fun: “Consumption” by ZZ Top  and “Thunder Chucker” by Raging Slab.

by Food Slam blogger Steph Kilen

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