Matt and I received an incredibly generous wedding gift card from his work mates at Sentry last spring to be used at a Bartolotta restaurant. The Bartolotta brothers have been running restaurants here in Milwaukee for over 20 years; have had a James Beard Award winning chef at their Lake Park Bistro, and multiple four star reviews. They have 11 different restaurants and although the original plan was to enjoy a steak at their Mr. B’s steakhouse, we took a look earlier this week to see what else was out there.
Enter the Rumpus Room, a gastro pub downtown with an interesting menu and great cocktails. That they are downtown and we rarely go downtown was a plus, the winning entry was bacon for an appetizer. Done.
Our meal and cocktails was one of the best I’ve ever had. Which sparked a fun conversation on the way home, what are the top 10 best meals of life have we had?
Now there are some ground rules here. First, it’s not just a food thing. Atmosphere and service are key. Our waiter last night was tops. Absolute tops. It turns out, he’s also a competitive (or was) cross country sprint skiier who missed out on qualifying for the Sochi Olympics by two spots. Just six weeks ago he hung up his ski’s; moved to the big city from up north ‘sconsin and hasn’t lifted a weight for the first time in his life since he was a kid. OH! He ALSO grew up in New Hampshire so when we mentioned Highland Games he knew exactly what we were talking about since Loon Mountain was right up the road from his crib and he’s been going for at least 10 years. So cool.
The bartender at Rumpus Room is top notch, another plus. He’s a chemist with booze and takes pride in his drinks. Our waiter said he had a blast with us and Matt’s rum flight and our post dinner drinks. We’ll definitely be going back just for a cocktail and to pick the bearded bartenders brain on making some of these at home.
Along with atmosphere and service, overall experience and quality of food adds to the ratings. So here’s my Top 10…point 5 (I needed another slot but it’s not far enough behind number 10 to give it number 11. Shit’s complicated.)
1. Csalanosi Csarda: Budapest
That they serve meat platters weighed in kilos is the tip of the iceberg. That members of the Hungarian Gipsy orchestra will serenade you during this amazing dinner is still on the tip of that iceberg. That we got to share this with new Hungarian Strongman friends who take so much pride in their country and the food was bonus. But the food. Ohhhhhh the food. The fish soup that cost the equivalent of a Starbucks grande bold black eye with cream was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted (and a taste is all I got because it was Matt’s.) My liver and steak was out of this world. Seriously. I’m a little sad that I know it’ll be a long time again before I can eat this food again. By far, it was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. Appropriate for a honeymoon memory. (By the way, we ate Nachos after training with Akos, Laszlo and their wives a couple of days before at a place called Dallas and those were the best Nachos I’d ever ate in my life.)
2. Rumpus Room: Milwaukee
Yup. Number two. We were there for over three hours to just enjoy. That’s also a key to the “best of’s”, just sitting and enjoying food, each other, and the feel of a good restaurant. Mostly. Anyways.
The apps and cocktails we enjoyed pictured above was just the beginning. Matt’s Cuban sandwich and my Berkshire braised pork (my Hawaiian cousin is a Berkshire pork farmer in Iowa so I asked if the meat came from Iowa. It was Wisconsin pork but that’s okay. It was numms) shoulder was absolutely stunning. Served up in a small Wisconsin shaped cast iron pot with sweet potato puree was extra cute too. When Matt told the waiter that he had a bite of mine the waiter quickly came back with, “just one bite though right?” He was right. That’s all Matt got. We’ll be back. That makes me happy.
3. Torto Dvaras: Vlnius
When we taxi’d over to the Old Town portion of Vlinius, Lithuania we would try to get a feel of the menus through broken english and just putting our faces on the windows to get a peek at folks food. This was my first experience at Eastern European food at rock bottom prices. Our table looked much like the one above, so much food for about $70 American. I know the table next to us was watching at how much food we kept ordering, heh. They also serve up the bill in their own cigar style box…which I have…in front of me. Imagine that.
4. Soup Dumplings: Brooklyn
I’ve written before about how Matt had one request of our trip to Brooklyn last January, Chinese food in China town. Specifically, soup dumplings. So much so that I put a ban on the words “soup dumplings” until I ate them. Then I understood the obsession. Paulie and AoD picked us up from the airport and whisked us away to the fourth greatest meal of my life. As much as I loved the soup dumplings, the Peking duck was my favorite. Absolutely mouth watering. We’re heading back there again in January, guess where we’ll ask our first stop to be???
5. Pepe’s Pizza: New Haven
Frank Pepe’s immigrant story of making it in America from Italy, illiterate and poor is stuff of legend. Only slightly less impressive as his pizza (or ‘ah-beets) as it was called in his native Italian. We stopped in after a barbell cert. weekend in Milford, CT and the stop has ruined me on pizza since. OH! During the stay (we took one bite of our first round of pizza’s and quickly ordered more) I ran to the restroom and when we came out, Pepe’s grandson was going through receipts at a back table. So, me being me, I grabbed a pic with him…
It was pretty thrilling. True story. As I mentioned, after one bite of our first round we quickly ordered another one. They suggested their signature pizza with clams. Ummmmm, clam pizza? HOKAY!!
It was different, and amazing. Seriously, I’ve given up trying to find impressive pizza since Pepe’s. I don’t eat it very often and am just resigned to the fact that I’ll have to hit Pepe’s again to find contentment. And no, don’t start telling me to go to “x” for the best pizza. If you haven’t had Pepe’s, you don’t get an opinion.
6. Backstrap: Rip’s
I’d heard about the glaze Rip made with his back strap but the talk didn’t do it justice. Of the many things I learned from my time with the Texas crew, I’m probably most thankful for the lesson to enjoy food. Often up to that point I knew I liked good food, but didn’t put together the effort to actively enjoy good flavors. Until then. Good food, good wine. Good back strap.
7. Steak: Welbourn’s
I love steak. Always have. My dad was the master griller of steaks, he also added pats of butter to each bite. Heh. A good rare steak, that’s how you ate them in our house no matter how old you were. I also love eating steaks at home, much more than eating them out. I want to sit in comfy clothes; with my excellent bottle of $14.99 wine that would cost me $45 at a restaurant. A grilled steak is scrumptious but I’m just as happy cooking it on a cast iron pan and finishing it in the oven.
When we were in Huntington Beach for a barbell cert, we popped over to John Welbourn’s house (pre-twins) for dinner and he just got a shipment in of grassfed beef. So we ate it. I think all of it. Welbourn grilled, the wine was never ending and eventually after falling asleep at the table I just went and laid down on the couch where Justin was already sleeping. It was a grand evening.
But those steaks. Mmmmmmmmm.
8. Haggis: Scotland
When we got into Inverness, the restaurant across the parking lot of our first night’s hotel stated that Wednesday was Pie Day. Wellll, hokay! Let’s eat Pie! It was so delicious that I stated to the waitress I was worried that we started too big. Would we eat another meal that could be as good?
Silly Jules. By Sunday afternoon, it had occurred to me that we hadn’t ate enough Haggis. We WERE in Scotland after all and needed to eat Haggis dammit! Well, Gerry Reynolds started that off with our athlete dinner towards the end of the competition. The haggis and tatties and neeps (turnips and potatoes) were so soundly effective in refueling us for the rest of the evening it was exactly what we needed. And so nummy. But that was just round 1 for the evening.
Round two was about five hours later at the tastle cavern which was even better than the first round. Which, again, kept us going for another two to three hours of drinking. Thank you haggis.
Now, it may be that I’ve had better food than this haggis, neeps, and tatties but I had just finished the most thrilling competitions of my life; in Scotland; with my husband and new good friends; and old friends; and Scotch. Haggis…in Scotland.
9. Seattle/Mukilteo/Whidbey Island
We tried to come up with just one Seattle meal to add to the list but we just couldn’t. Penn Cove Mussels; Henri’s donuts; Auntie’s meatloaf (and Matt wanted me to get in Auntie’s homemade english muffins) ; Uncle’s grilling; new friends giving me their daughter’s left over pasta so I had some carbs to fuel competition the next day with Mt. Rainier view; Ivar’s, and I know I’m missing some. OH! Oysters and clams. And I STILL know I’m missing some. We eat well and fellowship well in the PNW and we know next year will be even better!
But our time with Auntie and Uncle, Paul and Denise and their families? They are treasured and only made better by all the amazing food.
10. Curry in Scotland
When Stephanie said that they wanted to find the best Curry restaurant in Inverness, I was all ‘ummmmm, maybe we’ll pass.’ I don’t do spicy well (salt is a spice ya know) and was a bit afraid that I’d be hungry. Matt loves curry and we quickly came to love our new friends so I took one for the team and sally’d forth. The beautiful part, of course, was that I loved it. Everyone took very good care of me while they popped my curry cherry and the evening was one of my all time favorite dinners. But it makes me miss my friends. Poor me.
I don’t remember which trip I had made down to Wichita Falls where we went to Herd’s for the first time. I just remember how the double/double burgers tasted. They literally melt in your mouth and as much as I know I’ve written about them before, I just can’t do a food favorite list without putting them on here. I miss Herd’s. Mostly more than anything down in Texas. (Ya ya, I miss people too, blah blah blah.)
I have been very fortunate to enjoy good food. Not everyone can, I know that. There were times where I enjoyed any food, because having it was sometimes not an automatic. As much as I do not believe that food can bring happiness, I DO believe that it can be enjoyed. With people we love, in places near or far, and having it is a gift. And that’s the best thing of all.
Swearing is industry language. For as long as we’re alive it’s not going to change. You’ve got to be boisterous to get results.
I consider a bottle of wine a single serving.