The Kombucha Freedom Warrior

As fermented products become more common as health fads, questions about regulation are being raised. For one, kombucha is the product of fermenting tea with a culture of live yeast and bacteria. As a result, the beverage has a variable alcohol content—and some of its producers are being targeted by the federal regulators. In this episode of If Our Bodies Could Talk, senior editor James Hamblin meets with U.S. Representative Jared Polis to consider the role of government in the era of living cultures and fermented foods.

Via The Atlantic.

Drink: Brodo

I’ve not tried it, and I’m not sure it will catch on nationally, but it is something different

It reads like the perfect storm of food item appeal: soaking otherwise toss-able animal bones in water (sustainability: check) to create a nutrient-rich brew (paleo-friendly: check) for sale in paper to-go cups out of a window in the East Village (trendy and accessible: check and double check).  Such was the initial appeal of bone broth, or brodo, when Marco Canora began selling it out of an unused window in his restaurant in 2014. But the fad has taken off since the early days atHearth, and now boasts a loyal following of drinkers who eschew their afternoon coffee break in favor of a brodo run.


How Many Visits for a Restaurant Review?

How many trips should a reviewer make before publishing a review?  I think at least two, if not three.(Exceptions would apply when one is revisiting an establishment that one has reviewed previously, or when one is traveling and a second visit is impractical.)

One can review after one evening, but a single, first-visit review just doesn’t seem fair to me.  

Published reviews like that should be deprecated accordingly.  They’re more filler for a publication than thoughtful appreciation of food, ambiance, and service.  

While I’m at it, I’d suggest that food or drink deserve primary consideration, even above service or ambiance.  

That’s certainly true for me: I’d travel far for good food, but wouldn’t visit even nearby for ambiance without enjoyable food or drink.  

Design and demeanor matter, but a proper meal or good brew matter more, at least to me.

One last point on this, from a trip to see some of my friends from school (that is, from among those at university during the late Pleistocene).  We had a great time having breakfast, lunch, and dinner over an extended weekend, and never once fussed over small matters.  

This is true because our time with each other mattered vastly more than quibbling over tiny details, etc., and because we made good food a priority.  One should have the equanimity to meet glitches calmly, and even with a bit of fun.  

A plate, a glass, and good conversation should be one’s goals, and so, one’s focus.  

Restaurant Review: 841 Brew House

I’m beginning a new, spring and summer series of restaurant reviews.

I’ll begin with something that, itself, is new: the restaurant at 841 Milwaukee Street, having opened at the beginning of the year.  The 841 Brew House is a sports bar and restaurant, and differs notably and favorably from the predecessor establishment at that location. 

I visited twice for this review (once for lunch, once for supper) and was impressed on both occasions.  The food was good, the staff friendly, and the atmosphere congenial, almost festive. 

The Brew House is an easy recommendation.  

Walking into the restaurant, you’ll find a long bar directly in front of you, with five (by my count) large monitors displaying sports programming.  To the right, there’s a traditional dining room (and separate rooms along the dining room that could accommodate banquets).  Beyond the dining room one finds outdoor seating. 

I had lunch at the bar, a burger (the Black and Tan) and beer (their Wheat), with a soda chaser.  It was properly prepared, just as I had requested (your server will ask, as one would expect).  Portions are ample, and well-arranged on the plate. 

They’ve four of their own brews (Amber, Wheat, IPA, Stout) and a traditional selection of domestics and imported. 

On both visits, a discerning (almost finicky) companion joined me and praised the quality of the salads offered. 

That’s what one finds at the Brew House: it’s a sports bar, but close by it’s a full-dining American-cuisine restaurant, too.  There’s only a slim chance that a sports bar would prepare a salad worth praising, but this sports bar (and restaurant) did. 

Looking around, even on a midweek evening, one could see fellow patrons in the restaurant having a happy time.  Many were seated at tables in the center of the room, laughing and talking.  Others were nearby in booths either along one of the walls or near large windows facing Milwaukee Street.  (Still others were dining outside.)

I didn’t visit for a Friday fish fry, but the restaurant had that kind of welcome, animated fish-fry atmosphere.  It’s hard to overestimate how full the room seemed, all with visibly satisfied patrons. 

This is a friendly, easy-going wait staff, well-informed and conversational.  Everyone I met on my visits, from host to servers to bartender, was pleasant, and lively.  One senses that they enjoy their work. 

I can say that I enjoyed the Brew House, and will be back again.

Easily recommended.

LOCATION: 841 E Milwaukee St  Whitewater, WI 53190.  (262) 473-8000.

OPEN: Dining hours are daily from 10:30 AM to 9:00 PM.  Bar is open until midnight.

PRICES: Sandwich & beer for about $10-12; Supper and drink for about $20.

RESERVATIONS: Unnecessary.

DRINKS: Beers, sodas, full bar.

SOUND: Moderate to high, with no background music in the dining room, but the sound of pleasant conversation all around.  (There’s no trouble being heard across the table, and the sound of other contented diners is infectious.)

SERVICE: Friendly, conversational, very enjoyable.

VISITS: Two (lunch and supper).

RATING: 3.5 of 4.


RATING SCALE: From one to four stars, representing the full experience of food, atmosphere, service, and pricing.

INDEPENDENCE: This review is delivered without financial or other connection to the establishment or its owner.  The dining experience was that of an ordinary patron, without notice to the staff or requests for special consideration.

The Perils of Eggnog

In a recent FW poll, I asked if readers would say yes or no to eggnog. (Most supported the holiday beverage, and I was among them, favoring it in my case in small doses.)

It is, however, always possible to have too much of a good thing, as Ryan Roche of Utah learned, after he admitted that he “pretty much just opened [his] throat and just poured it down”:

Pairing Beer and Food

It’s much, much better to drink well and moderately than to drink too much of a poor brew. In the video below, Brendan Woodcock and Daniel Burns of the New York beer bar Torst discuss enjoyable pairings of food and beer.

On Restaurant Reviews: The Scientist’s Patronage

The most important offering of a restaurant is food, but following closely are atmosphere and service. In fact, for low-end, commodity offerings, I’d say atmosphere (bright, clean) and service (quick & friendly) are often decisive.

Someone in town mentioned to me that the service at an establishment I’d reviewed favorably months ago was on the decline, from difficulty taking customers’ orders efficiently. I stopped in a few times – not for a follow-up review, but merely to see for myself.

Sure enough: it was a jumble.

That’s too bad, because food isn’t just about food.  

A story – true and of my own acquaintance – will illustrate my point. It’s not about a local establishment, nor even a fancy place. It’s about a scientist’s daily visits to a convenience store, of all things, for coffee.

In another state, a prominent scientist commutes to work each day. He’s intelligent, serious, and has completed both undergraduate and doctoral studies at some of the country’s most competitive programs. His work is classified, and so I know only that he’s a naval researcher, whose leadership has likely contributed to continued American naval supremacy.

He has a beautiful, intelligent wife, and daughters equally so. He has all that one might wish. There’s no neediness or insecurity in him.

But for all those advantages, all that authority and responsibility, he has a simple routine he very much enjoys: visiting a particular convenience store when he can, for a cup of coffee.  He could buy any beans he might want, or go to any shop he might wish, in the metropolitan area in which he lives, but he doesn’t.

Instead, he stops at a small convenience store where the family owners greet him on each visit, simply with his first name, and exchange pleasant conversation about ordinary matters. These visits are memorable to him, a man not given to over-sentimentality.

Why is that? It’s not the coffee, nor the unique design of the store, but something in the service, the ordinary conversation topics, that’s beyond ordinary to him. It matters to him, and so he returns when he can.

There are shops that make better coffee, no doubt, and ones that sell better beans, but that’s not compelling for him. It’s the ordinary conversation that he finds special, and truly enjoyable.

Service matters, sometimes decisively.

Restaurant Review: The SweetSpot

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Located along Whitewater Street, near the Cravath lakefront, is Whitewater’s principal coffee shop: The SweetSpot at 226 West Whitewater. There are other places in town for coffee, and until recently there were even more, but The SweetSpot now occupies a preeminent place.

So what shall one simply say about this much-touted coffee shop, of which Whitewater has heard so many good things? This, directly expressed: that The SweetSpot lives up to its favorable reputation, and is deserving of one’s patronage.

Coffee (Ancora), tea (Rishi), sodas and water, smoothies, and sweet coffee drinks: a full offering, carefully chosen and properly prepared. Both Ancora and Rishi are sound choices. Ancora’s from Madison, and along with Intelligensia (Chicago, elsewhere) it’s one of the better choices for coffee in our area. (A few small, competing Wisconsin roasters offer only undrinkable, failed efforts. There’s not a lot of good coffee in Wisconsin.)

Needless to say, if the coffee’s not right, little else matters. With Ancora, the coffee’s right. In my experience, the preparation and presentation of coffee and tea at the SweetSpot has been right, too. I’ve not once had an inadequate cup.

It’s a barista who’s responsible for the coffee (and strictly speaking, only the coffee, but few shops are so specialized). Baristas (baristi) often perform all sorts of roles, and they are thereby even more important to a shop than a waiter is to a restaurant. They greet, prepare drinks, and engage customers: when one says that a coffee shop depends on coffee, one means it truly depends on the preparation and presentation of the coffee.

That dual role requires skill and charm: it’s not enough to be technically correct. One must also be engaging. The baristas at The SweetSpot have been, in my visits for this review, engaging, friendly, and welcoming. (Candidly, I’d much rather endure a poor waiter over a poor barista.)

The conversation between a patron and barista will be brief, but it should be charming, happy, and light. That’s been true of my visits. (The biggest demand on any independent coffee shop, by the way, is finding a consistent charm among new baristas hired; coffee chains don’t even try, and it’s a reason they offer only an inferior experience.)

The SweetSpot is a two-room coffee shop, of a main room of about six tables, a second room of eight or so tables and a sofa, with a counter facing the lakefront along the windows in the main room. In the summer, there’s room on the shop’s front porch for outdoor seating. The interior tables and chairs are solid and convey a soft, American-country feel. The walls display prints and photographs, nicely arrayed.

One walks in to see two pastry cases to the right, espresso and coffee immediately behind, and another case for sodas, water, and juice to the near left. As with many other shops, the menu appears on slate boards behind the cases.

Pastries are freshly baked, and the shop offers bagels, muffins, croissants, cupcakes, scones, tarts, and cakes (including those for order). I’d recommend the raspberry cream cheese croissant, served warm.

Breakfast is an all-day offering, of sandwiches, oatmeal, juice, and yogurt. The lunch menu presents choices of deli sandwiches, Panini, wraps, salads, soup, and children’s offerings.

Beyond coffee and tea, The SweetSpot serves smoothies and blended coffee drinks, although I’ve sampled neither for this review.

I’m sure there’s a coffee shop somewhere in North America without wi-fi, but I’ve yet to find it. The SweetSpot doesn’t have that unfortunate distinction: there’s a wi-fi connection, and there are sure to be patrons with laptops surfing on it.

Easily recommended.


LOCATION: 226 West Whitewater Street , Whitewater, WI 53190 (262) 262-473-5080. See, Google Map and directions embedded at the beginning of this review.

OPEN: Mon-Thr 6 AM-9PM, Fri 6 AM-7 PM, Sat & Sun 7AM -7 PM.

PRICES: Sandwich, coffee, pastry for under $10.

RESERVATIONS: Unnecessary.

DRINKS: Coffee, tea, juice, sodas, smoothies.

SOUND: Moderate volume of background music.

SERVICE: Friendly baristas.

VISITS: Three (morning, afternoon, evening).

RATING: Recommended.


RATING SCALE: From one to four stars, representing the full experience of food, atmosphere, service, and pricing.

INDEPENDENCE: This review is delivered without financial or other connection to the establishment or its owner. The dining experience was that of an ordinary patron, without notice to the staff or requests for special consideration.

About Whitewater’s Restaurants

At last night’s common council session, there was more than one person who remarked that Whitewater needed an improved dining scene.

She does. Although there are some real gems here, we’ve not enough of the sort of dining that would attract people to Whitewater time and again.

A city of our size cannot have successful, flourishing restaurants solely from local patronage; we need to attract visitors. (This is probably hard for some to believe, and perhaps it’s generational, but a successful dining scene requires more than one familiar, but tired and long-in-the-tooth, local establishment.)

The secret of a successful restaurant that attracts visitors is that it makes the city more, not less, favorable for others. Popular dining is no zero-sum dynamic: having a few good restaurants makes it easier for others — typically of different cuisine — to thrive, too.

Whitewater can, and I think will, develop this sort of solid reputation by the end of the decade.

We’re on our way now, but there’s much more that we could be.

One of the best ways to market the city to visitors and newcomers is to emphasize a vibrant dining and social scene. One could argue about how important this is, but I’d say it’s very important for attracting competitive professionals. It’s a top-tier concern for many (along with a community’s overall economy, business and retail climate, schools, efficiency & fairness of government, natural beauty, and social tolerance).

Hip restaurants (that’s hip, not stodgy), coffee & pastry shops, fresh, organic produce:

How can we achieve this? Let restaurateurs experiment, in conditions of fewer restrictions, and with speedy permitting. Publicize fashionable restaurants at every turn. (There’s a tendency to back a given restaurant, but we’ll not be a successful destination until we’ve enough attractive restaurants that backing one here or there won’t be a concern.)

Needless to say, supporting good restaurants is nothing like advocating for good government. In politics, one advocates simultaneously for better policies and against poorer ones. This is because there’s no avoiding the bad in politics – it inflicts misfortune and mediocrity on all, until it’s gone forever. Encouraging the good alone would leave the bad untouched and entrenched.

Restaurants aren’t like this. There’s great value in encouraging good restaurants, but less harm in ignoring bad ones. Bottom-shelf restaurants don’t trouble everyone, but rather only a small, ignorant or undemanding clientele. Because they don’t afflict an entire community, there’s less urgency in writing justifiably unfavorable reviews.

(It’s not that there shouldn’t be unfavorable restaurant reviews; it’s that’s the reach and — of course — the actual harm of bad restaurants is so much less than for a bad politics.)

Whitewater could stand, of restaurants, more writing about the good ones in the city, leaving the rest unpublicized. That writing will always be best when it’s something more, by the way, than a reworked advertisement. The best recommendations are freely and independently made.