Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Year in Food!

Here it is, the much anticipated 2010 Year In Food! Lets get right to the delicious and dirty!

272 times eating out in 104 different places: 26 breakfast, 116 lunch and 130 supper

This was not my best eating year. Having a baby made faster/easier meals a priority and losing a job with some travel and an expense account limited some of the places I visited. So we will start out with where I ate most. It looked like with the addition of a breakfast value menu and Frappes that McDonalds would win for the year. And I ate there 22 times in 2010. And I don’t include stops for just coffee or McDonalds would have been #1 and Starbucks #3. But alas the stars aligned for my favorite fast food restaurant and the last 3 months of the year I had numerous Taco Bell cravings and the year ended with a Taco Bell opening right near our house. 30 trips total.

Taco Bell: 30 I am still the same ol’ me!
McDonalds: 22 I’ve eaten at McDonalds for as little as $1.06.
Dry Bean: 14 We played weekly trivia games there during happy hour, I wouldn’t recommend actually eating here.
Great Dane: 13 A favorite of inlaws and friends alike
Qdoba: 8 Currently the best burritos in Madison after my favorite place went out of business.
Honorable mention goes to Dunkin Donuts which I probably visited 10 times but many were coffee only, Taqueria Guanajuanto (best burritos in town) and Bandit Burrito (3 visits for a pla ce 4 hours away.)

Here are the best places I’ve eaten in 2010. To be eligible for the food of the year you had to not be food of the year in the past and you had to totally kick ass! Here’s a rundown of past food of the year winners:
2007 we had co-winners. Mother Bear’s Pizza in Bloomington, IN is the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. Unfortunately we don’t really have as many reasons to head to Bloomington anymore so in 2010 I didn’t make it once. Rough. The other co-winner is in Breckenridge, CO and I went twice this summer. Empire Burger has the best nachos ever and one of the top 5 burgers. Pretty clutch!
2008 while stopping at a Sonic Restaurant in Des Moines, IA we noticed a little burrito place next door called Bandit Burrito. The menu looked awesome but we had already eaten but marked it down for future reference. The rest is history as it became my single favorite place to eat. Best burritos in the world made from quality fresh ingredients, great prices, outstanding owner and great service. A home run!
2009 marked the Man V Food era. And it made me strive to visit places I’ve seen on the show whenever possible. And I visited 8 of those places last year. And nothing stood out to me more than the breakfast tacos I had at Jack N Grill. So good we went back in 2010. Roasted green chilis are for real and I am sad no one really serves them in Madison.
So in 2010 you can eliminate Bandit Burrito, Empire Burger and Jack N Grill from the running (and Mother Bear’s but we didn’t even visit) but this year’s choice is definitely on par with these can’t-miss establishments. In 2010 the single best thing I ate was once again breakfast, but this year it was Donuts. Top Pot Doughnuts in Seattle, WA is a can’t miss! The donuts are larger than normal but that’s not the appeal. I can’t really explain it but the donuts here are just better than anything else. Quality ingredients make the donuts more expensive but they are more than worth it. They take pride in making the best donuts possible and it shows. In fact it has kind of ruined other donuts for me as these are so good it shows me how average any other donut I’ve ever eaten is. I tried 4 different donuts in 2 trips and I’d rank those as the 4 best donuts I’ve ever had! Top Pot has been featured on many shows including Donut Paradise. We visited another popular dount place (Voodoo Donuts in Portland, OR) a couple days later and I am certain the donuts would’ve been great had I not just had Top Pot.
Man V Food rankings for 2010
1. Cherry Cricket (Denver, CO)– My #3 MVF location last year, I just ordered better this year. Second best burger I’ve ever had (Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Cambridge, MA is #1.)
2. Jethros (Des Moines, IA)- - It wasn’t featured on MVF until this year but has been a favorite since last year. Perhaps the best complete meal I had in 2010 and Nina’s first meat was pork from Jethros.
3. Jack N Grill (Denver, CO)- All the hype in my mind but my breakfast tacos weren’t quite as good as last year. They messed up my order and the fix wasn’t great. Don’t get me wrong, still one of the top 5 meals I had in 2010.
4. Red Mill (Seattle, WA)- The way burgers should be. Red Mill is a Top 5 burger.
5. High Life Lounge (Des Moines, IA)- Take a tater tot and a jalapeño piece, wrap in bacon, repeat a bunch of times, smother with cheese and serve with ranch. Is this heaven? No this is Iowa. My entrée was only ok but I took a risk, other entrees looked better. 5th place out of 9 might not seem like a good number but it was in the top 10 of over 100 places I ate at overall!
6. 5-8 Club (Minneapolis, MN)- More hype than substance. Burgers weren’t as big as I would’ve liked and having cheese in the middle didn’t make it seem extra-cheesy. Don’t get me wrong it was still very good and I’d go back, I’d just order cheese in the middle and cheese on top. Oh yeah and awesome onion rings!
7. Beth’s Café (Seattle, WA)- There big draw is items made with eggs but I hate eggs. Solid breakfast place nonetheless with hashbrown scrambles that have no eggs.
8. Voodoo Donuts (Portland, OR)- We went in the late morning which didn’t help but they were out of many donuts. Tried some weird ones and some standard ones. I will try again if I visit Portland again but the donuts were very average. Fun place to go once though.
9. Quaker Steak (Middleton, WI)- Featured on the Pittsburgh show we have one in Madison. And it gets a little less good each visit. Especially this visit (our only one of the year) as they introduced boneless wings. Terrible. I’d rather have Tyson boneless wings warmed up in a toaster oven. Jess only eats boneless wings so we haven’t went back, but normally they have decent wings and burgers.
Other solid places I ate at in 2010 include:
-Portilos (all over the Chicago area)- The best Italian Beef sandwich I’ve had and top notch hot dogs. Did I mention that they use a piece of chocolate cake in each one of their milkshakes? Great comfort food!
-Dotty’s (Madison, WI)- The best food in Madison with a Top 5 burger (Melting Pot Burger is my choice but with a patty like this, whatever floats your boat works) and the best cheese curds you will find.
-Downstairs at Eric’s (Breckenridge, CO)- I’ve eaten here before and it was decent but it seemed to get better this trip. Tons of options makes everyone in your party happy!
-Hurricane Wings (Winter Haven, FL)- Wings that rank up there with Buffalo Wild Wings but the real sale to me was the homemade chips with a bleu cheese jalapeño dip. One of the best things I put in my mouth all year!
-Pizza Ranch (Baraboo, WI)- I’ve been meaning to try this place for years and we finally did…twice! I realize buffets are for everyone but I love this one. Above average chain pizza (the pizza is a Pizza Hut clone, just a bit better) with a full salad bar. Best dessert pizza. The kicker? On the buffet is awesome fried chicken, with mashed potatoes (both creamy and a loaded cheese and bacon version) with all of the other sides you crave.

-Comeback of the year: It’s hard to argue with Taco Bell and the new $.99 chicken burrito. 2 of these cravable burritos made for a great (and healthy by fast food standards) lunch for just over 2 bucks with tax. Honorable mention: Dunkin Donuts

-Worst of the year: Three definite candidates but I can’t decide so I am going with all three. Big Red’s Cheesesteaks in Madison says it’s authentic right in the title. If this is authentic I am not interested in visiting Philly anytime soon. Rainin’ Ribs in Seattle is a tent on the lake. I just felt weird the whole time I was there, the food wasn’t bad but wasn’t that good either. Pappy’s Grill in Lakeland FL. I made my parents go 40 minutes each way to eat here. They didn’t have anything that people were talking about on the internet and the food was slightly below average.
-Most unique dining experience: I sure didn’t go to any place like Casa Bonita or the Old Salty Dog in 2010. Jess and I did however go to the Epcot Food & Wine festival this year. And we ate and drank our way around the Epcot World Showcase! Totally awesome! HM: High Life Lounge
Best New Madison Chain: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop- I went twice, once it was awesome and once it was decent. I could see myself going 2-3 times a year or more depending on what they offer.
Food Notes:

-Only one Waffle House Trip this year....but a good one! 11/12/2010. Nina's favorite food? Waffles!
-Nina's first year included her first trip to Daylight Donuts! A Breckenridge must and one of the three best places I've been to for donuts!

-Oh how the mighty have fallen. Sonic is almost 2 years old in Madison but I don't know if it will even survive the winter. The novelty is gone and it is almost forgotten. The Java Chillers are definitely the way to go and the breakfast is solid. But the food is worse than Culvers (which I am not a huge fan of anyways) and the location is weird (for me and most.)
-Only a couple visits each to Sonic, Chilis and Abuelos. Past favorites have just kind of went downhill.

-2010 the year of the donut! These cider donuts from the Des Moines farmers' market is the best donut east of Seattle! Seriously, take a summer weekend trip to Des Moines already!
-2010 was also the year for coffee. Record amounts of Starbucks visits for sure.
-A sad year for Red Robin. Their first restaurant ever in Seattle closed. Nina was sad that they shuttered their doors before she even got a chance.

-I don't really have a total number for wineries I visited this year (over a dozen) it was definitely the best wine year we've ever had!

-Dave & Busters now in Milwaukee! Best Cheesesteak around!

-I miss you Taqueria Guanajuanto. Biggest burritos in town. Not very mexican tasting with limited spices but tasted mostly like a cheesesteak burrito. And even too filling for me!

2011 is now here and these are the trends I'd like to see in my diet!
-I weigh the same as I did last year at this time although I lost weight in the summer and gained it back in the fall. I'd like to weigh less next year. Which means:
-I'd like to eat out less in 2011. Physically inactivity and diet have snowballed with a few nagging injuries I've had for the past 3-4 years. But this year it needs to end
-I'd like to get a lot more local. I feel Madison is an extrememly overrated food city but this year I want to check out other peoples' favorites and see what's good and bad about Madison food. What are your favorite places and why?
-Experts are predicting that value menus at fast food places will start fading away. As will me eating at those places if that is true. I eat fast food because it is cheap.
Thanks for reading! Hope you had a great 2010 of eating and that 2011 satisfies your appetite!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Grays and Torreys Peaks 7.24.10

After climbing Mt Sherman (see below) I felt tired and my body didn't seem right for a couple days. I think it was a lot of things (the drive out with a 5mo old baby, hot temps on the way out, bad diet, altitude, being out of shape, etc.) but I finally felt pretty dialed by Wednesday of our trip (we arrived on Sunday afternoon.) Which is good, because on Wednesday it was time for a 14er double, Grays and Torreys, and this was to be pretty much the defining event of the whole trip.We got up around 4am and at 4:30 my mother-in-law (bless her heart) came over to watch Nina so we could head out. Yes, we, as in Jess and I! It was Jess' first 14er and 5 months after a c-section so I was a little worried that she would hate it or not be able to do it. It was a dark drive from Breckenridge, through the Eisenhower tunnel and down to the trailhead which was at the end of 4 miles of dirt road which only bottomed out the Avalon 2-3 times. We were at the trailhead by 5:15 or so and out hiking very soon afterward.

The trail to the summit of Grays peak is actually a National Recreation Trail maintained National Forest Service Trail (which is funny because after about ½ mile of hiking there was no "forest" to be seen.) Grays can now be seen, just above my left shoulder. The hiking was quick and steady for the first mile and that's when we first caught sight of the two mountains. Grays is to the left and looks kind of weak, but it is set farther back than Torreys which looks badass and is right above Jess' head. We had a wonderfully cool and calm morning through a splendid basin with a rushing creek off to our left and fields of wildflowers everywhere we looked. Pretty much perfect!

After a couple miles of gradual climbing we got basically to the base of Grays Peak. Off to our right was Torreys Peak: Now it was time for some tougher hiking, which meant now the trail would be rockier and have much steeper grades. It also didn't take long to realize just how much of a champ Jess was. She set the pace for most of the hike and while I worried about her burning out it was actually me that was struggling. We were both pretty motivated to get to the top however as the last mile or so is just a switchbacked slog up on pretty firm talus. The views were amazing as we continued the ascent. Once we reached about 14000 feet however, the clouds rolled in. We made our final push to the top and soon we were at the highest point on the Continental Divide and Jess' first 14er, Grays Peak, 14270 feet. And we couldn't see anything. It was as dense and thick of a fog as I've ever seen and it was cold, I had to add two layers to stay not frozen and we only spent a small amount of time at the top (and made a few friends) as we needed to keep moving to stay warm. It was a bummer as by now I was kind of tired and my favorite part of the summit is the views of all the other mountains I want to climb! Of course I had the appropriate Mountain Dew for the occasion, Mountain Dew Whiteout! Tasty! At this point we were also deciding on if we wanted to bother continuing to Torreys or not. Torreys got foggy before Grays did and it seemed to be more weather-prone. And it is a class 2 climb (Grays is a class 1) so it meant for steeper grades and looser more ankle-twisting rocks. Well there are two ways down Grays, the way we came or down the side to the saddle with Torreys and then a traverse trail back down to meet up with the way we came up so the logical choice was to go down to the saddle and make that decision. The hike down Grays was fast. The trail is also class 2 so when you can hike down you make very large elevation changes fast. We soon were down to the 13700 foot saddle and the clouds in the saddle weren't as bad, we even got some glimpses west of Breckenridge, the Dillon Reservoir and the Ten-Mile range so that made me happy.Breck Ski Area in the far background We hung out for a half hour at the saddle while we had a bit of a "picnic" and debated Torreys. Altitude definitely takes a lot out of someone, especially me. We could see people going up Torreys and realized we could probably summit in 45 minutes. I'd kick myself if I didn't go for it. Jess knew that too and basically said we should do it.

The climb up Torreys was probably the best part. We had 3-4 groups all hiking at similar paces and we saw some nice snowfields and rocks. Jess was rocking at this part having to pause every once in a while to wait for me. The summit came before we knew it and we were on top with fun people. 14267 feet of goodness, official summit shot: We had cell phone and 3g coverage and we even posted a photo of us on Facebook! But again we couldn't see anything although there was less wind and it was warmer than Grays. I had one Dew left, Mountain Dew Typhoon. It's my favorite of the three but I definitely hope that it wasn't foreshadowing a storm or anything. 15 minutes later we decided to head back down. We flew down to the saddle (as fast as we fly at least.) I did notice that while we climb faster than most our descending speed is terrible. We both are careful on the loose rock, Jess has bad knees and myself bad ankles, so we take our time while others can practically leap down.

Soon we were at the saddle and then we got to do the snowy traverse. It's the only part that you can appropriately train for in Wisconsin and I dominated it while many others struggled. Jess decided to do the last 5 feet on her ass too which provided a fun laugh (it was so cold she got up before I could snap a picture!) That was probably the last fun we had. I had one of those overexertion headaches and we were both pretty tired and sloppy. We stopped a few times and had to dismiss layers as it got really warm (it's cloudy on the peaks but sunny and clear under 13500 feet. We took our time down to where the trail turns more into dirt that pure rocks. We then had 3 miles of about a 7% downhill grade on dirt/rocks. You'd think that would be the easy part but heck no. I turned the same ankle 3 times which really hindered my speed. We both really needed to go to the bathroom. I turned my other ankle just for fun. We got passed a few times. With a mile to go we got rained on. Just another day in the mountains! We finally made it back to the trailhead which conveniently had toilets. We were both pretty fried, taking this quick snap before jumping in the car and driving rapidly to food.Just over 7 hours out on the trail made for a long day, especially with so much above 13700 feet.

Frisco has a complex that has a Qdoba, Noodles and Smashburger all next door to each other. While a burrito is perfect post-climbing fuel I couldn't pass up Smashburger. No one should ever pass up Smashburger; it's awesome! We drove the final 20 minutes to Breckenridge and were pretty worthless the rest of the day.

Looking back this ended up being one of the hardest hikes I've done. I've done 3 in one day but that was easier. Elbert seemed just as hard because I had some altitude issues that day and I think I underestimated it (and it was my first.) These were my 8th and 9th 14ers out of 54 so I've got 1/6 of them done! I've got another half dozen on my short list as well. This one was special to me as well since they are the first two that Jess did and she rocked. She kept me going when I was tired, dealt with me when my ankles sucked and she kept up her brisk pace all the way to the end. I think she even liked it enough to join me again, which was goal #1. As much as I like the solitude of soloing some of these nothing beats having someone to summit with, and I've been on summits with Wolfgram, my brother Eric, and Kyle and I am so proud to add Jess to that list.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mt Sherman Summit 7.19.10

We took our annual July trip out to Colorado yet again this July although this time it was different. We had our new baby (5 months old) with us. It made the drive slow and difficult but Nina was a champ for sure. We once again made home base Breckenridge as I believe it is the perfect summer vacation stop for people like me (great food, mountain biking, close to 14ers and not so terribly far in coming from Wisconsin.) We hit Des Moines on Friday night, Denver on Saturday night and then Breckenridge on Sunday afternoon and we lazed about. I don't know if it was the altitude, the bad diet, the 100+ temps on the way out or the constant stopping, crying and jumping from front to back seat on the drive out but none of us felt great when we got there which turned our plans from hiking Grays and Torreys together to me getting up on Monday and seeing how things felt.

I got up early but just lazed around with Nina while Jess slept. But I got anxious and finally by 7:30 I decided that I'd kick myself if I didn't climb Sherman today. It'd be the last summit I'd need for the Mosquito/Ten Mile range so if we did decide to go somewhere that wasn't Breckenridge next time it wouldn't be a glaring hole on my 14er map. I told Jess I was going, jumped in the car and headed out. Decided if there was an open parking spot in front of Starbucks I'd stop (mmm…iced caramel soy coffee) and headed towards Hoosier pass. It was slow going due to my late start and some construction (and I was kind of nervous) but soon enough I was through Fairplay and on the gravel road towards the trailhead. Sherman has the benefit of having a very high trailhead at around 12,000 feet which meant less vertical by foot and more by Toyota. My Avalon made it all the way (there is a question as to if 2WD cars can make it up there and it took like 2-3 slow but aggressive moves but no problem!) Here's where I started before putting on my gear. The beginning of the hike is still on the road however until you get to some sweet mining ruins and the road is basically a double track. Here I missed the turn despite there being a big arrow of rocks and went about a quarter mile before turning around and going the right way (my way would've made it but it appeared to go way out of the way.) Awesome. The climb was very tough for me however. I don't think I was acclimated enough but when you start at 10k feet it seems that your body acclimates as you hike. Starting so high was a rough adjustment. I felt like I was making bad time but still passed 20 or so people on the way to the top so that helped the pride even though my legs, heart and lungs all hurt despite not feeling like I was giving much effort. Everyone says how easy Sherman is but Mt Democrat (which I did last summer) seemed far easier to me. I crossed a snow field that most people were avoiding because it seemed like the fastest easiest way up the side.

Sherman is known for mining and the ruins did not disappoint. The sites were awesome and interrupted the grey talus that littered my view in almost every direction. But once you get to the saddle between Sherman and Sheridan the views open up and I remembered why I climb mountains in the first place. Of course looking up to a false summit isn't the best view once you climbed that you could see the final pitch to the top.

False Summit:It looks pretty extreme from this vantage point but it was pretty wide and had a very good route to the top:That was the slowest part though; it was windy and a little steeper. But there were lots of people ahead of me and I know from my bike racing days if I see someone ahead of me I need to catch and pass them. Finally I summited, around 2 hours after I started. I am the Shermanator! Someone even had a sign with the elevation on it that made it seem even more extreme to my friends back in Wisconsin! :) There were 5 or 6 people up there when I got there but before long there were a good 15 people and a yellow lab: The views were amazing, Pikes and South Park to the South:Elbert, Massive, Leadville and the Sawatch range to the west: The DeCaLiBro and Quandary to the north and Gray and Torreys to the northwest. Also got probably the best view of South Park. The top was perfectly peaceful with a great mix of people. I decided I had to do at least 3 summits this vacation as I had 3 different flavors of Mountain Dew! Opted for the Dew Distortion on this one however because of me forcing some altitude early into our trip: The way down always sucks for me, I always underestimate how much I don't like it. The beginning was fun and I made quick work. That brown dot is the 4 story mining ruin seen from above on my way down: Saw 3 more dogs on the way up (one of which was on her 20th different 14er, impressive.) I brought hiking poles with but decided not to use them until I turned my ankle (I have bad ankles and it was only a matter of time.) Of course I turned each one (and never did get the poles out). I turned them after the hard part too, in unlikely spots where I was worried more about speed and less about the rocks. Oh well, they've been turned so many times that I can walk it off most of the time, and these were both very minor. I did get some different views of mining ruins and found the sun to be perfect for a B&W shot of this gem:

It still took well over an hour to get down and the last trudge on dirt road seemingly took forever but I made it to my car. I set my GPS on my car and opened up the car. Rocked a piss and then I was off. The road down was pretty smooth but once I got back to pavement I realized my GPS was still on my car when I left. Oops. Since it likely fell off into the road and got run over it the fall alone didn't shatter it, I let my GPS go which was a bummer since it was the only one I brought for the trip so no more GPS on my bike rides or other hikes. Here's the Garmin to top of Sherman before meeting it's untimely demise two hours later:I posted on the forums and ColoradoLawDobe found the pieces of it in the road (clearly run over) and sent me the pieces, time to call Garmin, I was just riding along and my GPS exploded…or maybe they have some discount replacement.

It didn't take me long after getting back to Breck to realize I wasn't 100% yet. My head hurt, my stomach ached and I had no energy. It basically took Mt Yale off of my calendar for the week (we stayed 5 nights so it was tight to begin with) and pushed Grays and Torreys back another day. But I was very happy for getting this one off of my list. It was the second easiest 14er I've done (Democrat is easier and I am guessing if you just did Lincoln it would be about as easy) but was so very hard anyways. This was my 7th official 14er summit (Cameron doesn't count even though I loved it) and had some of the best weather and views I've ever partaken in.