Ride with me, by proxy via my taste buds, along a stretch of Highway 151 as I look at a duo of eateries, won’t you? By request of my editor, this month it’s a double-header of culinary critique. Not only do both locales share a motorway, but they connect to Wisconsinite’s eating habits by unique angles.
Starting southerly, let’s first go to Fatz Island (114 E. Industrial Dr., Beaver Dam). In a location that has most recently been two consecutively short-lived Mexican eateries and, before that, a Marathon service station, now resides the first non-chain barbecue house north of Milwaukee and Madison and south of Appleton, at least since one in Fond du Lac shuttered a few years ago. For as much meat as ‘Connie’s eat, one might think more barbecuing would be going on at restaurants in the state, but Fatz gets it pretty well right.
The slightly unusual name may derive from the frozen confection that they had been serving and, here’s hoping, will be again: Hawaiian ice. I say a slush by any other name still tastes as fruity, but then there’s branding, yes? That aside, unforeseen circumstances among the family who owns and operates Fatz (Fatz’s?!) have led to a temporary suspension of the Polynesian-esque treats, at least up the week before my writing this.
The primary reason anyone would venture into an establishment such as Fatz however, would be the meat. They get the critter grilling right, both by virtue of variety and flavor.
The measure by which many evaluate BBQ, the pork rib, had been available both in shorter baby back cut and lengthier ones prepared in wet (sauced) or dry rubbed St. Louis style. By the time of my second visit, baby backs weren’t available, though our server was hopeful that they would be again soon. My experience with the longer ones proved exceptionally tender with very little pulling from a fork or teeth necessary to secure the succulent flesh. Dry rub’s the way to go with most every entree, lest your preference is to have your meat already sauced. A superior spicy sauce (replaced by a bottle of Tabasco on my second trip, hopefully another temporary discrepancy) and adequate sweet one can be brought to the table for your own dispensing.
The spicy option works especially well on the brisket as well, accentuating its slightly gritty consistency and fattier side.
Chicken, as in part of a bird with bones, was on my mind for my return visit. Pleasantly surprising was the option of pulled fowl, white and dark together. So that and its equally shredded pork complement filled much of my sturdy paper plate. Mix up those sauces over the lot of it and it’s a taste of carnivorous paradise.
The sides to have passed my lips mostly succeed, too. Possibly originating from Memphis’ BBQ tradition, burnt end baked beans make for a wholly unique textural and flavor combination; crispy rib’s tips add crisp, chewy saltiness to the sweet, smoky mushiness of the legumes. Black-eyed peas prepared with burnished ham bits excel equally in their complexity, though my order was a tad lukewarm. The same can’t be said for the greens, which were not only hot enough in temperature, but tasted to have been spiced with hot pepper flakes.
Potato chips come fresh from the fryer, sprinkled with what may be a proprietary seasoning salt. As for cold sides, a friend who ordered the potato salad raved over it, though he wasn’t specific as to its ingredients; though its yellowish hue betrays the presence of mustard. The coleslaw, of the finely shredded variety, worked for me more than it did for my aforementioned dining companion. The mayonnaise base and what tasted like a hint of dill may make it an acquired taste for some Badger State denizens.
A canned or bottled beverage comes included in the price of all meals. Accompanying the disposable plates is plastic cutlery to give the ambiance of an indoor picnic. It makes a fun vibe befitting the food being served. Trusting the inconsistencies cited above are worked through, Fatz will be an island worth even more of a visit than it already is.
About an hour north past Fondy, through Pipe and into still tinier Malone, and we come to one cheesy place to dine. But that’s a compliment, as the cafe at LeClare Farms (W2994 County Road HH) specializes in goat dairy products.
Readers who have followed my gourmandizing exploits here may recall my enjoyment of goat meat. Prepared in Caribbean, East Indian/Pakistani, West African, Mexican and African-American barbecue styles, I could eat it for most any meal. But my appreciation for milk and products made from squeezing the udders of those bearded critters that supply much of the world with a primary protein source goes back even further. It’s good then, to have a place that regularly utilizes goat milk in a menu that emphasizes locally-sourced ingredients. That milk comes from most local of locales, the farm attached to the cafe, where goat milking can be seen by all who care to take a peek.
That liquid nourishment did not figure into my initial Sunday brunching there. Although, a most plentiful and chunky corned beef hash did. Two eggs made in any style top a generous portion of house-made chunks of the salty beef most associated with St. Patrick’s Day, diced skin-on potatoes, caramelized onions and baby Swiss cheese. Toast from what I’m guessing is freshly baked bread arrives on the side. Compared to the ground hash found so often elsewhere, this stuns as a rustic, fulsome revelation. Fans of the dish will be spoiled for canned Hormel’s from here on in.
My brunching buddy opted for French toast and she was satisfied to have powdered sugar-sprinkled slices merely with whipped butter. That left me with her Spanish marcona almonds (rounder and juicier than their California cousins) and the reason I was tempted to order what she did: rhubarb syrup! Like the best of the pie fillings and sauces made with that plant stem, the condiment precariously balances tart and sweet.
A separate, alone supper visit allowed me some acquaintance with LeClare’s dairy specialty. It was in the form of a grilled cheese sandwich. “No big whoop; that’s more of a kiddie food than French toast is,” you may be thinking , but think again.
This sammie was made not only with goat brick cheese and cow-derived cheddar, but slices of honey crisp apples. The cheese are constants, but what comes with it between the slices of white bread changes every so often. Last I checked the online menu before my most recent visit, asparagus accompanied the cheese. The crunchy sweetness of the apple slices explodes mellowly against the tongue when partnered the subtler, meted milky taste. A thin pickle spear and choice of spring greens salad, fruit combination or cup of soup (the black bean chili with a smidgen of sour cream hit the spot) makes the meal.
That doesn’t mean an appetizer and dessert aren’t worth proportioning for one’s appetite. What better starter at such a place as LeClare’s than the fried, battered cow and goat milk curds? Even a half-order would be enough for two if both parties aren’t over six feet tall and ordering sandwiches too. The batter’s lighter and flakier than that to be had at, for example Culver’s; a bottle of Heinz ketchup comes on most tables, but stick to the less smothering flavor of cranberry mayo in the cup that comes with the basket of curds.
Hold off too, on the assortment of hard ice creams at the front counter for your final course, and give the pumpkin pudding a go. Not so heavily spiced and sweet as the filling for most pies and bars, this is a subdued, adult treat. The hearty dollop of whipped cream atop, it could convince any nearby children that they should stick their spoon in for a taste as well.
It’s time to go home now. If both of us aren’t full, I’m full enough for both of us, believe you me. Next time? More food, indubitably.