Culinary no-no #617

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

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Have you ever had a burger from Sendik’s?

I was about to say it’s a whopper but that’s somebody else.

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Here’s how a Sendik’s burger can be described…

Recently Jennifer picked up some of those “huge” babies ….

“Wait, wait, wait Kev. Are you suggesting a Sendik’s hamburger is this week’s…”

No, no, no. Pay attention. I’m gettin’ to it.

Put those suckers on a hot grill.

Five minutes or so on side. Flip. Five or so minutes on the other.

Placed some raw onion in aluminum foil and that went on the grill, too.

Burgers were done. Time to assemble the beauties inside.

Burger on buttered bun?


Cheese on burger? Must have cheese.


Tomato slice next?


Grilled onions on top of all that?


Some lettuce?

Of course.

Mustard on top bun?

You got it.

Oops. Almost forgot. A few slices of bacon?

Oh yeh.

Sendik’s bakery bun is the final finish.

I was coming off having a tooth filling replaced so I was a bit sore and had to gingerly open my mouth to make an edible dent in that tower of beef. Ah, but it was worth it.

“Um, say Kev, I’ve been reading along carefully, and I gotta be honest. I’m not feelin’ a no-no, pal.”

Astute reader, that’s because there is no no-no in any of the above.


Unless you ask Jim Gaffigan.

On CBS’ Sunday Morning show Gaffigan opined on the great American sandwich.


Speaking of CBS Sunday Morning and burgers, from today’s broadcast…

Oh, Yes, That Apology From Starbucks To Local AZ Cops Is Quite Different Than How It Handled Its Fiasco In Philly

OK. I’ll believe this when I taste it.

Did you know any of this?



Culinary no-no #616


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“It took Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s visit to the border  – and her dishonest comments afterward – to help me understand how profoundly vicious, cruel and dishonest she is. When you look at the larger picture, it is clear that Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is eager and determined to undermine and destroy America as we have known it. When your goals are that radical, lying is simply part of the game. When you despise American values and find the American people ‘deplorable’ and contemptible, lying is perfectly natural.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Then there’s this perspective:

“Can anyone really take AOC seriously? She has demonstrated that she lacks the capacity for logic and reason. She carries such ignorance of, and hatred towards, the very issues she claims to be offended by. She formulates conclusions despite her want of reasoning and creates out of thin air ‘facts’ to support such pre-ordained conclusions.

“What is fortunate for America but disastrous for the Democratic majority in the House is that AOC is their loudest and most public voice. The Democratic Party is inexorably linked to AOC and her public rants and hysteria. When middle America’s John Q. Independent walks into a voting booth in November 2020, ambivalent about each candidate on his ballot for Congress, the (D) next to a person’s name will not evoke thoughts of FDR or JFK but of AOC. This is destined to end the Democratic majority.

“So, God bless AOC. Keep her safe. Keep her loud. Most importantly, keep her as the face of the Democrats right up to and through November 2020. But for the love of humanity, and the respect for rational thought, just don’t take her seriously.”
Paul M. Curry lives in Arlington, VA where he practices government contract law and Freedom Of Information Act law

Yes, the America-hating mental pygmy is the focus of this week’s Culinary no-no.

Ocasio-Cortez tended bar and worked as a waitress in Manhattan’s Union Square in the time leading up to her primary victory over incumbent Joe Crowley on June 26, 2018.

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That’s her working at a Mexican restaurant months before defeating Crowley and being elected to the US congress.

Some on the right have played on that portion of Ocasio-Cortez’s resume.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson went after her ridiculous Green New Deal exclaiming  “a 29-year-old former bartender” is being used by MSNBC “to teach you about science.”

So did President Trump.

“A young bartender, wonderful young woman, the Green New Deal. The first time I heard it I said, ‘That’s the craziest thing,’” said Trump.

And of course, there’s been an abundance of insults in social media.

The self-identified democratic socialist responded, “I’m proud to be a bartender. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.”

Coming to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense on is Jenny G. Zhang who writes a glowing piece that also examines the problems associated with the service industry.

Apparently if you bring up, simply mention “bartender” in the same breath as Ocasio-Cortez, you’re classist and sexist.

By now, Ocasio-Cortez’s history in the service industry — she bartended and waitressed for years after graduating college, before becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress at the age of 29 last year — is the stuff of legend, an origin story for a superhero-like figure many have come to regard as the future of the left. Since Ocasio-Cortez won her primary against Democratic Party heavyweight Rep. Joe Crowley one year ago, “bartender turned politician” has more or less become her epithet, an easy phrase to use in headlines to signal the sheer unexpectedness of her meteoric rise — and apparent novelty of her service background.

Service workers still face belittlement and condescension thanks to long-held stigmas informed by classism, racism, and sexism.

Tossing those cards around like Zhang does is an easy game to play, and quite frankly, a tired, old exercise.

No one demeans hard-working individuals. That includes bartenders and wait staff.

This is a good time to repeat Culinary no-no #18:

I’ve never been a waiter, and judging from the impolite and condescending attitude of many customers, I don’t think I’d ever want to be.

Many diners I’ve observed seem to have never heard of the words, “Please,” or “Thank you.”

Some customers are downright bullies.

I recall seeing a table of patrons at a casual restaurant complain to the owner when the waitress didn’t come to the table quickly enough in their opinion. Their complaint didn’t have merit in my opinion. Even so, the manager fired the waitress on the spot.

On another occasion, I saw a middle-aged woman dining alone, dressed in fur coat and jeans. She apparently picked up a bottle of A-1 sauce and spilled some on her fur that she had not taken off. The woman was furious. She summoned for her waitress and launched into a verbal assault, claiming she should have advised her that the cap on the A-1 bottle was loose, that the restaurant would have to buy her a new coat, and that the waitress should be terminated. Despite the scene the woman created, she didn’t get a new fur coat and the waitress kept her job.

Being a waiter/waitress isn’t easy.

The Consumer Health Interactive reports, “Many people enjoy waiting tables for the good tips and lively human drama. But the job also serves up high stress, exhaustion, and a fat menu of kitchen hazards.”

Page Bierma writes that besides stress, servers face a plateful of problems:

Sexual harassment

Repetitive stress injury including carpal tunnel syndrome

Slippery floors that can lead to accidents


Varicose veins

Backaches and sore muscle

Secondhand smoke



Heavy lifting

Poor sanitation

You can read Page Bierma’s entire column, “Waiting for a Living.”

So the job is difficult. It’s also thankless. You’ve got complaints about waiters and waitresses? They’re not always thrilled with you.

The late restaurant critic of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, Dennis Getto wrote the following in 1996:

Servers have plenty to beef about
They give customers some tips on boorish behaviors to avoid

Journal Sentinel restaurant critic
Published: February 11, 1996

We’ve given restaurant gripes a lot of coverage over the last month.
It all started Jan. 14, when I wrote a column about practices that aggravated me, such as being ignored or not being served water.

Then readers responded with their complaints: mishandled drinking glasses and coffee cups, and vacuum cleaners running under the table while they were finishing lunch. There’s a third take on the restaurant world, and it comes from the workers who have to deal with the public daily – the waiters, waitresses and managers whose job it is to keep diners satisfied and coming back.

I hadn’t realized how tough the business can be until I heard from workers who read my original gripe column. They weren’t as numerous as the diners who sounded off, but they made some good points.

Doris Janke, who will mark her 20th year as a waitress at what is now Bakers Square in West Allis this November, took me to task for criticizing waiters and waitresses who ask, “Do you need change?” (I took it to mean they were automatically asking for a tip.) Janke set me straight by explaining that the question really means, “What kind of change do you want?”

“People often hand me a $20 bill,” she said. “I can’t guess whether they want singles or $5 bills.” So she asks the customers, and saves herself an extra trip back to the cash register.

Janke said that some servers handle silverware or glasses improperly but countered that with some of the unsanitary actions of customers. “People leave dirty diapers wrapped up in napkins or blow their nose on a napkin and then leave it on the table for the waitress or the busboy to handle.”

At Bakers Square, she said, dispensers in the kitchen hold anti-bacterial hand lotion, and she and the other waitresses use it frequently.

As for water not being served automatically, waitress Skaidrite E. Huttl reminded me that the practice got some of its momentum from Milwaukee’s Cryptosporidium crisis.

When the bacteria hit, she wrote, many folks stopped drinking their water and, subsequently, some places quit serving it. “But anyone who wishes may have a glass of water.”

As a waitress in private clubs, Huttl also reported that she’s surprised how many folks don’t know their etiquette, such as what piece of silverware to use for a given course. It always helps to know that the shorter fork is for salad and the round spoon is for soup.

George K. Jones, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., has worked in many well-known restaurants in town, including the English Room, Grenadier’s and Mader’s. Now managing a private club, he offered some suggestions for diners who want to ensure good service:

“Please make reservations,” Jones said. “It allows the restaurant to staff properly . . . And if you aren’t coming, please call. And don’t make a reservation for 6 p.m. and then sit at the bar for an hour and ask to be seated at 7 p.m.”

“Tell your servers of any time constraints when you’re seated,” Jones said. Some diners will wait until 20 minutes before curtain time to tell the waiter or waitress that they have to leave for a show.

Pay attention when servers are telling you about the special. In some cases, Jones said, a server will have to repeat the soup of the day to a party eight times.

“If there’s something wrong, let us know right away,” Jones said. That way, the problem can be fixed. Too many people wait a week and then send a letter when they should have brought up the problem right away.

“The thing that restaurants want to do is satisfy their customers,” Jones said. “We can’t do that unless you tell us something is wrong.”
–Dennis Getto, Milwaukee Journal, February 11, 1996

So, for many reasons, do not disrespect your server.
This Just In…, September 23, 2007

Having said all that, the avalanche of criticism of Ocasio-Cortez is self-inflicted. She’s brought it on herself because she’s just not very bright. People in her own party think she’s loony and should shut the hell up.

Bartending isn’t easy. But it’s hardly proper training for a spot in the House of Representatives as Ocasio-Cortez plainly illustrates.


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Culinary no-no #615


Had some time off this past week so one day before heading to Oak Creek’s splash pad the family decided to grab lunch. The choice was unanimous.

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Wait a minute, Kev. Have you violated your own Culinary no-no writing rule by giving it away so so early in your blog?

Are you suggesting Chick-fil-A is this week’s no-no??!!

Moms love Chick-fil-A. There are the kid birthday parties,  play dates, simple meals, kids’ play area, free Wi-Fi, sleepover nights with stuffed toys.

Yes, moms absolutely go bonkers over Chick-fil-A.





The American Customer Service Index (ACSI) just released its survey results for America’s top fast food restaurant.

The ACSI questioned 23,000 consumers using a 100-point scale. Customers were asked to rate fast-food restaurants on the following:


Food quality

Menu variety


Staff behavior

The top restaurant scored an 86. For the 4th consecutive year, Chick-fil-A was #1.

Bringing up the rear…

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Here are the complete rankings.

The hostile opposition to Chick-fil-A is well-documented because of the owner’s Christian beliefs. But the chain has a strong loyal following. From Twitter:

Say what you will about their politics, you can’t argue with the customer service. I once saw a drive through cashier literally chase a car down in open traffic to correct someone’s order.

If you’re going the fast food route, there are tastier options (they’re still very good) but they beat every other chain hands down in the employee friendliness department. The person taking your order doesn’t act like they hate you and their job.

While on the way to Chick-fil-A the other day our Kyla noted she thought it was better than McDonald’s.

Picking on McDonald’s is so easy. It’s the fast food Goliath with roughly 14,000 locations in the United States. But it’s been struggling to please consumers for decades, failing year after to win them over, no matter how often they make menu or marketing changes.

Think about the criteria the fast food places were judged on and apply them to the Golden Arches.

Accuracy – Has your order at McDonald’s ever been messed up? Probably more times than acceptable.

Food quality – Please.

Menu variety – There’s too much. Chick-fil-A has excelled by doing a very limited menu and doing it well.

Cleanliness – I think for the most part McDonald’s does just fine here. Evening hours are iffy.

Staff behavior – If this was a boxing match between Chick-fil-A and McDonald’s the referee would be forced to stop the fight in the 1st round.

Website satisfaction – All fast food places put forth good efforts I’m sure, but I’m not deciding whether to pay a visit on this.

Let’s not single out McDonald’s (Others have issues, too, like Starbucks. Consumers’ belief that the chain’s prices for coffee are too high has deflated their customer satisfaction score).

My question is why can’t most of these other restaurants that Chick-fil-A beat out be more like…Chick-fil-A?

Why can’t their staffers be trained to be more friendly?

Why can’t they avoid screwing up an order?

Why can’t they smile, be polite, and actually mean it?

Why can’t they ensure their workplace is cleaned up?

Why can’t they settle on a good, consistent menu?


Certainly this has happened to you at a fast food restaurant. You place your order. You’re given a receipt with a number, and then you, what? Look around and around. Where do I go? Where do I stand and wait till I’m called?

Meanwhile the person who took the order may because of staffing may have to run and bag your order or pour your drink which slows down service as others in line make no move forward.

But the biggest problem fast food places, especially McDonald’s, have is trying to lure, guess who, into their restaurants? Millennials.

They dine out a lot, and like to. But they want higher-quality food, ambiance, and excellent service that they’re willing to pay more for. McDonald’s and the rest don’t supply those.

Because McDonald’s is so big they may never challenge anyone for the #1 spot. They will have to rely on being quick, consistent, and value-driven.

And yet management has attempted every year (they must) to make substantial, noticeable, progress in the qualities listed in the ACSI survey.

Again I ask, why can’t they and others succeed, like Chick-fil-A?

The employees who picket and demand $15 hourly wages surely shoulder some of the blame because they lack simple soft skills. Finding individuals who have them and are willing to show up daily, on time, with a professional work ethic and attitude is a bigger challenge than it’s ever been. Somehow, Chick-fil-A pulls it off.


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Culinary no-no #614


You ever think about an old chain restaurant you enjoyed and wish was still around?

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There used to be about 800 of these restaurants. Not anymore. There are a measly seven remaining locations around the country – three in New York and four in Ohio.

Oh my goodness.

This Bob’s Big Boy in Temecula is among recent restaurants in the chain that opened and subsequently closed.

Big Boy was the bomb. All across the country. Emphasize the word “was.”

Big Boy began in 1936 and enjoyed a great ride. Get this. In 1979, more than 1,000 Big Boy hamburger joints, including many in Wisconsin, greeted customers across the U.S. with towering statues of the chain’s chubby, cheery mascot.

Quick-service competitors exploded and like David and Goliath, the Big Boy went down.

Today, around 200 Big Boys are in business, primarily in the Midwest, none in Wisconsin,  most in Michigan. The closest to the Fischer home is in Stevensville, MI,  183 miles away.





Gotta love Big Boy. If you never experienced him, you don’t know what you missed. A cultural icon, a way of life was he.

Where am I going with this?

I’m gettin’ to it. I’m gettin’ to it.



No it’s not.

Cousins Suns opened in 1972 when two Cousins, Bill Specht and Jim Sheppard, set out to bring their favorite style of sub sandwich from the East Coast to their new hometown of Milwaukee, Wis.

I was a mere teenager back then listening to WRIT Radio and host (DJ if you prefer) Steve York when he posed a trivia question (can’t recall what it was) and I phoned in with the right answer and won free Cousins Subs.

The year as I mentioned was 1972. So on a Saturday night we hopped into Dad’s Buick and drove to redeem our free subs at the first and only Cousins location in a totally different stratosphere, 60th and Silver Spring.

Since Cousins was new we were as well. The restaurant was rather spartan, and reeked rookie, brand new, with wrinkles (BTW, an incredible testament to what the chain has become).

My father asked what we were entitled to. An adult employee informed that we could any of the handful, yes handful of selections on the board behind him.

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Dad and I both opted wisely for the steak cheese steak.

Cousins Subs and its franchisees now operate more than 100 sub sandwich shops throughout Wisconsin and Arizona.

I love that local success story. Almost 50 years after my father and I traveled to what seemed another time zone I can honestly state I’ve never had a bad Cousins sub. As a result their subs have been my favorite ever since.

Um, the no-no, Kev. WTH?

I’m gettin’ to it. I’m gettin’ to it.

Wisconsin State Capitol

When I was a legislative staffer at the state Capitol, a popular lunch spot was the Subway just off the Capitol Square (There was no Cousins nearby). I swear the attraction wasn’t the quality of the AHA-certified menu but the price. That’s what drew me less than a handful of times. My last visit to that or any other Subway came many, many years ago during the noon hour in May.

It was an unusually warm spring day. Madison actually gets to enjoy a spring. And it was quite busy at Subway with people lined up outside the door that was propped wide open. Even if the place was air conditioned, the open door was doing no good.

The air inside was sticky and stale. And flies and even a stray bee or two were flying around and occasionally landing on the meats and veggies.

Back at my desk, like the other few times I bought a Subway sub, I second-guessed myself wondering ‘What was I thinking?’

The bread is chintzy and plainer than plain. Cold cuts and accompaniments are nothing spectacular. Seasonings are ho-hum. The entire sub is incredibly bland.

Plus the “ambience” of that Subway location was anything but appealing. The warm, humid air, the flies, the bees. Makes me think an American Heart Association representative would keel over at the sight of such conditions. And then there were the folks on the other side of the counter. Multiple body piercings with even more tattoos seemed to be the company uniform.

Don’t care at all for Subway. Jersey Mike’s is better. Jimmy John’s is better. Schlotzsky’s and Potbelly ate better.

I thanked God when a Quiznos arrived on the Capitol Square in Madison.

You stand in a single-file line to place your order with a young man I believe was from Central America. Every fast food worker in America should be required to take lessons from that guy. Pleasant, quick, effective, accurate.

Now the assembly line starts constructing your made to order sandwich.If it’s a hot one it’s placed in a moving toaster. Patrons love that method because the slightly smoky sub tastes like it came right out of the oven.

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They even do…

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With real lobster.

And this is a terrific touch.

Image has written about chain restaurants that are disappearing the fastest. One of them is Quiznos.

In 2007, Quiznos had 5,000 locations around the globe. worldwide. The chain was sold in 2018 to a private firm when Quiznos’ locations had plummeted to just 405. Now there are fewer than 400. Ten are in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s only spot is in the airport.

The recession battered Quiznos so badly it filed for bankruptcy in 2014 before the franchise was sold.

Another chain fading from the landscape is Subway.

The sub shops promised healthier choices in the early 2000s and America ate them up. But they’re not the only game in town in that regard.

Subway dumped more than 900 restaurants in 2017and another 1,100 in 2018. The company has fewer than 25,000 locations in the U.S., the lowest level since 2011. If you look at the global count, the closures amount to more than 2,300.

A spokesman said Subway was focused on “smart growth and restaurant optimization—having the best locations to drive profitability…to achieve this goal some owners will close, relocate, or remodel their locations and that will result in slightly fewer, but more profitable restaurants.”

John Gordon, a restaurant consultant out of San Diego said, “As painful as it is for franchisees and the company, it is very much needed, and it needs to fall some more. The quality of some of the sites is beyond poor. And in dense areas you’ve got multiple Subways within very close range.”

I’m cool with the number of awful Subways being shuttered. Can live with that. But I hate to see Quiznos disappearing because they’re really good.

There are other places vanishing, too. Read about them in MoneyWise.


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Culinary no-no FLASHBACK: Restaurant warning signs

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

On this Father’s Day we’re taking off from the no-no in order to celebrate. Here’s a rerun of Culinary no-no #384 from July 13, 2014, that is still timely and worth the read.

My friend, the late Dennis Getto was a very popular, widely-read restaurant critic for many years at the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Getto’s columns were always interesting and highly anticipated.

I met Getto when I worked at WTMJ Radio. He was a regular guest on another friend’s program, Gordon Hinkley.

Getto died in 2007. His Journal Sentinel obituary read in part:

Getto went to great lengths to keep his identity secret, wanting to have the same experience that any other diner would have. He often disguised his appearance, growing assorted beards, wearing awful wigs and even a cowboy hat.

He always made reservations under assumed names and paid in cash. Friends dining with Getto soon realized that he kept a small tape recorder in his shirt pocket, the better to discreetly dictate notes.

And Getto’s face never appeared on the newspaper page. But he did pose with a grocery bag over his head in promotional ads. Yet another classic showed only Getto’s green eyes peering through two Krispy Kreme doughnuts when the franchise hit the Milwaukee area.

Restaurateurs and readers might not have known the face, but they knew the name.

“I think that being anonymous made him really blend in with the people who live here,” Editor in Chief Martin Kaiser said. “It was like anyone else going out. He understood Wisconsin and Milwaukee and the dining experience. He was part of the fabric of the community.

“I’m not sure there was another reporter as beloved by his readers.”

To me and I’m sure many others, Getto’s word was gospel. That’s why I was stunned by a particular review.

Everyone I knew couldn’t say enough about the old Coerper’s Five O’Clock Club, now the Five O’Clock Steakhouse. They drooled and still do over the perfectly exquisite slabs of beef swimming in natural juices, the size of a Brett Favre weapon.

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That’s why I will never forget Getto’s scathing April 2003 review of one of the most popular steakhouses in town. Getto wrote of Coerper’s 5 O’Clock Club:

“I’ve visited and reviewed Coerper’s many times and have always been put off by the place.

I dislike its loud, smoky atmosphere (numbers for orders are called over a loudspeaker; smokers are allowed at the bar and all tables), its ban on walk-ins (exceptions made, but who knows when?) and its cookie-cutter approach to grilled meats (they’re all covered with the same dark crust and set in the same dark meat juice).

Coerper’s sticks with an old-time Wisconsin tradition by making you sit down in the bar and order from there (presumably, while you also have a drink). If you are unlucky enough not to know the system, Jimmy will set you straight, pronto. I saw him bark at one clueless group of men who were milling around the hostess stand.

You are not required to ask permission to use the restrooms. If you do, be prepared to negotiate your way around a bottle of disinfectant bleach, a toilet brush and a plunger.

Most of the customers at Coerper’s come for the red meat, and especially the steaks. With options in town like Mr. B’s, the Chop House, Eddie Martini’s, Mo’s and Butch’s Old Casino Steak House, I won’t be joining them.”

As much as I liked and respected my friend, I thought Getto’s review was very unfair. A plunger in the restroom? Thank goodness it wasn’t in the kitchen.

The mere presence of the plunger seemed to taint Getto’s entire review. Once he saw that cleaning device, Coerper’s had a fork in it. They were done. Didn’t matter their reputation, the gargantuan steaks, the popularity. Getto was turned off.

Whether you agreed or not with Getto, if you were in the restaurant business it had to serve as a waker-upper.  It’s not just what’s placed on a plate in front of the customer.

Recently, folks in the restaurant business offered their views on what should automatically send restaurant patrons scurrying for the exits a la toilet plungers.

Tim Love is chef/owner of Texas restaurants, Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Love Shack and Queenie’s Steakhouse, as well as the White Elephant Saloon. The warning signs you’re in a bad restaurant?

Number one according to Love: “Bad smell.”

Another Love sign…

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Dirty kitchen or dirty floor. Filth anywhere is an obvious no-no. Head for the hills. And this finally from Love…

No one there to greet you at the door? Not good.

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Pastry chef Waylynn Lucas agrees with Love, and especially on number three.

“If someone greets me at the door with a bad attitude, I don’t care how good the food is, I don’t care who the chef is, I am turning around and walking out the door,” Lucas said.
Restaurateur Joe Bastianich has some additions.

“The first thing, if there’s an aquarium in the dining room, run like hell.”

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“Second rule of the restaurant, if the maitre d’ is wearing a lapel pin, run like hell…The third and most vital sign is when they hand you the menu, if there’s any food stains on the menu, put the menu down and leave.”

All three of the above contributors on what constitutes a bad restaurant appear on Restaurant Startup, CNBC’s brand new reality series.


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Culinary no-no #613

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

We begin this week with a dinner item I love, but rarely eat.

So, so good.

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Here’s a great place to dine on duck. Of course.

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In Delavan, WI.

Our first picture was also taken there.

Just check out their menu.

The best duck I ever had was at the Hotel Mead and Conference Center in WI Rapids when it was known as the Mead Inn mucho years ago.

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What stood out was the sauce. Not your typical orange or cherry, this was a richer blackberry glaze. Smothered on top of that perfectly browned skin, it was beyond amazing.

Then there was the duck confit with smoked Gouda, caramelized onions and dried tart cherries flatbread appetizer one fall evening at the California Grill in Walt Disney World. I talked my wife into ordering it instead of the margherita version she wanted. There were no regrets on her part.

Why don’t I eat duck all that much if I savor it so much? Nothing interesting to tell. Not every restaurant offers duck. Not sold at every supermarket. Usually we simply opt for something else. It’s not because duck is so difficult to prepare.

If asked what are some of my favorite meals, I’m no even sure duck would rank right up there, to be honest.

For some, it’s what’s for dinner.

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Yep, that’s good, or maybe a combo of the above two.

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Uh. Kev? Oh, Kev. Um. Excuse me, but I’m not seein’ a no-no here.

I’m gettin’ to it. I’m gettin to it!

My curiosity bone went into full gear this past week when the highly respected Wall Street Journal posed this culinary inquiry:

Is Roast Duck Better Than Steak?

I didn’t get whiplash when I read that, but I was extremely surprised.

Is roast duck better than steak? Not even Major Charles Emerson Winchester on M*A*S*H would make such a suggestion. Would any inmate on death row facing a final meal answer ‘yes’?

So what gives, Wall Street Journal? What you got to say before we laugh you out of town?

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That would be, Canada’s list. One of them is Marconi in Montreal which came in at #73.

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Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly runs Marconi and told the WSJ, “Duck is easier to cook than steak. And it feels more special.”  For the newspaper the chef presented duck prepared  medium-rare (good) next to new potatoes (good) and crisp-roasted curly kale (no no, where’s the wild rice?) with a luscious tahini dressing (no since it’s designed for the kale).

“Duck is easier to cook than steak?” Since when. Steak isn’t tough stuff, requiring little attention if you know what you’re doing.

Duck “feels more special?” That, too, is arguable. Given steak’s price tag it always seems special to me.

Duck, I’ve learned, is quite healthy. Now THAT will get me every time.

“Hey Jennifer, I’m in the mood for something healthy tonight. Drop what you’re doing, head over to the butcher and get us some duck.”

Duck is delicious.



Easy to cook.


OK. Let’s just stop right now.

That might all be well and good. However, I will go to my grave believing duck  is  NOT better than steak. Not very analytical, for sure. Doesn’t have to be because it’s so obvious.


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ICYMI last week, Culinary no-no #612 dealt with brats



UPDATE: Culinary no-no #376

Previously on This Just In…

Culinary no-no #376
May 4, 2014

You’ve just gotta have ‘em at a baseball game.

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No, no, no, not them!

Peanut-controlled seating a home run for allergy sufferers

Those peanuts!


Peanuts at the park are popular. Each Major League Baseball team sells about 70,000 bags a season.


“Raw or roasted, shelled or unshelled, peanuts have been a classic ballpark snack since the earliest days of baseball, but their history goes back much further. Spanish conquistadors exploring the New World were first introduced to peanuts in South America, most likely in Brazil and Peru. They took the plant back home to Europe, and it quickly spread to Africa and Asia. In the 1700s, slave traders brought the peanut back across the Atlantic, using it as a cheap food source for African captives.

“A handful of commercial farms in the southern United States started growing peanuts in the 1800s, mainly for oil and livestock fodder; as a food, it was regarded as something only poor people ate. That all changed during the Civil War, when soldiers on both sides recognized the peanut’s value as a tasty, convenient and inexpensive snack. After the war, demand increased rapidly as vendors began selling freshly roasted peanuts on street corners, at circuses and, of course, at baseball games.”

We all know that not every child can enjoy peanuts or peanut products or foods that contain peanuts because of allergies. Such a seemingly insignificant, small item for many is packed with danger.Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts is the leading cause of fatal and near fatal food –allergic reactions.


  • Peanut and tree nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc.) allergy can be a serious condition that affects approximately three million Americans, or 1.1 percent of the population.
  • Peanuts are the leading cause of severe food allergic reactions, followed by shellfish, fish, tree nuts and eggs. (Food Allergy Network)
  • Peanut allergy can be characterized by more severe symptoms, such as gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory symptoms, than other food allergies and by a high rate of symptoms on minimal contact.
  • Severe sufferers also may experience potentially life-threatening anaphylactic shock in response to ingestion of peanuts. Anaphylactic shock is an allergic reaction in which the release of histamine causes swelling, difficulty in breathing, heart failure, circulatory collapse, and sometimes death.
  • As many as one-third of peanut-sensitive patients have severe reactions, such as fatal and near-fatal anaphylaxis.
  • Avoidance of peanuts is very difficult because peanuts are commonly used as an adulterant in the preparation of foods.

The problem has exploded. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3 million children younger than 18 had a food or digestive allergy in 2007. The number of kids with food allergies went up 18 percent from 1997 to 2007.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology discovered visits to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Boston for allergic reactions more than doubled from 2001 to 2006. The trend appears to be nationwide.

Experts aren’t quite sure why. There is no known cure.

Some Major League Baseball parks have responded with “peanut-free” games to accommodate fans with peanut allergies.

This season, Miller Park is offering six special peanut-controlled area games where peanuts will not be allowed in a specially designated reserved area.

Such moves have been welcomed by fans.

To put this in perspective, some teams have selected a date or dates during the season for this special set-aside in certain sections only. Consider what’s happening at the aptly-named UC Health Stadium in Florence, Kentucky, home of the Florence Freedom.

Many might consider this gesture a great idea, from not only a caring but a marketing perspective. There are other points of view.

In July of 2008 when the Brewers were about to open a 4-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis, Busch Stadium offered what at the time could have been considered a baseball promotion first…designating an entire section a peanut-free zone. Only fans with peanut allergies and their families were allowed in a section in the outfield down the first base line, just behind the foul pole. Peanut-free zones at the ballpark was a topic on my program as I filled in for Mark Belling on Newstalk 1130 WISN. Comments ran the gamut.

Some considered the promotion as a wonderful, thoughtful idea. Others wondered where you draw the line on special accommodations for fans.

Several callers made the valid argument that parents are taking a serious risk bringing their peanut allergy suffering kids to the stadium because in order to get to their seats, they have to pass many areas where peanuts are still being sold, consumed, and dropped on the ground. The complete ban at UC Health Stadium addresses that concern.

Still others question the severity of the problem saying it’s blown out of proportion.

Then there’s this comment found on CNN’s website:

“really, i think the bottom line is that little children need to be protected, but parents need to teach their older kids that the entire world is not going to be peanut free and they need to learn as early as possible to read labels and be careful, just as deaf children need to learn to sign, blind children need to learn braille, etc, etc, do you really want your allergic child to think of themselves as disabled? don’t you want them to be enabled?”

I’m generally not a big fan of bans, but here’s an argument posed by those who love the no peanut zones that’s kind of tough to dispute. If for some reason you don’t like the concept, could you please tell us if and why it’s such an inconvenience?

Fine. But what about the kids who have no allergies who are sitting in those sections who are denied the opportunity to eat one of their favorite snacks? I don’t think “Too bad” is an appropriate response.

The occasional designation of sensitive zones at least gives peanut-eaters the option to sit somewhere else. No peanuts ever anywhere at a baseball game? Seems an all-out ban might go too far.

The update.

UPDATE: Culinary no-no #451

Previously on This Just In…

Culinary no-no #451
December 13, 2015

Haven’t had this for several years.

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But I love Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I prefer the original recipe. And I devour it all, including the skin.

Oh, my goodness. Your immediate reaction to chicken skin is probably:

Holy Unhealthy!

And you’d be correct. According to

The main drawback of keeping the skin on your chicken is that it adds extra calories and saturated fat to your meal. The USDA reports that 1 cup of cooked chicken breast without the skin contains 231 calories, but a cup of cooked chicken breast with skin contains 276 calories.

Then again…

While many times the fat found in animal foods is saturated fat — which can increase your cholesterol and heart disease risk when eaten in excess — the majority of fat in chicken skin is actually heart-healthy unsaturated fats, according to Harvard School of Public Health.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database reports that 1 ounce of chicken skin contains about 3 grams of saturated fat, but provides 8 grams of unsaturated fat.

The health factors aside, an assumption could be made that chicken skin would not be found on menus of quality restaurants.

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The Seattle Times wrote about Damn the Weather (pictured above):

Pioneer Square’s Damn the Weather, several local bartenders have assured me, is the next great place to grab cocktails. That may be true. But you know what patrons also love here? The food.

Damn the Weather belongs in the new wave of cocktail halls that are more ambitious in front of the burner. It’s the most welcoming of all bar trends.

The kitchen riffs on comfort food — pastrami burger, duck hot dog and a Caesar salad sandwich that’s served on a buttery brioche with a fried egg, essentially a bread hybrid of crouton and toad in the hole, its most inventive play.

You want inventive? The chef at Damn the Weather serves chicken skin in a bowl and mixes in peanuts, chiles, and lime.

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It’s a very popular dish. And Damn the Weather is not alone as other restaurants have latched on to the crispy skins trend.

Many would consider this innovation, especially chicken skin to be a no-no. I know my doctor would. But I’m more than willing to try.

The update.

Culinary no-no #612

Culinary no-no began on Father’s Day 2007, a beautiful summer day, when I wrote about grilling brats. And eating brats. And topping those brats. I was inspired by my wife, Jennifer who, in my admittedly unscientific opinion, ruins brats by squirting ketchup on them. Other dining taboos quickly came to mind. The original idea was to take this concept only a few months, till the end of summer and then pull the plug. Then the unexpected happened. People started reading Culinary no-no. Lots of folks. So we keep doing the no-no.

This week the topic is about the one that started it all. Brats.

Oh, so you think you’re such a smarty. You’re figuring this installment just has to be about bad brats, don’t you?

Well let’s suppose the scholar in you is absolutely correct. We can’t just wrap up in a paragraph or two. That wouldn’t be the Culinary no-no way. Onward we go to see if you’re right. And you very well could be.

Everybody knows Wisconsin has a large German immigrant population. Ergo its most famous sandwich contains classic bratwurst.

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The NY Times once called Sheboygan “the capital of the kingdom of bratwurst.” Brat preparation there is a religion. Two bratwursts are usually squeezed into one hard roll,  side by side.

This brat is served Sheboygan-style at the Old Fashioned in Madison.

brat and cheese curds

Traditionalists may protest, but the fact is brats have become like vodka. Or ice cream. There are numerous varieties and flavors with no solitary method of cooking. Everything is on the table. Here are just a few examples. Remember there’s a no-no lurking.

A tribute to the greatness of the Milwaukee Bucks season, from the Milwaukee Brat House…

No photo description available.

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Not sure if that one is still available now that the clock struck midnight on Giannis and Co.


Located in a quaint historical building in Wisconsin Dells, the Brat House Grill serves over 15 brat dishes, including Wisconsin cheese brat, Polish brat, andouille brat and the house favorite BHG Big Brat, a half-pound traditional bratwurst served on a big bun for big brat lovers.

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The Vanguard in Milwaukee makes their sausages fresh in house – all twenty of them – including vegetarian and vegan options. Above is the Bunkhouse, a Bacon Wrapped Cheddarwurst with Guacamole, BBQ, Cheddar, and Fried Jalapeño.

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Bunzel’s is a family-owned and operated Milwaukee meat market four generations strong with a dedication to delivering consistent quality products. Bunzel’s offers traditional brats but gets creative with their other homemade sausages. A customer favorite is the honey mustard brat, and other options include three cheese chicken, Reuben-style and Texas popper bacon brats.

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Madison’s State Street Brats, a Badger-themed sports bar, offers a “red” sausage (smoked beef-pork) or “white” (more veal-pork).

If you’re anywhere near or in Watertown I highly recommend a stop at Glenn’s Market.

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Glenn’s already started their “Brat of the Week” schedule back in April. Talk about your variety.

Back to the Milwaukee Brat House. On the left you have a veggie brat topped with avocado sport peppers, olives, and a spicy mustard.

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Well, you’re right. That kind of brat will never find its way on my grill. Never. But it’s not the no-no this week.

Time once again to bring on Culinary no-no’s favorite philosopher.

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In one “Happy Days” episode Fonzie remarked about ketchup and ice cream. When they’re separated, AYYYYY, thumbs up. But put them together…yuckimundo.

Brilliant. Absoutely brilliant.

The Internet can be a great thing. Need a food idea or recipe? Go to Google. Search. In a  second you have oodles of considerations. I came across a crazy concoction this past week that was called “a match made in heaven.” I don’t think so.

The drawing card is that it’s low-carb.

Uh, Fonz?


Please contact me if you find this anywhere in Wisconsin.  I doubt you will.

My apologies to any Sheboyganite reading who’s probably spitting at the screen.


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