In the weeks leading up to trips back to America, I always make a mental list of the different places I want to go out to eat, and various food products that I want to pick up that I cannot get easily (or cheaply) here in the UK. This most recent trip home, I wanted to visit a few restaurants (in order of preference):
- The Log Cabin: true to Midwest living, these guys serve up oversized portions of delicious Midwest comfort foods (things like roast turkey with the trimmings, open-faced sandwiches, traditional breakfasts, etc.). This is one of my favourite restaurants back home, and I was really disappointed that I wasn’t feeling quite well enough to make it during my most recent visit.
- Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream: two words: blue moon. A mysteriously bright blue ice cream that has no discernible flavour other than delicious. Chocolate Shoppe serves up some incredibly rich, creamy ice cream made of only the best local dairy ingredients. It’s a perfect treat any time you find yourself wandering State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.
- Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry: burgers are better in America. Period. And some of the best burgers I’ve ever had were served up at Dotty’s. Favourite burgers here include the Runnelstone, California Burger and the Heart Throb. Again, this was another restaurant I didn’t manage to visit during my most recent trip, and during my Thanksgiving trip when I did make it, I wasn’t feeling well enough to enjoy one of their delicious burgers (but I can say the corn dogs are pretty good!).
- Pizza Hut: OK, this may seem like a strange one since Pizza Hut actually exists in the UK. But, there is a difference between American Pizza Huts and UK Pizza Huts. Actually, there is even a difference between Pizza Huts in different states, as I learned when I lived in California. Wisconsin is lucky enough to have Pizza Huts with all-you-can-eat (how gluttonously American of them) lunch buffets. I remember telling my partner only days before the trip about these, and my dad actually suggested visiting one after the three of us did some touristy stuff one day. While I did make it to a Pizza Hut buffet, I wasn’t feeling up to actually eating too much, which was highly disappointing. It’s hard to pass-up all-you-can-eat pizza, pasta and bread sticks!
- Library Mall Food Carts: these are a bit difficult to explain unless you’ve actually spent time on the UW-Madison campus. Essentially, there are a number of food-truck type carts that set up shop outside Memorial Library from spring to autumn serving a variety of different foods including African, Jamaican, Mexican, Thai, etc. My favourite while I was in uni was the Cuban food cart called Guantanamera. Unfortunately, he seems to have gone out of business since, and my partner and I went to the Buraka cart during out most recent visit instead. I’ve never been disappointed by Buraka’s take on African food, and really enjoyed the coconut chicken curry I had on my most recent visit. An added bonus of the food carts is that you can take your lunch and enjoy it at the Memorial Union Terrace when the weather is good.
- The Eagle Inn: I always enjoyed the hot beef sandwich here, but their breakfasts are really good too. Oh, and the pies, those are fantastic. This was one of the restaurants I did manage to visit, and I had an awesome short stack and sausages here, and the food is such great value-for-money!
- Original Pancake House: I’ve not been here for years, but damn, I have dreams of their bacon pancakes. If you’re and American who’s been in Britain on Pancake Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday a.k.a. Fat Tuesday), you know that British pancakes are not the same as American pancakes. And if there is one breakfast food I desperately miss, it’s a nice stack of pancakes (which used to be one of my standby dinners when I was too lazy to make anything else).
- Lao Laan-Xang: I first tried this place recommendation of a co-worker at the coffee shop I worked at during my last year of uni. The curry squash here is absolutely phenomenal, and it’s one of those dishes that’s made to the level of spiciness you prefer. With two locations, one on Willy Street and another just down the road on Atwood Avenue in Madison, you have some choice in where you can enjoy your delicious dinner (though you’re more likely to get a table at the Atwood location).
- Culver’s: a home-state fast food chain that delivers some deliciously unhealthy burgers, and equally unhealthy frozen custard. I managed to get one of their turtle sundaes in just before I left on my recent trip. This is a sundae consisting of frozen custard, hot fudge and caramel sauce, topped off with some salty pecans and a cherry. Ooh, that combination of salty-sweetness is making my mouth water at the thought. The burgers are really good too, with the Wisconsin Swiss Melt being my favourite because it is most like a patty melt (and I have a weakness for patty melts).
- The Old Feed Mill: I worked here for five years from high-school through uni. I wanted to go here more or less to see how much has changed since I stopped working there seven years ago, but I was also interested in showing my boyfriend where I spent my younger days working. Even though this is one of the only restaurants actually in my home town, we’ve never actually made it there for lunch or dinner. Perhaps on our next trip we will.
In addition to visiting local restaurants, there are always a variety of foods that I either ask my parents to pick up, I pick up myself at some point during my trip, or we make at home. These include (in order of preference):
- Hostess orange cupcakes: my boyfriend will tell you I am absolutely crazy for these things. When we were in Wisconsin over Thanksgiving last year, we literally would drive to every convenience store within a five-to-ten-mile radius to see if they had these delicious morsels. Luckily, I found one could buy an entire box of eight at Wal-Mart, which saved us many unnecessary trips during our most recent visit.
- Waffles/pancakes: as I mentioned above, I absolutely LOVE pancakes, and waffles are a close second, if not tied. My family usually has what we call a “big breakfast” during each visit home where we all gather and have pancakes, waffles, eggs, bacon, sausage, etc., but because my stomach was not cooperating, we never had a chance to do this during my last visit.
- Pumpkin bars: my mom makes some amazing pumpkin bars. I tried making these myself when I lived in California, but they never tasted quite as good as my mom’s. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait until Thanksgiving to have some of these, unless I am prepared to spend an arm and a leg buying canned pumpkin here, and face the frustration of trying to use British ingredients.
- Reese’s Pieces: similar to M&Ms, but filled with sweet peanut butter rather than chocolate. I would have actually put down Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but I’m lucky enough that the local Waitrose now stocks these at only 60p for a package of three cups.
- Cream of fruit instant oatmeal: I do not care whether I get the Quaker brand, or some generic store brand, but I absolutely love eating this stuff for breakfast.
- Bagels and flavoured cream cheese: in the UK, it seems one can only get two flavours of bagels: 1) plain; 2) cinnamon and raisin. Where I grew up, there is a place called the Bagels Forever and they had a great selection including my favourites bluebarry (that’s how they spell it), cranbarry oat, hole wheat and standby cinnamon and raisin. Not only that, but you could get some really nice flavoured cream cheeses including strawberry and blueberry. While I did not make it to Bagels Forever, I did pick up some delicious blueberry bagels and blueberry cream cheese (blueberry overload? I think not; it was delicious).
- Corn dogs: how could anyone not love a hot dog dipped and coated in cornmeal then deep fried to a light, golden brown? I’ve not really found a place in my family’s area that serves up really good corn dogs (like Hot Dog on a Stick on the West Coast), but I have been known to buy the frozen ones at the supermarket and eat them at home. Sure, they’re not the same, but they’re still all right.
- Home-made cookies: yes, you can make cookies in the UK, but I’ve not bothered trying after some other disasters I’ve had with British ingredients (let’s just say British flour–even the plain stuff–isn’t the same as American flour). Not only that, but the concept of chocolate chips does not seem to exist! As it turns out, my partner is really good at baking cookies. We used to spend crappy afternoons baking cookies when we lived in the Bay Area, and on our most recent visit home, he made a really nice batch of chocolate chip cookies; even my parents had a hard time resisting them.
- American cereals: these includes ones like Lucky Charms, Fruity Pebbles, and Froot Loops. Choosing one of these cereals is always a tough decision because I only ever have a week or two back home at a time, and I usually prefer to eat the oatmeal mentioned above for breakfast. Since I thought the oatmeal was causing me a bit of intestinal distress this last time, I opted for Fruity Pebbles, and I even had enough to bring back and enjoy in the UK for a few days. Interestingly, I learned last summer that one can purchase Froot Loops on the Continent. However, they lack the unnatural colour of the American cereal, and don’t quite taste right (i.e. not as sweet).
- Hamburger Helper: minced (ground) beef mixed with pasta in a cheesy sauce, how could one not love it? I managed to smuggle two boxes back to the UK with me, and learned that British beef isn’t quite as tasty as American beef. Regardless, I look forward to enjoying my last box of Hamburger Helper once I’m able to eat solid food again.
So there you have it. A list of places and foods I like that show how truly American (i.e. gluttonous and unhealthy) I am. I’m certain if it wasn’t for my Crohn’s, I would be the size of a house.