I recently went to Wisconsin to visit my sister. Not everything we did was food related, but I’ll be writing about the stuff that was. I apologize in advance for the length of this — I’m going to try to exposit at length about one thing each day, and then briefly recap for the rest of the post.
My first full day in Appleton, WI was a Saturday, the day of the Farmer’s Market. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will probably know that I’m a big fan of Farmer’s Markets, and my sister wanted to show this one to me.
Appleton Farmer’s Market
The Appleton Farmer’s Market is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen — it may even be bigger than the Union Square Greenmarket. It covers several city streets, all closed off for the duration of the market. In addition to the usual produce vendors there were specialty vendors, like the guy selling fresh rainbow trout. And I mean fresh. The trout sit in a tank, swimming away, until a customer orders some. Then the guy fishes them out with a net and either sells you the entire fish or, for a surcharge, hands them off to his partner to be cleaned and gutted for you.
I also got my first taste of cheese curds, a Wisconsin specialty. I’ll go into more detail about cheese curds in another post, but they say that fresh cheese curds should be squeaky. They literally squeak between your teeth. The first cheese curd I had was a garlic-dill flavored one, and it wasn’t great. It was tasty enough, but nothing special. It certainly didn’t squeak. Later, though, we stopped by the Arthur Bay Cheese company booth, and I got a taste of real, good squeaky cheese curds.
Looking at all of this food so early in the morning was making us hungry, so we decided to grab some of the freshly prepared food. First we started with a cup of grilled sweet corn, topped off with plenty of squeezable butter. We ate most of it, despite it being about nine in the morning.
We also found a booth selling what they called “Chinese donuts” in two varieties — deep fried dough topped with sugar, and what Chinatown bakeries in NYC call sesame balls (in this case filled with yellow bean paste). Just barely sweet, these were a great breakfast treat.
Appleton has a relatively large Asian population, particularly Hmong, so there were several interesting items for sale among the usual vegetables. Take, for example, the pumpkin vine seen above. We bought a bundle (only $1!) after asking the vendor how to use them. They were also selling something called “bitter leaf” which is apparently boiled and served with rice. “It’s very bitter,” we were told. We didn’t buy any. Our final haul: pumpkin vines, cucumbers, mushrooms, squash, cilantro, onions, corn, blueberries, and cherries.
We stopped for late breakfast/early lunch at the Queen Bee, which my sister described as a typical Wisconsin experience. I got the cheese omelet (what else?) which had, to my surprise, too much cheese. Cheese on the inside and the outside? I couldn’t finish it.
After some sightseeing, we stopped at Stone Cellar, a brew pub with its own specialty beers. I had the “Vanishing Vanilla Stout,” which was quite delicious. We also got an order of the deep fried cheese curds, a popular Wisconsin bar snack. These were okay (we would have much better ones later in the trip); they tasted like mozzarella sticks, though they were served with ranch dressing.
For dinner my sister took me to Koreana, which she described as one of her favorite restaurants in town. I should point out that I noticed a trend in Appleton restaurants serving Asian ethnic food to serve sushi along with it — I saw Chinese and sushi, while Koreana serves Korean and sushi. Anyway, my sister knew from experience that the banchan platter they serve at Koreana only contained one vegetarian item: marinated bean sprouts. She asked if we could skip the other items and get a few orders of the bean sprouts. Turns out we couldn’t. We got an order of the vegetarian spring rolls, which were quite good, filled with chewy noodles. This was almost more of a noodle dish than anything. I couldn’t resist ordering the tofu bulgogi, something that I’ve never seen on any other Korean restaurant menu. You can specify your preferred level of spiciness, from 1-5 (5 being the hottest), and since I was in Wisconsin I went for the 5. Unfortunately, my dish wasn’t spicy at all. In fact, it wasn’t great. My sister said she thought they were having an off night, since her jap chae wasn’t great either.
And so my first day in Wisconsin came to an end. Our bellies were full, and we had a lot planned for the following day.
Queen Bee — 216 E College Ave, Appleton, WI
Stone Cellar Brew Pub — 1004 Olde Oneida St, Appleton, WI
Koreana — 201 W Northland Ave, Appleton, WI