Probably the strangest food I tried this year was lutefisk.
Yes, I figured that as a Cheesehead, a Badger, a Fighting Bob-worshipping Wisconsin native, I had better give the fabled fish substance a try. It's counterintuitive to be eating anything that's been soaked in lye (but then, they do soak it back out again).
I don't come from a lutefisk family background, which is to say, I'm not Norwegian on either side. It's remembered that my German grandmother made lutefisk a few times, but no one seems to remember actually eating any of it.
The real draw for me at the annual Lakeview Lutheran Church lutefisk dinner -- said to be one of the best in at least Dane County if not the state -- was the second banana: the Swedish meatballs. But I did try the lutefisk, which looks like a pile of sauerkraut and tastes a little like finnan haddie (although it's not smoked and is much more slippery).
It was the texture more than the taste that kept my sample portion of lutefisk just that, and turned me back to the excellent Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, cranberry sauce, and cole slaw. Plus, the homemade lefse, spread with butter and brown sugar, was a surprise hit.
And now I can say I've eaten lutefisk. They say it's an acquired taste. And heck, maybe I'll acquire it. I'll be back at Lakeview Lutheran next year...for the meatballs.
Here's a recap of some other of my favorites from the year just past. In no particular order....
1. Athens Gyros.
When I found terrific Greek food being served out of a Shell gas station near my house, I was elated -- since the Northside is, shall we say, not overwhelmed with dining spots. Top picks: the lemon chicken soup, the gyros, and homemade baklava.
2. Chocolate waffles at Indie Coffee.
Chocolate waffles, crispy and malty. Served all day!
3. Sandwiches at Mildred's.
Don't overlook modest Mildred's. With regard to price, taste, and fresh ingredients, these remain the best sandwiches in town.
4. The Sunday chicken dinner at The Old Fashioned.
Cardamon seasoning and roasted parsnips take this country favorite up a notch.
5. The seafood cocktail at Juanita's Tacos.
The "Vuelve a la Vida" ("Come back to life") version features shrimp, octopus and fish in a sweet tomato, cilantro and lime sauce and is served in a tulip shaped glass.
6. The Japanese curry at the Zen Sushi cart on the Library Mall.
Japanese curry differs from the more familiar Thai and Indian versions as it's thicker and sweeter, with less heat. Available in small, medium and large, too -- thoughtful sizing options that more restaurants should adopt as Americans struggle with girth and portion control.
7. The super-rich macaroni and cheese side dish at Kipp's Down Home Cookin'.
I know this seems to be a contradiction with what I was just saying about girth and portion control. But when it comes to macaroni and cheese, all that hoo-ha goes out the window.
It comes in spring to your local Culver's, but fine walleye breakfasts can be had Sundays in McFarland at places like The Green Lantern and The Beach House. I had even better walleye outside of Cable, Wisconsin, at the Lakewoods Resort. If you're headed north to snowmobile or ski, stop by for their all-you-can-eat Friday fry (though the baked is also great).
9. Homemade Thai curries at The Corner Store on Willy Street.
10. The cheerful egg puff at Madeleine's Patisserie.
It's an egg baked in a rich flaky pastry basket, available with or without turkey, and perfectly tasty without.