Ah, Racine. The viking motherland.
If memory serves me correctly, Racine is a boring place to live. I spent most of my weekends in high school playing Super Smash Bros. at a friends house, or otherwise driving around aimlessly, singing along to Less Than Jake and making occasional pit stops to suck down Slurpees and gas station hot dogs. I can’t say it’s a bad place to live, really, but for a teenager who doesn’t drink or do drugs, it isn’t much fun.
Now that I’m older, with four and a half years between me and my departure from Racine, I have a much more favorable opinion of my furusato 故郷, my old hometown. Maybe that’s because I now only take small doses of Racine at a time, but it might also be because it has come to represent simplicity, safety, and ease. It’s true that not much changes in Racine and there still isn’t much to do there, but this has transformed from a source of angst into a source of relaxation.
Also, I miss the food. It could be that this is just due to nostalgic associations, but everytime I go back, the food tastes just as good as I remembered it, or better. A few things I already miss after leaving just two weeks ago:
Wells Bros. Italian Restaurant ウェルスブラザーズ・イタリアレストラン
The greater Chicagoland area is known for several types of pizza, perhaps the most popular being deep-dish and thin-crust. I love them both, but if forced to choose, I would probably say that thin-crust is my favorite. Now, this isn’t the floppy, foldable New York-style thin-crust I’m talking about. This is the crispy, party-cut Midwestern thin-crust, a crust with the thickness of a saltine and twice the crunch, a crust that maintains its crackle even under heavy layers of zesty sauce and fatty cheese. And as far as I’m concerned, nobody does thin-crust better than Wells Bros., who make a pie that snaps with flavor and texture in every bite. When you try it, all bubbly and brown with charred cheese, all sweet with sauce and savory with toppings, you’ll understand why two pizza scholars named it one of the top ten pizzerias in the entire country.
Wells Bros. Italian Restaurant
2148 Mead Street
Racine, WI 53403
Kewpee Lunch キューピーランチ
In high school, I got pretty fat off food from places like McDonald’s, The Olive Garden, Taco Bell, Denny’s, and Applebee’s. This is a shame, not just because I was overweight, but because I should have gotten fat off Kewpee’s, which would have made the embarrassment of being as tubby as I was so much more worthwhile. Kewpee’s makes one of the best burgers out there, with decidedly unlean beef patties, gooey cheese that melts to fill their every nook and cranny, and a just-right crunch from layers of onions, pickles, lettuce, and a toasted bun. Their homemade root beer is damn tasty, too. If every McDonald’s out there was replaced with a Kewpee’s, I’d be willing to bet that America’s obesity crisis would be even worse.
520 Wisconsin Avenue
Racine, WI 53403
The Danish word kringle, from the Old Norse kringla, can be roughly translated as “flaky, buttery, sweet, fruity, nutty, creamy, and oblong.” Though it isn’t a particularly common word in the American language, studies estimate that it is the first word spoken by every one in three Racine-born babies. A source of local pride and local rivalries, this scrumptious fruit- or nut-filled Scandinavian pastry is a genuine Racine meibutsu. There are only a few other towns in the United States where kringle is produced, and Racine is the only one that’s even remotely famous for it (Google “kringle” and see what comes up). While other Racinians are bound to disagree with me, I have to say that O&H makes the best, the most tender, sweet, and moist kringle in town, in both traditional varieties like almond and raspberry, and original seasonal releases like key lime and pumpkin caramel.
O&H Danish Bakery
1515 Rapids Drive
Racine, WI 53404
Craft Beer クラフトビール（地ビール）
As one might expect, Wisconsin is a mighty fine place for beer geeks like me. Wisconsin itself is home to many excellent craft breweries, and on top of that, the Great Lakes region functions as sort of a crossroads for beers from across the nation. I made a point to drink nothing but craft beer while home, especially “extreme beers” and other styles I can’t get in Japan, and I wound up spending around $150 on artisanal ales in six days. A few exciting selections from my bounty: Sprecher Barleywine, Ska Brewing Decadent Imperial IPA, Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye, Cantillon Rosé de Gambrinus, New Glarus Enigma, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, and Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu. Just don’t get me started on the cheese I brought back to pair with all of it or I’ll never shut up.
Timers Beverage Center
3800 Northwestern Avenue
Racine, WI 53405
Home Cooking 家庭料理
I never realize just how much I like home cooking until I actually get home and eat some. Of course, by “home cooking,” I don’t simply mean food cooked at home. I mean warm, simple, hearty, often brown food, cooked with affection by family members for family members: stews, stroganoffs, casseroles, roasts, cakes, pies, cookies, breads, soups, pastas, meat, potatoes, and things of that ilk. Below is a recipe for one of my favorite home-cooked dishes, an easy-to make, easy-to-eat staple at any given viking family get-together: Uncle Erik’s Rumaki (adapted from Anderson Family Recipes). The secret ingredient is love – but MSG is a suitable substitute.
port or red wine
- Cut chicken livers, pineapple, bay scallops, and/or water chestnuts into bite-sized pieces.
- Marinate in port (or any robust red wine) for about a half hour.
- Cut bacon strips into thirds or halves and marinate in soy sauce for a short time.
- Wrap the livers, pineapple, scallops, and/or water chestnuts in bacon and secure with a wooden toothpick.
- Add freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste.
- Broil slowly until bacon is brown and crisp.
Grandma Betty’s variation: Marinate fillings in a mixture of honey, vegetable oil, soy sauce, and crushed garlic.
Viking variation: Marinate fillings in a mixture of sake, soy sauce, grated ginger, honey, and Worcestershire sauce.