Porters Porter

"Oh my gaaaaawd!" she said. "Reeeally?!"
"Yeah," I replied. "Last year, I beat the next person in line by only a few minutes."

It was 9 a.m. in Hudson, Wisc. The temperature lingered just below freezing, too cold for casual covers but too warm for the heavy gear; the ground was cold and hard, the greenery brown and bare; the clouds were thick, flat, and being absolute pricks about letting the sun through. Beautiful snow had fallen a few hours south, but not here. The view from this parking lot was ... er, not Hudson's best.

It was just this lady and I. Neither of us were here for the scenery.

She was middle-aged, with fuchsia lipstick and a perma-smile, awaiting a carpool. I was awaiting a bottle of beer. I didn't get a good look at my smile.

"If your friends want bottles of this," I said, "they've gotta be here by noon. Last year, they barely had any left when the line was done."
"Oh my gaaaaawd." She looked simply ecstatic to hear this. Her chariot pulled up and whisked her away. I believe it was a Ford Escape. She yelled out the window, "Watch my car for me, will ya honey?"

I smiled and returned to my Angry Birds. Vanilla Rose Porter was only three hours away.

Outside Pitchfork

Hidden among the "scenery," in a strip mall on Rodeo Dr. -- the only thing on Rodeo Dr. -- sits Pitchfork Brewing.

The path to Pitchfork's creation plays out like a movie: Head brewer Mike Fredricksen gets hired at Northern Brewer after helping out on a busy day; he starts brewing, which leads to teaching brewing classes, which leads to becoming a beer judge; his garage turns into a brewery; he starts a homebrew club, and further helps his fellow homebrewers by helping get legislation rewritten; a newspaper article connects him with old friends, who just happen to be interested in starting a brewery. Boom, Pitchfork.

Larger institutions like Surly or Summit probably have closets that could fit Pitchfork's entire operation inside, but don't assume this is some rinky-dink operation. The staffers are smart, and the environment is clean and inviting (even during Packers games). The quality of the beers ranges from "solid" to "frickin' immaculate," and beyond that to "so good we're naming our dog after it."

This is why I'm waiting outside for Bottle #1 of Vanilla Rose Porter, Porter's Porter.

The first year Vanilla Rose Porter came out, in 2013, 70 bottles were sold. Last year, 120. This year, there was said to have been 300.

At least, that's what I heard from the bar next door when I stopped in for a drink.

Vanilla Rose

"There's no one else here yet," I said, sipping a Bloody Mary and staring out Paddy Ryan's front window. "Weird." It was 10:15 a.m. I was Paddy Ryan's first customer, too.

"It's the first weekend of rifle season over here," said the bartender, "and ... I think people aren't used to the cold yet."

"True." Last year, Vanilla Rose weekend was preceded by sub-zero temperatures. This year, it was in the high-20s four days after you could've worn shorts.

I emptied my drink, settled up and headed back out around 10:40. It wasn't until nearly 11 a.m. that I'd have company, and a line wouldn't begin to form until nearly 20-to-noon. By 12:01 p.m., the first bottle and the first pour were in my possession ... and WOW!

You know that phrase, "In a perfect world ..."? This is what just about every other porter would taste like in their perfect worlds. Go ahead if you think I'm crazy (and jump in a lake), but the line was still out the door when I left. Something's going right.

I hope 300 was enough. If not, Mike the Brewer might have to bottle 1,000 next year.

I might have to camp out.

STILL GOT TIME? Read about Hudson's other strip-mall miracle, the Cheddar Hudson Bagel.

Tara Missile

That 6Smith executive chef Angel Luna would have been given a Charlie Award for dedication was, for people who knew him, exactly unsurprising. I'm not sure there's ever a moment in which his restaurant isn't on his mind, and not in that "Eff my life" way: he's genuinely excited, always sharing ideas, and his positive attitude resonates with the staff and the product.

Now let's talk about the return of the Cuban Missile.

WHAT IS THIS? It was the Cuban Missile, back by popular demand!

TOP TO BOTTOM: Asparagus, cheese fondue, backhoe scoop full of Cubano fixings crammed into a tunnel carved through a loaf of bread. The tunnel was lined with mustard to a glorious excess. I wouldn't be shocked to learn an entire jar of mustard was used in the making of my missile. Dedication, remember? Please keep giving me all of your mustard.

HEIGHT AND WEIGHT: The roof sunk in on this one a little, making it seem smaller in comparison to the first missile. It also seemed a little bit lighter. Eggs were absent on this edition (at least on mine) and there appeared to be less cheese.

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: Symmetry and asparagus, both very healthy.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT: You don't need a bar seat to get stares when you've got three of these being set at your table. It's called popular demand for a reason. It doesn't matter whether it's new or not: the Cuban Missile is appointment television.

Missile II

ONE HOUR EARLIER: Space travel. JK, I don't remember.

WHO'S WITH ME? Two friends and two friends of friends came with me. My friends wimped out on ordering the missile, but their friends both went in. That includes the girlfriend of one, pictured up top. She ordered, we high-fived, it arrived, regret didn't set in.

THAT LOOKS LIKE A LOT OF WATER but don't worry -- we just about drank an entire keg of Furious ourselves.

STRATEGY: My friends dawdled about with their mac-n-cheese and sliders and such -- great food, don't get me wrong, but I wouldn't be caught dead with a nibble on Fat Pants Friday.

My friends' friends took different approaches. One carefully carved hers in half and ate the insides, leaving the bread. The other broke his down to look like the wall in Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" video, and attacked it that way. He didn't swing around the room naked or anything, but he did lick his hammer (fork) and he did look exhausted at the end. He didn't finish it, but he didn't leave enough behind to take home. I was impressed by both of my friends' friends' efforts.

Me, I used a less messy version of the technique I employed the first time. I cut each wall off individually, piled on toppings, and ate them like flatbreads. I knew I could one-shot this one, and it felt easier this time. I was being timed, and cleaned 'er up in 11 minutes.



If you never ate at D-SPOT when they were holed up in a sketchy strip mall, you missed out on quite the experience. You'll never get to see the trippy, ever-evolving wall painting or hear the kitchen's rap music; but, on the other hand, you'll never have to stand in the cramped entryway or dodge potholes in the parking lot.

Darin Koch and his crew upgraded to comfy digs up the street, with tap lines and ample parking. I've had people ask "Will it be the same?" I said I didn't know-- I had just moved 30 miles west from our old place in Woodbury. Well, I know now.

It isn't the same.

Their dining room has got space now, and the staff isn't overrun. You can get up from your seat without bumping somebody. Parking no longer endangers lives. It isn't even remotely the same ... but the wings!

My old friends, the Vaporizers, are exactly as textured, as tasty, as much a hot cleanse on the nostrils as they were in the strip mall. The 50/50 Burger, my wife's messy pet, as much a slobalicious delight as it was in our Woodbury days. When Koch loaded the truck and took off, the magic wasn't left on the street corner.

I'm telling you, it's exactly the same.

Spot Inside

The Basics: D-SPOT now sits just off I-694 and 10th St. in Oakdale. You can find them on the Internet here, but I've written about them two other times: I featured their 50/50, and I began trying their hottest wings. I'm not writing D-SPOT correctly in this piece because WordPress automatically turns : and D into a smiley face emoji.

The new space isn't just upscale by "Old D-SPOT" standards -- this wing joint's wearing a steakhouse onesie now. I'm talkin' dark wood finish, stone accents, clean tile floors, mood lighting, and polished metal counter panels. Don't put their soul on a milk carton just yet, though; the piping behind the counter, bent to spell out their name, is pretty darn metal ... and the kitchen music still bumps and shreds its way into the dining room.

Parking is plentiful, but wear comfortable shoes: If Bierstube is busy next door, a short walk is liable to get long.

There were others waiting to order, and not a single person was pressed up against me. If you never ate at the old place, you have no idea how different this is. You now order in a wide open space, one with what appears to be wall panels with plants growing out of them.

The menus are laminated with a consistent font. East-side breweries Big Wood and Lift Bridge dominate the new tap line, with Furious and a few others hanging out. Gone are the soda cans and the hand-written sign advertising their price: local MinneSoda is now served from a fountain machine.

How's MinneSoda? No idea: we had water.

50 50

Service was instant. I'm talking less than ten minutes, as an overly-sane estimation. It was closer than five than ten before the food came, on a steady (but not necessarily busy) night.

The Vaporizers lay neatly in a moat of mustard and horseradish. My other wings, the War Machines, were covered a gelatinous glaze. There was a hint sweetness that crept in between the tongue-lashing jerk spice on the hammers. It didn't run down your face, it just stuck to your fingers.

The Vaporizers cleared everything up, starting with my nostrils, just like old times. The wings were bulky, the meat pulled off the bone with little effort, and the sauce was precise: Honey, mustard, horseradish, blended into a perfect texture and taste. I attacked them with classic savagery, the kind that's tough to wash off afterward.

My wife raised her 50/50 and the familiar death race began. Lettuce clumps, onion bits, grease, and juicy tomato chunks went splat on her snack boat with every bite. Despite resolving to stop after half, just as she always used to, she couldn't resist eating the whole thing (just as she never could). Her mood throughout alternated between ecstatic moans to cursing because she forgot fries.

We left wondering why we can't get there more often, just as we always did, just as I'm sure we always will. It doesn't matter if you live three miles from D-SPOT or 30. You can never have enough of the stuff.

Still have time? You can read about the joint in Superior with the worst wings I've ever had, or the chicken and waffles I chased with a dog treat. Enjoy!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Minor clean-up edits were made during the morning of 13-Nov.