Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
THERE ARE THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF
FOOD BLOGS, BUT ONLY ONE CULINARY NO-
The year was 1983. I know because everywhere I went in my rental car, every 10 minutes the radio was blaring “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by the Eurhythmics. My travel sent me to…
This phenomenally beautiful setting, the city of Santa Barbara was the site of a good friend’s wedding. So I made a short vacation out of the nuptials.
One evening, post-dinner, some other Milwaukeeans and I went out to a semi-swanky cocktail lounge recommended by the groom. You can picture. Candlelight on the tables. Dark wood interior. Leather seats.
Customarily outfitted in black and white blouse and skirt, the cocktail waitress kindly introduced herself while placing napkins on the table. When it came time to take my order, I responded confidently.
“Brandy old-fashioned, sweet.”
My request was met with a quizzical look with the waitress asking me to repeat.
As she headed to the bar, our entourage teased me unmercifully for confusing our waitress that would surely mess up our service.
Several minutes passed by, understandably because we had a decent sized group. Now the drinks come, but there’s no sign of a brandy old-fashioned sweet.
Our waitress who was very sweet and professional looked at me and said, “Sir.” I was at most two years younger than she was.
“The bartender would like to talk to you.”
More teasing from the others at the table. Now I’ve done it. We’re gonna get thrown out of here, Kev. Nice going. I stood up and walked to the bar as our waitress served as a personal escort.
The on-duty mixologist wasn’t ancient by any means, but something told me he knew his profession. And that he took it seriously. I would soon come to develop a great respect for him and his customer service.
He inquired if I order the brandy old-fashioned. Immediately after I concurred his comeback was what you’d expect.
“You must be from Wisconsin.” I knew this telegram was coming but I was surprised it was delivered without an ounce of ridicule. An instant moment of pride came over this Badger.
There he stood in his tuxedo shirt and bow tie with a troubled look, pleading for help.
“We don’t get much call for brandy here,” he conceded. I was in disbelief.
“No we don’t, and we make the stuff out here,” referring to Christian Brothers Brandy.
And then came a strange request. The humble bartender asked me to instruct him how to construct my drink the way I preferred. So I obliged. I’m not sure what caused what happened next, but suddenly there were about a dozen patrons standing near the bar watching, watching as I gave the bartender each step in the brandy old-fashioned building process. They were all genuinely curious.
I don’t recall any ooohs and ahhhs when the drink was completed, but the next time a Wisconsinite walked through those bars, the staff would be ready.
That brings to me last Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Anne Schamberg wrote a piece about a bar in NYC.
That would be the...
There’s a true WI flavor to the Butterfly. An old-fashioned is made with, as it should be, Korbel Brandy, garnished with what the menu calls...
a “true maraschino.”
The Journal Sentinel informs that Eben Freeman is head of bar operations for the Butterfly.
“One thing he's only recently come to understand is that ‘people from Wisconsin are really passionate about their brandy cocktails.’
“Parched Wisconsinites occasionally wander in and let him know what they think — thumbs up or down — about the way he makes a brandy old-fashioned.
“And, by way of defense, he would like to gently remind people — meaning us — that this is a New York City restaurant, so please don't be ‘disappointed’ if the drinks are not exactly the way they would be in a Wisconsin supper club.”
That's truly wonderful that a classy bar in NYC has picked up on, in this age of the rebirth of classic cocktails, a WI favorite.
However, Schamberg then reveals the following about Freeman, the mixologist who supposedly according to Schamberg knows a lot about cocktails:
“Freeman was shaken up when someone — no, this person was not wearing a cheesehead, thank heavens —walked in and ordered a brandy old-fashioned with olives. ‘I'd never heard of that before,’ he said.”
Hmmm. A lot loaded in those sentences. The NYC mixologist was “shaken” when someone wanted olives in his WI libation. Shaken, as in stunned, aghast, startled, taken aback.
Schamberg in her article couldn’t resist a Muhammad Ali-like jab that the person could have been by description brandishing a Cheesehead, but praise the Lord, for the sake of saving WI more embarrassment, wasn’t.
Seems Freeman isn’t the expert mixologist Schamberg claims, and Schamberg needs to be more respectful of old-fashioned drinkers back here in the humble Midwest.
Fact is, for decades, in many a nice establishment, I’ve been asked repeatedly when I order a brandy drink if I want cherries or olives. Olive-lover that I am, I opt for the olive that also is a nice contrast to the sweet taste of the old-fashioned or the Manhattan.
That’s an old fashioned from one of my favorite restaurants in town, the Packing House. Rick Michalek, the head of bar operations there always ask me my choice of garnish. He, like all the others, never scoffs or laughs or questions my olive selection.
Thirty years ago in that lounge in Santa Barbara, the bartender refused to shed his humility. He didn’t pass judgment based on my beverage choice or where I lived. He didn’t assume I walked on my knuckles, dropped my G’s, or was about as sophisticated as an Army mule.
Thirty years later, a NYC mixologist and columnist for the Journal Sentinel apparently were shocked and/or embarrassed that someone would actually lower themselves to suggest an olive be dropped in their old-fashioned. Those two should have been more like the bartender in Santa Barbara. Instead, they reminded me of an attractive young woman I met at the wedding reception in 1983 that I flirted with asking to dance (I was attending stag).
She was charming and genteel, and then she asked where I was from. Upon learning it was Milwaukee, you know, Wisconsin, her reply was in stereotypical 80’s valley Girl.
“Oh, that’s where you have cows running all over the streets, right?”
It was enough to send me searching for the relish trays.
NOTE to Eben Freeman out there in NYC: Be very glad if a Wisconsinite comes into your bar. Odds are he or she will be a great customer, friendly and endearing and will tip well. Whatever he/she wants, serve it gladly without being shaken up.
As for Anne Schamberg: Shame on you! Please stop scraping your nose on the ceiling. Some of the nicest people in the world drink brandy old-fashioneds, with olives.
CULINARY NO-NO BONUSES
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