The best barbecue I've ever eaten was prepared by a guy who had a pit going by the highway in my hometown of Mt. Juliet, Tenn. Alas, outdoor kitchens don't work so well in Wisconsin, but between Smoky Jon's and Fat Jack's, the Madison area does have some genuinely fine barbecue.
Joining them as of last week is Papa Bear's BBQ, 4527 Cottage Grove Rd., which actually occupies the storefront of Bull's, the short-lived barbecue joint that abruptly shut down early this year.
"Everything on this menu is something I've been doing for years," says Papa Bear's proprietor Jeff Norwood, who until recently sold his food to college kids late at night - from a cart called, yes, Papa Bear's. Originally from Michigan, Norwood has lived in Madison for 17 years.
Norwood smokes his meats right there at the restaurant. He is proud of the brisket, and also of the ribs and the pork sandwich. But he also is proud of a portobello dish, as well as various salads. "I don't want to scare the vegetarians away," he says. As for sides, there are baked beans, corn on the cob and garlic-roasted potato wedges.
How did he get into barbecuing? Informally, at first. "I started back in Michigan," he says. "I was the go-to guy. They'd say, 'Let's get Jeff to barbecue.'"
Americans have an uneasy relationship with the word bakery, says Punky Egan: "You say bakery and people think, 'Oh, doughnuts.'" That's why she uses the word patisserie to refer to Sucré, which she and partner Randy Reinke plan to open in October at 20 W. Mifflin St., the site most recently of one of the nation's grimmer McDonald's.
"In France, they have two places for bakery," Egan says. "The boulanger for bread, and the patisserie for sweet." And sweet will indeed be the watchword at Sucré - whose name is, after all, French for sweetened. She says to expect Danish, kringle, tortes, cakes, napoleons and gibassiers, among other treats.
A Fox Valley native, Egan is a baking and pastry instructor at Madison Area Technical College, where she has taught since 1985. She will continue to work at the college after Sucré opens. As it happens, three of her former students recently opened Madeleine's Patisserie at 3724 Speedway Rd.
"I wanted it to be downtown," Egan says of Sucré. "Downtown is where everything is happening."
Also new is Tru Tavern & Grill, which has opened at 157 W. Main St. in Cambridge, formerly the home of Serendipity. "It's what I call American mixed-grill comfort food," says owner Craig Martin of the fare. "Beef, poultry, pork products. Everything's fresh and made from scratch. It's what people like to eat." There is a wood-burning pizza oven, and a collection of wines from California, Washington and Oregon.
Martin, originally from the St. Louis area, has worked in restaurants since the 1970s - including, he notes, a stint consulting for Murray Bros. Caddyshack, the restaurant chain of Bill Murray and his clan. And now Martin is in Cambridge, which he praises. "It's not just rural," he says. "It's rural-city."
Why the name? "It's called Tru because everything we do is true and truthful," he says.
On June 24, L'Etoile, 25 N. Pinckney St., will host a chef's tasting dinner to benefit Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch, a program that introduces local schoolchildren to the benefits of eating fresh, locally grown food. Joining L'Etoile chef Tory Miller in the kitchen will be five other Wisconsin chefs, including Harvest's Justin Carlisle. The cost is $95. Call 251-0500 for reservations, and visit reapfoodgroup.org for more on Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch.
Anticipate a September opening for Pizza Brutta at 1805 Monroe St., the former site of Sepp Sport. Also soon to come: Osteria Di Lucca, which is under construction at 1617 N. Stoughton Rd., where Pacifico's used to be. And welcome to El Pescador, the Mexican restaurant that has opened at 2810 E. Washington Ave., where Las Palmas was.