While Madison is graced with an admirable number of grocery stores scattered about the city at fairly appropriate intervals, there are some items that just can't be found here. Not even at Yue Wah, that's right. (Yue Wah, the wide-ranging import grocery store on South Park Street, is often the best source for obscure food items, but while it carries food from all over the globe, it does not make a habit of carrying American regional specialties.) Lastly, I should add that I have not looked for these items in stores you have to join, i.e., Sam's Club and Costco.
What haven't I been able to find around Madison?
Andy Capp's Fries
Oddly, Andy Capp's Fries are baked, not fried. Crunchy sticks of corn and potato, shaped like thin fries, are available as hot fries (coated in a spicy seasoning), cheddar fries (like Cheezy-Poofs, only very much less poofy), white cheddar steak fries and hot chili cheese steak fries. The steak fries are wider than the regular fries. Andy Capp, the inscrutable Cockney cartoon character, is the icon for these extra-crunchy snacks, possibly because they're supposed to recall British pub chips. We stumbled upon them during a summer vacation in the U.P. four years ago, but couldn't locate them in Madison. (I've since spied the occasional bag hanging near the cash register at the Dorn Hardware store at Northgate.) Probably the best deal on Andy Capp Fries is through Amazon.com, where you do have to like them well enough to buy a box of 48 lunch-size bags (1.75 oz.) of the steak fries or a box of 30 3.5 oz. of the regular fries. My pick: the white cheddar cheese steak fries.
A while back, Isthmus publisher Vince O'Hern brought back several boxes of Alfajores from a trip to Argentina. Alfajores are made from two dense, cakey cookies glued together with a layer of dulce de leche (a kind of heavenly caramel goo) and then dipped in chocolate to form a kind of super Ding Dong. I must admit I consumed more than my fair office share of these and then went looking for a local supplier. No luck. I ended up buying two boxes of Alfajores Havanna (the most famous commercial brand) off of eBay. Warning: do not let your Alfajores grow stale, for they begin to resemble hockey pucks in more than just shape. Practically speaking this is not going to be a problem, although I personally wouldn't buy two boxes at the same time again. These come in a couple of different flavors, too, but I'd go for the chocolate.
Wheat Nuts seem most like the product that should be available here, but that I just couldn't locate. These 100% nut-free "nuts" are made from soybean oil and have a very pleasant earthy taste, even if their bite is softer than a regular nut. They're good for those allergic to nuts and are a low carb snack that's less high in fats than nature's nuts. They have wheat germ in them, too. But for people who just really like the taste of Wheat Nuts, all that's irrelevant. I bought a jar in a grocery store in Hazen, North Dakota, and was hooked. Note: do not let your Wheat Nuts grow stale, as they will start to have a rancid taste. Also available in salt-free.
If you're from Pennsylvania, you're probably already familiar with the sublime nature of the Kandy Kake, a product of the Tasty Kake bakery of Philadelphia. Tasty Kake also produces cupcakes similar to the Hostess variety, but the chocolate-peanut butter Kandy Cake leaves Hostess and Little Debbie in the dust. With a hard chocolate frosting shell and a soft layer of sweet peanut butter, the white cake interior is the least important element of the Kandy Kake. In taste, these most resemble the Girl Scout cookies of recent vintage known as Tagalongs or Peanut Butter Patties. I was elated when I found these being carried at Kohl's grocery stores, shortly before that chain closed down. These are available straight from Tasty Kake at $38 for 36 packages (containing two Kandy Kakes each) which is a little steep.
These are a smoother-textured, sweeter-dough version of an English muffin that used to be a favorite of mine when I lived in Boston. I believe that Whole Foods carried them here for a while in the late '90s, but I haven't seen anything like them since. I've never mail ordered these, since freshness would seem to be most important, but you can get them via Portuguesefood.com.
I had a friend whose family had lived for some years in Richmond, Virginia, where they became attached to a canned version of a Southern specialty called Brunswick Stew. This hearty dish was apparently originally made with a mix of meats including squirrel, but fear not, Mrs. Fearnow's canned version is made with chicken. It's not too bad for a canned stew, with tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, corn, and lima beans. My friend's mother used to order this by the case and parcel it out to family members. I have found single-serving cans of Brunswick Stew at Woodman's, but not recently.
Of course, that's just a start -- Moon Pies, Moxie and more are on many people's wish lists. If you know of local sources for any of these, let us know. Anybody know a reliable local source for guacamole-flavored Taquis?