Tapioca Pudding at the South Milwaukee Cafe

211 N. Chicago Ave., South Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I'm writing this today because it's National Vanilla Pudding Day (May 22), and last weekend I visited the South Milwaukee Cafe for the first time, which was at one time a George Webb, later a Griddlers, and if it wasn't for the current owners... closed. But it's now a vibrant, living, breathing diner, open early, open late, your home away from home. Of course, I was hoping to find what's been harder and harder to find lately, the dessert holy grail, rice pudding. No dice. But at least they had what I'm still considering second best, tapioca pudding (if you are someone who prefers tapioca to rice pudding, I can't argue with you—I love tapioca, and it's arguably weirder—it's just that I'm obsessed with rice pudding even more). This was the most vanilla-y flavored pudding I've had in a while—and while vanilla is something that can either repulse me or seduce me (depending on its particular essence) this one was very pleasing. The consistency of the pudding itself (too consistent, not separating at all) was suspiciously like factory-made, but the color was so extremely off-white (as to be considered beige), it struck me more as homemade. I don't know—and I'd rather not know. I just like that it exists. The cafe was warm and comfortable—a woman next to me at the counter even struck up a brief conversation (this never happens, particularly if you sport a semi-creepy countenance, as I do), and the people working there all seemed either like family or extended family—more engaged than you'll ever see at a chain restaurant. This is a place I'll come back to—if not sooner, on National Tapioca Pudding Day, July 15th.

Rice Pudding at Omega

3473 S. 27th Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The open 24 hour family restaurant diner, Omega (it used to be Paul's Omega, or maybe it still is, or just Omega, now?) on South 27th Street used to be my favorite restaurant in Milwaukee—though I can't really explain why. Anyway, I don't make it out here much anymore, but I visited on a Saturday morning and asked if they had rice pudding—the waitress checked, and they did—leading me to believe they don't always have it, or it's not always made. I believe it was $2.50—anyway, very reasonable. It's served in a small bowl and has a very milky, almost runny consistency—and very sweet, though short of insanely-sweet. Very good flavor, that of a classic rice pudding. I got it with cinnamon, but no whipped cream—which is always a hard decision: Unadorned? Cinnamon/no whipped cream? Or both? I suppose no cinnamon and (yes) whipped cream could also be an option, but that would be insane.

Rice Pudding at Beans & Barley

1901 E. North Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Beans & Barley is one of those places that's been around forever and easy to take for granted, but you shouldn't, because the next thing you know, it's gone and an Applebee's has opened there. I was looking at their online menu and didn't see the rice pudding, but lately I've been wondering if restaurants don't list their desserts online—maybe it's because they make a batch daily and when it's gone it's gone? I don't know, but anyway, their rice pudding is my favorite thing at B&B—so I stopped by early on a Saturday and asked, and they had some. It tasted like it was just made, actually, very fresh and good. This is the oddest style of rice pudding, essentially a custard, I guess. I will eventually ask someone how they make it and have an excuse to eat and review it again—it's one of my favorites. It can be served cold (out of the cooler, I imagine) or heated up—which I prefer. You get a square, pie or quiche-like thing, with the rice and raisins (or currants?) on the bottom, and then a fluffy, eggy custard above that, with a browned, slightly hardened top. There are at least four different consistencies going on, and a nice subtle flavor (I'm guessing vanilla, but not overly so, and the spices aren't overpowering). The best thing is that it's not overly sweet—hardly sweet at all—you could get this as an entree if you wanted, or with something. It's really an interesting combination of hippie food and ethnic food, though I'm not sure what ethnicity. I don't know the history of this style. Anyway, a perfect visit to Beans & Barley is coffee and this rice pudding—don't know why I don't do that more often!

Kheer at Bollywood Grill

1038 N. Jackson St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I've eaten many, many times at Bollywood Grill's Indian lunch buffet, and it's a good one. Among their desserts they always have kheer—the problem is, they also always have another interesting dessert, like a fruit custard, and they always have mango ice cream—so, following a buffet in which it's impossible to not eat at least ten items, no mater how small you're buffeting your portions, it's hard to get out of the place without feeling like you need to go lie on the couch and fall asleep to the Detroit Lions. I'd be better off with no dessert, but it's hard to resist that mango ice cream, so there are times when I actually skipped the kheer—so I made a point to concentrate on it, last visit. I'm not sure if the preparation doesn't sometimes vary (as it may well, with a kitchen this size, and this busy) but it's consistently excellent, not too sweet, a fairly runny consistency, and with a very subtle and complex flavor that makes me want to keep taking bites to try to figure it out. There's a small amount of raisins and some kind of nut, not dominating—nothing dominates. Most definitely some cardamom. I'd like to know the preparation, and who knows, they may or may not share that info, but I also like not to know—I like mystery, and guessing—and also, I like the idea that I have a reason to keep returning to this excellent portrayal of kheer—maybe my favorite version of rice pudding—though is this one my favorite kheer? I have a lot of work to do.

Rice Pudding at Ma Fischer's

2214 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin

I didn't see desserts on the menu, and they don't seem to push them here—well, at least not at breakfast—and I only go to Ma Fischer's for breakfast. They do have a display case of pies—I love those display cases! I asked about rice pudding, and the waitress smiled (like no one ever asked?—or like, “Oh, an old guy!”—and asked the musical rice pudding question: “Do you want whipped cream and cinnamon?” It's my habit—and will be my standard of control—to decline whipped cream and ask for cinnamon. I watched the waitress go to a large cooler and take out a plastic tub (which is hopefully a sign that it's made there, in a fairly large batch, and refrigerated) of rice pudding, and spoon it into a small pudding dish. She sprinkled it with cinnamon and served it on a small plate with a dessert spoon. It was initially pretty pungent—the cinnamon, of course, and a lot of vanilla. The color, kind of grayish, off-white, not really attractive—which is actually another sign that it's made there, and with few ingredients—and also that it's a little runny. It was very tasty—didn't have the factory pudding consistency—but a homemade consistency. Too sweet though. I ate it all, what I would call a small portion, with delight—but my one criticism is that it's too sweet. Too too sweet. Sweeter than sugar, sweeter than honey, sweeter than a bank account, full of money. Waaaay too sweet. But otherwise pretty good!

Rice Pudding

As a person with celiac disease, and as a person also trying to avoid sugar as much as possible, it probably makes as little sense dedicating myself to the dessert page as it would a beer list. But, still, I love desserts, and even though many are off-limits to me (except in their often sadly inferior gluten-free versions) I am still going to write about them (even if my field work is limited).

I don't remember when I first ate rice pudding—I wish that I did—I don't think it was in childhood. But as a naturally gluten-free dessert, and also one that is sometimes not overly sweet, and also one of the least expensive desserts out there—rice pudding is my favorite. It also exists in wildly different variations—no two are alike, and some are as different from each other as the miserable rich and the happy to be alive.

Check back here with anticipation and impatience for upcoming rice pudding reviews and discussion!

Best Ice Cream Flavors in the Universe

The reason I picked “31” as a number (instead of 10 or 100) is because of the original Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors ice cream stores (DUH) which were kind of a big deal when I was little, though not without critique, and looking at the flavors they are now sporting—Danger Will Robinson!—there's some nauseating attempts at flavor supremacy, like “America's Birthday Cake”—I mean, ugggh. I want to make it clear, while this is MY personal list of favorites, it's also a non-subjective list of THE BEST, and not open for debate. If anyone reading this is REALLY not happy with the results, and REALLY wants to get their favorite ice cream on this list, I will consider a bribe in the form of—you guessed it—a bowl of the ice cream in question—email me to arrange the bribe.

THE 31 Flavors, bottom to top.

31 - Cotton Candy

30 - Banana Nut

29 - Chocolate and Peanut Butter

28 - Lemon Sorbet

27 - Pralines and Cream

26 - Butterscotch

25 - Raspberry Sherbet

24 - Black Cherry

23 - Watermelon

22 - Lemon Custard

21 - Black Walnut

20 - Caramel

19 - Lime Sherbet

18 - Butter Brickle

17 - Peppermint Stick

16 - Green Tea

15 - Daiquiri Ice

14 - Maple Walnut

13 - Cantaloupe

12 - Egg Nog

11 - Mango

10 - Pistachio

9 - Dulce de Leche

8 - Vanilla Frozen Custard

7 - Rum Raisin

6 - Red Bean

5 - Coffee

4 - Coconut

3 - Blue Moon

2 - Spumoni

1 - Grape Ice



1. Grape Ice was at Baskin-Robbins during my childhood, and always my favorite.

2. Flavors that are NOT here: Anything that requires a TM or ® next to the name.

3. Nothing brand specific.

4. Nothing regional specific.

5. Nothing with a cute rhyme in the name that's more about the name, or named after dead rock stars.

6. No “salted” anything (salt is for eggs and steaks, not desserts).

7. ESPECIALLY, nothing that sounds like it is better suited to go in an oven than your mouth, i.e. “cookie dough” ice cream, or even worse: “cake batter.” I just vomited.

8. And while I may include sorbet, sherbet, and frozen custard, there is no “frozen yogurt” here, just because... OK—it reminds me of how back in the 1980s, yuppie businessmen, unable to smoke and drink liquor in the office anymore, all got horribly addicted to the frozen yogurt that popped up in urban centers, and they would take a break and go out to get a “yogurt”—to which I would say, No, you're not eating yogurt, you're eating ICE CREAM. So I guess technically, I should include it, but it annoys me.

9. Also, I'm disqualifying Rainbow Sherbet because rainbows have no flavor—in fact it would make a great diet food—there is no sugar, no fat, no calories, no flavor, no substance at all—wait, it's not even there anymore, where'd it go?

10. As much as I like the name Neapolitan, and I like how it looks, it's kind of boring when it comes down to it, so it got bumped by Spumoni, which is similar but has much more exciting flavors, in fact, really, really exciting, one of my very favorites.

11. Some perennial favorites that didn't make the list: Mint Chocolate Chip, because I don't like how those chocolate chips stay frozen no matter how mushy the ice cream gets. It always ends up feeling like you have dirt in your ice cream.

12. And Pink Bubblegum, as much as I like the flavor, when you end up with a mouth full of food you can't swallow (i.e., gum—is gum food?) that's just gross. Especially if you're not a gum chewer, and I am NOT—I'm an adult.

13. And Orange Sherbet—if you saw the Mad Men episode at the Howard Johnson's, Orange Sherbet would put you off your lunch, too.

14. Not including Peach because just the THOUGHT of Peach Schnapps made peach gross for life (And “Triple Peach” is not an ice cream flavor, it's a “bum” wine, though one of the finest of all time.)

15. Chocolate – boring.

16. Strawberry – boring.

17. The Vanilla here is the frozen custard variety at places in Milwaukee, such as Leon's (it's the best looking place, too).

18. Oh, yeah, and NO Schweddy Balls—for the love of God!