We were sitting in a grimey booth at Fuel Café -- a little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that made it to Milwaukee just in time to take advantage of a dying coffee culture. The floors bore red, white, and black checkered tile. The walls sagged heavy with local art, hung in the hopes of a fortuitous sale... plopped between dirty posters advertising the latest concerts by the strangest local bands. The bathroom walls told tall tales -- painted and markered up with pop-philosophy, written daily by free spirited patrons inspired by 25 cent refills of piping hot joe.
Peef and I sat there, smoking cigarettes, and sipping the strongest coffee in the universe. It was at one of those tables that we discovered mancala. Ourselves. Poetry. And sometimes a really great sammich. We weren't married. Gosh, we weren't even dating at that point. We were just hangin' out, being friends.
And we were seriously cool.
Gosh, how things have changed.
We didn't start dating until 1996, but we've been happily hitched since 1998. Most nights, these days, we're more likely to be found in our 10x10 foot kitchen than a coffee shop. Cigarette smoking has gone by the wayside, replaced by (hopefully) better habits. Same thing goes for the late-night coffee swilling, which has been replaced (more recently) by things like... sleep.
Fuel went non-smoking in October of 2007.
They cleaned up their grimey booths and put in a new counter. And the owners started building an awesome restaurant empire -- with the likes of Comet Café, Balzac, Palomino, Hi-Hat, and (the newest addition) HoneyPie Café .
Fortunately, some of the good stuff remains. Fuel still has great coffee. And the menus at both Fuel and Comet still feature two of my favorite sammiches:
Toasted Cheesy TomatoBoth Fuel and Comet pride themselves in obtaining as many locally sourced ingredients as possible, which is awesome. But, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that we could try our hand at making these sammiches ourselves. And you can't get much more local than that!
Fuel’s famous gooey sub. The best mozz & provolone, fresh tomato & onion melted with Italian herbs & olive oil on a toasted sub roll.
Add hot Italian giardiniera peppers from Glorioso’s to the Cheesy Tom.
Inspired by a handful of Jen Ehr tomatoes from the West Allis farmer's market, we set out to do some damage.
In addition to the tomatoes, we gathered up a few slices of local provolone, some farm fresh red onions, a demi-baguette from the bakery, a handful of herbs from the garden, a spread of mayo, a few shreds of crisp lettuce, and a jar of hot pepper giardiniera... and we were set.
The sammiches were assembled in a matter of moments.
They just needed to be placed under the broiler for a few minutes to make sure the cheese got all nice and melty.
Ah, the memories. So much tied up in a few simple ingredients -- put together in just the right way.
As we opened the oven door, our eyes feasted on the sight. The cheese was melted, the bread perfectly crusty. The smell of fresh tomatoes and herbs hovered right up top, just beneath the briny heat of the hot peppers. We were thrilled. Stomachs growling, we grabbed our sammiches, a couple of glasses of nice red wine, and sat down to dinner.
Taking that first bite was somewhat of a revelation. Somehow, I was transported back to a more innocent time and place -- when all we needed was $5, a good cup of coffee, and some great conversation.
It was a bit like going home.
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