It is easy to get spoiled living in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin. Cool, crisp mornings and fresh food straight from the garden. Food we don’t grow ourselves is frequently purchased from neighbors who do grow it.
As you can imagine, the cheap quality fast food peddled in urban areas these days does not live up to the bill. Even the so-called high end (and expensive) restaurants just don’t compare to what we grow and prepare ourselves.
Going out to eat is not a treat; it is something we do when home cooked meals are not an option.
The cost is what really bites. Dining out is expensive and rubs my frugal nature wrong. I can’t help thinking They charge that much for this! as I chew the cardboard.
There is a solution. Good food is available at a rock bottom price if you know where to look. In some cases you can’t prepare at home any cheaper. And they use high quality, real food in their preparations.
My delicate palate has found three sources of excellent value when dining out that are cheaper than virtually any other venue, save self-prepared.
So put on your bib and start licking your lips. We are going on a culinary journey.
Hospitals don’t always have edible food. However, when they do you might want to fake an illness.
Years ago when my oldest daughter was born I made a discovery at least as important as sliced bread. Mrs. Accountant was having a difficult time of it and even under stress, I eventually knuckled under and went to the hospital cafeteria.
And was it good!
Once the stress of child birth passed and we settled in, Mrs. A and your favorite accountant had a discussion. Mrs. A was all for going for a meal periodically. (Yes, Mrs. A is an awesome cook, but she needs a break now and again.)
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Appleton, Wisconsin is the place you want to go for lunch. Trust me. They have a variety of food to choose from, all of it prepared like grandma used to and right in front of you.
The best part is it cost less than a fast food stomach pump meal. Most restaurant food is barely edible and here we were enjoying REAL! food for under $10 for the two of us at the hospital where they can afford to serve terrible food because medical care is really close.
There is one more best part. You don’t need a sick friend or family member to eat at the hospital. Though you sometimes have to answer questions if you see someone you know. I just tell them the truth and they always agree; it is worth visiting the hospital when you’ve worked up a powerful hunger.
Caveat: I found St. E’s by accident. I tried the other hospitals around town and found them wanting. (Note to everyone: If I ever get ill I want to be taken to St. E’s or just let me die.) Even St. E’s had a dry spell several years back. But they soon returned to top form to my delight.
I suggest you do some medical culinary research.
I hear you already. “I don’t have a culinary school near me.”
Oh, yeees yooou dooooo!
My oldest daughter (yes, her again) exposed mom and dad to this one. She was attending the technical college and made a new friend which happened to be taking classes in culinary arts.
Well! What do you know about that?
Heather (the big kid) explained to Mrs. A one day that she needed to visit her at college. Heather took Mrs. A out for lunch at the school.
The real risk—if I would have known in advance—would have been to warn Mrs. A to NOT eat college food. It could make me a widower.
That night Mrs. A bragged to me about how good the food was at the college. I checked the calendar to make sure it wasn’t April 1st before taking her seriously.
Not to let a good meal pass, Mrs. A and I made a point to visit Heather shortly thereafter.
Heather made sure we took the correct lunch line. You see, some food is the normal college rot gut, but, if you went over here to this line is was the creations of the culinary class today.
So we stepped into the right line.
I filled my plate (as I am wont to do, evidenced by my waistline) and figuring it would set me back $10.
Mrs. A was in front of me. The friendly student on work-study rang up Mrs. A’s plate. $5.50!
“Five dollars!” I said a bit too loud.
“Oh, no sir,” the kind work-study student said. “Your meal is $6.50. You have the salmon.”
Here, just take my money.
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the food. It looked, smelled and tasted delicious! And both of us ate for a bit more than $10! Yes the fish was slightly more, but who is complaining when it tasted this good.
Since then I’ve had to take back all the things I said about my daughter and apologize for not paying more than a token amount of her college cost (and here to learn more).
Periodically you will hear in the nether regions of the Wisconsin backwoods, “Maawwww! I got the buggy hitched to the the horse. Want to ride with me to town to visit the yung’en?”
I highly recommend the Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin if you are hungry. You probably have a similar option where you live.
Before you say one word, bite your tongue.
From a young age on I always knew a good meal was coming when church put on a feed. It was the one thing I missed (along with the fellowship with awesome people) when I lost my faith.*
The ladies** at church know how to cook. In our parts a meal is frequently served after a funeral. On Election Day in November St. Martin Lutheran Church (Chilton, Wisconsin) has a Chili Supper each year. Easter morning is a brunch after Sunrise Service. There are many other event when a meal is also served.
The food at church is the best of all three options I have shared here. (Yes, I saved the best for last.)
I understand some readers don’t have faith in God, yet I never saw our church turn anyone away from the dinner table for any reason so you don’t need faith to eat. Church people are like that. Very welcoming.***
The churches love to advertise their upcoming events with meals and usually encourage the public to attend. Keep your eyes open for these excellent dining opportunities.
I have enjoyed meals at other churches around town when they served. Even other denominations! And never once did I get a lifted eyebrow. The Catholics fed this Lutheran as hastily as any of their own parishioners.
A church setting is about fellowship. The food is excellent. What more could you want. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just bring an appetite.
Next Sunday (September 15, 2019) is Bring a Friend to Church Sunday. After the service St. Martin in is having a brunch. You are all invited!
You will love the cost. Many times it is a freewill offering. Sometimes they have a token fee, but it is always so low I feel guilty and donate a bit more. I’m willing to pay for a good meal.
Looks like a certain backwoods accountant is hooking up the buggy to the horses again.
I hope you enjoyed my unconventional list of great places to dine at a very reasonable cost. I don’t dine out often so I’m sure I missed a bunch of great ones. Share your favorite places to eat where the food is excellent and the cost family friendly.
* I’m working on a TEDx talk on my darkest hour that led to my loss of faith.
** I say “ladies” because the ladies do most of the cooking. The men sometimes help out, but the women deserve the credit for their labor. No offense is meant, nor should it be taken.
*** My journey back to faith is a long and arduous one. When this blog started I was still clinging to atheism and if you read closely you could tell. But I was far enough along to know lack of faith had as many issues as faith. I was coming home even if I didn’t know it. I’m busy writing a book on my journey back to faith. There is a lot to it and it isn’t all religious. Once the book is finished and ready for publication I will be giving a presentation. My hope is I can convince Valparaiso University in Indiana to allow me to make my debut public presentation there. I promise to take you to hell and back. There will be no dry eyes at the end. It will be the most emotionally draining 90 minutes of your life, I promise. I’ll share details on this blog when this happens.
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Wednesday 25th of September 2019
This was just what I needed to read and lighten up my day. Had it on my "to do" list to read eventually and today I wanted a quick break for my brain that was not focused on work. Thankful to you for your honest and quirky insight! And of course the tickles along the way. Looking forward to hearing about your faith journey, TedTalk, and the articles of learning & laughing in between now and then.
Tuesday 17th of September 2019
I can't wait to read/hear about your journey back to faith! PS: My sweet 89 year father swears by how good the food is at his local community hospital. :) I can't say that I'm all that interested BUT will definitely give the culinary school a shot. Great suggestions!
Tuesday 10th of September 2019
I interned in a town where the best salad bar for miles around was at the hospital.
I know the local community college near me has a bakery that I really don't need to try out.
My church has more risk aversion than I care for which results in no potlucks and very few community feeding events. I am very much looking forward to your book and speech. I've gone through at least one cycle of faith to agnosticism/deism myself.
Monday 9th of September 2019
My local hospital doesn't check any ID for eating at the cafeteria! I know people get their teeth cleaned by dental students as well!
Monday 9th of September 2019
I had a fake ID. Visited local senior centers ($3-4). Also dumpster diving's a bit of an art.