Not interested in Racine, Wisconsin? Well, sorry. When I travel, I write about where I am at the moment. And cultural landmarks are disappearing in every state and every time zone (though, I grant, not as fast as they are in New York).
I originally hail from Wisconsin, but it didn't necessarily occur to me how strongly the state adheres to its traditions and customs until I left the state some 20 years ago. The clock has an easier time standing still here. You notice that right off when you enter the state and can't get anything by Boston and Foghat on the car radio.
In the past few months, I have grown somewhat obsessed with the idea of visiting Racine, particularly after I learned from Roadside Architecture that it was the birthplace of Kewpie Hamburgers. In the early days of fast food, Kewpie was a chain of some strength. It was founded in the 1920s in Racine (although some say it was founded in Flint, MI) and there were once 200 outlets nationwide. Now there are only five: one in Lansing, MI; three in Lima, OH (huh?); and one in Racine. The chain has a certain place in history, because Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy's, stated that, as a young man, he was inspired by Kewpie's way of doing thing—in particular their square burgers.
And, yes, their somewhat-queasy-making mascot is the Kewpie Doll.
Anyway, something so obscure, so centered on unexciting, mid-sized cities, captured my imagination. So I made a pilgrimage on Sunday.
What did I learn? Don't go to Racine on a Sunday. Ever.
The city, apparently very religious, shuts down. My beloved Kewpie was closed. All I could do was look at it and take a couple shots. The townfolk appear to know the place well and treasure it.
Hoping to salvage my trip, I decided to pick up a Kringle. OK, WTF is a Kringle? Well, it's that special thing: an intact local delicacy. Racine was once the Danish-American capital of the U.S., and Kringle is something they brought over with them. The large pastry is shaped in a circle, topped with creamy icing or glazed sugar, and filled will any number of things, mainly fruit and nuts. It's flakey in texture and very fattening, being full of butter and eggs.
There are a couple bakeries that are renowned (locally) for their Kringles: Larsen's Bakery and Bendtsen's Bakery. (O&H is also mentioned a lot, as well.) Larsen's and Bendtsen's are located directly across the street from each other on Washington Avenue. I like to imagine the owners getting into frequent street fights over who holds supremacy in Racine's Kringle world.
But, godammit, they were both closed tighter than a drum! Don't Racine-dwellers want fresh Kringle after church? The upshot: I left Racine a very frustrated man. And a hungry one, too.