Popeyes’ chicken sandwich is as good as promised — and also a total pain to get

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Chicken sandwiches may be the most commonplace thing in the world, but never underestimate the lengths people will go to for a good one — as evidenced by the troves of Chick-fil-A customers who abhor the chain’s politics yet still sneak a meal there from time to time.

So when word spread this month that Popeyes is now offering a comparable sandwich that’s purportedly as good but that won’t make you feel like you’ve taken a knife to your core values after eating it, social media lit up with a level of excitement usually reserved for new Avengers movies or White Claw memes. And while we’re happy to report that the sandwich is as good as its hyped to be, be prepared if you’re heading out to get one: You may be in store for a headache.

No, it’s not as photogenic as the advertisements. But it’s good.

Twitter is filled with anecdotal accounts from around the country of long waits for the sandwich and shortages, and on a trip to sample one at the Popeyes location on 16th and National Avenue, we experienced both.

Although it was about 1:30 p.m., a little after the lunchtime rush at most restaurants, a long line snaked around the restaurant’s cramped lobby and out the door. Twice the cashier loudly announced that the restaurant was sold out of the chicken sandwiches, only to be corrected by a co-worker. He apologized, explaining the the restaurant runs out of the sandwiches so regularly he can’t keep up with when they do and don’t have them.

It took about a half hour to complete the order, and although it was a headache, it was also sort of fun in the way that standing in line for concert tickets can be, as customers chatted and gossiped about the sandwich’s popularity. A few marveled at how just weeks ago this same Popeyes location was virtually dead. A couple contrarians rolled their eyes, wondering what the hype was about. A chicken sandwich is a chicken sandwich, they insisted.

Again, they don’t really look like this | Photo courtesy Popeyes

As far as fast-food chicken sandwiches go, though — especially ones at a $4 price point — they don’t get much better than this. I opted for the spicy variety, and it was aggressively seasoned with just the right amount of heat, more pronounced tingle than angry burn. The breading was salty and crunchy, offsetting the squishiness of the eggy, brioche-style bun, which itself had a slightly toasted texture.

Was it worth the hassle? No, not really. Wendy’s offers a not-quite-as-good spicy chicken sandwich that still gets the job done and will cost you only a fraction of the time, plus there’s no risk of walking away empty handed. And if you’re really looking to level up, Company Brewing, Palomino and Foxfire offer better, more foodie-friendly chicken sandwiches without the stigma of fast food. If you’ve got a craving, you might as well go all in.

And yet there’s something to be said for buying into the hype sometimes. In a few weeks, the world will have mostly forgotten about Popeyes’ chicken sandwich, and the lines will have died down. You could go then. But where’s the fun in that? You could wait until the new Marvel movie is streaming on Netflix, too, but that’s not nearly as exciting as going on opening weekend, is it? The real secret ingredient of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich isn’t the spice. It’s the inconvenience.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Milwaukee’s new activity cafe Hangout MKE offers an all-ages alternative to bars

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It’s no secret that Milwaukeeans love to drink. Most of Milwaukee’s nightlife culture, like many cities, focuses on alcohol. Growing up in Milwaukee, going out after 9 p.m. meant the Lakefront Colectivo, which was kindly open until 10 p.m., Rochambo, Ian’s Pizza or the movies. Now that I am at an age where I can participate in all of Milwaukee’s nightlife, when I hear my peers say they are “going out,” it carries the assumption of consuming alcohol. Hangout MKE offers a different option. 

Billed as “Milwaukee’s favorite place to hangout,” Hangout MKE is an activity cafe on the Lower East Side, located at 1819 N. Farwell Avenue. Open from 7 a.m. to 11p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, Hangout MKE distinguishes itself from other establishments by shifting the focus away from drinking and on to spending quality time with your company through games like giant Jenga, Nintendo, SoccerPool and shuffleboard.

The cafe, which opened on Aug. 11, has been compared to the sober bar trend of recent years, although that’s a misconception. It serves local beer, wine and seltzer along with Anodyne coffee products, allowing patrons who would like to indulge in alcoholic beverages the opportunity to do so without putting pressure on those who would rather not partake. The all ages space acts as an alternative destination to bars, is available for private events and will offer arts classes and live entertainment.

Hangout MKE owners Meghan Stazak and Becca Riddle each have their own reasons for opening the cafe. On their website, Staszak recounts how difficult it was to find places to hang out in Milwaukee as an undergraduate at UWM that didn’t involve the bar scene. Riddle, a former art teacher for Milwaukee Public Schools, hopes that Hangout MKE will be a creative space for Milwaukeeans to make art and enjoy music over a cup of coffee.

I visited Hangout MKE on a Thursday evening with my best friend in tow, because visiting a place focused on group games alone was more of a social risk than I was in the mood for. When we arrived around 8 p.m. the space was nearly empty, and the cafe filled up as the evening continued. A few guests were drinking beer or seltzer, but most were sipping coffee or juice and playing games in small groups. Despite the all ages advertisement, the crowd was mostly people in their mid-to-late 20s, and only one person entered by themselves.

Card and board games, coloring, video games and some large games at Hangout MKE are free, while other games, like life size surgery or bumper pool, require a $6 per hour game pass in the form of a wristband. It was unclear at first glance which activities require a game pass, and the list lives at the back of the space, on shared wall with the menu.

In my current station of life — that of the grateful unpaid intern — I doubt that I would pay for a game pass when there are numerous free options available. I certainly had $6 worth of fun drinking my fizzy water and playing giant Jenga and board games for free. Music videos, both old and new, played aloud on multiple screens throughout the space. In addition to games and beverages, Hangout MKE also offers a pay-by-weight snack bar and a S’mores bar with all of the toppings one could imagine. 

A large sign displayed in the center of Hangout MKE bears the words “hang up and hang out.” The owners encourage customers to put their phones away and converse with the people around them, whether that be the people they came with or potential new friends. For those who are wondering, they do have Wi-Fi. I appreciated the intention of spending less time on my phone without feeling ashamed if I took my phone out of my pocket to send a text or snap a picture.

My first question about Hangout MKE was, how is this different from a Punchbowl Social with less alcohol? It’s smaller, with more ground dedicated to games and less to tables or a bar. Hangout MKE doesn’t serve meals, unless you count trail mix and S’mores as a meal (my fellow college students, I see you). While Punchbowl Social offers attraction activities like bowling and karaoke, Hangout MKE has less flashy games. Think of Hangout MKE as less bar, more extremely classy dorm game room. The staff and other customers were amiable and polite, and we didn’t receive any dirty looks when our giant Jenga tower came clattering to the ground on the concrete floor. Most people kept to their own groups, which might be different on a more crowded night.

Hangout MKE’s proximity to Brady Street and restaurants on Farewell make it a great after-dinner spot, and an entertaining alternative to getting drinks or sitting in a traditional coffee shop. It’s the kind of place I can imagine my parents taking their friends, and I would have loved to take my friends in high school. I’m curious to see whether the cafe gains traction and becomes a hip spot on the East Side, or if it falls by the wayside in favor of places like NorthSouth or classics like Landmark Lanes. In any case, Hangout MKE provides the opportunity for continued conversation about the value of nightlife options in our city that don’t involve, or center around, drinking.

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Pabst Blue Ribbon is getting into the hard seltzer game

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As you’ve probably noticed from all the White Claw memes cluttering your Instagram feed, hard seltzer is all the rage right now. And now Pabst Blue Ribbon is trying to get in on the action. Today the brewer announced a new product called Pabst Blue Ribbon Stronger Seltzer, which it will debut today in a handful of test markets.

The product’s angle is in its name: While most alcoholic seltzers are fairly light, about 4.5% to 5.5% ABV, Pabst Blue Ribbon Stronger Seltzer promises an eye-popping (and potentially mouth-numbing) 8%. It’ll be available in only one flavor, at least for now: lime, sweetened with Stevia and containing about one gram of sugar. Each can is 228 calories.

Courtesy Pabst Blue Ribbon

On the surface it would seem like Pabst might have missed the mark with this one. After all, the appeal of alcoholic seltzers is that they’re fairly low calorie and they come in a variety of flavors, and Pabst Blue Ribbon Stronger Seltzer doesn’t meet either of those standards. But the brewery has been right before. Earlier this year it launched a hard coffee to surprisingly rave reviews. Maybe there’s an untapped market for a seltzer that gets you drunker faster, too.

Stronger Seltzer will be available in Arizona, California, Texas and Montana. It’s expected to be available in more markets starting this fall.  

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Milwaukee’s Midwest Express and their warm cookies will return to the skies

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If you fly out of Mitchell International Airport, you might notice that it can be difficult to find non-stop flights. It looks like you might have one more option to choose from by the end of 2019. Milwaukee’s hometown airline, Midwest Express plans to return to skies later this year.

In a press release, Midwest Express announced today that it has signed an agreement with Portland, Maine-based Elite Airways LLC to begin non-stop flight service from Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport.

“This agreement with Elite Airways is a key step to bringing much-needed nonstop service back to Milwaukee,” said Greg Aretakis, president of Midwest Express. “We identified Elite Airways as a well-suited partner due to its extensive operating experience, high-quality customer service approach, and exemplary safety record. By partnering with Elite, we expedite bringing our service to the market while we pursue federal licenses required to operate independently.”

Elite Airways will provide and operate the initial aircraft, flight crews and maintenance service for Midwest Express. Midwest Express will establish its own reservations system, customer service, and in-flight amenities. And yes, they plan to include their famous warm cookies.

Routes from Mitchell will be released in the coming weeks. But they will be based on business and community needs.

In 2009, Midwest Express ceased operations and merged with Frontier Airlines in 2010. A few years ago, a group led by Greg Aretakis an aviation industry expert and former VP at Midwest Express started a campaign to bring back the airline. With today’s announcement, it looks like the dream will become a reality.

While you wait for those tasty cookies, enjoy this classic Midwest Express commercial.

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Toni Morrison, whose soaring novels were rooted in black lives, dies at 88

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Updated at 10:05 a.m. ET

When Toni Morrison received her Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993, her remarks began with a reflection on the phrase once upon a time. In her signature, measured cadence, Morrison told the Swedish Academy she believed these were some of the first words we remember from our childhoods.

Morrison, who was 88, died Monday night at Montefiore Medical Center in New York, according to her publisher, Penguin Random House. Morrison’s family, in a statement released by the publisher, said she died “following a short illness” and surrounded by loved ones.

Toni Morrison was the author of Beloved, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Michel Euler/AP

“She was an extremely devoted mother, grandmother, and aunt who reveled in being with her family and friends. The consummate writer who treasured the written word, whether her own, her students or others, she read voraciously and was most at home when writing,” her family said. “Although her passing represents a tremendous loss, we are grateful she had a long, well-lived life.”

Morrison’s work focused on African American life and culture, and she dominated an industry in which depictions of black life were often limited and rooted in stereotype.

Her masterwork, “Beloved,” was a “once upon a time” based in bloody truth. Its real-life inspiration was Margaret Garner, a woman who escaped slavery and attempted to kill herself and her children — her 2-year-old daughter died — rather than be captured and returned to a plantation. “Beloved” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. A decade later, Oprah Winfrey produced and starred in a movie based on the book.

Morrison was 56 when “Beloved” was published in 1987, but she’d been living with stories since childhood. Born Chloe Wofford, she grew up with tales being told all around her in her hometown of Lorain, Ohio. Her grandparents, like millions of blacks, left the segregated South for the North, during the Great Migration.

“I lived in a little, working-class town that had no black neighborhoods at all …” Morrison told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross in 2015. “We all played together. Everybody was either somebody from the South or an immigrant from East Europe or from Mexico.”

She said she wasn’t particularly aware of segregation growing up, but that her father “was very, very serious in his hatred of white people.” Her mother mitigated that. “Everybody was an individual whom she approved of or disapproved of based on her perception of them as individuals,” Morrison recalled.

As a child, young Chloe listened when the adults told stories about their southern homes. In a 2010 interview, she said their language stayed with her. Within her own family, she said. “There was street language, there was sermonic language. You know, people actually quoted the Bible to you.”

Wofford went to college at Howard University (where she became Toni, using the nickname of her baptismal saint, Anthony). It was there that she experienced, for the first time, a hierarchy of color within the African American community. “On the campus, where I felt safe and welcome, I began to realize that this idea of the lighter the better and the darker the worse … really had an impact on sororities, on friendships, on all sorts of things, and it was stunning to me,” she said in 2015.

She earned her master’s at Cornell and married architect Harold Morrison, with whom she had two sons. They divorced after seven years.

Morrison started her early publishing career as an editor, first in textbooks, then for general circulation books. She told an audience at the 92nd Street Y in New York that she wasn’t happy with how most black books were being edited back then. “I thought the editing was sloppy,” she recalled. “I thought the productions were mishandled, even the great books, like Roots. … When you read them carefully, you’d see that nobody was paying any attention.”

So she consciously sought out excellent black authors, pulling them into what was — and mostly still is — the alabaster publishing industry. She edited Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali and the novelist Gayl Jones during the social upheaval of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Morrison saw this as her contribution to the Civil Rights movement.

“I made it my business to collect African Americans who were vocal, either politically, or just writing wonderful fiction,” she said.

Even as she edited, Morrison secretly wrote for herself, getting up before her children were awake. She later said that when she wrote, she was free from pain. “It’s where I have control,” she said. “It’s where nobody tells me what to do. It’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. … I’m thinking up dangerous, difficult things, but it is also extremely safe for me to be in that place.”

Her first book, “The Bluest Eye,” was published in 1970. It’s a tale about a dark-skinned little girl who believes blue eyes will make her beautiful and cherished.

Piper Huguley, a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, recalled how she felt when she read “The Bluest Eye” as a college student. It helped her see “colorism and its connection to self-loathing, and how deeply embedded that could go,” she said. It was a theme Morrison explored further in her 2015 book “God Help the Child.”

Huguley said that kind of frankness about race has made Morrison’s work essential reading. “She exists in a class we call Seminal Writers, that every English major must take,” Huguley explained. “That means she belongs for us here at Spelman, and no doubt elsewhere, as part of the African American literary canon, that is, an author who must be read.”

Morrison’s stories weave between the familiar and the fantastical: In Song of Solomon, a key element was an ancient folk tale about black people flying away from enslavement and back home to Africa. The theme of mother-daughter love runs through several books, such as Beloved and A Mercy, in which women make terrible sacrifices for their children.

These are books that focus, without apology or explanation, on black lives. And in 1998, as a guest on a talk show, she said she had no interest in making white characters more central to her stories.

“I’ve spent my entire writing life trying to make sure that the white gaze was not the dominant one in any of my books,” she said.

Morrison was grounded in the black cultural liberationist art of the 1960s, said Richard Yarborough, who teaches African American literature at UCLA. She and others in that generation “expressed their mission” by focusing on black lives, he said.

And generations of black women writers, no matter their genre, have been touched by her. “Morrison is such a monumental figure, that there is no way you could write about black women’s experiences without taking her into account,” he said.

She showed, by example, the validity of black, female lives. And through her many “once upon a times,” Morrison’s expansive vision of black humanity now resonates around the globe.

Written by Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR Correspondent

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Black Arts Fest MKE looks to keep building in year two

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Black Arts Fest MKE had a void to fill when it debuted last summer. Milwaukee hadn’t hosted a celebration of African and African American culture on its lakefront since 2013, when the African World Festival held its last event at the Summerfest grounds.

So far Black Arts Fest is off to a promising start. Featuring headliners MC Lyte, Tony! Toni! Toné! and Bobby Rush and a fine arts pavilion that showcased local artists, last year’s inaugural event drew a large, appreciative crowd. Now comes the hard part: keeping it going.

Photo courtesy Black Arts Fest MKE

Black Arts Fest MKE Executive Director Patrice Harris says the festival’s long-term hope is still to grow from a day-long event into a two- or even three-day weekend. But first Black Arts Fest needs to demonstrate continued interest in the event, and to do that, it needs all the community support it can get when it returns to the Summerfest grounds this Saturday, Aug. 3.

“Our board really deserves a lot of credit: They were the ones who were adamant that our community needed a festival, and we have one now,” Harris says. “But it’s up to the community to keep it going. If people don’t buy tickets and come to the festival and buy food or drinks or marketplace items and help support the event, we won’t have the revenue to keep putting it on.”

The festival has a few things working in its advantage heading into its second year, including some community donations that Harris describes as generous (and one she calls “mind-blowingly” so).

It should also benefit from an inviting Saturday weather forecast and a strong lineup that includes perhaps the festival’s biggest headliner yet: R&B hit makers SWV. One of the most popular R&B acts of the ’90s, the trio has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years, releasing a pair of great comeback albums (2012’s “I Missed Us” and 2016’s “Still”), and even appearing on Chance the Rapper’s new album.

Photo courtesy Black Arts Fest MKE

Other headliners include soul singer Bettye LaVette (whose most recent album “Things Have Changed” was nominated for a pair of 2019 Grammys) and a reunion of the Milwaukee soul group The Seven Sounds in tribute to the group’s late leader, Harvey Scales.

There will also be a kids area, a marketplace, a health and wellness exhibit and free dental cleanings for kids. The fine arts pavilion will be back, too. “That was actually one of my favorite things about the festival, because I don’t think it’s often you see a festival with a fine arts exhibit,” Harris says. “And to be able to offer the chance for the artists to sell their art and not charge them a dime is really rare. It’s a great chance to expose these artists to an audience that might not find them otherwise.”

You can find the complete entertainment schedule, which includes dance performances and sets from Christopher’s Project Cigarette Break, on Black Arts Fest MKE’s website.

Photo courtesy Black Arts Fest MKE
88Nine Radio Milwaukee

‘American Pickers’ is coming to Wisconsin and looking for collectors to showcase

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“America Pickers” is coming back to Wisconsin in October. The hit History Channel show follows hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz as they scour garages, barns, attics and sheds for antiques and collectibles (“What most people see as junk, we see as dollar signs,” they say). And the show is looking for local collections to showcase.

“If you are or know someone with a fascinating private collection, you can show it off by contacting 1-855-OLD-RUST (653-7878) or AmericanPickers@cineflix.com,” VISIT Milwaukee tweeted.

History Channel has broadcast the show since 2010.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Drinks and Dundees: Cudahy’s City Lounge will host an ‘Office’ pop-up bar

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Pop-up bars are all the rage right now. It seems like every week or so we read about a bar or restaurant pays homage to some popular franchise or another, but City Lounge hosted one of the more memorable ones this winter, going all out for a “Game of Thrones”-themed pop-up bar. And now the Cudahy bar is doing it again, reinventing itself as a Scranton paper company in tribute to the hit NBC sitcom “The Office.”

Judging from the event’s Facebook events page, the organizers have binged their share of the series. Among the promised attractions:

— Shoot hoops in the warehouse
— Sit at the desk of your favorite employee
— Find hidden references
— Checkout the weekly changing conference room
— Enter to win a Dundee

The Office | NBC/Universal

There will also be a themed drink menu. The pop-up bar will run seven days a week from Aug. 30 – Sept. 22, at which point it will presumably continue to live on in reruns and internet memes indefinitely.

You can find more information on City Lounge’s Facebook page.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Here’s how to score free lunch every day during Downtown Employee Appreciation Week

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More than 80,000 people work in Downtown Milwaukee, and each year the city honors them with its Downtown Employee Appreciation Week. The event features a variety of promotions, games and giveaways and — perhaps most notably for Downtown workers looking to save a few bucks — a free daily lunch giveaway in different downtown parks.

Here’s where to score a free lunch every day this week from 11:45 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Courtesy Milwaukee Downtown

Monday, July 22
Red Arrow Park

This Downtown Employee Appreciation kickoff event will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony, live music, and lunch for 1,000 employees provided by Pita Pit, Davians and Starbucks. They’ll be giving away small pitas, bags of chips, lemon cooler cookies and iced coffee and iced tea samples.

Tuesday, July 23
Pere Marquette Park

The day kicks off with The World’s Largest Coffee Break at Catalano Square from 9:30-10:30 a.m., featuring coffee and treats from local coffee shops. Then there will be a lunch giveaway in Pere Marquette Park featuring 1,000 slices of mac & cheese pizza from Ian’s Pizza and 1,000 blondie bites from SafeHouse.

Wednesday, July 24
Schlitz Park

This gathering at Schlitz Park will include live music from Ms. Lotus Fankh and 1,000 slices of cheese or pepperoni pizza from Palermo’s, 1,000 ice cream cups from Milwaukee Police Department and 1,000 cookies from Schlitz Park Café.

Thursday, July 25
Zeidler Union Square

The day begins with a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card giveaway outside Chase Plaza from 7-9 a.m., before the lunch giveaway at Zeidler Union Square. It’ll feature 1,000 mini turkey subs and 1,000 bags of chips from Cousin’s Subs, and 1,000 cookies from Corner Bakery Café.

Friday, July 26
Cathedral Square Park

Downtown Employee Appreciation Week’s final lunch giveaway is its biggest. It’ll be a feast featuring 1,000 brats from Modern Maintenance, chips and guacamole samples from Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, oranges from KEI, ice cream cups from Milwaukee Police Department, cookies from DoubleTree and something else TBA from 600 East Café.

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Pete’s Pops is selling $1 Georgia Peach popsicles today

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As you’ve probably noticed, temperatures have entered the cruel range today, with predicted highs in the mid-90s and dew points of “why is nature doing this to me?” percent. And while a popsicle can’t singlehandedly reverse the heat, it can make it more tolerable for the few minutes you spend enjoying it.

So Pete’s Pops is doing its part to help the city endure the heat by offering $1 Georgia Peach popsicles at its Pop Window (3809 W. Vliet St.) today from noon to 7 p.m. The shop will also be selling bags of actual Georgia peaches from the window while supplies last. “There will be some t-shirt and concert ticket giveaways and a sprinkler set up to keep everyone cool,” the shop tells us.

A Georgia Peach popsicle | Courtesy Pete’s Pops

On Facebook, the shop announced that the promotion will become an annual tradition. “Beginning today and continuing once a year for eternity, we’ll pick what we think will be the hottest day of summer and offer $1 Georgia Peach pops at The Pop Window on Vliet,” the shop posted. There’s a limit of one popsicle per person.

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