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Fave 5: Restaurant reporter Samara Kalk Derby's most memorable stories of 2021

Fave 5: Restaurant reporter Samara Kalk Derby's most memorable stories of 2021

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Although I sometimes write feature and entertainment stories, the stories that stick out to me most as I look back on 2021 all had to do with food, starting with a DeForest restaurant owner who took nearly half-a-million dollars in pandemic relief, closing his truck stop restaurant and leaving a note on the door blaming the state and federal government for its demise.

"Due to the decisions of your state government (Evers) and your federal government (Biden), The Pine Cone has been forced to close its doors after 40 years. Thanks for all your support," the sign said.

In a phone conversation, John McKay said the real reason he closed the restaurant was because his lease was up.

"That was just a little frustration. That was a bad decision," he said about hanging up the handwritten sign. "Got old and got tired."

Meanwhile, the owners of Quivey’s Grove began requesting that only vaccinated customers eat there, likely the first restaurant in Dane County to do so.

That's because the pandemic hit close to home for them, with a 54-year-old staff member dying of COVID-19 in April 2020.

"We’ve felt this very, very personally," said Deirdre Garton, who owns Quivey’s Grove, 6261 Nesbitt Road, with Craig Kuenning.

Grace Coffee Co. burst onto the Madison coffee house scene in May 2019 and rapidly expanded to six locations. But behind its stylish veneer were concerns about cut corners, poor management and a significant number of health code violations, including sugar contaminated by wastewater, fly-covered pastries and improperly stored raw meat.

Of the 564 restaurants and retail food stores the city-county health department reviewed this year, the two with the most violations were both Grace locations, on State Street (20) and East Washington Avenue (19). The East Washington location also had the most priority violations (11), which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider a serious health risk.

In October, hamburger and cheese curd-lovers were excited -- more excited than anyone had reason to be -- by a novelty burger Culver's restaurants were selling for a few hours only: the CurderBurger, with a fried cheese curd "crown" made with white and yellow curds and "a touch of American cheese." Local Culver's restaurants sold out of the burgers in about two hours. I got my hands on one a couple of days early and reported my findings.

Just as fun was meeting Leah Oppelt, who invented my favorite ice cream flavor, This $&@! Just Got Serious, in July 2013 when she won the Chocolate Shoppe's Create-A-Flavor contest. It quickly became one of the company's most popular flavors.

(5) updates to this series since Updated

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