Alex Hanesakda makes beef jerky in this shot from an episode of the Wisconsin PBS television program Wisconsin Foodie that originally aired in March. Hanesakda, who grew up in Burlington, will return to the city Saturday for the Burgers, Banhs and Brews event at Low Daily Brewery.

BHS grad brings Laotian cuisine to collaborative event at new brewery Saturday

By Mike Ramczyk

Correspondent

Alex Hanesakda, a 2000 Burlington High School graduate, grew up with a passion for Southeast Asian cuisine.

He fell in love with Lao and Thai food, and, he says, his cooking today definitely reflects inspiration from Wisconsin cuisine.

For decades, the chef has been pushing his famous Mama’s Egg Rolls in the area, with pop-up events featuring traditional Lao cuisine and culture.

What started as a hobby afforded Hanesakda a full-fledged team, and after events at the Coffee House at Chestnut and Pine and other Racine County venues, Hanesakda’s love for cooking has turned into a restaurant, Sap-Sap, located in Racine.

Hanesakda is looking to return to his hometown and provide quality food and fun for the community.

“It’s been awhile since we offered our food to our hometown of Burlington,” Hanesakda said. “We’ve been getting so much media coverage from out of state, and I thought it would be cool to help people understand I grew up in Burlington and want to bring our food back.”

“The collaboration is with Kurt Fogle of Bass Bay Brewery, Milk Can hamburgers and Fine and Dandy Chicken. Kurt’s a good friend of mine, and he’s never been to Burlington and it’s been awhile for myself. Let’s offer our food to Burlington.”

 

Burlington collaboration

Burgers, Banhs and Brews is set for 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at the former Burlington Standard Press building, 700 N. Pine St., which is now home to Low Daily Brewery.

Tim Sullivan, the owner and master brewer at Low Daily, said he is excited to collaborate with Hanesakda to put on this community event, which will include authentic Lao cuisine, beverages and music.

“While we won’t have any Low Daily beer for you until July, we are stoked to have our pals at Sap-Sap and Milk Can serving up all sorts of culinary triumphs in our parking lot,” Sullivan said. “We revel in community and collaboration, so why wait until we have beer to get started?”

As Sap-Sap’s owner, Hanesakda will put together the menu for Saturday’s event.

“We will be adding the ever-so-famous Mamma’s Eggrolls and our new famous fried chicken, the Banh Mi Sandwhich,” Hanesakda said. “I’m really excited to come back to Burlington for this. Our fans are begging us to come back. I was happy that I could put Burlington on the map and represent the town I grew up in on the Wisconsin Foodie show on PBS. People can expect delicious food from Sap-Sap & Milk Can. Kurt is an awesome chef and well-respected.”

“I’m also excited this can bring a sense of normalcy to everyone amidst all the madness that’s been happening in this country. Nothing brings people together more than food and music.”

 

Sap-Sap gains acclaim

Sap-Sap has become a major success, and the profile on the PBS show “Wisconsin Foodie” shows how Hanesakda buys traditional Asian ingredients at Viet Hoa grocery store on the north side of Milwaukee.

In the episode, he bought lemongrass to make Laotian-style jerky, a fan favorite, and papaya, which makes a traditional Southeast Asian salad.

Also, he buys sticky rice, which is another traditional ingredient.

Hanesakda demonstrated how to make beef jerky, a recipe he learned from watching his parents, who sought refuge in Wisconsin from war-torn Laos in 1982.

“Our communication with our neighbors was food,” Hanesakda said on the show. “It’s weird, people think egg rolls are a traditional Laotian thing, but my mom knew Americans liked that, so she would make egg rolls on a whim and started giving them to neighbors. That was her side hustle.”

“In the beginning, mom was my biggest critic, but as soon as I started getting publicity, she actually likes it. These are her recipes with my own little tweaks.”

Hanesakda said the food keeps selling out at these events, and they give more than just food, but also some Laotian history and more of an authentic, intimate dining experience.

“The thing I’m looking forward to most at these events is seeing familiar faces and catching up with them,” Hanesakda said. “Having them taste my food and sharing our story as a food business from refugee family in Burlington to a well-known food business in Wisconsin.”