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Foodie trip
Gourmet getaways to four nearby Wisconsin cities


December 2013

Craverie Chocolatier Cafe

Love food. Will travel. That’s sort of been my motto, and I’ve traveled far and wide to indulge my passion.

Though I’ve enjoyed sipping sake with a Buddhist monk and his family in Japan and delighted in tasting bilberry and cardamom ice cream in Finland with the ice cream maker, some of the best foodie trips I’ve discovered are much closer to home. Here are four Wisconsin destinations you’ll want to visit and indulge.

Kohler is King

Any discussion of food trips — or even day trips — from Milwaukee has to include Kohler. It’s a foodie town, and not just when it plays host to the likes of Jacques Pepin during the Kohler Food & Wine Experience. From the American Club Resort’s famed Immigrant Room to the chocolate mecca called Craverie, the experience is five star every step of the way.

We stayed at the Inn on Woodlake, the modern-style boutique hotel with lake views and a putting green out back that’s steps away from shopping and the aforementioned chocolate haven. We enjoyed a delightful chocolate breakfast at Craverie Chocolatier Cafe. You’ll want stop by the candy counter and pick up some terrapins (as we did) or other delectable treats for home.

The Winery Bar

My husband, Kyle, and our son, QJ, also enjoyed s’mores, made tableside, after our fireside dinner at Black Wolf Run restaurant.

I enjoyed a culinary-themed pedicure and manicure at the Kohler Waters Spa. While my feet were being massaged with an apple scrub, I enjoyed a glass of sparkling cider, after which my hands were massaged with a melon-scented lotion. During February’s chocolate extravaganza weekend don’t miss the special chocolate mint treatment.

Before our Saturday night dinner, we enjoyed Wisconsin cheeses paired with some fascinating wines in The Winery Bar at the American Club. I tasted a new-to-me cheese called Bohemian blue, made by Tony and Julie Hook with Driftless sheep’s milk. (After writing three cheese books, finding such cheeses are gems.) I also enjoyed a conversation with sommelier and mixologist Jason Van Auken, who is barrel-aging a cocktail with Wisconsin’s Death’s Door gin. He plans to stop the aging process at three months, six months and nine months.

Kohler Water Spa

The foodie highlights of my weekend getaway included the Wisconsin Room’s local tasting menu for Saturday night dinner and its Sunday brunch. All of the smoked seafoods, including local trout, whitefish and salmon, are smoked and cured in-house, and they are melt-in-your-mouth amazing. I particularly enjoyed chef Alexander Glass’ smoked mussels.

At dinner, I enjoyed the wedge salad. Wedge salads aren’t fancy — iceberg lettuce, blue cheese and maybe a few tomatoes. But Glass uses tomatoes that are grown in a patio garden, just outside the restaurant’s windows, and he makes a ranch-style dressing using herbs grown in that same garden. He also makes the bacon in-house, and he smokes the artisan blue cheese in the smoker. Come winter, he will still be using those same heirloom tomatoes, but they’ll be preserved so the salad will have a different taste to it.

A winter return visit is already in order to the luxurious resort where food, wine and atmosphere bring pampering to new levels.


Madison, a perennial favorite

From roaming the shops on State Street to checking out new restaurants or catching a concert or show, our state capitol is always hopping.

On past visits I’ve supped at L’Etoile, enjoyed a red velvet shake and truffle fries at DLUX, and gobbled dark chocolate truffles at Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier. I’ve munched on Brie at Fromagination, spent hours strolling through the Dane County Farmers’ Market, and tasted my way through Jeanne Carpenter’s Wisconsin Cheese Originals festival every November.

On our most recent trip we visited Gates & Brovi and Sardine, both owned by James Beard Foundation Best Chef Midwest semifinalists John Gadau and Phillip Hurley.

Gates & Brovi is aptly described as an "Italian-style fish house meets Wisconsin tavern." I enjoyed a barrel-aged Manhattan with the night’s special, a fork-tender beef brisket. Kyle enjoyed his trout — and QJ’s pepperoni and mushroom pizza. Kyle’s sea salt and caramel drizzled apple pie won first place at the Wisconsin State Fair. I would have been envious if I hadn’t so thoroughly enjoyed my cherry soda ice cream float.

Campus Inn

We stayed at the boutique hotel, the Campus Inn, located in the midst of the University of Wisconsin campus, the state capitol and downtown Madison.

At Sardine we enjoyed Sunday brunch of baked creamed eggs with Gruyere and prosciutto and crab, and bacon and rock shrimp cakes with eggs. This classic bistro offers an enchanting setting on the shore of Lake Monona.

A nearby food collective called The Underground Butcher is a supplier for Sardine, which we visited — twice. I liked the cured sausages at The Underground Butcher so much that I picked up some steaks and fresh sausages to take home. The boar pepperoni and Tuscan salami are new favorites.

Leave it to Madison to have what is likely the country’s first community supported brewery, The House of Brews, where people can partake in beers on a weekly or monthly basis. Kyle’s favorite was the whiskey-barreled-aged Rickhouse Stout.

I’ll have to wait until next time to check off a visit Death’s Door Distillery or gourmet retailer Orange Tree Imports from my Madison bucket list, which can’t be too soon.

The Baker House

Memorable Lake Geneva

I remember summers boating on the lake, devouring chocolate chip pancakes at Millie’s and chewing taffy candy, which I begged my parents for from the candy store in the Riviera. I can still taste that sweet, tangy candy clinging to my teeth.

As an adult, my tastes have expanded beyond sticky taffy. On previous trips we’ve enjoyed the seafood buffet at the Grand Geneva. For this visit we stayed on the lake at The Abbey Resort, where I enjoyed a massage at the Avani Spa.

Our weekend’s culinary explorations started with grilled chicken kebobs and a Friday fish fry at Popeye’s on Lake Geneva. While Millie’s pancake house was my childhood favorite, Popeye’s was Kyle’s, and it brims with life and liveliness. (Millie’s closed this year after 48 years in business.)

Simple Cafe

We enjoyed a Saturday brunch at the Simple Cafe. Warm, yet modern, this farm-to-table restaurant has a sister restaurant on Farwell Avenue in Milwaukee.

Kyle dined on a perfect squash bisque, and we split a roasted vegetable salad. I savored an interesting version of eggs Benedict crafted with Creole hollandaise, chicken sausage and polenta cakes.

After lunch we stopped by Wisconsin’s only "urban" winery, the Studio Winery. The owners import grapes from both the West Coast and Michigan. For $10, I enjoyed a tasting of five wines. The best? The Mode du Rhone, a French-styled Syrah that was bold and just a bit spicy.

The Baker House

For dinner we visited The Abbey’s Waterfront Restaurant. Located right on the marina, this casual restaurant specializes in barbecue. During warmer weather the restaurant smokes all of its meats in a smoker, right next to the patio. The menu was designed by Matthew Whiteford, an award-winning pit master from the Chicago area. Kyle and QJ enjoyed the smoky, meaty ribs, while I cleaned my plate of the barbecue pork quesadillas. We couldn’t finish our bananas foster cheesecake so we had to take it home. Next time, I’ll remember to save room for it.

We had Sunday brunch at The Baker House at the suggestion of my massage therapist at the spa. The Baker House is a Victorian mansion that’s now a bed and breakfast and restaurant. You feel like you’re dining in someone’s living room, sitting at side tables or at the non-spinning end of a craps table. If you like, you can borrow one of the restaurant’s antique hats while you dine. Made to order eggs Benedict, crab cakes and a plethora of desserts are some of the specialties.

The next time we return to The Abbey, we’ll try the fine dining restaurant. By next spring, that restaurant, the Fontana Grill, will be completely transformed. The new (not yet named) restaurant will feature both an updated decor and a more locally focused menu.

Aspira Spa

Elkhart Lake

We’ve enjoyed races at Road America, unwound with massages at the Aspira Spa at The Osthoff Resort, and simply enjoyed the lake views when we’ve visited this western Sheboygan County community.

But our favorite thing to do in Elkhart Lake is eat and drink. The crown jewel at The Osthoff Resort is Lola’s on the Lake. I enjoyed the succulent, sweet scallops that were perfectly caramelized. If you aren’t careful, you’ll fill up on the classically prepared breads — the whole grain slices, cheddar-laced puffy rolls and garlic-studded focaccia. Pace yourself — the chocolate trio is a dessert worth waiting for.

For a casual option, Otto’s Restaurant is the restaurant of choice. While the ambiance was casual, the food was more bistro than family diner.

The next time I stay at The Osthoff, I’m going to make sure I visit on a weekend that the resort’s culinary school has classes. I got a peak at the classroom — a gorgeous French-styled kitchen with several cooking stations. L’ecole de la Maison offers instruction on French bistro cooking, Italian trattoria, as well as on artisan breads, Thanksgiving dinners and more. The classes alone seem worth a trip.

Lake Street Cafe

If you stay at The Osthoff Resort, the dining options are so good you might not want to venture into town. That would be a shame, because for such a tiny town — less than 1,000 people — Elkhart Lake has some amazing choices.

The family friendly Lake Street Cafe seems like a pizzeria/tavern combo from the exterior, but the menu is upscale, featuring dishes from pork rillette to duck confit to beef cheeks. The lobster bisque is memorable, and the wine list is pretty extensive.

Also worth a stop is Vintage Elkhart Lake wine shop and tasting bar. Run by certified sommelier Jaclyn Stuart, this shop sells more than 200 bottles of vino, with more than 40 under $14. Stuart regularly offers fun and approachable wine classes, from wine and painting to wine and chocolate pairing. Stuart knows quite a bit about pairing (she’s my co-author of "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Wine and Food Pairing"), and every time I’ve visited her shop, I’ve learned something new about wine and come away with a new bottle to try. Champagne and kettle potato chips — who knew?

Our visit to Elkhart Lake was much too short. We didn’t have time to dine at the Back Porch Bistro and the Paddock Club, two restaurants foodie friends have recommended. And there’s a summer tiki bar at the Victorian Villa that has a mai tai with my name on it, I’m sure of it.


This story ran in the December issue of: