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From the Editor: Adventures in Wisconsin



What was I thinking ordering an iced tea at a dive bar in rural Wisconsin? The barkeep looked at me like I was not from around there. “I can give you ice tea flavored whiskey?” she said, sizing me up suspiciously. “Or a Mike’s Hard Lemonade Ice Tea?”

“How about a Diet Coke?” I countered. She was semi-OK with that until I got all fancy and asked for ice. 

We were on our way to hear Thomasina Petrus sing at Everwood Farmstead Foundation’s artist series in Glenwood City, and we assumed that we could stumble upon a cute little local restaurant on our way. Once we left Hudson, QSRs and chains dominated my way on the highway.

This bar was literally the only restaurant in town, which is why the founders of Everwood encourage guests to bring a picnic to enjoy on the grounds before the show. 

The regulars turned in unison to stare at us when we walked in, but quickly returned to their banter. I peeked around a corner for the dining room, but there was just a sign announcing a man cave—empty space in this case. 

All the beer was in bottles—no taps. The food menu was limited to fried appetizers, hamburgers and pizza. I ordered the hamburger, naively thinking you can’t go wrong with a hamburger, and since it was Wisconsin, cheese curds (you can go wrong with cheese curds, too, even in Wisconsin). The kitchen was an efficiency dollhouse model: a flattop grill, one fryer, an undercounter refrigerator and resealable plastic bags. 

Because we were strangers, the barkeep didn’t mind confiding that it was too much to expect one person to tend bar and cook. But she had been amply trained. She washed her hands thoroughly, donned gloves and scooped butter onto the grill, added two hamburger patties and poured the cheese curds into a fry basket. 

While she ran back and forth between our food and the regulars’ mixed drinks and beer, her shift replacement came in, along with a large group. Ironically, the shift replacement hung out in the back room, while her coworker ran back and forth like butter hitting a hot stovetop. 

Fortunately, there was sweet tea and chocolate chip cookies at Everwood. And Petrus’s cashew brittle for sale. 

 

Next up: Madison

The next weekend we returned to Wisconsin for a longer road trip to Madison. And the food was much, much better. Our first meal was at L’Etoile, the fine-dining offering of Deja Food. The next day as we checked out of the hotel, I noticed a headline in the local newspaper that L’Etoile was losing its top chef. Itaru Nagano, the chef de cuisine, had resigned with plans to open his own restaurant. Deja’s owner made a gracious statement to the effect that while he hated to lose him, Nagano would be opening the second-best restaurant in Madison. 

L’Etoile shares an entry hall with its casual-dining partner, Graze, which features locally sourced comfort food and was a better fit for the students and hardcore fitness competitors in town for the Crossfit Games. 

Even the hotel chain Tru by Hilton, a millennial-centric hotel, had an interesting twist on breakfast dining. Its waffle iron had two troughs to make a hollowed out waffle that could cradle a chicken sausage (for its advertised chicken and waffles) or one of the several different toppings that could be stuffed along with whipped cream and fruit inside. There was no bar for night drinkers, just lots of outlets to charge your electronics, including little safes where you could leave your phone to charge while you were elsewhere (I felt so old school charging my phone in my room). 

Not serving iced tea in a dive bar I can understand, but playing fusbol or hanging out in a lobby while my phone charges when I have a perfectly fine room upstairs, is beyond my years. 

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