Monday, January 19, 2009

Café Society

2008 Food & Wine Finds

While the meals we enjoyed at the New Creamery last year were certainly exquisite, you can't eat grilled pheasant with herb demi-glace and cabernet-braised bison short ribs every day. Moderation in all things is key, so we try to tuck into that sort of fare no more than, say, every other day. On the days off, we look for simpler food, and the small-town cafés of west central Wisconsin have provided many delights.

Cece and Allies' Sand Creek Café pictured above is probably the most charismatic of them--it starts with the excellent sign, and continues to the warm, woody interior, the taxidermy on the walls, the totally local feel of the place. When the old-timers come in for lunch, their interaction with the proprietress is classical rural-laconic:

(Enter Wayne. He shrugs his coat at a central table. The owner approaches.)
Owner: Fish or shrimp, Wayne?
Wayne: Fish.

The Sand Creek cheeseburger is the best around, a hand-formed, perfectly fatty patty served on a nice potato roll. Good fries. Good chili and soup. For breakfast, excellent biscuits with sausage gravy. You'd have to gorge yourselves to spend more than $15 on a lunch for two here; at breakfast you'll spend less than $10, food, tax, and tip.

The town of Sand Creek is worth a visit even if you're not there at mealtime (is there such a time?). It sits at the shady confluence of Sand Creek (there are brook trout in there, but you need to be a magician to cast a fly line through the overhanging alder branches; kids drowning worms would have better luck) and the Red Cedar River. There's a nice park in town along the creek, and another just across the river. Here's a map: Sand Creek Cafe‎ . It's about an hour-and-a-half drive from Saint Paul. And here I find that we're not the first to sing the praises of this out-of-the-way gem: a review by none other than Michael Stern .

One of our other favorite spots is the Dairyland Café in Ridgeland, WI. Fried egg sandwich, $2.25. Hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches, good soups. Maybe not a "destination" restaurant, but a friendly place with good food.

A couple of other places we've enjoyed: the Green Apple Café, also in Ridgeland, for good breakfasts--eggs cooked how you like them, homemade preserves to spread on your toast.

On U.S. Highway 12 at Wisconsin 128, Peg's Pleasant View Inn serves a wonderful buffet on the weekends. When we stopped there on a Sunday in December, the bar was busy with the Packer faithful faithfully enduring the tail-end of a disappointing season for the Green & Gold. No disappointments in the non-smoking dining room, where we bellied up to the holiday-decorated buffet for chicken a la king on homemade biscuits, excellent pot roast, sticky barbecue ribs, and more, so much more. We made that our main meal of the day, obviously, and it set us back about $8.95 a person.

One other place I have to mention--and I'm sure it will come up again--is not a restaurant, but our favorite cheese shop, where there is not a speck of French cheese in sight, but where you can order up Wisconsin cheddars aged one to ten years, or pick up a wedge of Roth Kase gruyere (French name, Badgerland cheese), a Black River blue, buttery Wunderbar (excellent in grilled cheese), actual limburger, and more. Curds, I can't forget the curds. And flavored cheeses, which Mala says the salami cheese is one of the world's perfect foods, but I don't know, I'm sticking with the seven-year-old white cheddar.

Bolen Vale Cheese is run by the Bartz family. It's on Wisconsin Highway 64, one of my favorite roads of all time, just barely west of the town of Connorsville. They also stock other dairy products, local organic meats--beef, lamb, and goat--crackers to go with your cheese, coffee, candy bars, some crafts, what-not. Don't pass through Connorsville without a stop at Bolen Vale.

Text and photos copyright 2009 by Brett Laidlaw

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