Dining & Drink

Food in Time

I was just watching NBC Nightly News and Brian Williams asked the question, "Where were you when Apollo 11 landed on the moon?" I do remember, and of course, it involves food. I was just finishing up dinner with friends in a Greek restaurant in London. They had hooked up a black and white TV in the dining room and everyone was intently watching, especially the owner. This was a neighborhood place we habited frequently. When the landing craft touched down on the surface of the moon a big cheer went up and shortly thereafter the owner brought everyone ice cream adorned with little paper American flags, and as always, mint-flavored Turkish Delight. The owner refused to let us pay for dinner! The moon walk that came later I didn't see live because of the time difference. But I remember the headlines of the London papers the next day, "One Small Step ..." Anytime the subject of the moon landing comes up or I see Turkish Delight, I always think about this restaurant and that evening.

A Bite of History

Not many restaurants function successfully as culinary museums, serving historically accurate menus and recipes. As much as we tend to romanticize the past, today I would find much of what people once ate bland and boring. But, as we all know, food is only part of the experience of dining out. There is that indefinable element called ambiance that some restaurants seem to inexplicably have while others don't. It never hurts if a place has a past, legends and lore, whether fact or fiction. An eatery with a history also speaks to the quality of their food—you can only get by for so long with smoke and mirrors.I hear frequently that people are staying closer to home because of the economy. Whether this is true or not, I think we tend to overlook what is our own backyard, dismiss it as commonplace. So I've picked a handful of destinations that will not only feed you well, but also have a tale to tell.BirchwoodStout's Island Lodge. In1903, lumber baron Frank D. Stout built a family summer home on his private island in Red Cedar Lake. The rustic lodge and cabins were constructed from local logs. Unfortunately, the log bark became invested with bugs. This necessitated the rebuilding of the structures using cedar logs from Idaho in 1915. Over the years, new outbuilding were added, and on the mainland, the Big Farm and Tagalong Golf Course—modeled after Scotland's famous St. Andrews. Today the intimate resort houses guests in two lodges and several cabins. The dining room with its view of the lake features a seasonal menu built around local specialties, using local ingredients. The dining room is open to the public for lunch and dinner but reservations are required.HubertusFox and Hounds. As a kid, I remember thumbing through the pages of Holiday, the then prestigious travel magazine whose recommendations were coveted. The restaurant in Wisconsin to always make their list was the Fox and Hounds. It began as a one-room cabin in 1845. It was restored by Ray Wolf 90 years later to use as his headquarters for the many fox hunts he orchestrated. After a bar was installed on the lower level, he decided to open it up to the public as a restaurant in 1934. Rooms were added and it became an ever more popular dining spot, culminating with Life magazine designating it as one of America's 40 Best Roadside Inns. In 1963, Roy died and shortly thereafter the restaurant was purchased by Karl Ratzsch's, Milwaukee's renowned German restaurant. Today, the Fox and Hounds is owned by Thomas Masters, his brother, Will Masters, and Jim Constantineau whose relationship with the property began when they first worked there 30 years ago, parking patron's cars. The menu is what you would expect of this Wisconsin dowager. Little seems to change here, least of all its refined, clubby atmosphere.KohlerThe American Club. In 1918, Walter J. Kohler erected a large Tudor-style dormitory to house immigrant workers who came to work at the Kohler Company. Son of an immigrant himself, he hoped that by naming it The American Club, combined with an emphasis on high standards and patriotism, it would inspire the new arrivals to love their new country. Almost seventy years later, renovated, restored and expanded, the landmark became arguably the state's premier resort, including a spa and two championship golf courses. Legend has it that the American Club is haunted. Some claim to have seen the ghost of a woman in room 209, site of a suicide many years ago. Others have watched the ghost of a man exiting room 315, once the scene of a murder. The complex features several dining rooms and cafes, the most acclaimed being the formal Immigrant Restaurant and Winery.Lake DeltonIshnala. Originally a rustic summer home perched high above Mirror Lake, following World War II Madison's Hoffman Brothers (Hoffman House) purchased the property and shaped it into a supper club. It's always been strictly a rite of summer since it has no heating system. Its quirky décor of log walls, stuffed animal heads and fake teepees and totems contribute to its dated charm. Its name in Ho Chung translates to "by itself alone" but it's always crowded during the season, especially on weekends, and they don't take reservations for parties of less than eight. Trust me, the scenery and a tall drink from the Tiki Bar will soothe the wait.The Del-Bar. It's hard to believe that this place was once a humble log cabin, a little roadhouse halfway between Wisconsin Dells and Baraboo, whose claim to fame was fried steaks. With no restaurant experience and little money, Jimmy and Alice Wimmer bought the place in 1943. The Del-Bar was remodeled and enlarged several times, gradually replacing its rustic look with architect James Dresser's Frank-Lloyd-Wright-inspired prairie style. However, the original dining room—now called the Garden Room—is still there. The Wimmer family continues to run the iconic supper club today. If you simply want a martini and steak, properly prepared, the Del-Bar seldom disappoints.MadisonSmoky's Club. It seems steakhouses have once again become trendy, but there's nothing retro here about the big slabs of meat served un-sauced and sizzling. The biggest change at the restaurant in over 50 years was the recent cigarette ban, taking the smoke out of Smoky's Club. Leonard "Smoky" Schmock and his wife Janet started the place in 1953. Year by year, as the steakhouse prospered, more and more memorabilia was hung from the walls and ceiling, everything from stuffed muskies and bears to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. There's story that goes with each piece of accumulated stuff—just ask. Don't ask for crème brûlée for dessert, but instead, one of their specialty ice cream drinks like a grasshopper or brandy Alexander.Manitowish WatersLittle Bohemia Lodge. Like many flatlanders, some of the country's most notorious gangsters—Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson and John Dillinger—would head to the North Woods each summer. The Bohemia Lodge became instantly famous in 1931 after the F.B.I. botched a raid there while trying to apprehend John Dillinger and his gang, all of whom escaped. The owner left the bullet holes in the windows and walls so that the people who then flocked there wouldn't be disappointed. Later, after becoming a popular supper club, Clark Gable and other celebrities often would water and dine here. The recent release of the movie Public Enemy has put the lodge back in the crosshairs since it was the location for several scenes. Next month, the owners will start Dillinger tours of the property. However, since the 1920s most have come for the hearty food, breakfast, lunch or dinner. Now you can sit in the same chair where Johnny Depp recently sat, trying to choose between Eggs Dillinger, Sweet Lady in Red Salad or Baby Face Steak Sandwich.MilwaukeeKarl Ratzch's. Most of Milwaukee's signature German heritage has slipped away. Not so at Karl Ratzch's, sought out for its old-word cooking since it opened as Hermann's Café back in 1904. Today, it indubitably is one of the country's best German restaurants. As you might expect, the setting is all dark wood paneling and hewn beams, tall ceramic steins and starched white linen. The menu bulges with hefty classics like sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel and a roast duck as good as you will find anywhere in the state. The service bespeaks another era and is no small part of the dining experience here. It's hard to imagine a Milwaukee with Karl Ratzch's.Watt's Tea Room. Growing-up, I remember going with my mother to the tea room at Block's Department Store, on shopping trips to Indianapolis. I looked forward to the Choo Choo Special (one of the few times I would order off the children's menu). I don't remember what it was but it was served in a ceramic locomotive. (They also put little paper umbrellas in the pink lemonade.) Watt's is one of the few tea rooms to survive, most done in by the demise of department stores and fascination with fastfood. Located on the second floor of George Watt & Son, a family-run business for 139 years and one the country's leading retail purveyors of china, the tea room is an ever popular ladies-lunch spot. The olive-nut sandwiches on freshly baked bread and sunshine cake are local legends. Little changes here, least of all the decorum or recipes.MukwonagoHeaven City. The stately mansion on the shores of the Fox River has a sordid past. Once a bordello, stories of gangsters and ghosts abound. It's not uncommon for guests to say they heard voices, laughter and footsteps with no one in sight … or saw knobs turn and doors open by themselves. It's a fun and funky place and very romantic as well. For many years, the restaurant has enjoyed a reputation as one of the area's finest. The menu is eclectic and a combination of American and Continental favorites, prepared with quality ingredients. For a real taste of nostalgia, enjoy one of their special dishes on Thursday prepared and flambéed tableside.NashotahRed Circle Inn. It can claim bragging rights as the state's oldest restaurant. In 1847, Francis Schraudenbach, a Bavarian immigrant, established it as a stage coach inn along the plank road that connected Milwaukee and Watertown. Originally named the Nashotah Inn, with its many fine fireplaces, its reputation grew as a snug and cozy stopover. In 1889, the place took on new life, purchased by the dapper Fred Pabst, owner of Milwaukee's Pabst Brewing Company. He changed the name to the Red Circle Inn, a reference to an important part of the Pabst logo. In 1917 the inn was destroyed by fire but rebuilt in 1921. The inn passed from Pabst to the Pulaski family and then to Aad Groenevelt, founder of Provimi veal. For the past 16 years Norm and Martha Eckstaedt have owned and managed the Red Circle Inn. The menu reminds me of the finer, big city restaurants my father would take me to in the 60s: escargots, onion soup au gratin, beef Wellington, roast duckling Montmorency, veal scaloppini … as well as the usual choice of steaks and chops but served with béarnaise or au poivre sauce.Washington IslandThe Washington Hotel. Over 100 years ago Captain Ben Johnson built the hotel to accommodate other ship captains who plied the Great Lakes. The rambling wood structure was restored in 2003, and beside the much praised dining room, is home to a culinary school and bakery. The operation is committed to sustainable agriculture and serving the best seasonal, locally grown food. The hotel fathered Death Door Sprits, vodka and gin made from wheat grown on Washington Island—named for the infamous strait of water separating the island from Door County peninsula. For a taste right here in Madison, visit the Washington Hotel Coffee Room, which features baked goods flown in from the hotel daily.

Tomato Time

hat's that old song lyric, "You say tomato, I say tomahto"? It seems to me that when August rolls around, it doesn't matter how you say it, just bring on those fresh tomatoes! Warm and succulent off the vine, simply sliced with salt and pepper—there are so many ways to enjoy this delicious fruit.

The Real Deal is Almost Here

Twice a year, Madison Magazine hosts Restaurant Week, a chance to go to some of the city's best restaurants and sample some of their best food ... Five days, three set three-course menus for $25. Many also offer special wine pairings at discounted prices. If you've ever been, you've probably already made your reservations. If you haven't, don't be disappointed--it won't be back until January--call today! Many of the participating restaurants are fully booked by the time Restaurant Week begins, July 26. Most restaurants post their menus on their websites.Blue MarlinBlue Spoon CaféBluphies Restaurant and VodkatoriumBorcach Irish PubCafé ContinentalCapitol ChophouseCaptain Bill'sThe Continental FitchburgThe Dardanelles RestaurantDayton Street GrilleEldorado GrillFlemings Prime SteakhouseFrescoFrida Mexican GrillHarvestInka HeritageJohnny Delmonico'sJohnny's Italian SteakhouseLa Brioche True FoodsLe ChardonnayLiliana's RestaurantLombardino'sMariner's InnOcean GrillOsteria PapaveroQuivey's GroveRuth's Chris SteakhouseSamba Brazilian GrillZander's Capitol Grill

Rib Bit

I wish I could say I've eaten and cooked ribs for as long as I can remember but it wouldn't be true.

What's in a Menu

Michelle Wildgen sets out to discover what makes a menu, quizzing local chefs about Madison's tastes and the business of menu writing - all so you can discover your most exciting and satisfying meal. She even gets chefs and restaurateurs to dream up their ideal Madison menu. Dig in!

From Cheese to Soap—A Tour of Scotch Hill Farm

h, that's the dog soap," Dela Ends says from behind the refrigerator. The mottled bars are drying in the factory off the family's machine shed and have been imprinted with the likenesses of English Bulldogs and Great Danes. Today, she's searching for a bar of soap (they make soap for people, too) as she rifles past the translucent brown bottles labeled sandalwood vanilla and lavender. She tells me the tea tree with comfrey bar will be "just the thing" for my sensitive skin.Ends and her husband, Tony, make the soap from the milk of the goats that can be heard bleating on the other end of Scotch Hill Farm. The lip balm, lotion butter and bar soap business is one of the ways that the Ends supplement their income at their community supported agriculture (CSA) farm on the outskirts of Brodhead, Wisconsin.Prior to their life in the country, Tony worked as a journalist and Dela went to school to become a teacher. Their shared passion for healthy living brought them to Scotch Hill Farm, where the two work from sunup to sundown delivering produce, farming, making soap and keeping books for the business."CSA farming is very hard manual physical work. It is long hours, and it's a lot more than the twenty weeks that you get vegetables for," Tony says. "It's a good forty weeks of planning and preparing and building and repairing and getting land rented and financed and cared for and tended, then tending all these crops and delivering them for twenty weeks. It's a year-round job."Over one hundred different varieties of vegetables are grown at Scotch Hill Farm each year, which are then distributed to customers through the Madison Area Community Supported Agriculture Coalition (MACSAC). The Ends have been members of the coalition for fifteen years, and Dela serves on the board. As part of the program, the couple delivers boxes of assorted produce to drop-off sites both in their area and in Chicago where subscribers pick up the produce.

Cool and Fresh

Fresco is both. Sleek and stunning, the small dining room sits comfortably atop the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Its goldfish bowl lounge provides a fish-eye's view of the ever-changing State Street tableau.

A Perfect Pair

ll of this emphasis on cows in Wisconsin obscures the fact that we also produce some of the finest goat cheeses in the U.S. Goat cheeses tend to taste less rich than cow's cheeses; yet, are generally higher in acidity—sometimes with that characteristic "goaty" flavor that folks seem to either love or hate.

An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July

hat is it about the Fourth of July that evokes thoughts of past Independence Day celebrations? Perhaps it's the sounds, smells and warmth of midsummer mixed with memories of Grandma's German potato salad and Dad's special burgers.

Signs of the Times

e had dinner at Lombardino's recently with six old friends, a leisurely meal we had all been eagerly anticipating. That weekend night, the restaurant was busy as usual with a lively and loud crowd that made conversation a challenge. But we were enjoying ourselves. Too much perhaps? Or, rather, too long? Apparently for somebody.

Spring Fling

s I write this, the promise of spring looms on the calendar and in the air. I wore long underwear and fleece for so many days this winter I lost count. It is time to put away the heavy clothes—and the heavy dishes of winter as well. April means serving lighter flavors and fewer calories. This salmon with vegetables and dill is easy to prepare, good for you and flavorful. The ingredients are listed without amounts so this dish can be sized with as many vegetables or ounces of salmon as desired.

Spring Greens

oon our local salad greensare at their purest and best and will be popping up at farmers' markets. Spring greens like arugula, watercress and mizuna are tender and sweet with delicate but pronounced flavors.

C'est la V

True to its name, Brasserie V is a restaurant that pays homage to beer. The long list of those available on tap or by the bottle is staggering—many are unique to our area. The food also mimics the European brasserie tradition of simple and hearty fare. A seasonal menu makes good use of local meat, produce and dairy. The specialty of the house is frites, Belgian-style fried potatoes classically paired with steak, moules or à la carte. The ambiance is intimate, mellowed by wood and warmed with color. Brasserie V aims to bring a little French joie de vivre to the Monroe Street village. Vive la V!

Get Souped

Lots of places make a good Soup of the Day to be sure—but these restaurants have soup specialties so good they're on the menu regularly.