Food/Drink

Two Ryan Braun restaurants in Wisconsin

The setting: White linens. Delicate stemware. Cartoonish murals. The pizza choices: Pepperoni. Sweet potato pie. Sausage and rapini. Also on the menu: Meatballs. Watermelon-beet salad. Hot wing ravioli. Wooing customers, behind the scenes: chef Dominic Zumpano, who makes his own Italian sausage, mozzarella cheese, tomato jam, breads and more. Expanding the fan base, but seldom(…)

Old World Wisconsin: How the gardens grow

May is a month of hope and faith for gardeners who begin with seeds or fragile stalks and dream of a cornucopia of color and food. A shady yard, brown thumbs and limited dedication challenge my own success, but even visions of spindly tomatoes and out-of-control perennials get me revved up during this time of(…)

Kettle of Fish: NYC bar for Packer, Badger fans

Six subway stops south of Times Square, in Manhattan’s West Village, and I’m almost home. The exit says New York University, but that’s not the draw. Neither is Stonewall Inn, where the nation’s gay rights movement began in 1969, but now we’re getting warmer. Less than 50 feet from the Stonewall, a sidewalk chalkboard congratulates(…)

al corso: fine dining in rural Wisconsin

I am chasing the sun as it turns the sky a moody rose-gray near twilight, zipping past farmland and swampland that are steeping in the waters of melted snow. Dam construction on Mud Creek during the 1960s ensures marshy terrain year-round. Sandhill cranes, herons, pheasants, bobolinks, osprey and many other birds like it this way.(…)

Pasties, Stormy Kromers, Kimball Inn fare

Note: A proposal to resume iron ore mining in Wisconsin, after a lag of four decades, means we’re likely to hear more than usual about Iron and Ashland counties during the next few years. Gogebic Taconite wants to spend $1 billion on open-pit mining on 22,000 acres of the Penokee Range, between Upson and Mellon.(…)

Hurley’s Silver Street: No beer shortage here

Note: A proposal to resume iron ore mining in Wisconsin, after a lag of four decades, means we’re likely to hear more than usual about Iron and Ashland counties during the next few years. Gogebic Taconite wants to spend $1 billion on open-pit mining on 22,000 acres of the Penokee Range, between Upson and Mellon.(…)

Port Washington Inn tops state B&B contest

Atop Sweet Cake Hill, four blocks from Lake Michigan, sits a bed and breakfast with five guest rooms near downtown Port Washington, an unassuming community of 11,000 that does little to brag up its attractive lakeshore. Book the Port Washington Inn’s third-floor Top of the World Suite, and accommodations include a sitting area with a(…)

Distil, Merchant mixing craft, classic cocktails

While you’re nursing that Bloody Mary, mimosa or screwdriver during Sunday brunch, I’m discovering Milk Punch, the Ramos Gin Fizz and Corpse Reviver No. 2. The three cocktails are a study in history, and you’ll find them on the brunch menu at Merchant, a new place to dine and imbibe in downtown Madison. At the(…)

Midwest to Middle East: best meals of 2010

An unusual setting helps deepen the dining experience. These six memorable meals are from my travels during 2010. — Traders Point Creamery – Evidence of rural life appears abruptly, just northwest of Indianapolis. It’s a quick switch from suburbia and interstates to cornfields and a one-lane bridge. This is where children, and others, learn that(…)

Georgio’s: Perfecting the recipe for pizza

USA Today readers know by now that Georgio’s in Milton, a Rock County community of 5,100, is my Wisconsin recommendation in a nationwide roundup of great pizza places. The owners of this cozy, little Italian restaurant – George Rakidzich and Cheryl Ryan – have Serbian and Irish roots. They discarded corporate careers 13 years ago(…)

Inside Madison’s Underground Kitchen

When I met Jonny and Ben Hunter three years ago, they were rebel caterers keen on cooking adventurously with locally grown food, but without the trappings of tradition. Their work was fine art, but customers wouldn’t know the exact menu until the day of delivery. That’s how serious the brothers were about using in-season ingredients.(…)

Reedsburg thinks food, Fermentation Fest

Everybody has a story, including the guy who shows up at Donna Neuwirth’s place with an odd contraption just before closing time. The device looks like a thick and makeshift set of wooden tongs that sits atop sturdy arcs of attached metal. “Bet you don’t know what this is,” the unannounced visitor teases. The antique(…)

Alex Young and Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor

He’s up at 6 a.m., tending to the tomato crop by 6:30, coaching a work crew about fences for new livestock at 7, beginning the eight-mile drive to his restaurant an hour later. No day is typical for chef Alex Young, but this is his life when we meet on a late-summer Saturday morning. He(…)

North House Folk School in Grand Marais

Forty miles southwest of the border with Canada, a Minnesota village of 1,400 overlooks a shore of near-paradise, its foundation hardy in character and nostalgic in spirit. “We’re a long way from everywhere, for the average person,” observes community leader Greg Wright, and most people who stay for more than a vacation “don’t come here(…)

German heritage strong in New Ulm, Minn.

Forces of nature brought me to New Ulm, Minn., for an overnight that I didn’t expect to be pretty. Tornado-level winds and blinding rain had uprooted trees, flooded and closed streets upon my arrival around 8 p.m. I had no lodging reservation and no clue about the tidy image or pride of German heritage that(…)

Cornucopia, Bayfield County, buffing it up?

Thanks to a “road closed” sign, my route into town changes abruptly. First it’s farmland, then woods, while navigating from roads of concrete to dirt and gravel, sometimes under tree canopies dense enough to cast a solid blanket of shade during 15 puzzling miles. I am barely north of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, passing an(…)

Fairfield, Iowa: Full of influences from India

I dunk a wedge of focaccia into the day’s soup – Bogota Potato, spiced with a mild curry – at Revelations Cafe and Bookstore, while assessing the pulse of this unusual community, sandwiched within the many cornfields of southeast Iowa. People behind me are talking about energy fields. Another table debates academic freedom vs. accreditation.(…)

Iowa State Fair: good contests and cookin’

We’re deep into fair weather, throughout the Midwest, but only one state fair nationwide makes the cut in the 2003 bestseller “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” by Patricia Schultz. The Iowa State Fair since 1854 (when in Fairfield) has epitomized Midwest sensibilities, character and cuisine. Cornfed, considerate, country-proud and kitchen-savvy: That’s the message(…)

Stone Barn, Nelson: pizza on the farm

“Build it, and they will come,” I think, while climbing the hilly roads that dance with the creeks and curves of northwest Buffalo County. They come from neighboring farms and as far away as China, but are most likely to head here from Eau Claire, La Crosse and various Minnesota cities – Wabasha, Rochester, Minneapolis(…)

Duluth: Solglimt, smokehaus, Park Point, pie

People who vacation in Duluth find their way to Canal Park, an area where a fine mesh of lodging, restaurants and boutiques complement the gleaming Lake Superior waterfront downtown. The Duluth Lakewalk extends 4.2 miles, along shoreline and through parks, and Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge looms near the southern end, at St. Louis River.(…)