Chippewa Valley: Indulge in good food, brew

Chippewa County’s Lake Wissota got a sliver of Hollywood exposure in 1997, when mentioned during the movie “Titanic,” but the 6,300-acre lake didn’t exist until six years after the ship sunk in 1912.

We love “gotcha” moments, don’t we? Perhaps the blessing is that the blooper didn’t cause too many interlopers to discover, overrun and ruin this lovely, manmade lake.

As it is, Lake Wissota State Park isn’t far enough north to be a trendy Northwoods locale for summer vacations. That’s a shame, or a relief, depending upon your point of view.

This peaceful and wildlife-filled area is one of many good reasons to visit the Chippewa Valley. When The Guy and I headed this way, in search of great food, we were not disappointed.

I was most curious about Native Bay Restaurant and Lounge, the finest of dining in the most unlikely of places. The property faces Lake Wissota and looks like an ordinary watering hole – umbrella tables outside, with a plastic banner or two, to identify the spot.

Inside, chef Nathan Berg gathers ingredients from Wisconsin farmers and works magic. My choice, for $32: locally raised buffalo, a juicy and lean rib eye, served with au gratin potatoes, using a Swiss Gruyere. The lounge menu is more casual and less expensive, but also patronizes local food producers.

Native Bay is at 9504 Hwy. S South, Chippewa Falls. For more:, 715-726-0434. Also impressive is the lengthy menu of microbrews, several made in remote Wisconsin communities.

Just one-half mile away is Pleasant View Bed and Breakfast, a five-bedroom lake home with a licensed masseuse as the innkeeper. A one-hour massage is $45.

Overnight guests get free access to a pontoon boat, canoe and bicycles. Old Abe State Trail, 19.5 miles that lead to Brunet Island State Park, is one nearby exercise option. Another is the Lake Wissota State Park hiking trails. And the lake? It’s a few steps below the B&B’s deck.

Pleasant View is at 16649 96th Ave., Chippewa Falls. For more:, 715-382-4401. Overnight rates are $129-179.

The inn’s fine breakfast included Orange Marmalade French Toast, yet we headed a bit north to be surrounded by fresh bakery. A wood-fired, brick oven for 10 years has helped bakers Mike and Sally Hable produce authentic European breads at Bohemian Ovens, Bloomer.

He is a former dairy farmer who is especially proud of his Power One recipe, a tasty bread whose flours are mixed with oatmeal, tomato juice, flaxseed, almonds, walnuts and cranberries.

The bakery (with nothing-fancy restaurant) is at 905 Martin St. For more:, 715-568-3676.

Before leaving this part of the valley, head to the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. for a free tour, beer sample and shopping for Leinie merchandise at the Leinie Lodge. The newest tap is Summer Shandy, beer with honey and lemonade.

The brewery is at 124 E. Elm St., Chippewa Falls. For more:, 888-534-6437.

In Eau Claire, a downtown farmers’ market bustles with up to 70 vendors under the skylight arches at Phoenix Park’s open-air pavilion on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The outdoor farmers market in Phoenix Park ends Oct. 31. For more:, 715-834-5697.

Our choice for lodging would be a quaint room at Fanny Hill Dinner Theatre, on the city’s outskirts. It is an especially good choice for lovers of Victorian décor, and teddy bears, which show up in small to huge sizes, in display cases and at a table in the bar.

Light-hearted matinee and evening productions are a draw, too, but the best reason to head here is the view. Patio diners and garden strollers get a stunning eyeful of the Chippewa River and lush terrain that surrounds it.

My Guy remembers this location as The Bar, a spirited spot for college students in the 1970s, but he refuses to acknowledge it as a former disco (it was).

Fanny Hill is at 3919 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire. For more:, 715-836-8186. Room rates start at $79 on weekdays.

Our destination for a casual lunch was Northwoods Brewpub, where it is easy to drool over two menus: beer and pie. It’s an odd combination, but appropriate in this setting, because Jerry Bechard owns the brewpub and the Norske Nook restaurants.

So thick and luscious pies sit in a glass case that is within view of the beer vats. Dine on the patio, with a sweet pond view, or cozy up to the fireplace, inside the lodge.

Some of the pies, and the beers, have won national awards. My Guy was so smitten with Floppin’ Crappie, an ale, that he bought a T-shirt with the beer name on it.

The brewpub is at 3560 Oakwood Mall Dr., Eau Claire (and there is a second location in Chetek). For more:, 715-552-0510.

It’s not often that we recommend a community of 180 residents as an overnight destination, but The Creamery Restaurant & Inn makes Downsville an exception. The classy, revamped dairy creamery is near the 14-5-mile Red Cedar State bike/hike/ski trail, which connects to the 24-mile Chippewa River Trail.

So that gives you something to do besides eat, which is a good thing, since Creamery cooking means killer quality, with creative flair. Any place with sockeye salmon on the menu gets my attention.

Dinner for two will run about $100 and be worth it. Lighter, casual fare is served in the lounge. The popular bakery, known for its breads and dog biscuits, shares quarters with a gift shop that sells local artwork, imported crafts and unusual toys.

The Creamery is at E4620 Hwy. C, south of Menomonie. For more:, 715-664-8355. Accommodations, bright and modern, are $130-160 per night.

When in the area, also check out Legacy Chocolates, in downtown Menomonie, where your assumptions about great chocolate might be challenged.

Do you love chocolate, or sugar? The average candy bar contains only 10 percent cocoa. Here, your choices are 41, 68, 85 and 99 percent cocoa.

Figure out your preference, and then move on with the business of flavors, caramel to mint. Write it off as a delicious educational experience, at $1.60 per truffle.

Legacy Chocolates is at 643 S. Broadway St. For more:, 715-231-2580.

Note: The Chippewa Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau provided a $20 press discount for lodging during this trip.