Stefano veers from Italian to Duke of Devon

First came the brats and potato salad. Now there are bangers and mash, too, an unusual extension of ethnic richness in a community long regarded as one-dimensional.

The chef whose tremendous Italian food helped sauce up Sheboygan’s culinary reputation in the 1990s recently helped bring an authentic taste of England to the city’s waterfront. “Authentic,” in this case, shatters the cuisine stereotypes of “bland” and “predictable.”

The Duke of Devon is Stefano Viglietti’s newest restaurant. He also operates Trattoria Stefano and Il Ritrovo in downtown Sheboygan; fans include Travel + Leisure and Food & Wine magazines.

Il Ritrovo is one of 15 U.S. members of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, which makes Neapolitan pizza in the traditional Italian way. Ingredients include a specific type of Italian tomato, but no tomato sauce.

The new English pub setting is reminiscent of the neighborhood eateries in Jeremy Williams’ homeland. This native of Great Britain’s Devon coast is the reason why Sheboygan has The Duke of Devon. Jeremy’s wife, Emily, is Stefano’s sister.

Stefano says he was stunned by the quality of England’s food during his first visit to the country. At its best, “I would put it up to any other meal I’ve had in Italy,” he told foodies at the fall Kohler Food & Wine Experience, an annual weekend of heady food/beverage samplings and seminars.

The best is what Stefano and his executive chef, Jason Richardson, want showcased in Sheboygan. That means using quality, organic and locally produced ingredients in recipes that otherwise appear humble and ordinary.

Diced root vegetables and ground beef are simmered in red wine to make the luscious Cottage Pie, topped with Yukon Gold potatoes that are mashed with plenty of butter. Stefano says the restaurant weekly makes and serves 60 quarts of this signature dish.

The Ploughman’s Lunch contains cheddar, brie and Stilton cheese from England, as well as ham from Berkshire pigs raised near Fall River. Also on the menu are curried chicken and vegetables, seafood rolls, steak and mushroom stew. Fish and chips come with “mushy peas,” an English tradition, as well as malt vinegar. Meal prices stretch from $10-24.

For Jeremy, the Brit, the past six months have been a feel-good time because “it is an honor to see the food of my home appreciated here.”

Fuller’s, the oldest brewery in Great Britain, is feeling validation, too. A half-dozen of its beers are on tap, or sold by the bottle. A Fuller’s rep calls The Duke of Devon the brewery’s best account in Wisconsin and one of its strongest in the nation.

In Kohler, Stefano matched London Pride, a pale ale, with fishcakes. The hardier ESB (Extra Special Bitter) complemented the Cottage Pie. London Porter was paired with a crème brulèe that was spiked with Frangelico liqueur.

For more: www.visitsheboygan.com, 800-689-0290. There are no websites for this trio of restaurants; consult 920-458-7900 for The Duke of Devon, 920-803-7516 for Il Ritrovo and 920-452-8455 for Trattoria Stefano.

Stefano also operates Field to Fork, a downtown Sheboygan market/deli that sells products from Italy and local farmers. Contact 920-694-0322.

What else is making Sheboygan a culinary heavyweight in Wisconsin? Margaux, named after a French wine production area, presents an extensive, worldly list of wines and a creative, multi-ethnic fine dining menu. Chef Rob Hurrie’s place has been open a little more than one year. For more: 920-457-6565.

Marcel Biro, one of the youngest master chefs in European history, operates two restaurants (O and Biro Restaurant & Wine Bar) and a culinary school, through Biro Internationale. Cooks can enroll in half-day to weeklong, small-group and hands-on classes (fees are $65 to $500). There also is an 18-month apprenticeship program, patterned after European chef training.

A nationally broadcast PBS series (“The Kitchens of Biro”), cookbook (“Biro: European-Inspired Cuisine”) and culinary tours to Europe are offshoots of the Sheboygan projects. For more: www.birointernationale.com, 920-451-6940.

Just as golf clubs are getting stored for the winter, the culinary season is kicking in at the nearby American Club, the Midwest’s only five-diamond resort, and other Kohler properties (there are nine restaurants, each with a different ambiance and cuisine).

That means more cooking demos, wine-food events and progressive dinners that involve five restaurants. What used to be a slow tourist season is turning into a lengthy simmering of opportunities for ambitious and talented chefs to teach home cooks, showcase recipes, experiment with menus and compete with peers.

For more: www.destinationkohler.com, 920-457-8888.

If the thought of staying overnight at the lovely but pricey American Club is too much for the budget to handle, an acceptable but lesser-known option is the Inn on Woodlake, a short walk (or complimentary shuttle ride) from the resort.

Room rates just dropped to $100-215 (good until April 30), based on day of stay and type of accommodation. Décor is pleasant, beds are comfortable and the rate includes an extended continental breakfast with at least one hot item (such as biscuits with gravy or pancakes). Bakery comes from The American Club kitchens – a wonderful plus. Outdoors is a putting green and a serene view of a small lake, which can be circled on a quarter-mile paved footpath.

Don’t expect perfection – we had no coat hangers, only one washcloth and a burned out light bulb – but staff were quick and eager to please. For more, call 800-919-3600.