Reader mail: food, fairs, finding treasures

Reader mail is plentiful, especially since “Hungry for Wisconsin” book events have begun. The good people of Wisconsin are full of fabulous ideas about their favorite destinations.

For example:

“You asked for places to see and try,” wrote Pat Tesar of Edgerton, after my recent appearance on Wisconsin Public Radio. “I really hesitate to do this ’cause when a place gets published that we really like, then we can’t get in anymore and it’s no longer enjoyable to go there.”

Pat then proceeds to list more than a dozen favorite restaurants, including these near-water locations: Walden: A Supper Club, 2472 Wallace Lake Road, West Bend, 262-334-4664 (“I’m in my 60s and this has been a favorite since I was a kid.”); Kingston House, 210 N. South St., Kingston,, 920-394-3011 (“It’s a food orgy. Great food, great drinks, at low prices and on the water”) and Fins Bar and Grill, 723 E. Ellendale Road, Edgerton,, 608-884-0346  (“The best pizza, sandwiches – and on the Rock River”).

I’m personally partial to Pat’s choice for “best dive tavern food” – The Harmony Bar, 2201 Atwood Ave., Madison, 608-249-4333. Chow down on gourmet pizza/sandwiches in a no-fuss sweatshirt and jeans setting.

Jim Dannenberg reported that La Baguette, a dazzling French bakery, has moved from Minocqua to 7424 Mineral Point Road, Madison. “They seem to be doing well and still make the best bread I’ve had outside of France,” he wrote.

Master baker Olivier Vigy and wife Carine met in France, imported their equipment from France, speak French as they work and produce exquisite French pastries, quiches, brioches and – yes – baguettes. We met in Minocqua, and I’m (selfishly) glad to welcome them to Madison.

Jim, who lived in Hawaii 30 years before recently returning to Wisconsin, wrote about the bakery for the Los Angeles Times years ago.

Sherri Stephens of Memphis responded to my column about South Dakota. “I want to turn my quest to visit Crazy Horse and my friend’s love of outsider folk art into our next pilgrimage,” she wrote. “If you have any input about South Dakota and folk art, please drop me a line.”
I took that as an invitation to talk up the abundance of Wisconsin outsider art, much of which is protected and preserved by the Kohler Foundation. For more about the work of these unusual self-taught artists:

Lloyd Arndt of Madison wants us to know about Animal Gardens and The Dancing Horses Theater, Delavan, which he discovered during a bus trip to the Lake Geneva area. Owner Dana Montana’s Arabian horses “put on quite a show.” Also on the 40 acres are a tropical bird show, outdoor zoo and indoor quarters for baby animals.

“I was quite impressed,” Lloyd said. “They tell me that not many people know of them.” For more about these attractions at 5065 Hwy. 50:,, 262-728-8200.

Amatore and Michael Mille, whose family’s Mille’s Italian Sausage food stand is the Wisconsin State Fair’s oldest, announced that the sausages are being sold at “better food markets throughout the region.” This recent move is a response to “ever-increasing customer requests” for the product.

The Mille family has sold tons of these sausages at the State Fair since 1932. For more:, 414-763-4653.

John Delaporte of Marathon City was irked by the omission of Nelsen’s Hall in my column about Washington Island. “This is the most famous landmark on the island,” he argued. “I think you really dropped the ball on this one, although the balance of the article was well done.”

I had written about Nelsen’s on an earlier occasion, so the slight was nothing personal. And I am among the 10,000 adults per year who earn a Bitters Club membership by drinking a shot of bitters.

Nelson’s is Wisconsin’s oldest tavern, having earned the ability to stay open during Prohibition because the barkeep successfully argued that the alcohol-rich (as in 90 proof) Angostura Bitters had medicinal value. For more:, 920-847-2496.

Jane Balch of Mount Horeb asked for advice about where to celebrate her wedding anniversary and husband’s 50th birthday during the Memorial Day weekend. “We don’t like crowds,” she hinted, so one option I gave was Leah Caplan’s Washington Hotel, 354 Range Line Road, Washington Island.

“Should be pretty peaceful there because the tourist season hasn’t yet kicked in,” I suggested.

“I just made reservations,” Jane responded. “I would have never considered this, but I’m sure it will be perfect.”

For more:, 920-847-2169. Nov. 7-9 is Juniper Harvest and Cooking with the Spirits Weekend; guests pick wild juniper berries, used in Death’s Door gin, and are taught to cook with the alcohol.

The coolest grandma that I know, LuAnn Williams of Madison, filed an update about the annual trip that she planned for her granddaughters, Jill and Melissa. This year’s destination was New Orleans.

“We’re looking forward to a ‘Katrina tour,’ where we’ll actually see where the levee gave way, and see the Ninth Ward firsthand,” she wrote. “We’ll listen to jazz at Preservation Hall, take in Jackson Square – with the wonderful beignets and chicory coffee – and enjoy a Mississippi River trip.”

Breakfast at Brennan’s, a viewing of the IMAX movie “Katrina” and a visit to an above-ground cemetery also were on the itinerary.

I had the good luck of seeing LuAnn this month, and she says the trip went well. Now she welcomes ideas for a 2009 trip with her granddaughters, a teen and preteen.

“I thoroughly enjoyed your articles about Bavaria,” writes Jean Drewiske of Wisconsin Rapids. “We have traveled to many of the countries in Europe, and it is so great to refresh the mind and see how someone else pictures the same things we saw.”
Look for columns about Italy and Ireland during the next few months, Jean!

It was fun to watch Ronnie Hess of Madison share cooking advice during a session of this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival, and she also provides interesting tips about group travel with Wisconsin-based organizations.

“Check out Hidden Treasures, which leads tours for folks from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Arkansas,” she writes. “We went on the master gardeners’ trip to Costa Rica trip last year, and it was excellent.” Destinations for 2009 include Italy, Costa Rica, Scotland and New Zealand. For more:
Ronnie also mentioned Karl Gutknecht’s small group tours, which include one to Germany in December that includes me as an invited guest. For more about the Madison-based Cycle Ventures International:, 800-546-8520.

“When I started hunting many years ago, my father got permission to hunt land owned by Bill Bergin,” wrote Kurt Wakefield of Sheboygan, after my column about the fading community of Hulls Crossing. “I remember the old farmhouse with no windows, dilapidated front porch, an old tractor overgrown with vines – and one lone pine.

“Even with all that going on, the old farm still held fast to its former glory. To be honest, I had more fun talking with your father and poking around the old barn and outbuildings” than hunting.

“I have to admire the guy, as he was always trudging along through (the adjacent Sheboygan County Marsh). He helped me find my way out more times than I care to admit.”

I appreciate Kurt’s candor and thoughtfulness. It has been ten years, this month, since my father’s death. He was one of a kind, exasperating and endearing.