Reader mail: shrines, wines, BBQs, B&Bs, world’s fair, restaurant fare

cafe-mannaRecent mail from readers seeks and gives advice about travel that is close to home. Here is a selection of what’s on your mind.

My column about the devastating 1871 Peshtigo fire and the city’s fire museum prompted you to write about a place of religious pilgrimage, 60 miles south.

“I am familiar with one of the greatest stories to come out of the Peshtigo fire: the miracle of the church in Champion where many parishioners knelt and prayed for protection throughout the night and miraculously survived due to the fire virtually traveling around their little square plot of land,” writes Terry Haske of Kenosha.

“As the Peshtigo fire engulfed the surrounding area, the entire five acres consecrated to the Blessed Virgin remained unscathed after” the prayer vigil, writes Ron May of Kenosha.

“This was a well-kept secret for many years,” writes Luella Schreiner, Athens.

Although I’ve mentioned the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in my weekly travel columns, it wasn’t in this context. The shrine is the only acknowledged U.S. site of apparitions of the Virgin Mary.

The 1859 siting in Champion, 17 miles northeast of Green Bay, was recognized by the Catholic Church in 2010 and has since become a global point of pilgrimage., 920-866-2571

Kathy Neururer, Kenosha, says Peshtigo is not the only place with memorials for fire victims. Her great-grandmother survived the blazes by seeking protection in the Peshtigo River.

“I grew up in Door County, close to Tornado Park,” she writes. “This park actually is in memory of the people in Door County who both survived and perished in fire caused by sparks from the Peshtigo fire that blew across Green Bay, igniting another fire.” The park is east of Brussels.

Karen Prindle of Appleton noticed my column about the Lauerman House and M&M Victorian Inn in Marinette. “I grew up traveling to relatives and passing the Lauerman home,” she writes. “When it became a B&B I had to go there. As you said, a great experience. I’ve used and loved B&Bs since the 1980s.”

Longtime barbecue chef and aficionado Buzz Dean of Nekoosa accepted my challenge to name favorite Wisconsin barbecue restaurants.

They are Bad Bones in Minocqua (“traditional meats cooked over 100 percent real wood; the brisket is maybe the best I have ever tasted in a restaurant outside of Texas”) and Wild Boar Smokers BBQ, West Salem (“a good roadside stop,” but check on hours of operation)., 715-358-0200;, 608-792-0974

“A couple hints about finding quality barbecue places,” Buzz adds. “There should be a pile of wood in the back, and (the cook) should think running out of fresh product is better than trying to serve leftovers. Enjoy your barbecue journey.”

A column with reaction to a advertorial that ranked Wisconsin as one of four unexpected wine regions worth visiting in the world drew quick reaction from a publicist for Wollersheim Winery, Prairie du Sac.

“Implications that the Wisconsin wine industry is limited to producing low-quality wines unworthy of critical acclaim are truly what limit it,” writes Leah Anderson. “As a burgeoning wine region, we are often faced with the challenges that come along with being a rookie trying to break into an industry that has many well-established and prestigious players.

“The best we can do is prove doubters wrong by showing that our wines truly are capable of competing (and winning!) at an international level. To us, these wins are evidence that being a non-traditional wine region does not preclude Wisconsin from producing great wines.”

Wollersheim was Winery of the Year at the 2012 San Diego International Wine Competition.

Coincidentally, Wine Enthusiast magazine recently announced its top 10 wine travel destinations for 2014: The Aegean Islands, Greece; Valle de Guadalupe and Baja California, Mexico; Hill Country, Texas; Mendoza, Argentina; Sonoma, Calif.; Baden, Germany; Barossa Valley, Australia; Walla Walla, Wash.; Languedoc, France; and Umbria, Italy.

I wrote about the quirky Sessler’s tavern in little Meeme (Manitowoc County) a couple of years ago. A year later, matriarch Val Sessler died at age 92.

Lloyd Arndt of Madison reports plans to restore the 1847 stagecoach inn and move it to Pinecrest Historical Village, owned by the Manitowoc County Historical Society. Fundraising has begun., 920-684-445

Jeremy Caplan of New York City asked for my favorite Milwaukee restaurants and dessert spots when he and his wife visited for a wedding. I put these eight places on his radar.

Bavette La Boucherie – a new restaurant and butcher shop in Milwaukee’s trendy Historic Third Ward. The owner, Karen Bell, used to run a restaurant in Spain., 414-273-3375

Clock Shadow Creamery – an urban cheese factory in the Walker’s Point neighborhood., 414-273-9711

Sanford – fine dining in a former near-downtown neighborhood grocery store run by the same family for two generations. Founding chef Sandy D’Amato is a James Beard award winner, and he just released a memoir, “Good Stock: Life on a Low Simmer” (Agate Midway, $35)., 414-276-9608

Harbor House – a Bartlotta restaurant (which is a mark of good quality – and a Lake Michigan view, near the Summerfest grounds., 414-395-4900

Three Brothers – Eastern European fare in a totally unpretentious setting. The longtime business is a James Beard America’s Classic winner (like a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars). Cash sales only. 414-481-7530

Watts Tea Shop – an old-time tearoom that is another America’s Classic winner. I love the Sunshine Cake., 414-290-5720

Café Manna, Brookfield – the best vegetarian fare that I know of in the area., 262-790-340

Good for roaming – Brady Street, including Glorioso’s Italian Market and Sciortino’s Bakery., 414-272-0540, 414-272-4623

“How can I obtain a map of the location of cheese houses in Wisconsin?” asks Janice Solie of Augusta. Download a copy at or call the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board at 608-836-8820.

Helena Faraca of Kenosha asked for recommendations of family-oriented resorts with accommodations that include fully equipped kitchens, “perhaps in the Wausau or Stevens Point areas,” for her group of six travelers.

I’m a fan of Vacation Rentals by Owner ( and am impressed with the looks of Artha Sustainability Center, Amherst., 715-824-3463

Sharp readers found an error in my article about the Field Museum’s new exhibit about the 1893 World’s Fair. John Bryant of Chippewa Falls and Bruce Schroeder of Kenosha both noted that the Museum of Science and Industry – not the Field Museum – is the only one of the original exposition buildings to survive.

For Jennifer Hartley of Neenah, the fair brings back good memories of homeschooling her children in Vermont. “We studied this fair to some extent,” she writes. “Many of our subjects were overlapping and it made for a wonderful experience.

“For a read-a-loud, we enjoyed historical fiction for kids about the making of the Ferris wheel at the fair. While studying axles in science, I bought a K’NEX Ferris wheel and we put that together.”

She describes the 2003 book “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson as “a dark but fascinating read on the creation of the fair.”

Dan Van Berkel of Appleton, who attended a woodcarving school in Austria and sells his work at, asks where in Wisconsin to buy a good imitation of Germany’s Dresden Stollen.

I’m a longtime fan of Clasen’s European Bakery, Middleton, whose delicious breads and bakery are not cheap but authentic., 608-831-2032

Tom Mueller, emailing on behalf of his mother (Elaine Mueller of Wausau), asked if I could write more about Germany, especially Bach or German cathedrals. “She is not on the Internet but at age 86 is quite well read,” he writes. “For example, she’s into a new book (‘Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven’) on the history of Bach.”

“Just want to tell you how very much I enjoyed the articles about Germany. … I’m of German ancestry, and it is so special to read about Germany,” writes Virginia R. Sell of New London.

I’d love to write more about our European roots in my weekly columns, and will do more of it as I can afford it.

Nancy Diller of Boyceville took issue with my description of Door County’s shoreline as “sexy.” “It seems so strange something so beautiful and asexual should be described as so,” she writes. “We know sex sells, but for what could the purpose be when something so beautiful sells itself? Isn’t our society over-sexualized enough already?”

Lisa McGovern, publicist for Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, clarifies my announcement that replicas of old-time bicycles will be available for riding at the state historic site this year.

“High wheelers are for photo ops only,” she writes. “The types of reproduction bicycles that guests will be able to ride will likely be tricycles and safety bicycles (the precursors of the bicycles we know today).”

“At a time when we are trying to promote tourism and encourage the economy of Wisconsin, we need to make the most of all the unique experiences our state has to offer – nature, sports, fun, surprises,” writes Pat Lane Diaz of Wausau, an artist and coin collector who submitted a state quarter design with an ornate circus wagon pulled by plumed horses.

Pat laments that Baraboo’s circus history was ignored in favor of “a cow, piece of cheese and ear of corn to promote our state … Forget ‘the Greatest Show on Earth.’ Wisconsin still thinks small and shortsightedly.”

Cheri Welch of Fond du Lac reports a snafu with Van Galder bus travel was the only glitch during her 12-day trip to Italy. “The bus broke down and a large group of us waited two hours (upon their return to the U.S.). After having been up almost 24 hours and then having an hour drive back to Fond du Lac, it was very inconvenient. Fortunately, it did not happen on the way to Chicago.”