Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
-The Local Eats of Racine WI
Whats up y'all? BIG post here today. So you might remember an old post from a little over a year ago titled "Eating BIG in Kenosha" and big it was. Well today were headed north, only a few miles, to Kenosha's bordering town on the lake, Racine Wisconsin and we're in for some BIG eats. Racine isn't a place untraveled on here. Its been visited before for two other absolute Hall of Fame eating gems: Kewpees and Well's Brothers.
Founded in 1841 and located along Lake Michigan
When you go thru or into Racine you take a little step back in time and can feel that this town has some history and that's also evident from all of the old school places to eat that remain like those mentioned above and those we will visit today. Racine became well known right before the Civil War for its opposition to slavery. Many slaves gained freedom by passing thru Racine and it was the site of a heavy protest in 1854 when an escaped slave who had made a home there had been tracked down by US Marshall's and jailed in Milwaukee. It would take 100 men from Racine to organize what turned out to be 5,000 'sconnies to storm the jail and free him and help him escape to Canada. After this the town began to get waves of immigration from many Germans, Danes and Czechs and then African-Americans came in large numbers after World War 1 and Mexicans started coming around 1925.
Haven't made into Frosty Freddy's...yet
Racine was a factory town from the get go and its harbor was a main component to the shipping industry in the 1800's so Racine has been home to many industrial companies and an automobile manufacturing center. Many of the buildings remain today and its a fun little town to drive thru or visit for the day. There are old tied-houses and quite a few Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses and buildings. Its also where Dallas Mavericks forward Caron Butler and adult film star Max Hardcore hail from. It is also the headquarters and home of S.C Johnson & Son. If you go here in the summertime, the public beaches are clean and beautiful and a great place to spend the morning followed by some exploring in the afternoon. Make sure you eat. Racine, like any town in Wisconsin, has some great eats.
a locals favorite for subs/bombers
Lee's Deli has been a staple of Racine for decades. Its one of those spots that's been in its town forever and has had half the people from there work there in high school and some people have been working there forever. Its currently owned by a guy who bought it in 1985 and he too worked there as a teen in high school. They serve sub sandwiches and a popular item in the Kenosha/Racine area called a bomber. I have a full round up of bombers coming later on but they are basically meatball or Italian beef sandwiches loaded with red sauce, cheese and hot peppers and can be found at quite a few of the places in the area. Lee's is a spot people come home to Racine and go to. The subs haven't changed and as the owner is quoted "people come back to Racine and they want pizza from Well's Brothers, Kringle and a sub from Lee's Deli" as the years have gone on it went from just a sausage shop to a sub sandwich shop to now a full blown deli with sides, hot sandwiches and other treats added into the mix.
The sub sandwich part of the menu hasn't changed
Bombers mentioned above are a popular style of sandwich
The menu has expanded since its opening decades ago
Article from the Racine Journal Times...Subway in 2nd?!?!?!?
Lee's has daily deals and I think on the day I went here with my buddy it was buy one sub get the 2nd at half off and so we were already looking good. It had a nice constant flow of traffic and the people behind the counter were really helpful and we went with a Godfather, Gobbler and meatball Bomber along with one of my favorite sides of all time, German potato salad. The interesting part of the sandwiches over at Lee's is that they come with your choice dressing on them. Since it was a while back I stopped in I want to say the most popular told to us by the woman working was either the Russian or the French but I cant recall.
Pasta and potato salads to go with your sammys
Lee's has a great German potato salad, I quite enjoyed it
Our sandwiches ready for chowing
Peperoni, pastrami, capricola, mozzarella and provolone
With all the trimmings
also with all the trimmings
Like everything else in Racine I could feel that Lee's hadn't changed much and the locals love it that way. The sandwiches were very filling and well priced and I have a feeling they will be a part of the community for many more years.
My favorite of the trio
The next stop in Racine is a place that could easily be considered a national treasure and not just a jewel of the town of Racine. Its said that Racine has the largest North American settlement of Danes outside Greenland. Its a town that happens to be well known for its Danish treats including one of my favorite baked goodies: Kringle. The pastry snack is popular throughout Scandinavia and a part of Racine's culture. There are a few bakeries that bake Kringle daily and also ship them throughout the United States. Perhaps the oldest and most well known of the bunch is Bendtsen's. It is the longest family owned bakery in Racine.
a locals favorite in Racine
Bendtsen's was founded by a man named Lauritz Bendtsen who grew up learning the pastry trade in the 1920's in Denmark. It was always his dream to open his own bakery and that became a reality in 1934 when he settled down in the US in a large Danish community in Racine, Wisconsin. Not a day has passed since then that they haven't been a family owned joint specializing in hand made Kringle and a favorite of generations of people from Racine. It doesn't matter if your from Racine or the other side of the globe, its hard not to like this place.
View of the inside of the bakery
Bendtsen's has received lots of love thru the years
Old Photo from inside
The fourth generation of Bendtsen's is keeping the Kringle craze alive and well. Traditionally the Kringle is made pretzel shaped but this practice was abandoned by US bakers who make them oval shaped to ditch the unfilled overlapping parts. The original definition of a Kringle was just butter layered pastries but over time and in the US a variety of fruit and nut flavors were added in. In order to make a true authentic Kringle you need time and love. Since it is a delicate pastry with sheets layered on top of each other, one must roll very slowly to make these as thinly as possible and they can take up to three days to prepare. But oh its so worth it. On top of the Kringle they also bake up some amazing pastries and doughnuts of all types.
Kringle packaged and ready for chowing
The Kringle menu at Bendtsen's
I have been enjoying Kringle since my college days in Madison where I was able to buy it at the grocery stores. However if you want the good stuff you gotta go to Racine and visit a bakery like Bendtsen's to taste why these are so beloved and shipped throughout the country to the people who cant live without them. Since I'm not a big chocolate guy, my favorite Kringle is the cherry cream cheese. I mean how could you not like it? Wisconsin is known for both its cherries and cheese and also its Kringles. Makes sense that a cherry cream cheese Kringle would be special right? I also love the blueberry and even the chocolate topped ones.
Fruits and cheese are popular filings
As are chocolate and cream
Blueberry Kringle ready for my love
Elephant ears were always a favorite of mine...of course they take it up a notch
I'm sure this is another old school recipe that's been used forever
They always bake for the occasion at Bendtsen's
Since I always gotta try a little bit of everything I was really happy when I saw the donut case and the many different kinds offered that I don't see too often. Homer Simpson might move the family to Racine if he ever gets a taste of these. I liked them all and boy he would too. Who wouldn't? If your from the Chicagoland area or anywhere near Racine then I would suggest the first day in summer your bored and want something to do that you take a trip to Racine and do some exploration and eating. I might see you there.
Cheery Cake Donut
Inside the cherry cake donut
Kringle in all its glory
2615 Washington Avenue
Racine, WI 53405-5001
3200 Washington Avenue
Racine, WI 53405-3037