Regional food specialties
-Eating & Exploring the Wisconsin Northwoods
Summer is here and those that read us know we love to 'Travel Wisconsin'. I got a few trips planned to the beer & cheese state for 2012 and also a few from last year to share with y'all here today. It had been forever since I took a trip to the Northwoods of Wisconsin where I used to attend summer camp in Rhinelander. I loved that part of summer so I changed all that last 4th of July and me and a friend went up North for some change of scene and the pace from the city life we live. It was fantastic trip that made me realize it wont be that long between visits next time around.
Exploring the Wisconsin Northwoods
We set out from the city Saturday morning and were set to head straight to Vilas County with a couple pit stops while on the way. The first place I'll share on here was actually visited on the ride home since they are closed on weekends. Twig's Beverages in Shawano which was on the way (about 40 mins north of Green Bay) is a place that's been on my radar for a while now.
Twig's Beverages in Shawano, WI
We got there during the noon hour on the Wednesday we visited so the employees were out to lunch which they take from noon 'til 1p each work day. Twig's is one of the few remaining independent soda pop bottlers around that still uses returnable bottles and one of the last two in the state. Twig's bottles Sundrop under an agreement with Dr. Pepper and Snapple and they are the last Sundrop bottler to use returnable bottles. I first found this place after buying a bottle of Werbelow's Soda from America's Market in Wheeling. The bottle showed Werbelow's was made in Shawano, WI which lead me to a search on the 'net with a few results here and there including some stuff on Twig's. We went back after 1p and they were happy to show us around.
I talked with a younger guy who must of been in charge since another employee sent me to him. Along with Sundrop which has it roots in the South and is said to be America's first citrus soda, Twig's also bottles its own label including flavors like orange, root beer, black cherry, grape, sour, lime and so on. On the day we visited they had black cherry and orange available for purchase along with Sundrop. Since they still use the returnable bottle deposit method the pop is pretty cheap. It's $7.50 for a case with a $10 deposit on the bottles. As you can imagine it's big around town, people were coming in and out returning bottles and picking up new ones and trucks with the Sundrop label were pulling in and out. There's a good article about Twig's HERE in the MJS. Also this site HERE is a collection of glass soda bottlers still around the USA and has Twig's included.
As I talked to the guy giving us the tour I asked about Werbelow's and yes they used to operate out of where Twig's does now. Twig's even bought a couple of the recipes Werbelow's used for their bottled pop when they moved in. I got a case with 18 bottles of Sundrop and and three each of the other available selections that day of black cherry and orange. They still use real sugar in their Twig's and Hill Billy brand Root Beer bottled pops although I'm not sure about in the Sundrop. I did just have the one I put in the fridge when I got back and the bottle says corn syrup but it was still pretty damn good, very refreshing. I forgot to ask if it too is made with real sugar. The Dr. Pepper Snapple LLC just decided to release Sundrop nationally and is putting millions into an MTV targeted crowd ad campaign.
Bottles cover the walls, my case I brought home
If I was a local I would drink this stuff ice cold all summer long and they do as I was told. At the $7.50 a case price it's hard to beat. I bet it also makes a great summertime cocktail mixer like Ting does which is where I think they're going with the MTV target, some Sundrop and vodka will get it done on a hot summer day. Twig's is a fun stop on the way to the Northwoods and I didn't realize it but Seymour, WI some 30 miles away is the home to the other old school soda pop bottler still left in the state, Seymour Beverages. Check out the link for more info on both these cool spots.
Sundrop is the locals choice around town...for a non alcoholic beverage
We pushed on north with no plans too stop...
Chet & Emil's is a little bit of everything located in Birnamwood. They started off after being discharged from the military during World War II. They bought a business that consisted of a tavern and pharmacy store on the street level with rooms for their families to live in on top. As time went by they added a bowling lane with a 50 foot bar along with a dance floor to accommodate wedding and banquets. A little while later they added the restaurant and purchased a broaster. Their chicken then became the talk of the town from there.
Chet and Emil's in Birnhamwood, WI
The first of many stuffed animals we'd see, my view from the bar
We took a seat at my preferred choice of the bar when in locals type spots like these. Nowadays they also have a resort with cottages and cabins as well for people/hunters to rent with there being a lake not too far away. I wasn't starving but have a problem with not being able to pass on places and this was a classic case. The large Route 66 like chicken statue got me in. I was curious to see how C&E's broasted chicken compared to Bob's Drive In in Sioux Falls, SD. We decided on a four piece dinner to go and had some cheese curds and drinks while we waited.
After a couple High Lifes for me and orange vodkas for her our chicken was ready. I had to have a piece while still hot and the leg was great although but still a notch below the aforementioned places. Still worth the stop and tasted great cold later that night. When we stopped in here I felt like we were finally in the Northwoods.
Broasted chicken dinner with broasted wedges, cole slaw and rye bread
On we rode past a few more manly taverns and clubs tempting me to come on in...maybe next time
Eagle River is where we would stay for our time in the Northwoods. We got a nice deal at a place that was right on the river near the shops/bars making it a nice location. With the exception of the nights spent on the deck overlooking the river with a fire we didn't really spend much time in Eagle River aside from mornings and early evenings. I'm not much of a breakfast eater and don't rarely ever eat before noon even though I wake up early. But I had to get my friend fed otherwise she gets a lil cranky and "wonders why we have to wait til the afternoon to eat and then wait another five mins for pictures?" "why so many burgers?" "I want something else, yada, yada, yada" Haha b/c I'm not normal, that's why. But if I get her fed first thing in the morning she's a trooper and down to do whatever.
Eagle River, WI
On our first night in town we kind of just rode around checking out was near and we stopped in at the local 24 hour grocery store Trig's. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw on my nighttime visit and stopped back in a few times on the trip for things in need. Much better than Jewels and Dominick's they have a great liquor section and the meats and pre-made deli goods looked nice. They even make their own special recipe brats. This is definitely the place to shop if your staying in a cabin or house rental in the Northwoods. I spied a Wisconsin cream puff truck in the lot that night and headed over the next morning to check them out. The local fireman's homemade cream puffs which they make and sell on nice weekend days raise money for the local school. Right next to the cream puff truck was a sign tempting me to come inside and get some hot ham and rolls, a traditional Sunday eat in the cheese state.
Real Wisconsin Cream Puffs in the parking lot of Trig's grocery in Eagle River
The fireman working the puff truck was a cool dude and gave me some rec's for other food stops and scenic spots I had to try and go check out which I got to and were great. Eagle River has a new fully restored Soda Pop shop called...Soda Pops. We stopped in there twice, once to grab a quick bite for breakfast before we embarked on an outdoor adventure.
'Soda Pops' Soda Fountain in Eagle River
I read somewhere an article about the return of the soda fountain shop in America. Soda Pop's would be one of those places that inspired the article. A search on the 'net shows me theres also a place in LA called Soda Pops but I don't think they are related. According to their ABOUT page they are one of the oldest operating Soda Fountains in the state of WI. Originally a tavern by the railroad station until prohibition when it turned into a soda fountain. The place was then a fountain into the 70's and then vacated but the current team of owners decided to restore everything in 2002 to where it is today. Along with the soda and ice cream selections they have a soup and sandwich menu as well as over 150 bottled pops to choose from with a store to buy them all by the pack at located next door.
This was a fun stop. It's pretty amazing what they did with the restoration. I've been to a few of these old school fountain shops and this was the nicest one I have seen. The breakfast sandwich which I got to have a bite of was pretty good, obviously much better than McDonald's across the street. The only semi complaint from me would be the actual bottled pop selection list. Despite having 100's they didn't have any that tempted me enough. Many of them I have had before or are available easily and none of them my favorites like Dublin Dr. Pepper, Cheerwine or Ale-8-One. But the Root Beer list was pretty extensive and I could of got a mixed six pack off that I'm sure I would of liked. My cherry phosphate took me back to when Uncle Fun in Chicago was still at it's old location and had their soda fountain located in back when I was a youngin'.
Located just a couple stores down from Soda Pops is Faye's Dinky Diner. I didn't read anything about this small old school 'sconnie style diner but knew I had to check it out for breakfast one day while we were there. I ended up walking over from our spot on our last day to grab some takeout breakfast to eat at our place before we headed back to Chicago. Faye's shows alot of promise with it's menu and looks of the place both outside and in but what I had hoped to be some amazing 'old fashioned' corned beef hash was just old fashioned in that it came from a can. Nonetheless they still crisped it up nice and brown, she enjoyed her breakfast sandwich. The skillet plates I saw the mother/daughter team that runs the place making look to be the way to go. Not bad, very reasonable priced, just not life changing. The view from the deck at our place where we ate it was top notch though.
Faye's Dinky Diner in Eagle River
a beautiful morning along the river
Well as long as were going thru breakfasts stops of my trip lets take a look at one of my favorite places we ate at on the trip. Wolf Pack Cafe is in Saint Germain which is a short ride (like most everyplace else is) from Eagle River. This was a place that was actually put on my list because my friend said she had to go there and try it out so we went for breakfast on the 4th of July.
Wolf Pack Cafe in Saint Germain, WI
The Wolf Pack was packed the early afternoon we arrived on the 4th. It's won "Restaurant of the Month" from Discover Wisconsin and I'm sure has been featured in quite a few publications. You can tell this is a place loved by year round locals and summertime regulars as well as visitors who do their research like me. We went inside the dining room and put our names in and were told about a 20 minute wait which the dad of the family ahead of us told me "well worth it". They go to Wolf Pack every summer he said.
The ladies working the dining room were very welcoming and set us up right away with drinks and a menu. Wolf Pack Cafe is known for its breakfast and also serves lunch. They have a full breakfast menu available 'til a certain time and then serve a lunch menu with the most popular items from the breakfast menu available all day. It's a favorite of Green Bay Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers as well as former Packers BIG BOY DT Gilbert Brown. I had a big boy local from the area sitting next to me who had come in from work where he had to close down the bar from the night before which he said was a rowdy one with all the visitors in town for the holiday. The big motorcycle riding dude wouldn't stop raving about his breakfast which was their popular 'Joe's breakfast special'. So that's what we went with. Homemade hash browns topped w/ two eggs, sausage gravy, cheddar cheese and toast. A real workingmans breakfast.
Signature Dish at Wolf Pack
Yep after that plate arrived I knew why this was a favorite of the over six foot 300+ pound monster next to me and also Gilbert 'no one eats his grapes' Brown. The biker dude laughed and was loving when I broke out the camera to get a picture. It comes with option of toast and I got it with an English muffin and mixed it all together with some house hot sauce. It was great spread atop the toasted muffin. Wolf Pack Cafe also claims the best burgers in the Northwoods and I wouldn't doubt them but had to pass on that for some of their "world's best pancakes" which you can throw some locally made maple syrup on when they arrive. They were great, I'm not a big breakfast guy but this was one of my more memorable vacation breakfasts since the breakfast horseshoe at D & J Cafe in Springfield, IL and the Chayenne Crossing in Lead, SD. Although this version much better ingredients wise. My friend is a big vaca eater and this was easily her favorite spot we stopped at, she wanted to go back but we never made it. Next time for sure.
Famous Wolf Pack Pancakes and a self made breakfast sandwich
We spent alot of our time exploring the area and checking out all the different towns and sites in the Chain O'Lakes area of the Northwoods. It's gorgeous and a great place to get away from the concrete jungles of cement in the city. I used to go to camp Algonquin (RIP) in Rhinelander as a kid and loved it back then and still do now. The stars shine bright at night and theres tons of outdoor fun for when theres sun which we had plenty of on this trip. It was actually muggy and the bugs at night sucked but everything else was great.
One of the 1,000's of lakes in the area
One of the 100's of taverns, bars and pubs in the area
One of the spots I had read about that seemed to be my type of place was 'Gooch's A-One Bar & Grill' in Boulder Junction. I read on a Northwoods forum with a food section that Gooch and his broasted chicken were top notch. We stopped in here after a stroll down "downtown" Boulder Junction which is a beautiful little town worth walking around. Lots of shops for ladies and Gooch's for the guys.
Boulder Junction, WI
We stopped in one early afternoon for some drinks and before we knew it we had been in there for a couple hours and put down more than the one or two we had planned. Everything you envision when you think Northwoods bar is what Gooch's is. Owned by the Gucchi himself who along with his girlfriend, run what will be a regular stop on my Northwoods visits and this trip confirmed there will be many more. You probably pictured a couple regulars in there drinking during the daylight hours and correct you are. One of the dudes was a massive man who had just arrived from McHenry county where he lives and he'd been staying up in the area since the 70's when they first got a place. Gooch's was his watering hole. We got to talking and had a great time doing so with the summertime local big boy fIb and Gooch who himself is a classic 'Sconnie. He hunts, fishes, eats, drinks and snowmobiles which are what the locals do up there and he supports himself with his great neighborhood tavern.
Gooch's is a classic Northwoods drinking establishment
It gets busy in the summer and since it's on a snowmobile trail it's also a popular stop in the winter. Gooch has a few Packers thangs hanging here and there and also one Bears fanplate displayed on the wall. I asked him what was up with Da Bears plate, if he was an actual bears fan or if it was just to keep the tourists like myself in there for another? He was thrilled that I was the first Bears fan ever to recognize this, it was indeed to keep the fIsh happy. The longtime bartender was a sweet old lady who mixed a mean Bloody Mary, I loved this place. Ice cold Spotted Cow on tap too. We had to get out in the sun after a couple hours of great chat and we ordered some broasted chicken to go which was made by Gooch himself in back.
Sunday special broasted chicken dinner
This was some damn good chicken. I can understand why quite a few people came in and out for pick up and regulars at the bar all went with the broasted chicken which comes as a dinner special on Sunday's. We got back on the road after a few pieces in the lot and were off to see and hear the beautiful sites and sounds of the Northwoods. There are some great state parks to explore and scenic routes are a dime a dozen. Eagle River is also the home to the Kentucky Derby or Daytona 500 of snowmobile racing and the home to the snowmobile hall of fame. Not quite Cooperstown so I didn't check it out but the stadium in town looked fun.
As wonderful as it is having so many lakes around and some are actually large, nothing beats the greatest of lakes and Lake Superior. A beautiful beach was only about an hour and 10 minute drive from the Northwoods so we had to go get fresh with it one morning day. Nothing beats a dip in the crystal clear freshwater of Lake Superior on a 90 degree day. Well worth the drive.
a canoe rail for use to get your boat into the water
There's by far more taxidermists than there are McDonald's in these parts
Lake Superior in Michigan's U.P
On the 4th of July we had planned to go see a a Native American Pow Wow festival being held that day in downtown Lac du Flambeau. They had food and craft vendors until about 3p and also had a parade earlier in the day and a fireworks show at the Indian Bowl later that night. It was a pretty little community and most of the residents seemed to be out there with they're friends and family enjoying the day.
Lac du Flambeau, WI
We arrived just as the fair was wrapping up but were still lucky enough to be able to try the food from the local vendors which is the reason we were there. Indian frybread and bbq brisket fajitas were just what we were hoping for. Both of these stands located right next to each other were selling their specialties. 1st up was the BBQ tent which had smoked pulled pork and brisket in sandwich form on good old cheap white bread and also fajitas. I opted for the brisket fajitas which came with onions and peppers sauteed up in the onsite wok along with three tortillas, some rice and beans and a cup of their version of elotes. The corn was cut from the cob which was grilled over the charcoal and thrown in a cup with mayo, cheese and a ton of butter and the best part, little pieces of cured pork. The guys smokin' and serving everything were great, they were up preppin' the meats 11 hours before the fest started and happy to have me despite my Chicago alliances as they were big time Packers and Brewers fans and letting me know they were.
The BBQ dudes had the whole woods smelling good
I love some real bbq brisket tacos and these fajitas were fantastic. I guess it's a dish that's more Tex-Mex than anything else but these we're FBI's preparing them and this obviously wasn't there first time making what might of been my favorite dish of the trip. They had a homemade red sauce salsa made with habeneros and jalapenos that was some of the best salsa I have had and went great with the rest of it. If I wasn't in a daze I would of bought a bottle or more as they were starting to call it a day and packing everything up. I should of got a couple more orders for the fridge to reheat in the place for out by the river later that night. The ladies next to the BBQ dudes made an excellent piece of freshly fried Indian fry bread that was also a highlight for me. How is fried dough with sugar not good? and I don't even have a big sweet tooth.
The smoker and bbq'd meats with the side of corn and some Indian fry bread for desert
BBQ Brisket fajitas from the local Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Ojibwa Native American tribesmen...BOMB
After walking around the town we hopped back in the car and set out to further explore the area. Wisconsin has some great scenic drives which would explain why theres so many bikers in the state. The Northwoods has more than its fair share of them. We went thru some beautiful untouched areas and got to see some interesting towns like Park Falls, Wisconsin. Once a booming town with a big paper mill, that all changed when the local mill closed down. In 2006 Flambeau River Papers manufacturing company was developed by the government and local investors and moved into the old mill and the town is slowly transforming back to a factory town. The main street area is an interesting drive that might make you think your in a Southwest ghost town.
Cruising a Wisconsin Rustic Road in the Northwoods
Park Falls, WI
After our fun little 4th of July travel excursion we were ready for some drinks and the world famous Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters was the place. It was definitely one of my 'must stop spots' if for anything the history. I grew up just off Lincoln ave in LP where the Biograph Theater is where John Dillinger was gunned down after years of wreaking havoc on the FBI. Many of the stories come from the Little Bohemia Lodge. I've always enjoyed the stories of John Dillinger and his gang of goons and for those who don't know, Little Bohemia is where the Dillinger gang settled one summer day and then became the scene of an epic gun battle between Dillinger and the FBI that would see the gang get away and leave one government agent dead.
The famous Little Bohemia Lodge
Many scenes from the movie 'Public Enemies' with Johnny Depp were shot here at the lodge where the cast and crew stayed. We got there around 3p and they had just stopped giving tours of the upstairs. The lodge has remained the same since the FBI seized it in 1934. Many of the memorabilia from the gang and gun fight can be seen on tours upstairs before 3p. Next time. Today it remains a really cool place to stop in at for a drink or eats. They're open seven days a week, over summertime anyway, and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
View from the outside both in front and the drinking deck in back and Dillinger memorabilia
We made our way to the bar which when we got there was rocking. One of the cute bartenders was celebrating her bday with some friends who were in there drinking and getting crunk for the 4th. The older folks which there were a few of weren't sure what to do. The rowdy group left after a while and we just kind of chilled at a table and drank some Old Fashioned's like your supposed to do. Brandy sweets for her and whiskey sours for me. Since it was also the 4th and we were in an old Dillinger hideout I had to do a couple shots of whiskey. They have quite the selection of it and make a real nice cocktail that can also be enjoyed on their outdoor deck overlooking the lake which you can also take a dip in.
Stay away from the heat...
I was disappointed to miss the tour but was still able to give myself a real nice one of the whole property which also has lodges for rent along with the bar and restaurant. They have all sorts of original newspapers on the walls as well as wanted signs and other collectibles and of course they sell T-Shirts, mugs etc... We didn't make it in time for lunch and weren't hungry at all after the Pow Wow but the food looked good and I will for sure return to try some and put down a few more of them "creep on you like Dillinger did the banks" Old Fashioneds.
Gettin' gangster witit in da Northwoods
So after it was time to say goodbye to Little Bohemia we made our way back towards Eagle River and tried to figure out our plans for fourth of July dinner. We went over a few places and then out popped the sign to Vinchi's Hillside Inn which was a place that came rec'd by the fireman and others I met. So there, it was decided for us. I was told Vinchi's had good thin crust pizza and Italian food and was a fun place to dine at because they feed the wild bears outside in their little park and you can see them thru the window when they stop by for food as you eat.
Cruisin' the Northwoods
Vinchi's Hillside Inn (Sayner, WI)
We stopped into Vinchi's to get a pizza which would be perfect for dinner. I wasn't starving so we decided to have a few drinks and order one of their specialty thin crust pizzas to go. The menu had other options such as pasta and sandwiches including an authentic Chicago style Freddy sandwich. We sat at the bar but they also have a middle room with a pool table and a dining room next to that. It's from there where you used to be able to see real bears from the forest when they would come down and feed off the food the restaurant left for them, you can see the window in the pic collage below. The DNR put a halt to the feeding a few years back but if you were wondering what the bears loved to eat? Gummie bears and anything sweet. That's what the really freindly bartender told us as we waited for our pizza pie to arrive.
Inside Vinchi's Hillside Inn
I had a good feeling from the get go with the place already being recommended by a couple locals and was assured as I got glimpses and whiffs of others pizzas as they passed by. Despite what looks like a deep dish pizza being offered up by the bear outside it's all about the thin crust there. Available in small and large their signature most ordered pie is the Vinchi's signature special which comes with sausage, onions and mushrooms. This was the perfect treat to take back to our spot in Eagle River and eat on the deck, drink some cocktails and watch the fireworks next to a fire on the 4th. The pizza was great, not super duper thin but thin enough and rich from the onions and mushrooms. The sausage was the real deal Italian with chunks of fennel inside. It was great later that night after the fireworks and also good the next morning cold.
Vinchi's signature thin crust with sausage, onions and mushrooms
Happy 4th of July! Best holiday there is...
The next morning was our last day and we kind of just took it easy and took in some sun and then decided to go check out Rhinelander where I went to camp as a kid. The town is a classic Midwest community that takes you back to another time along its historic Main street. They still got the old movie theater, liquor store and hotel standing as well as some nice parks and the old historic courthouse. We took a walk around town which has many statues of the Hodag which is a folkloric creature said to come from Rhinelander. Of course nowadays they have the Hodag festival and all sorts of events to celebrate their hometown beasts.
Coming up on the courthouse
A couple of the highlights of my trip came from Rhinelander and getting to see the old town I used to hang out in and pass by the old Camp Algonquin I used to go to back in the 90's. Also great was a place on the main strip called the Spice of Life. They had all sort of fun spices, sauces, seasonings etc and the owner who was a big old bike dude was doing up some ABT's on the smoker for passer by's to try. These were stuffed with brat meat and cheese and came out great. My girl got a few gifts for her friends from here and I picked up some handy grill tools too.
The Spice of Life Spice Shop in Rhinelander
Other highlights of Rhinelander included some bowling at the old town bowling alley, all the old towns still got them. As well as the discovery of shorty's which were just brought back on the market from Rhinelander Brewery. I love the small 7 oz bottles and the beer in 'em is actually pretty good. I got five cases to take home from the local Rhinelander outlet of Trig's and at $9.99 each they're a steal to me. Always stays ice cold like the smaller Red Stripe Lights in Jamaica. If any of you old timers used to like the old Rhinelander Export Beer and their small shorty bottles, they're back. Story HERE.
Hodag Lanes and the beer that made Rhinelander famous
On we drove checking out the town of Minocqua where we had to wait out a pretty heavy storm that was actually pretty fun to watch hit the lake which made it smell great outside afterward. There was an old German Steinhaus with brats and other German goodies on the menu as well as a BBQ place that was filling the downtown streets with smoke but we weren't all that hungry and just kind of walked around passing on the tempting dining spots in the area.
Kherry dipped Kone at the Korner Drive In (Lake Tomahawk, WI)
The burgers of Wisconsin
How about burgers up North? Yep if it's things that the Northwoods isn't lacking? burgers, lakes, trees and large men in cut off tee's come to my mind. It's pretty much a gimme that each and every restaurant, supper club, tavern and pub that serves food will have hamburgers on the menu and a big fella eating in there. We're not in Paris, France up here people. I stopped into two burger spots on this trip. In fact both of them are located in the same town just down the road from each other. The first place I had on my radar was the Little Musky Bar. Praised by my friend who when I told I was going to the Northwoods, he told me I had to go to this place called the Little Musky for a burger. I told him c'mon m'aaan, he knew me better than that, of course it was on my list.
Arbor Vitae, WI
We made our visit on the 4th. After taking in a couple nice trails and views along some lakes it was time for a few cold ones as it was a really humid day. The bar is to your right as you enter and there is also a section with tables to sit down at to your left. Leading out the back is an outside dining section with tables and chairs for people to take their food and drinks to eat outside if they so wish. We sat at the bar and I went with the $3 special bottles of Capitol Brewery's 'Supper Club' (available in Chicago) and in celebration of the 4th my friend got the Dreamsicle cocktail from the specials board. Another classic setup for a Northwoods drinking establishment and I felt right at home inside this one with all sorts of Chicago Bears gear on display.
My view from the bar...DA BEARS!
The Little Musky had constant traffic both at the bar and tables. Couples, young and old, families and friends were all there enjoying the same thing, cool air and burgers. Everyone that was over 21 was also enjoying some ice cold beer at dirt cheap prices. I still laugh every time I get my bar tab at an old school place in Wisconsin. I ordered a Musky cheeseburger with sauteed mushrooms which I told her to put on the grill after I ordered my third beer. I sat there and watched as the lady who owned the place went thru ball after ball of beef turning them into hearty tavern burgers. As you can see in this short video I took below, she has them ready in individual bags as fresh balls of beef in the fridge and each time one is ordered she'll grab one, throw it on and then smash it down.
Busy with burgers
We needed to make sure we didn't get stuck in there, I felt guilty sitting inside the taverns on such sunny days, so I ordered the burger to go and when it was ready we just took it out back to the tables for customers to sit at and dug into it before we went out to explore Lac du Flambeau.
The 'big' Musky cheeseburger with grilled onions and mushrooms
The burgers are available in 1/3 and 1/2 pound sizes and it's go BIG or go home. Burgers come with chips, although they do have "Pizza Fries" on the menu which seem to be a Northwoods thing, they're on many taverns up theres menu. Now there is a little talk of a decline in the quality of the burgers up above but this was my first visit so I cant speak on that. I liked it for what it was, which isn't a knock on it. Just a hunk of fresh beef cooked right with pungent grilled onions, fresh mushrooms and WI cheese on a soft bun. Kind of tasted like how my mom made them over summertime when I was a kid. A "homey" tasting burger if you will. On top of that the couple next to us were regular visitors from Minnesota and at the Musky for their 10th annual burger from there and they loved it as always.
a 'Sconnie style lunch
Next up was another example of " I cant just pass it up" as we cruised by PJ's Burger Barn on our last full day in town. She wasn't all that thrilled about eating anymore burgers, but I was able to make it so that there wouldn't be a big fuss if I wanted too have one since we went out later that night for steak. Not on my radar but in my memory is what PJ's Burger Barn was. I remember Eddie, the owner of Edzo's, was doing burger research for his shop while up in Wisconsin and documenting it in his march to burger greatness. He snapped a picture of PJ's while up there and I remembered the cartoon characters eating the burger when we passed by.
Arbor Vitae, WI
PJ's is a cool looking place both outside and in. Along with the bar/restaurant it's also a 'resort'. They have houses and cabins for rent which actually looked pretty nice, newly built and surrounded in a scenic setting overlooking a lake. At the restaurant they have a bar, sit down tables, Darts, jukebox etc... the classic Northwoods setting along with peanuts everywhere which are for customers to enjoy. They're encouraged to throw the shells on the ground when done with them. PJ's is short for the husband wife duo that run the place. Peg and Jim? Don't quote me on the names though. The logo of the man and woman eating the burger is them portrayed as cartoons, at least that's who the really sweet lady working the place looked exactly like.
We took a seat at one of the tables in back next to the windows overlooking the lake outside. I'll admit that at first I wasn't expecting a whole lot in that they had a menu with every kind of burger you can think of and they came on ciabatta rolls, eh. I didn't want anything like a pizza or olive burger, just a classic. So I went with the PJ's Burger which comes with bacon, mushrooms and Swiss. Each burger comes with PJ's housemade chips on the side. I wasn't expecting as much as I got as far as flavor is concerned. I quite enjoyed my burger which you don't get the choice of how you want it to be cooked but does come char-grilled. So that added in some nice flavor and the ciabatta roll actually worked well holding it all together. I would go here again for sure for some beers and a burger. The homemade chips were quite good as well, went great with the ice cold beer.
Bacon, mushrooms and Swiss burger basket from PJ's Burger Barn
We headed back home on our last night in town with the plans to stop at Club 155 in Saint Germain for some of their signature steaks which came rec'd.. I'm almost positive Club 155 isn't around anymore but there is still an old Supper Club where I think it used to be. However for whatever reason most supper clubs are closed on Tuesdays so we needed another spot. We found one on the way back when we cruised past McGregor's Blink Bonnie Supper Club. The lot was packed with cars and there was a group of people playing bean bags drinking beers from their cooler while another group drank Old Fashioneds outside on the deck while they waited for their tables. We decided we would go back to the place to freshen up and then return to eat around 8p.
Riding into a Northwoods sunset
Popular steak house in Saint Germain
We got back there around 8p and put in our name for a table with there being a 20 minute wait. We were all ready for the wait as she used the iPhone to read some reviews of the place and we packed the small cooler with some bottles of WI microbrew beer I got with a make your own six pack from Trig's. The reviews mentioned that was cool to do. After a few beers in the parking lot our name was called and we were seated. You can see the Bears neon in the window and that's because the original family that owned the place was from around the Barrington area. The family that bought it as well as the bartender are Packers fans but they kept the place the same so there's plenty of Bears gear on the bars walls.
Our waitress was great and also very honest which helped with what we ordered. At first we were going to get the signature 26 oz T-Bone steak as well as a burger. I was even intrigued by the fried chicken but was told by the super helpful waitress to stay away from that and I should be ok. Haha so then I was going to go with the steak burger but then she asked if I was ok with it being well done since they are frozen. Thanks to her honesty we settled on an order of onion rings andthe T-Bone steak with broiled scallops combo with a side of hash browns.
House Salad that comes with steak and an appetizer of onion rings
Blink Bonnie's was a classic Wisconsin supper club. It was great hearing and smelling the hot sizzling plates of steaks go by. Everyone in their was enjoying their night out including myself and my mate. The steak was pretty good and what I expected it to be. I think it was about $26 with the scallops, salad and side of hash browns so also a very good deal. They cooked it to my med rare request and I was stuffed when we were done. The waitress was also very helpful in letting us know they have a $3 extra for shared plate surcharge but if you just got an extra potato side (also $3) you wouldn't have to pay for the plate. So that was great too.
House Special 26 oz T-Bone steak with sauteed onions on top
Great dinner for our last night in town. Afterward we went back into Eagle River and enjoyed gazing at the totally visible stars in the sky while sitting on the balcony on the river before calling it a night as we were set to head back in the morning. Bonus stop! As we crept into Menasha, WI for lunch on the way back to Chicago. Mihm's Charcoal Grill is another one of the WI spots that uses real charcoal when they cook and have been since they first opened up in 1958. I found them thru roadfood. The signature 'Sconnie style tavern steak sandwich and double buttered butterflied brats were the perfect way to end our stay in the state full of fun to eat foods.
Mihm's Charcoal Grill in Menasha, WI for lunch on the ride back
Big thanks to all who helped lead me in the right directions on my trip. I can only imagine how pretty it is in the Northwoods during the Fall and I am planning to get back there in September to see it and explore more. Anywhere I missed?
The Wisconsin Northwoods, we hope you enjoyed your e-trip...
...See ya next time on 'America the Beautiful'
711 South Washington Street
Shawano, WI 54166
Chet & Emil's
388 Main Street
Birnamwood, WI 54414
Trig's Grocery (Multiple locations)
925 East Wall Street
Eagle River, WI 54521
Soda Pops Restaurant
125 South Railroad Street
Eagle River, WI 54521
Faye's Dinky Diner
121 South Railroad Street
Eagle River, WI 54521
Wolf Pack Cafe
426 E State Road 70
Saint Germain, WI 54558
Gooch's A-One Bar & Grille
6215 County Road M
Boulder Junction, WI 54512
142 Highway 51 S
Manitowish Waters, WI 54545
Vinchi's Hillside Inn
8065 County Rd
Sayner, WI 54560
1455 US Highway 51 North
Arbor Vitae, WI 54568-9505
PJ's Burger Barn & Up North Resort
397 US Highway 51 North
Arbor Vitae, WI 54568
Mc Gregor's Blink Bonnie
1506 Jerry Road
St Germain, WI 54558
Mihm's Charcoal Grill
342 Chute Street
Menasha, WI 54952