Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Great River Road - Wisconsin Pt. 2

Cruisin' Across America
-The Mighty Mississippi thru WI

I got to take another trip up the Great River Road thru Wisconsin as I headed for the Twin Cities area for some rest and fun last year. I also have another place located along it that I stopped into last Fall that I wanted to share on top of the places I stopped at on this trip. This time around we'll start off near the top of the state and work are way down the river. Hope you enjoy the ride.

Hager City, WI

Located in an unincorporated place near the town of Trenton which sits opposite the river from Red Wing, Minnesota is the Hager Heights Drive In. There's not much going on around here but when warm weather is in the air this is a popular stop for folks looking to eat some of their famous broasted chicken. You turn off the River Road and head up a bluff which then out of nowhere pops the Drive In. You can pull into line and place your order when you're ready thru one of the menu boxes or park and walk up to a window to do so. If you choose to order thru the boxes it's basically just like a drive thru as you pull up and pay at the window when its your turn.

"Please place your order when ready"

For those that dont know, this from Wikipedia. "Broasting is a trademark applied to a method of cooking chicken and other foods using a pressure fryer and condiments. The technique was invented by L.A.M. Phelan in the early 1950s and is marketed by the Broaster Company of Beloit, Wisconsin, which Phelan founded". Broasted chicken seems to be a popular eat the further north you go. The Drive In has been around for a while and you can see why when you get some of their chicken. No grease but lots of crunch with juicy meat inside.

Chicken Meal with fries, cole slaw and beans

Riding the road south will eventually take you thru Alma, an old 19th century river town that has been designated a National Historic District. Again, another great place to roll thru. Those that like to fish would really like this place.

Alma, WI

It was alive the day we rode thru as they have a place for people to walk over the river on Lock and Dam No. 4 as well as bars and places for people to go antiquing. We were there to catch a ride out to the Great Alma Fishing Float. Owned by two brothers, its a family run biz and basically a bunch of pier docks made into one that floats out on the river. You need to take a ferry to get out there though.

On the ferry headed to the float

During summer hours of operation the ferry comes and goes every 30 minutes or so. We weren't really sure what was going on as theres not much except that sign to be seen from the mainland. Just wait there and it will eventually show up. An all day fish pass (ride incl) is $16 and if you dont want to fish it's $5 round trip.

Sitting on the Mississippi

A view from one of the walkways

I dont fish (yet) so I wasn't here for that. As seen on Alton's Brown's Feasting on Asphalt episode titled "The Lutefisk Express" this float also features a cafe where they serve breakfast and lunch. So I was stopping in for some of that along with the experience of having been out on the Float. Quite the spot for a diner huh? If you get motion sickness or are freaked out by places that arent squeaky clean then this is not for you.

The other side of the hut on the float

Nonetheless if you can handle all that it was a fun time as I got to try their famous "Mess". This seems to be another popular eat found in state. Similar to the garbage plate found at Frank's in Kenosha. The mess comes with sausage, bacon and ham mixed in with onions, green peppers, eggs, potato and cheese with some chopped smoked fish added in all topped with sauerkraut and served with Texas Toast. The brothers who run it and one of or both their sons made it for us and it was fantastic. I got a half order, I cant imagine a full. Could spend the whole day sitting and fishing after that.

The Famous "Mess" from the Great Alma Fishing Float

Heading further down the Great River Road thru Wisconsin...

Rolling down we're going to be stopping in the town of Trempealeau for documentation purposes.

Trempealeau, WI

1a which is when the Restaurant and Saloon at the historic Trempealeau Hotel opens up shop. Being nestled on the Mississippi River, this town was a somewhat booming place when America's original highway was the main way around.

The Trempealeau Hotel

The town suffered a horrible fire in 1888 and the entire downtown district was destroyed except for the hotel which was later moved further back from the river. The area decimated by the fire was rebuilt so nothing precedes 1890 as far as buildings go, except the hotel. The restaurant and some parts of the bar have been redone but they manged to keep the charm and the inside of the space is really great. The same can be said for the town itself which is a really pretty place. We were the first customers of the day but there were locals and travelers coming in for both food and drinks as soon as they opened up shop.

As we enter

The hotel was taken over by a couple who redid the menu but kept most of the saloon and its traditions as is. They have seats inside with views of the river, a dining room, a porch, and an outside sun deck. There's also a stage outside for musical acts, a full outdoor basketball court and horseshoes and bags to play too. They still do lodging as well. The couple that took the place over happen to be vegetarians. In the process they wanted to create their own menu item that was both unique to the restaurant and good in their belly. So in 1986 the 'Walnut Burger' was born.

A view from the outdoor dining deck

When I first heard about walnut burgers I thought maybe it was beef with roasted walnuts mixed in or something but this is a vegetarian patty made mostly with walnuts amongst other spices and bindings to hold it together. They became big and are now sold in grocery store freezers across state and are offered at other restaurants too. Of course I was never looking, so I never knew. I decided to say what the hey and try one just to say I have. The results? Well it was better than a 'Boca Burger' so it's got that going for it. But I wont be going veggie and changing my login name to 'Da Beets' anytime soon. Next time I'd try the cornmeal crusted catfish sandwich...

The Walnut Burger

Located down on the river near the end of it's ride in Wisconsin is the town of Potosi. It was here back in 2008 that The National Brewery Museum and Library opened on the site of the Potosi Brewery.

Potosi, WI

Potosi Beer was born in 1852 and then became a full fledged brewery in 1906. At their peak they were the fifth largest brewer in state and shipped Good Old Potosi, Holiday, Garten Brau, Augsburger and other brews throughout the country.

The Old Brewery Building

Potosi closed it's doors and ceased operations in 1972. Then in 1995 when Gary David bought the ruined Potosi Brewery Bottling buildings after nearly one square block of buildings had been damaged by major fire and most of the them were a total loss. After working three years to rebuild parts of what had been destroyed, Gary turned his attention to the Brewery and enlisted the help of his friend and cousin who then with his wife brought the public on board through a community meeting. In 2000 the Potosi Brewing Company was back in business with the help of its neighbors.

The Good Old Days Are Back!

These days not only do they brew beers including their beloved Summertime brew "Steamboat Shandy" they also house The National Brewery Museum and Library. It was chosen by the American Breweriana Association to be the museums home over places like Milwaukee and St. Louis. I think it was a $7 donation (with a free beer!) to see the museum and its well worth it if you like history and beer. The place was large and there were a few floors and rooms if I remember right. Everything is for the most part on loan from beer memorabilia collectors.

A peak into one of the many rooms and more shots from within

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So much old school memorabilia, when I was there the brewers library was just getting started...

Anyone remember Utica Club Beer?

There's not many who's bottles arent on display, era by era

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Some more sights from inside

You also get to take a tour thru the original cave which is where the beer was stored before electricity. The founders dug into the limestone hillside to keep their brew cool and water from the river still floats thru floats today. On top of all this, there's the bar/restaurant to do too. Might I maybe suggest going to do a beer flight before taking in the museum?

View from the bar

Anything that's currently being brewed is available for your satisfaction

As most of the current brewery was totally redone not so long ago, the same can be said for the restaurant. They have an outdoor dining patio where you can eat and or drink sitting below a big limestone bluff. It's very scenic. The menu is a little more upscale bar food using local ingredients when possible. I went with the "Good Old Potosi Bratwurst" made with secret seasonings and Good Old Potosi Beer. It's locally made at Weber Meats. A fine piece of encased meat it was. The beers were just as good.

Brat Sandwich served with Beer Battered Onion Rings, the perfect way to end our trip

See ya next time...

Hager Heights Drive In
W7866 170th Ave
Hager City, WI 54014
(715) 792-2118

Great Alma Fishing Float
35 Great River Road
Alma, WI 54610
(651) 380-7296

Trempealeau Hotel Restaurant & Saloon
150 Main Street
Trempealeau, WI 54661
(608) 534-6898 

Potosi Brewing Company
209 South Main Street
Potosi, WI 53820
(608) 763-4002

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