Local foods are making their way out of city bistros and back to eateries in smaller towns where such products come from in the first place. Last spring Steve Fearing and Lisa Buttonow took over the former Wounded Knee bar in Lime Ridge, Wisconsin, population 169, on the northwestern edge of Sauk County. They reopened it in May as the Branding Iron Roadhouse, featuring burgers made from his own pasture-raised, all-natural Fearing Angus beef, reared on land just outside of town.
Fearing, who started with eight Black Angus heifers in 2003 (he now has 92), says that "the bar business isn't what it used to be. People don't just sit around and drink any more. I wanted food to be our number one item." Most bar owners get their meat from the big distributors, Fearing notes, and he acknowledges that his way is "pretty labor intensive."
The Branding Iron Roadhouse is a pleasant, wood-paneled country tap with a pool table, dart game, a couple of booths, and of course a Friday fish fry. In addition to Wisco traditions like Sunday Packers Bloody Mary parties and a "biggest buck" contest, you'll find something you won't necessarily find at other area taverns -- Wisconsin microbrews on tap, including Potosi, New Glarus and Capital.
Cheeseburgers come topped with a choice of Carr Valley Cheese, headquarters of which are a couple miles north of Lime Ridge on County Highway G. (Fearing's dad used to haul milk for Carr Valley years ago.) Buns are baked fresh for the Roadhouse by Esther's, an Amish bakery nearby. Fearing picks them up from the bakery still warm "and I always just have to eat one, going back to the bar."
Are you sitting down, city dweller? The price for this quite tasty burger is $3.75; with cheese, $4.50. Specialty burgers with such add-ons as bacon, caramelized onions, pan roasted peppers or fried mushrooms are $5.75.
Business has been good -- Fearing credits October's Reedsburg Fermentation Fest country tour for bringing in visitors from as far away as Chicago and Minneapolis. Customers also come more regularly from towns like Reedsburg, which Fearing appreciates: "I'm one of those people who'll drive someplace to eat good food."