Could be one or two sneaky snowstorms still lurking out there behind the snow blower, but for the most part, looks like we made it through another winter. How better to celebrate those newly unhazardous roads than to combine two great American pastimes ' driving and eating ' and visit some memorable restaurants in nearby towns?
So put away your scrapers and get out the map. First stop is a spot about 25 miles west of Middleton on Highway 14 in Arena ' a little past the Bait 'n Liquor store and right behind the Citgo station. After that we'll head a little
further west to Spring Green, and then we'll do an about-face and drive to Delafield to put a little partay on.
214 U.S. Highway 14, Arena, 608-753-2046
Breaking the bolts of cabin fever and hitting the road, wouldn't you know that the first thing that caught my attention was breakfast? But this wasn't your typical eggs over easy with a side of hash browns, bacon and toast ' it was the Scotsman breakfast at Luckenbooth Restaurant in Arena. We've got lorne sausage, potato scones, fried bread and eggs any way you like.
Open just three months, the Luckenbooth is owned by Cliff and Yvonne Hooks, who aim to bring real food back into restaurants. 'Other than lunch and supper, breakfast is by far my favorite meal,' says Cliff, and where most places stop serving it come lunchtime, breakfast is an all-day affair at the Luckenbooth. Yvonne based the sausage recipe on sausage she had growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, and now she has the local butcher make it up for them.
The recipe's a proprietary deal, of course, but I did pry out that it's a double-ground combination of beef and pork. It's loosely mixed and shaped into a square patty. Peppery and filled with sustenance, lorne sausage is Yvonne's favorite menu item. 'It's the taste that takes me home,' she says.
Yvonne's yummy potato scones are made fresh every day with plenty of sour cream and butter and cooked on a griddle ' as is the white bread toast. Sprayed with olive oil, this white bread is fried alongside the eggs, scones and sausage. Baking-powder biscuits topped with rib-stickin' sausage gravy are also on the menu, as well as Texas French toast and waffles.
If you've already had breakfast, try a made-from-scratch soup; or chili topped with onions, cheese and sour cream; or one of the classic sandwiches or wraps. If you're in on a Saturday, be sure to order bangers and mash ' link sausage in a natural casing, smothered with boiled onions and savory gravy and served atop mashed potatoes. For the little ones there's a Wee Nessie menu offering Toad in the Hole ' grilled bread with an eggie in the middle ' as well as Monkey Toast, and Wee and Big Nessie Burgers.
Then there's the pie. Little did I know I was on the precipice of forgetting what real pie crust was supposed to taste like until I tried Cliff's banana cream pie. If that's too decadent for you, try a mashed-potato doughnut with cinnamon sugar, or a slice of lovely fresh strawberry bread.
As an added bonus, Yvonne offers a dozen or so teas. 'From the age of five, all I ever wanted was a wee tearoom,' she says, 'to share the pleasure of tea with everyone. I knew that all of life's problems could be swept away with a cup of tea.'
Spring Green General Store
137 S. Albany St., Spring Green, 608-588-7070
Back in the car, we're headed for the Spring Green General Store in the land of Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin and the world-class American Players Theatre. Spring Green, in Sauk County, has a population of 1,585 ' thrice that of the metropolis of Arena.
Originally a cheese warehouse, the big blue building a block west of Highway 23 next to the railroad tracks is now a come-as-you-are cafÃ and gift store owned by Karin and Todd Miller. According to Todd, the store does about 50% retail and 50% food, and approximately 70% of the menu is vegetarian. Karin and Todd have preserved the feel of the 1960s with their tie-dyed menu.
The daily fare is breakfast and lunch, and late lunch ' they close at 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and at 4 p.m. Sundays. During the week, a continental breakfast is offered, which includes vanilla yogurt with granola and Craisins, and cinnamon toast with maple cream-cheese frosting. And there's always fresh-baked turnovers, Danish and muffins.
Every Saturday and Sunday from 8 p.m. to noon they offer a full-blown breakfast of frittatas, breakfast tostadas, plate-size pancakes, cinnamon-roll French toast, English muffin egg sandwiches and chilaquiles ' crisp corn tortilla pieces topped with onion, peppers, eggs and Jack cheese, served with salsa. Tofu chilaquiles with more veggies are also offered.
We tried a few of the lunch offerings, including the hummus and vegetable sub sandwich ' lemony hummus topped with tomato, shredded bell pepper and lettuce, stuffed in a baguette ' a light, refreshing sandwich that won't make you nod off once you're back in the office. The vegetarian chili has kidney, pinto and black beans and a mess of vegetables. It's delicate, but feel free to jack it up with sour cream, Monterey Jack cheese, salsa and chips. Or get the chili platter, where it's served on a bed of Mexican rice with a side salad.
Be sure to allow enough time to shop the retail half. Karin does the buying and has an exceptional eye for women's clothing and jewelry. There are also gourmet condiments and spices, whimsical gifts and greeting cards.
Oh, and did I mention the great selection of microbrews? There's even Lake Louie Brewing beer, made right down the road in Arena.
Fishbone's Cajun & Creole Restaurant
1704 Milwaukee St., Delafield, 262-646-4696
New direction, new vibe. Fifty miles east of Madison in Waukesha County you'll find Fishbone's Cajun & Creole Restaurant, on the shore of Lake Nagawicka in Delafield.
For the last seven years, owner Dennis Sobczak and chef Jessie Souza have been throwing one helluva party. It hits you all at once ' from the vibrant orange, turquoise and purple paint splashed on the walls, to the cranked B.B. King and the Mardi Gras beads the server hands you with your menu.
Open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday, Fishbone's offers a full bar with the likes of hurricanes, mint juleps, martinis and mojitos. We sampled several appetizers, including the Cajun dusted fried alligator served with an onion rÃmoulade. Chef Souza says they go through 50 to 75 pounds of alligator a week. They use the sirloin part of the alligator, which accounts for its tenderness. Alligator is also found in the chili, along with beef tenderloin and andouille sausage. The chili won a local cooking contest several years ago, and the customers insisted it be on the menu.
We tried the sautÃed crawfish ' a whole heapin' half pound of sweet crawfish-tail meat sautÃed in butter and brandy. It proved to be a whole pound of tasty.
Moving along to the entrÃes, we hit the first one listed ' Jambalaya Ya Ya, which was extremely satisfying. A mixture of shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, tasso ham and crawfish in a rich, piquant sauce, it is served in a 28-ounce bowl over rice, producing a stew-like consistency. We thought it was a hit, and apparently other folks do too. Fishbone's goes through up to 40 gallons a week.
We also found their Ragin' Cajun Pasta very comforting. It has been on the menu since day one, Souza says: 'If I took this off the menu, I think someone would kill me.' A mix of shrimp, chicken, andouille sausage, mushroom and tomatoes is served over spaghetti pasta, then draped in a delicate, spicy-yet-sweet cream sauce that has a hint of cinnamon.
Other selections that caught my eye: catfish tacos, the Mo' Biggah Muffuletta, seared jumbo sea scallop salad, bouillabaisse and a Nawlins favorite, vegetable ÃtouffÃe.
We finished with a slice of Key lime pie that teases a rush of wet pucker out of your saliva glands. Held together with just enough gelatin to keep it from collapsing, the silky custard body was barely strong enough to support the massive dollop of whipped cream ' so we had to eat it really fast.