Wisconsin: Eats and Treats

We weren’t in Wisconsin very long. Less than 48 hours, but we managed to get in a few note-worthy treats anyway.

Hotel Chequamegon – Molly Cooper’s Restaurant
Ashland

We headed to the Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland for lunch on our one full day in Wisconsin. We had read about it in our faithful travel companion, Road Trip, USA and decided to give it a whirl. Patio seating was a must, as the view was too beautiful to pass on.

Before we could order, the dark clouds on the horizon began to get darker and we decided that it was possible we wouldn’t make it through the meal without being rained on, so we moved inside. After a review of the menu we ordered up some deep fried cheese curds. A local specialty always requires a try.

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I wasn’t very impressed. It was mostly just batter with just a touch of the curd inside. The batter was good, but with how these things are raved about (even our waitress went on and on about them), I expected more.

For lunch, I ordered the soup and salad combo – tomato soup with grilled ham and cheese. Sriram had the Northern Chowder – essentially clam chowder with rice. Both of our meals were good, but nothing fantastic. I’d rate it probably not worth the stop.

Benoit Cheese
Benoit

The best thing to happen at the Hotel Chequamegon was that as we were leaving a brochure for a cheese store happened to catch my eye. Since it was (sort of) on our way to our next location, we decided to make the detour. From the outside, the Benoit Cheese Shop doesn’t look like much. From the direction we came in, it didn’t seem to be near much else either. It was definitely an out of the way place that we never would have happened upon if not for the brochure.

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It was busy inside. There were 5 others in the small shop when we arrived. A couple was at the counter having a tasting and another group was waiting to make a purchase or two. Since we’d be waiting a bit, we decided to check out all the cheeses in the various cases. They had a very impressive collection of cheeses, as well as some other local products (honeys, candles, brick-a-brack, etc.). I loved this particular collection.

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We patiently waited and let a few people who had come in after us jump ahead of us since we’d be lingering and not just purchasing. It was worth the wait. When we finally had the chance to sample some of the cheeses, we were very impressed. Pam, who was super sweet and friendly, helped us out with the tasting. Not only did she offer some favorites, but asked about all of our preferences (another group did the tasting with us) in order to pull out other cheeses we might like.

There was really good variety. We started with a series of Goudas. As cheeses go, Gouda doesn’t necessarily top my list – still, they were quite tasty. We tried a few spicy varieties that were quite good. Sriram even tried the Ghost cheese. When I looked to him to see if I should give it a whirl, he merely shook his head. I passed. Our favorite ended up being a BellaVitano Raspberry. It was so delicious we purchased some before leaving. We also picked up some of their cheddar. It will definitely make for very nice snack over the next week. What a wonderful stop. And the best part? They have an online shop so I can order from home.

The Pickled Herring
Bayfield

Our final Wisconsin meal was at the Pickled Herring after our Apostle Islands Cruise. It was chosen predominantly because it was open and nearby when we docked. We were both rather hungry by then. We shared the “Appetizer Special” (Jalapeno Potato Bites served with Buffalo Cheese Sauce), which was quite tasty.

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Then I actually decided to go for it and get some fish – sort of. I ordered the Buffalo Fish Wrap (Fresh Bayfield Fish topped with Romaine Lettuce, Tomato and our Buffalo Relish – Crumbled Blue Cheese, Chopped Red Onion, Celery and Bacon) Wrapped in a Flour Tortilla with Buffalo Hot Sauce). I figured with all of that stuff in there, I’d barely be able to tell it was fish. That pretty much turned out to be true. It was quite good, with the “relish” bordering on outstanding.

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Sriram also ordered fish, and found his a little too fishy, but that’s apparently true of trout. So, not really the fault of the restaurant. Overall, it was a very good meal and the service was good. I’d definitely recommend a stop in.

Feel free to ask questions. And tell us about your great meals on the road.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Welcome to our one and only adventure in Wisconsin (although – definitely see the upcoming “Eats and Treats” for the info on our trip to the Benoit Cheese Company, which was a mini-adventure).

The draw in Wisconsin was definitely the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior (it’s starting to seem like we have moved to the Lake). The Apostle Islands archipelago is made up of 21 islands, the first twenty having been declared a National Lakeshore by Congress in 1970 (the other would come in the 80’s). The varying islands played a big part in the early fur trade and through the years have had fishing, logging, and rock quarrying ventures.

We arrived in Bayfield, home to the Apostle Islands Visitor’s Center for information and to get our National Parks stamp and view the exhibits.

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You can visit many of the islands to hike or picnic, but one of the best ways to see the park is by boat. I wasn’t up for more kayaking, so we booked a Sunset Grand Tour with Apostle Island Cruises. With almost an hour before our boat tour, we walked around the small waterfront and happened upon the Bayfield Maritime Museum. The museum chronicled the evolution of boats and ships in the area, starting with the birch canoes used by the Indians to sail powered commercial fishing crafts and more.

As I’ve found with any historical look at the Great Lakes, it would not be complete without information about shipwrecks. The Bayfield Maritime Museum was no exception. As you can see, there were quite a few.

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At 5:15, we boarded the Superior Princess. The boat was not very crowded, so everyone had the option to be inside or out (and I think nearly everyone started outside and ended up inside, including us). The winds and the cool evening temperature quickly had us retreating inside, but the windows opened, so it was still good for photography.

As the tour made its way around the Islands, Captain Pat acted as both Captain and story-teller. The majority of the islands are seen from a distance. Trees and shoreline – very pretty, but after some of our previous adventures, not as overwhelming a view. For a while I was thinking that perhaps this would be the big dud of our trip. Still, some of the islands had interesting stories.

Manitou Island has been restored to a 1930’s fishing camp that used to operate there.

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Captain Pat told a story about a ranger who spent a full season on the island. No cable, no internet, just isolation and nature (I found myself singing, “No phones, no lights, no motor cars…” in my head). Another had once been trapped in the outhouse by a bear. She’d luckily had her radio with her, and had radioed another ranger who’d come over to the island and managed to scare the bear off. When the other ranger asked if there was anything else he could help with, she said, “Wait right there,” fetched her things, and left with him never to return. I can’t say that I blame her.

Another story was told about Skar the bear (though I don’t know if it’s simply a fanciful story to make a point). After tourists had taken it upon themselves to feed the bears, Skar began to get aggressive and was raiding camps. Many things were tried to correct the problem before he simply had to be removed from the island. He was brought to North Dakota and put into the wild there. When the rangers went back to the island the following season, Skar greeted them on the dock. Skar (now stuffed) still greets visitors at the island’s visitor center to serve as a reminder that feeding wildlife will often lead to the animal’s death.

Moving on to more islands, a watchful eye on the highest treetops revealed eagles on watch, which always leaves me wishing for a lens even bigger than the 200mm lens I borrowed from my sister for the trip.

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Things had gotten more interesting, but it was still not as impressive as some of our previous adventures. But then, they’d saved the best for last. It’s Devil’s Island where you finally get to see what all of the fuss is about. The shoreline is a wonderful burst of color and jagged rock. The natural sea caves are both beautiful and fascinating. It makes for dramatic scenery around the lighthouse.

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The trip back was uneventful and once back in town we grabbed a bite to eat before settling in for the night. A new state tomorrow. Wisconsin – we hardly knew ya. Perhaps someday we’ll get back and explore more of what the Apostle Islands have to offer.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions. We love getting feedback on the trip.