|Monday, September 24th, 2012|
12:16a - Midwest Mosey, July 23: New Ulm to Stout's Island
Monday started with another nice breakfast at the Deutsch Strasse: yogurt and fruit "sundaes", house made granola, and a "Crazy German" Quiche. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes on the story behind the name, but somehow it involved a German who had visited Italy and was fascinated by the cuisine there; the recipe involved cheese, ground beef, Italian spices, and possibly mayonnaise.
Dessert was mini chocolate pound cakes, served with strawberry sauce and a dollop of whipped cream.
Deutsch Strasse was a very nice B&B indeed, and we would be glad to return.
We ambled our way out of town with a stop at a German gift shop (unimpressive and inconvenient due to road construction). A wrong turn took us by the memorial featuring Hermann the German, but we didn't go up to enjoy the view.
When we stopped for gas, Lori found one more New Ulm specialty beverage: Buddy's Strawberry Soda. It was pleasant enough, but probably took third place to the 1919 root beer and the Schell's Firebrick beer.
We entered Wisconsin at the little town of Prescott, at the confluence of the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers. In Prescott, we stopped at the Great River Road Learning and Visitor Center. I was concerned about time, so we spent less time there than I would have liked, but it was a fascinating place, and I would have liked to have taken more time there.
It included another preserve of prairie wildflowers:
And balconies with great views of the river:
I really enjoyed our drive along the Great River Road; the road was along bluffs high enough that you could see the river fairly often, but it was a fairly leisurely drive. The scenery was not nearly as dramatic as 2011's drive along Highway 1 through Big Sur, but the drive wasn't nearly as worrisome. It makes me want to take a much longer drive along the Great River Road some time - this would be both scenic and gastronomically pleasant, because it could lead from the Midwest down through the South to end in New Orleans.
Some more pictures from a pulloff down the road:
And some evidence that we were actually here:
Our destination on the Great River Road was Stockholm, Wisconsin. Stockholm is a tiny town - 75 people in 2010 according to Wikipedia. And so it practices one of the strategies little towns use to stay alive: it is trying to maintain a distinctive cultural identity. Stockholm, in fact, is trying to maintain two brands: Swedish community and art haven.
We had arrived in Stockholm with enough time for lunch, so we wanted to check off another Roadfood-listed place with a stop at the Bogus Creek Cafe and Bakery.
We were seated in a shady nook between the bakery and the cafe, but I'm not sure that was a good thing. The shade wasn't enough to overcome the summer heat, the service was extremely slow, and we were vexed by flies buzzing about.
Our judgment of the food is no doubt colored by the experience of dining there, but both of us found our food rather ordinary in a slightly-fancy way that is fairly common to find. My BLAT sandwich (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato) was good, but not as good as what I can make at home when tomatoes are in season. Lori's chicken salad in puff pastry was pretty, but the puff pastry was tough, and the chicken salad was undistinguished; Lori left a lot of it uneaten.
But before we left Stockholm, we had a very important stop to make: the Stockholm Pie Company. buffetbuster has praised Stockholm as his favorite pie maker of all - and he has tried a great many pies, so we trust his judgment in such matters. We mentioned to the proprietor that we were here on his recommendation, and she remembered him passing through a few weeks previously.
After we ordered, Jan told us that we had chosen the same pies that buffetbuster had. This isn't entirely coincidence. We chose the lemon pie because I had read the trip report in which he and cousin Johnny called it one of the best pies ever, and we chose the sour cream raisin pie because buffetbuster has called it his favorite pie, and so we were eating it at every opportunity.
The lemon pie was worth recommending. Lori's notes say "Oooooooooooooooohhh. Soooo good". The filling was a layer of lemon chess pie topped with a layer of lemon chiffon, with a clear bright lemon taste that was rounded and softened with custard. But I care as much or more about the crust, and this crust was excellent, tender and flaky and just right.
The sour cream raisin pie was different from the three sour cream raisin pies we'd had in the previous two days; it was much more solid - solid enough that you could see half-bubbles in the edge of the filling - and topped with whipped cream instead of meringue. It was still very good, but it required a bit of adjustment of expectations. This makes me curious whether there are other places that serve this variation of sour cream raisin pie - I do not know, because this was the last sour cream raisin pie of our trip.
One delightful thing about pie: you can get pie to go, if you choose a reasonably stable filling. Jan talked us into a slice of triple berry pie for the road without much difficulty. I confess: I really we enjoy being upsold on pie. We were coaxed to take an extra piece at the Farmer's Kitchen and the Stockholm Pie Company, and it just made me grin every time.
I would have liked to stop at the Swedish heritage museum, and Lori would have loved to stop at all the artsy shops (and the Little House in the Big Woods site was just down the road in Pepin), but we pressed on because I was concerned about time. Normally, we're willing to drive until late, but this night we had special plans: we were planning to stay at Stout's Island Lodge, and the ferry to the island runs hourly and stops at 8pm.
It was a good thing that we made time to Stout's Island Lodge, because we ran into some complications. When I double-checked the time estimate that Google had given us, I discovered that Google had been locating Stout's Island in a different lake half an hour away. Our GPS app didn't find Stout's Island Lodge when we searched by that name. When we copied the street address of the ferry from the website and pasted it into Google Maps, Google did figure out the correct lake, but it showed us a location on the wrong side of the lake. Finally we got success by giving our GPS app the specific address.
We finally arrived at the ferry wharf at about 6:30, only to discover that this was not the end of our complications. We discovered that I had been wrong about the schedule for the ferry - the ferry from the island to the mainland departs on the hour, but the ferry from the mainland to the island departs at quarter to the hour.
The more serious complication was that the staff had no record of our reservation. And there were signs that were very emphatic that reservations were required. Fortunately, they could and did accommodate us, but for a few moments, we entertained horrible visions of our anticipated night of luxury getting wrecked.
Stout's Island Lodge was built as the summer home of a wealthy Chicago lumber baron (and then built again a few years later after insects ate the wood because the bark was left on. I didn't know about that, but I'm surprised that a lumber baron would make that mistake.)
The view of the lake from the ferry dock:
Arriving at the island:
From the boathouse on the island:
So the up side of going to Stout's Island on Monday is that we were able to visit when we might otherwise have missed out. But the down side is that Monday appears to be the night off for the staff. We received an abbreviated menu, and even then several items on the menu were unavailable. And although the menu talked about how their ingredients were fresh and locally sourced, the items on the menu weren't very local.
We were on an island and the last ferry had departed, so I definitely wasn't going to be driving anywhere. So I had a beer: a Shine On ale from Central Waters brewery in Amherst, Wisconsin. (The name is a testament to their efforts with solar energy.) I liked that it was local and eco-friendly, but the beer itself was just fairly good.
Lori ordered the one thing that seemed local: the Stout's Island Melt.
The muffuletta I ordered may have been the second most local thing on the menu, but it was rife with errors. It arrived at the table missing one half of the upper bun. The server offered to get another one, but then took a long time to fetch it. And when she did, it was cut the wrong way. Let me explain: if you look at the picture of the uncovered half-sandwich, the long direction of the rectangular sandwich is pointing upward, and the top point of the triangle is at the left. The waitress brought me a whole bun, diagonally sliced - but sliced in such a way that if one of the triangles were put in the same position, the top point of the triangle would be on the right.
Now, this gastronomic tale has already shifted away from being a story about food and toward being a story about what it's like to be me. So I have no idea if others would care, but for me, this mismatch bugged me no end. But I didn't want to complain, because service had already been slow and error-prone, and even though the geometric mismatch made me grit my teeth in vexation, I'd feel like an overly picky customer if I tried to ask for another roll, sliced along the other diagonal. So I used one of the bottom halves of the roll, which had the right shape but provided less bread than the top half of the bun, and I ate in silence. (I feel confident that some of my readers can easily imagine how this annoyed me like an unreachable itch, and some of my readers will have no why I'm making any fuss at all. To that latter group, let me just acknowledge that this is one of the ways I am peculiar.)
The muffuletta itself was not that great; the olive tapenade it used is not the same as the olive salad that goes on a muffuletta. I am not a stickler for authenticity, and in fact my favorite muffuletta is not the authentic Central Grocery muffuletta, but this was not anywhere in the same league.
For dessert, we shared the "homemade s'mores": a layer of shortbread, topped with a house made chocolate marshmallow, topped with ice cream. This dessert was unpleasant and possibly ill-conceived. The big problem was the marshmallow; it was extremely tough, even leathery. It may be that this was a day-old marshmallow, but I believe that even a fresh marshmallow will toughen up if subjected to the chill of, say, a scoop of ice cream. And this provided a perfect example of layersquish: it was absolutely impossible to cut through this more-tenacious-than-taffy marshmallow without pulverizing the shortbread underneath and mashing the ice cream into goop.
The one consolation: we realized that we had a piece of triple-berry pie from the Stockholm Pie Company back in our room. This was great, with intense berry flavors, and it was made even sweeter by the sense of triumph that we had gotten a great dessert despite our the dismal s'mores.
Lori: The dinner at Stout's Island may have been uninspiring, but the place was grand. Our evening ride over the water was lovely…the water reflected the blues of the sky and the greens of the leaves. The lodge is a sprawling one and two story collection of wings connected by screened walkways and each room has either a private or a shared porch. These screened walkways and porches have a "treehouse" feel, especially on the second floor. The island also has a collection of cabins one can rent, which would be really nice for a family.
I can best explain the vibe and feel of the place as a lovely resort that somehow also ends up feeling like the setting for a Scooby Doo episode, or perhaps one of Murder She Wrote. Our room was gorgeous. It was done in shades of blue and green, and we slept in an antique four poster bed. I believe every room has a view of the lake, I really enjoyed the view from our room.
After dinner, we walked around the island as the sun set. Sunset on the water is always a magical time, and we walked around, just drinking it in.
There is supposedly a bonfire each night, but I think the combination of light rain and Monday convinced the staff not to try it that night. This was ok. Once the sun set, we enjoyed our pie and some good books in our room, and I wandered around the halls of the main lodge a bit. I'm sure the "Scooby Doo" episode feeling was enhanced by the fact that while we weren't the only guests, there weren't too many staying the night. Despite this feeling, no bookcases revolved, no ghostly hand grabbed at mine, and my wandering was pretty uneventful. I could imagine a murder mystery weekend there being a lot of fun. I have no idea if they do these, but what a great setting for one!
I should also say that the lodge has a lot of beautiful details, like the carved beams in the main entrance room. We really enjoyed our stay at Stout's Island, and hope to visit again someday.
Time-lapse of the drive from New Ulm to Stout's Island:
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