“4 dining destinations in Wisconsin worth a road trip”
Chelsey Lewis, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published May 16, 2018
Road trip food is usually a matter of convenience — something fast and portable, consumed for sustenance at the expense of quality.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Couldn’t a road trip’s destination be food? A good meal shared with friends and family is as worthy an experience as snapping a selfie in front of a waterfall.
Hit the road this summer for these worthy dining destinations around Wisconsin.
Destination: supper club
I would drive a thousand miles for the perch at the Maiden Lake Supper Club, 15649 Maiden Lake Road, Mountain. I’m no food critic, but when you grow up on Wisconsin fish fries, you learn to tell a good perch from a bad one, and Maiden Lake’s is one of the best.
It felt like I had driven that many miles exploring the waterfalls of Marinette County last summer before I ended up at Maiden Lake. I arrived before the supper club began serving, a fortuitous turn as I put my name and selection in (orders are taken at the bar before you’re seated) and watched the bar fill while I sipped a brandy Old Fashioned. Even on a Thursday night in mid-May, patrons crowded in and spilled out onto the deck overlooking the lake.
Dinner begins with supper club classics of a relish tray, a mini loaf of bread, soup and a salad. The main course was worth the wait: lightly fried, melt-in-your-mouth perch and a juicy center-cut tenderloin.
The stupendous view of Maiden Lake from the three walls of windows that surround the dining room is a bonus.
In the area: This is a road trip, so make time for some other stops in the area. To the north, Cathedral Pines State Natural Area in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest protects an old-growth stand of hemlocks and pines, plus a great blue heron rookery. Find a trailhead to explore the area on Cathedral Drive off Archibald Lake Road (FR 2121) south of Townsend.
Get a dose of whitewater rafting with Shotgun Eddy on the Wolf River in Menominee County. The Smokey Falls full-day trip gives the biggest thrill, with class 3 and 4 rapids. All trips through Shotgun Eddy are unguided; for guided trips, head north to outfitters on the Peshtigo and Menominee rivers including Kosir’s (715-757-3431, kosirs.com), Thornton’s (715-757-3311, thorntonsresort.com) and Wildman (888-813-8524, wildmanranch.com).
Destination: pizza farm
Until you’ve enjoyed pizza on a farm, it’s hard to describe what makes it such a special experience.
At Stoney Acres Farm, 7002 Rangeline Road, Athens, crowds gather on Fridays and Saturdays for thin-crust pies made with organic ingredients grown onsite and baked in outdoor pizza ovens. Blankets, folding chairs and picnic tables serve as informal seating outside, and kids, free from the bounds of booths and restaurant walls, are free to run and play while waiting. It’s probably how all meals should be enjoyed: casually, comfortably, at the source.
New this year, Stoney Acres has begun brewing beer and cider made with their own barley, wheat and in the future, hops. The beer is only served at pizza nights, in pints, pitchers or growlers. Organic wine and sodas are also available.
Vegetarian options are available, but not gluten-free. Visitors are permitted to bring their own gluten-free crust to use with Stoney Acres’ toppings for a reduced fee. Carry-in beverages are not permitted, but visitors can bring other food to eat with their pizza.
Be prepared for waits of an hour or longer in the summer. But waiting is part of the experience, offering a chance to slow down and enjoy friends, family and the beautiful Wisconsin countryside.
Pizza nights are from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday through Nov. 3, rain or shine. There is limited indoor seating in case of inclement weather.
In the area: Thirty miles north of the farm is Timm’s Hill, the highest point in Wisconsin at 1,951 feet. A short hike from a parking lot near the top of the hill leads to an observation tower for views of the surrounding countryside.
More views abound at Rib Mountain State Park south of Wausau. In 2013 a surveyor measured the elevation of the highest rock on top of the “mountain” at 1,941.75 feet. Trails wind around the top and sides of the 1.5-billion-year-old quartzite, and a 60-foot observation tower provides views from above the tree canopy.
Destination: barn restaurant
Freehands Farm Restaurant, 60446 Summit Road West, Ashland, is a kind of Pinterest-Instagram dream, with a curved barn opening to a vista of Wisconsin farmland and the setting sun, and strings of lights draped above tables donned with eclectic tablecloths. It’s no surprise the spot is popular for weddings.
But this isn’t fabricated for social media — Freehands is the real deal. The working farm serves an ever-changing menu of food sourced from local farms, including their own. Each night has a theme, with Wednesday featuring hand-tossed pizzas, pastas and salads; Thursdays are for tapas; Fridays and Saturdays feature fresh-caught Lake Superior fish, steak and other entrees; and Sundays are for brunch.
Freehands is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June through August. Reservations are recommended.
In the area: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is why many people travel to this area of Wisconsin, and the islands are worth it. Take the ferry from Bayfield to La Pointe on Madeline Island, the only island not part of the lakeshore, home to beautiful Big Bay State Park. Or hop in a kayak or on a cruise boat to get to the other islands, some that feature dramatic red-orange sandstone sea caves.
South Shore Brewery now boasts breweries in both Ashland and Washburn. The Ashland brewery is housed in a historic brick and brownstone building downtown that is also home to two restaurants that serve the beer, the Deep Water Grille and The Alley. The newer Washburn tap house has more limited hours but offers tours.
Destination: diner in a forest
Delta Diner, 14385 County Highway H, Delta, is far from a secret, but its location in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin still makes it feel like one.
The refurbished 1940 diner shines like a mirage from the past amid the pines and hardwoods of the surrounding forest. Inside, servers recite the carefully crafted menu of diner food with sophisticated twists: Mexican eggs Benedict with a homemade chipotle-chorizo-chili sauce, French toast stuffed with mascarpone cheese and fresh blueberries, and mac and cheese made with seven types of cheese and andouille sausage.
Tips for the staff are included in menu prices. Waits can be long on summer weekends. It’s open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Friday. Monday is burger day, with burgers served from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., or until they’re gone.
In the area: You’re on national forest land — might as well enjoy it. Pick up the North Country National Scenic Trail at a trailhead off W. Delta Road (FR 228) to the southwest and hike south to traverse the Rainbow Lake Wilderness.
About 35 miles west of the diner, stop by Amnicon Falls State Park to see a handful of picturesque waterfalls along the Amnicon River. Nearby, Pattison State Park is home to two waterfalls, including the state’s largest, Big Manitou.