Saturday, August 21, 2010

Wisconsin, Part 2

Sometimes when you find something good, you stick with it. While I am always up for trying a new place, I was glad to return this year to the Paddock Club and find the food there just as spectacular as before. Being a busy time, it can be pretty loud in the restaurant but the food makes up for it. Fresh pasta, amazing seafood and steaks, all prepared flawlessly; it was a stark contrast to the previous night's dinner at the Supper Club. The bustle around us at the Paddock Club made chatting a bit more challenging, but the food was so outstanding that I would be willing to turn up the chatter volume just to delve into another bite of that pasta.

Another treat of going to the races at Elkhart Lake is walking around downtown and seeing the gathering of cars on display. With something for every taste, they range from wildly exotic to antique. We spotted a very new Ferrari 458 Italia, a model which has since been recalled by Ferrari due to a tendency to burst into flames. On the other end of the spectrum was a classic 1960's Citroen, bearing a note describing it's power source as "Rubber Bands." Watching this same little top-heavy gray car go loping around the track the following day, I could see where the owner developed that rubber bands notion. Even at what appeared to be a snail's pace, the little Citroen that could decided it should go exploring and wandered off the track more than once. Just seeing the collection of cars and knowing they were all driven into town and a large portion driven at speed on the track is a memorable experience, especially for a car buff. My own little sliver of heaven was turning a street corner and finding a Lotus Elise parked behind a Morgan Plus 4. Best of all, those weren't the only autos from Morgan and Lotus in an endless sea of offbeat, classic or just memorable wheels.

As we discovered last year, the track food is pretty good. Not to say it's going to win "Gourmet of the Year" awards, but for an event / concession stand food, it's well above average. Last year I noticed how everything was run by local charity groups who seemed to care about selling something truly good, not just typical open the bag & drop in the fryer type items. New this year were the funnel fries. It's basically funnel cake in a basic french-fry shape dusted with powdered sugar. It is as good and artery clogging as it sounds. (Of course I had to try it, funnel cake is a weakness of mine. Fried pat a choux with powdered sugar, what could be wrong with that?)

The next night we went to Siebkens, which is another restaurant located in the heart of Elkhart Lake. It's strong suit is the atmosphere, it's quiet, elegant and a bit of a welcome respite after two days of noise at the track. I think it's one of those places that tries a little too hard and thus misses the mark by a little, but overall my impression was good. I had pan-fried fish and wouldn't hesitate to suggest it to friends, especially for a good quiet dinner in the middle of all the festivities going on around.

After the crowds dwindled and the race fans took off with their toys and tools heading back home, we went back to Elkhart lake for lunch. The difference one day makes is amazing. Parking becomes easy, streets are quiet, it's a typical small town when the out-of-town visitors vanish. Lake Street Cafe was relatively quiet and served up good burgers and excellent fresh made potato chips (another of my guilty pleasures, and on vacation I tend to give into them all.)

This year we also stayed in a different hotel, the Grandstay Suites in Sheboygan. A friend who didn't get to make the trip chose the place and I must say he chose well! It's convenient to Road America, but in walking distance of several restaurants as well as Lake Michigan and a sizable park. The area is very pedestrian and bicyclist friendly, and lots of people were out taking advantage of the pleasantly warm summer weather. According to the local news, the native Wisconsin folks weren't finding the weather so pleasing, but rather "oppressively hot and humid." All I can think there is they need an invitation to certain southern towns during the same seasons. I'm sure as southerner I'd struggle to survive a single Wisconsin winter, so I won't berate them too much over their dislike of the 80 degree temps.

One night we went to Fountain Park Family Restaurant, just a short walk from our hotel. Usually places named "family restaurant" are not on my must-eat-there list, but I went along with our group and it was a good thing too. Everyone that ordered the broasted chicken loved it, and I had one of the best turkey melts I've had anywhere. It wasn't the typical formed turkey parts sliced extra-thin but rather real turkey. Topping of the meal with a piece of tasty red velvet cake truly was the icing on the cake.

While in the area, we made a day of touring around Kohler. We stopped in for lunch at The Horse & Plow, a pub located at the American Club. The history of the area and its presentation is fascinating, its worth walking through the area just for that. Then there's the food at Horse & Plow. It's a bit on the pricey side but to say it is worth it is a phenomenal understatement. All I had was soup and a sandwich, but what a cup of soup and sandwich it was! We started with two kinds of soup, and both were so good I couldn't pick a favorite. The sandwich arrived toasty warm on crisp Parmesan bread with just the right proportions of meat and cheese. No doubt about it, Horse & Plow will be on my "must do" list for the trip next year. For a little desert we also stopped in at Cravere. It's the only place I know of that displays their chocolates like fine jewelry and they're almost too pretty to eat. It didn't stop us from diving into a dose of chocolate bliss with a slice of chocolate layer cake. Just like the rest of Kohler, its not cheap but it's worth the price.

One last stop before heading home included Henning's Cheese Shop. We were a little short on time so we didn't get to take the factory tour, but the selection of cheeses there was nothing short of fantastic. The row of samples was an effective sales tool, I can't say I'd have otherwise bought a block of Mediteranian Sunset Cheese. (Every last bite of it was delicious.) After stopping there, we were really glad we brought the bigger cooler, because we loaded it full of cheeses galore!

This year we found new places and returned to some previous favorites. Either way, going to Elkhart Lake for the races is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything. It still gets some quizzical looks from friends when I tell them I'm going to Wisconsin to vintage car races, but until you experience the area, the food, the people, and of course the spectacular collection of cars, they just can't grasp the appeal. Get ready Wisconsin, I'll be back in 2011 for more of all the goodness the area offers.