November 24, 2017

River Valley Farm Table on Wilson Avenue

I can sniff out new food concerns at forty yards so I came to a screeching halt in front of
signage that said “River Valley Farmer’s Table” at 1820 W. Wilson. Upon walking inside, the first room is a small shop that features both shelf stable, refrigerated and frozen food items like salsas, pickled mushrooms and pasta sauces that use River Valley Ranch grown produce. The second adjoining room has a lit deli case with cheeses, prepared salads, house smoked corned beef and ham plus a limited number of places for sit-down dining. There’s even a little room to the west with the eponymous farm table available for private parties. They now have a liquor license so you can have wine, cocktails or craft beer with your meals.

I recently had lunch there and was impressed with green tomatoes lightly fried with cornmeal and buttermilk over a salad that had pickled vegetables as well as greens dressed with a vinegar and cream concoction. I would order this again in a heartbeat. Asparagus and mushroom tamales were light and flavorful. Those same mushrooms and asparagus were used for a chunky and non-red chili served by the cup or bowl. My dining companion David had a burger featuring grass-fed beef and proclaimed it tasty. Sweets were tempting us at the check-out station, but we remained stoic in the face of mouth-watering cookies, pastries and candies.

Their tag line is “Come in for a sandwich and Passionhouse coffee, and leave with ingredients for dinner.” I went home with a delicious loaf of sourdough bread my first visit. I will return for the Sunday brunch and one of those damn fine looking cookies.

My friend Zehava let me know that the River Valley Ranch sells its goods at many of the city’s farmers markets and they have a food store featuring their products in Burlington, Wisconsin where the Fox River Valley farm is located.

Cultural hub in Sheboygan

One of the highlights of a visit to Sheboygan was  the John Michael Kohler Art Center, an astounding 100,000 square feet of fine arts, performing arts, and outdoor gardens.
They have eclectic art exhibits, a charming performing arts stage, and an all-purpose space used for food service, private events and dance concerts. This is a veritable cultural hub for the Sheboygan community.

Sheboygan Riverfront pub

Another lovely establishment encountered during our Wisconsin sojourn was the Duke of Devon located on Sheboygan’s historic river front. One of our hosts treated us to beverages there and the atmosphere at this English Pub was fantastic. I would heartily recommend a non-alcoholic drink I tried called a “pressé” which comes in flavors such as elderflower, lime, lemongrass, and pomegranate raspberry being the one I tried.
The extensive menu entices me to come back for dinner next visit.
Note the weathered wood clapboard structures called “the Shanties” throughout this picturesque river front area.

French “auberge” in Wisconsin

While touring with French song specialist Claudia Hommel, we had the great good fortune to become acquainted with Château De Père near Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Actually in the town of De Père (the natives pronounce it “ duh pier”), this 36 room inn boasts spa-like bathrooms, gas fireplaces and large flat screen TVs as well as a restaurant/bar named Cafe Chanson open for lunch and dinner. Right next door is the idyllic Voyageur Park running along the Fox River, perfect for dining al fresco. The next time you want to see the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, consider booking a room at this conveniently located and very French lodging option in the Green Bay environs.

Milwaukee Art Museum

Consider a day trip to Milwaukee to see the awe-inspiring Quadracci Pavilion, the Santiago Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum. On approach, the building shimmers like a giant white bird on the edge of Lake Michigan, the avian theme reinforced as the 217-foot wingspan unfolds twice daily. The Reiman Bridge provides a dramatic entryway to Windhover Hall, a 90-foot-high vaulted glass ceiling space where patrons buy tickets and decide their destinations. This is cutting edge architecture from the sweeping views to the Escher-like corridors to the clean lines of the ground floor cafe and terrace.
Don’t miss the old area of the museum where treasures await, from furniture to masterpieces from every era. Of particular note is the Mrs. Harry L. Bradley Collection, a whole floor of American and European masterpieces from the late 19th century to the early 1970’s. Mrs. Bradley had her own dining and living rooms set up in the museum so she could entertain guests amid her donated possessions.

Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive,
 Milwaukee, WI 53202
414-224-3200: visitor services

Genesee Depot Cafe

Just minutes from Ten Chimneys, we had a delightful lunch in the downtown area at the Genesee Depot Cafe, an eclectic yet cozy diner with a menu for all tastes. Taken over in  June 2009 by Tina and Jason Heinonen, the husband and wife team see that the kitchen turns out well-made traditional as well as unusual fare.

My brother-in-law, a vegan, ordered a vegetable sandwich with avocado. My husband was in seventh heaven with a real chocolate shake, a BLT and fries. I was somewhere in the dietary middle with chicken lime soup, turkey on basil tomato bread and cucumber and lime in my water. Who would even consider eating at a chain fast food place?

We ordered frozen pasties (meat pies) and peach crisp to go. They even supplied ice to keep our food cool until Chicago. When we had dinner later that evening, the pastry crust and filling were absolutely just like grandma would make, if granny were a really good cook.

Genesee Depot Cafe, S42 W31238 Hwy. 83, Genesee Depot, WI

(262) 968-9830

Ten Chimneys

I finally made it to the absolutely charming Ten Chimneys, the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne home in Genesee Depot, Wisconsin. My brother-in-law, Bart, had worked on several pieces of the estate furniture during the restoration so he, along with our friendly and well-informed docent, provided some fascinating information on the Lunts, their home and their summer guests.

This is no grand scale palace; in fact, many rooms are tiny by Versailles comparison.These buildings have more in common with Marie-Antoinette’s little play farm. What the estate lacks in size, it more than makes up for in sheer beauty and ingenuity which may have been the attraction for luminaries such as Noel Coward, Helen Hayes, Charlie Chaplin, Edna Ferber and Carol Channing among many others.

A quote from guest Katherine Hepburn seems to sum up the spirit at Ten Chimneys: “Every time I was visiting with the Lunts in Genesee Depot I was in a sort of daze of wonder; the dining room, the table, the china, the silver, the food, the extraordinary care and beauty and taste…a sort of dream, a vision.”

Some of the visual beguilement is due to set designer and artist, Claggett Wilson who planned to visit for 2 months and ended up staying 2 years as he painted furniture, walls and even ceilings with his distinctive figurative and decorative work. Alfred Lunt himself was a jack-of-all-trades, from fabricating his own dumb-waiter to painting scenes on walls, to managing a creamery and other farm buildings to cooking gourmet meals for his ever-changing array of guests.

In the main residence, don’t miss the painted Steinway grand piano with its six cloven-hoofed legs and the Old Testament murals in the salon, the “bird bath” mural in the upstairs bathroom, and the David Belasco casting couch in the upstairs sitting room; in the red cottage, look for the Syrie Maugham designed white on white bedroom or the red herring joke in the Swedish grocery list on the back door of the cottage kitchen; on the walking tour, the red and white pool cabana with its solar heated shower and the rustic Swedish studio with its Scandinavian flavor will delight you.

It’s possible to view just the home, but I recommend touring the whole estate, including the studio, the farm buildings and the pool. Groups of 8 congregate at a new visitors building and are taken by shuttle bus to the grounds across the highway and are led by two docents in a two hour tour.

This is a must not only for theater-lovers, but for those wanting to spend a day away from the hustle and bustle of urban living if only to imagine oneself playing Scrabble with Sir Laurence Olivier, humming along to tunes played by Noel Coward or having one’s photo taken by Cecil Beaton in the Wisconsin greenery.

Ten Chimneys, Foundation Home of Alfred Lune and Lynn Fontanne