Meatless in Wisconsin

My parents recently sent me a link to an article in the New York Times about a vegetarian moving to Kansas City. They thought I could relate. Eating out in my homeland definitely got a little trickier when I decided to quit meat. It isn’t a problem in Madison where you can get your (vegan) chili from Weary Traveler minus the beef or macaroni and cheese from Mickey’s Tavern (hold the kielbasa). Things get a little dicier when you head all-points north, south, east and west. And I spend a lot of time traveling around this state with my guitar and harmonica-playing mate. While I may feel better these days (I’m still quite happy with my choice to go meat-free a couple of years ago, even if I didn’t actually mean to do it at the time), I probably used to be more fun. Raw fries with (beef) gravy at Phil Rohrer’s Lunch? Sure! Frozen pepperoni pizza from that tavern in the middle of nowhere? Bring it on! Now I spend a lot more time looking at menus and saying no. But I’ve learned from my mistakes as I’ve spent some very grumpy weekends with low blood sugar, looking for a place to simply serve me some peanut butter on something resembling bread that doesn’t look like it just took a bleach bath. I now travel to Two Rivers with my emergency paper sack snack stash of (vegan) muffins, nuts, apples and Cedarburg cheese from the Willy Street Co-op. I can wake up and grab my breakfast out of the van (even more convenient when we sleep in the van). Ready for lunch? A little place I like to call the paper sack in the van. Dinner time? Beer (or the veggie pizza at Port Sandy Bay if we’re in Two Rivers and it’s acceptable to not eat meat because it’s Friday). Or, there’s always the van. Everyone wins.

When I am headed out of town on a Friday evening for a show with Dan, I usually ask with a hint of desperation in my voice: “What about dinner?” If we don’t know the answer, we make a quick stop at the Co-op before hitting the highway. A couple of weeks ago we were headed to La Crosse, so Dan made a quick call to our friend Pat, who spent several years there. Pat told Dan to take me to a place called the Root Note. Pat must know me well. Conveniently located across the street from the venue where Dan was playing, we parked the car, dropped off the guitars, and ran across the street to the cafe.

I immediately started drooling over the crepes listed on the chalkboard and then my eyes moved to the black bean chili. Dan asked the question I dread asking. “Is your soup vegetarian?” “Our whole menu is vegetarian,” replied the lovely man behind the counter. I wanted to kiss him. I ordered a bowl of the chili with onions and cheese and a bottle of my favorite beer (the brown ale) from the local brewery, Pearl Street, and told him that we would be back for breakfast. The music that night at La Bodega by Gregg “Cheech” Hall and Dan made me tap my foot a little longer and sing along a little louder.

And we went back to the Root Note for breakfast.

Oh, did we go back for breakfast. There was a coconut latte with organic milk.

A crepe with Nutella and bananas.

Another with spinach and an egg.

It was pretty perfect.

There are some fantastic places around the state serving quality vegetarian meals, we just have to seek them out and shout them from the rooftops. Tag. You’re it.

the Root Note on Urbanspoon

I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up

Happy Sunday morning. I’ve got a cat on my lap, a mason jar full of blueberry smoothie in my hand and this album on repeat.  It’s a strange January Sunday without the Packers, but we can’t win them all. The good news is we finally got some snow and I have a couple of kale recipes that I have been wanting to share with you. They are really more like suggestions, because I don’t have exact measurements, but they are deliciously simple and I think you will enjoy them. And they both pair kale with parmesan cheese, which is a match made in food heaven.

The first one comes via my friends Martha and Dominic, who had us over for a dinner party a couple of weeks ago. In addition to making a kale salad that I inhaled like it was oxygen, they introduced us to Boggle and a riff on the old Telephone/ Operator game that left me laughing harder than I have in a really long time (it involves drawing pictures and folding the paper and then writing phrases and passing the paper around the circle until ‘Mom said you have to take out the compost’ becomes ‘When you grow an afro, then you can have a dishwasher’ and ‘No Jam sessions, cause you’ll wake up the militants’ morphs into ‘I was fast asleep until the mariachi band and pirates showed up.’)

Whether or not you are a fan of party games, I highly recommend this salad:



Lemon-soaked Kale Salad with Shaved Parmesan

Clean and dry a bunch of kale and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Marinate the kale in lots of lemon juice (Meyer lemons, if you can get them) and olive oil (allow to sit for several hours, if possible). Right before serving, toss the kale with a pinch of salt, slivered almonds, pomegranate seeds and good shaved parmesan cheese. Devour.


The second recipe is one that I made up last week when I was craving bean soup, and it turned out quite well, if I do say so myself. I like to call it:

White Bean Soup with Kale, Two Ways


1/2 onion, chopped

1 or 2 carrots, sliced into rounds

Kale, divided

olive oil

2 cans (15 oz.) of white beans (I used Eden Organic Cannellini and Great Northern Beans)

1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)

Red wine

Water (6-8 cups)

Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Seasonings: Thyme, Freshly ground salt and pepper, Red chili flakes


Warm the olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan) over medium in a heavy soup pot. Add the onions and saute until fragrant (about 3-4) minutes. Add the sliced carrots, some of the kale, and thyme and red chili flakes and saute for a couple of minutes. Add some red wine (the rest of that bottle that has been open too long to drink) and the cans of beans (drained). Add the can of tomatoes with their juice and water (6-8) cups. Cook over medium until it just bubbles and then turn the heat to low, partially cover and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours. 20 minutes before serving, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the rest of the kale on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake until the kale is crisp, but not charred (about 8-10 minutes) and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and salt. At this time, check the soup for seasonings and add salt and pepper. To serve the soup, ladle into warm bowls and top with kale crisps, freshly grated parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with a hunk of good bread (warmed in the oven) and glass of wine. Especially good on a cold, winter evening.


I hope you enjoy these recipes. To mis-quote Richard Gere from “Pretty Woman:” ‘I’m high on kale, can’t you tell?’ Cheers.

36 Hours in Two Rivers

Winter comes early to Two Rivers and lasts long. Famous for being the birthplace of the ice cream sundae, Two Rivers is nestled along Lake Michigan and the banks of the East Twin and West Twin Rivers. In Two Rivers the wind is biting, the skies are gray, the beer is cold and the accents are charming. Taking a morning stroll along the wooden bridge toward 22nd Street, you find yourself easily slipping into the Northeast Wisconsin dialect when you declare: “The ice. She’s tin.” Possibly not the most obvious tourist destination in late December, here’s what you need to know, if you go.*



En route to Two Rivers, somewhere in the outer limits of Chilton, Wisconsin, there is a farmhouse where, if you are lucky, you can sample some homeade blackberry elixir out of a quart-sized mason jar. The blackberry-infused vodka is a perfect apertif for a night out on the town in Two Rivers.


If you are looking to mingle with the locals, try the Waverly Inn in Two Rivers (1402 16th Street). Go for the cheap beer, stay for the live music. On this particular evening said music was provided by hometown heroes Derek Pritzl and Dan Walkner, the duo that makes up Crooked Barn.

Their anthemic song, “Old Fashioned” is Wisconsin’s (and the Waverly’s) unofficial theme song; sing along as Pritzl and Walkner croon about sipping on the popular Wisconsin cocktail while spinning on stools at this popular tavern.


10:30 a.m. 3) COFFEE (NOW, PLEASE)

After a brisk walk along the river, make your way toward Schroeder’s Department Store (1623 Washington Street), home of the Red Bank Coffeehouse. Grab that vegan blueberry muffin that you picked up at the Willy Street Co-op before leaving Madison out of the van (conveniently parked near Schroeder’s in the Waverly parking lot from the previous evening) and head into Schroeder’s for a hot cup of coffee.

11:30 a.m. 4) HOT OFF THE PRESS

After coffee, make a trip around the corner to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum (1619 Jefferson Street).

Dedicated to the preservation, study, production and printing of wood type, the museum features 1.5 million pieces of wood type.

Hamilton Manufacturing Company, founded in 1880, was the largest wood type producer in the country, when virtually everything was letterpress printed.

A working museum, every year thousands of people make a voyage to Hamilton’s for workshops and to use the collection to make works of art.

The museum is also the topic of a documentary, Typeface, that was featured at the 2010 Wisconsin Film Festival.

The staff members at the museum are friendly and knowledgeable, adding to the appeal of this must-stop in ‘Trivers.’


No trip to the lakeshore area would be complete without a visit to the Lutheran St. Vinny’s, Repeat Performance (4341 Enterprise Court), just down the road from Two Rivers in Manitowoc.

It can be hit-or-miss, but this visit was a success. Dan walked away with a vintage Green Bay Packer Super Bowl 1996 t-shirt and I am now the lucky owner of a chunky, plastic magenta bangle bracelet. If you can handle listening to the sound of the slowly-dying musical doorbell that blasts every time the door is opened (which is a lot), your patience will be rewarded with some awesome stuff.


One of the greatest new businesses to open in Manitowoc is the Broken Spoke Bike Studio located at 1010 Washington Street.

At Broken Spoke you can rent bikes, buy new bikes and supplies (I ordered a detachable basket!) and drool over their collection of refurbished vintage Schwinns. The Two Rivers branch of Broken Spoke will be opening in March and will also serve coffee and gelato. Yum.

Just be on alert for the latest addition to Broken Spoke, the vicious watch dog, 14-week-old Iver.


Although residents of Ithica, New York may argue differently, Two Rivers is the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. First served at Berners’ Soda Fountain in the 1880s, today you can visit the historic Washington House located at 1622 Jefferson Street and order one of these delicious ice cream treats.


When it comes to nightlife, Two Rivers has lots to offer.

After a couple of pints and perch fish fry at Remedy (1513 Washington Street), head over to German-themed Kurtz’s (1410 Washington Street) for some German-themed beers and a pretzel with spicy mustard.

Next up is Lee’s Never Inn (1001 17th St), where you can buy a round for the bar for $5.50. The curtains are Packer-themed and the hours are iffy (as the name suggests), so if you see the light on, go in. It’s a Wisconsin tavern experience not to be missed.

After Lee’s, take a short walk down the road to Tippy’s (1713 East Street), the bar where Dan set pins for mini-bowling as an 11-year-old.

Much like Brett Favre did (the first time), Tippy retired too soon and sold his bar. After a year or so, Tippy bought his bar back and returned it to greatness.



If you are looking for a traditional breakfast, head on over to M & M Lunch (1210 Washington Street). They can accomodate large groups and will bring you lots and lots of hot coffee. An added bonus, the mounted fish wear Santa hats, giving the place a festive atmosphere.


After breakfast be sure to make a stop to yell at the waves at Neshotah Beach, located along Zlatnik Drive on the shores of Lake Michigan.

11:00 a.m. 11) LONESOME TOWN

Our final stop in Two Rivers was in Willie’s shop, located in Dan’s parent’s driveway. A genuine Wisconsin renaissance man, Willie is a talented singer/ songwriter, carpenter and accordian player (and father to Dan).

His song, “Lonesome Town,” is Wisconsin’s other unofficial theme song. There is no better way to conclude a trip to T.R. than in Willie’s garage listening to Whad’Ya Know? on NPR and watching Willie spit Leinie’s on his woodstove (in a couple of minutes it fills the shop with a sweet aroma of malt). It was a magnificient way to say farewell to Trivers. Until next time, T.R.

*Thanks to the New York Times travel feature, 36 Hours, for the inspiration for this post.