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

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.


Don’t mistake baking for weakness

The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
Alice's Manderin Orange Cake awaits its impending demise.

I’m a guitar player.  I have a blog about my band but if I started talking about cakes and other trifles, I may lose all of my already limited street cred.  I rarely cook.  Never do I bake.  My mom used to bake a lot when I was little.  Bread, cookies, potpies (is that baking?), all that stuff.  I remember when I was about 4 or 5 and both my brothers were in school, my mom and I would trudge through huge snow drifts to get to the store.  We had to walk because we couldn’t get the car out of our glacial wall of a driveway.  Once, specifically, I remember helping push a grocery cart full of provisions home through dunes of white powder between Bill’s Red Owl and our house.  Five blocks of it.  At some point my mom started baking this Mandarin Orange Cake for every holiday and birthday and any other occasion where sugary delicassies are required.  If anyone didn’t love it, they were keeping quiet.  Similarly, she made the “mistake” of making the world’s greatest 7 layer salad at some point and now has to make one about every 3 days to appease her loyal following.  (Slight exaggeration, but it’s the best, and I punch anyone who says otherwise.  Also, if you use Bacos in 7 layer salad, there is a special place in hell for you.  Not you Aunt Joan, it was just that once and we all forgive you.)

Alice, Daniel, and William Walkner after a bike ride contemplating Mandarin oranges.

All right.  I started compulsively thinking of the Mandarin Orange Cake for about a week straight.  I called up my Ma and she wanted to mail me the recipe.  I told her it couldn’t wait.  She read me the recipe, and here it is:

Alice’s Mandarin Orange Cake

This has a few steps, but I guess most recipes do.  The main parts are the crunch layer, the cake, and the frosting.  You can do it all from scratch, or cheat, or both.  I cheated and made some alterations.  If you tell my mom I’ll tell her you lie.

Crunch Layer

1 cup graham crackers (I got the Co-op hippie kind, but the regular kind are fine)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 chopped walnuts

1/2 cup melted butter (I used slightly more.)

Combine the dry stuff and dump in the butter.  Don’t use a microwave.  Use the burners.  They get lonely and won’t fry your chromosomes.  Just make sure the butter and brown sugar get mixed up pretty well or you may have some sticking to the pan.  (A little bit of sticking is okay, as you will soon find out!) 

Using two 8 inch circular cake pans, line the bottoms with half the crunch stuff.  Smash it down with the nearest dull object.  I used a pint glass, but you could use a balpeen hammer, butt of rifle, etc. 


1 yellow or vanilla cake mix

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

Here, follow the box directions, except when it calls for water, substitute 1/2 of it with orange juice.  So the eggs and oil is the same, but generally it will be a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup OJ.  Also, for the orange peel, you don’t need a lot or maybe you need more I don’t know.  If you like stuff orangy, go nuts.  Put it in the mix, though.


1 can vanilla frosting

1 cup whipped topping (Cool Whip style, not whippets)

3 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

11 oz. can of Mandarin oranges, drained

Beat frosting in midair til fluffy.  No, actually, you should use a small bowl.  Add whipped topping.  Fold in orange and lemon peel.

Oven should be heated to 350 degrees.  Pour the cake batter equally over the two pans with crunch layer.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until you can pass a toothpick in and it comes out unscathed. 

VERY IMPORTANT (my mom yelled this, so I took it seriously): let the cakes cool for 10 minutes.  Any longer and you run the risk of not getting the cakes out of the pans.  Take them out and put one crunch side down.  Scrape the remaining crusty parts into a small bowl and hang on to them.

Frost the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting.  Stack the other layer on, also crunch side down.  Frost the bejeezus out of the sucker.  Top with the Mandrin oranges.  Then, this is my crowning glory that I thought of on my own, sprinkle the crusty crunch layer remnants over the top.  Maybe my mom does this too, but I can’t remember, and until she corrects me I’m taking credit for it.

Thanks Ma, for making this when I was little and inspiring me to obsess over it in the modern era. 



So good. Thanks, Ma.