Monday, August 29, 2011

Bon Appetite! (Or dining out in Southwest Wisconsin)

A few blogs back I ran on about my adopted hometown, Fennimore Wisconsin. In it I tried to not compare it to my original hometown, Chicago. In general Jo and I are fairly content in our comfy little rural community but, things came to a head this past weekend. Originally a good friend, and former high school classmate, and his wife from the Chicago area were coming up to visit. It was kind of a reciprocal deal as we had gone down to visit and have dinner with them a couple of months ago. We had dinner at a restaurant that Jo and I both like very much and had many a fine dinners at in the past. As in the past the service was great, the food was outstanding and the atmosphere was perfect for a get together with old friends. As the weekend for our Wisconsin get together approached, the question arose, "where to have dinner with Ken and Linda?". We started down the list of potential eating places in the area. Nothing really stood out or even came close to the place we went to in Illinois. Now in Fennimore itself, after Hardys and Subway, fine dining doesn't exist. So this means that after a three and a half, or more, hour drive we need to ask our guests to get back in the car and travel a little farther. Our first choice was a restaurant (twenty miles away) that is part of an old restored brewery which also houses the "National Brewing Museum". I called there only to find out that the on night we chose they were hosting a giant "Brewfest" and dinner wasn't being served. Next choice, a good steak house in Prairie du Chien (twenty five miles away) was closed for the owner's daughter's wedding. The list continued to get shorter and the distances longer when good old Ken came to the rescue. He came down with a case of the flu and they had to cancel the trip up north. What Ken didn't know is that his sickness really saved four folks a lot of grief and growling stomachs because, when Saturday night rolled around, Jo and I decided that we may as well go out to dinner ourselves. We hopped into the car (Jo's new one that she lets me drive on weekends) and with the top down we drove off into a beautiful Wisconsin evening. We headed to Mineral Point to the restaurant we had decided to take Ken and Linda to. Only thirty miles away and although the service was usually pretty poor the food was good and the menu has more interesting choices than your run-of-the-mill supper clubs. I had called earlier to make reservations only to be told that they didn't take reservations. But we took a chance and as we arrived we were greeted by hungry, impatient looking people milling around outside the place. Given the number of people and knowing how slow the service was, it didn't look like we would eat anytime before Thanksgiving. Let's move on. There's a little lake outside of town (Mineral Point) that has a golf course and a restaurant. Folks say the food is pretty good. After driving a couple of miles down a barely paved one and a half lane road we started noticing more and more cars parked on the shoulder. As the "club house" came into view it was apparent that there was a rather large wedding party going on. It was so crowed that half the guests were celebrating in the parking lot. Oh well there's another golf course on the other side of town. The food there is good and with so many people at the wedding it shouldn't be too crowed. Wrongo!!! This place was hosting, not only a large private party but a just as large golf outing. We were told that we could be seated in the nearly empty dining room but probably couldn't get served for at least an hour or so. (The "or so" was the deal closer) Hey, there's a place in Dodgeville, less than ten miles away, where an old friend and very good cook is chef. Our attitudes and the crisp Wisconsin evening are starting to cool off making the top down excursion even more uncomfortable. We arrive at still another jam packed parking lot but I do find a "Close up" spot where I park as Jo runs in to check on the possibility of getting some kind of meal. She was gone a long time,. Maybe she found a table for one and ate on without me or, maybe she got a job as a cook or waitress or maybe she just got trampled by the crowd of "well fed" celebraters. It turned out that after waiting for a long time just to speak to someone, she finally figured out that there was a (a very riotous) private party, a wedding dinner, and a full dining room and bar. After she managed to fight her way back to the car we sat looking at each in awe. We had driven in excess of fifty miles in just under two hours and still hadn't had a bite to eat. It was getting late a, without driving at least forty or fifty miles more, our choices were Culvers, Hardys, A & W, Pizza Hut or Country Kitchen. Country Kitchen got the nod. So off we went. We were greeted by a friendly young waitress who seated us in a clean and cozy little booth. Five or six other groups of diners (all about my age or older), who probably had the good sense to come here in the first place, were enjoying pleasant conversation and plain old good food. We ordered straight off the "Seniors" menu and in no time at all we had devoured sensible portions of vittles that were just this side of home cookin'. Back in the car (with the top up now) we headed home deciding that the next time we want to go out for a "nice dinner" we're going to drive straight to the airport and fly to Chicago, St Louis or San Francisco and save a lot of time and frustration. And when Ken and Linda do come up to have dinner with us in Wisconsin it will probably be a home cooked meal in our dining room in Fennimore.
Adding insult to injury, I opened my email only to find an ad for my favoritest food in the world ...

Considering the amount of time we spent trying to find a place to eat I could have dam near gone to Chicago and truly enjoyed myself.
One more little aside about the weekend. It started with us going to Milwaukee's Miller Park to be humiliated by the Cubs great showing against the Brewers but ended with us celebrating little Saffron's third birthday. (By the way, at Saffron's party I treated my self to a homemade version of a Chicago style hot dog. All is not bad!)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

End of an Era!!!

Today I waved a last goodbye to an old friend. We sold our 1993 Honda Civic. Fortunately Jo wasn't here to see it drive off into the sunshine. It would have been like seeing her kid off to college or jail or to Piggly Wiggly. The "Blueberry", as Derek had named it years ago, is off to a new home. After eighteen years and over two hundred and ninety thousand miles the little bugger was starting to show wear. (happens to the best of us) The paint was wearing thin, the rusty areas were overpowering the nonrusty areas, the air conditioner was only conditioning part of the air and the muffler wasn't doing a very good job of muffling. In spite of all that, she (I think it was a she), still gave us forty plus dependable miles for every gallon of gas we fed her. BUT! The sorrow of her passing is short lived. Just watch the Wisconsin (and Illinois and Minnesota) highways for "The Little Old Lady From Fennimore" zipping by in "Blueberry's" presently unnicknamed successor. And one of them will probably be topless.

We could call it the "Newberry"
but I think Chrysler had a model called that in the past.

(Oh I guess it was a Newport)

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Kinda Town . . .

After almost fifteen years of living in Fennimore, I've realized that this, in truth, is my home. Today I took a little time out of my hectic schedule to look around and see where I'm really at. I won't try to compare Fennimore with Chicago (although it may be necessary to make note of some similarities and some unsimilarities). As you approach Fennimore you won't mistake the looming skyline for a looming skyline. As a matter of fact it's pretty much the same as thousands of other small rural communities around the country. After a while of living "out this way" one can determine where he's at by the size, shape and color of the closest water tower.

The industry in town is anchored by a Rayovac plant on the East side. Significantly this plant came very close to closing due to offshore sourcing to China. Most employees were let go and production was nearly nil. Turned out that those Chinese producers couldn't come close to the quality that Rayovac was known for. Voila! The work and the workers all returned to the Fennimore facility and now all my clocks, tools and numerous other battery powered gizmos are purring away on good old dependable Rayovacs. Like most other Wisconsin towns, we have our own award winning cheese factory.

Unlike most other Wisconsin towns our factory is guarded by Igor, a giant cheese loving mouse (he is sometimes referred to as a rat but, I think mouse is more cheese friendly) If you look real close, squint your eyes and, maybe have a few glasses of wine to go with your cheese, you will see the similarity between Fennimore's Igor and Chicago's Picasso.
Unlike most other Wisconsin towns Fennimore sports ONLY three taverns. (If you count the bowling alley, golf course and a sports bar a couple miles out of town, we almost come up to Wisconsin standards) For example, about five miles down the road, there's a town of twenty homes and one tavern. Now that's how Wisconsin is meant to be. (Ironically the bar is named Cheers II, and everybody in there DOES know everyone else's name)
Main street in town, Lincoln Avenue, which is a State route, is fairly unexciting with most of the traffic just passing through. The businesses are the usual standard drug store, insurance agency, newspaper office and a lawyer or two. If dining out is on the agenda, going South to North there's a Chinese restaurant with better cooks than battery makers. A block or so up the street you'll find the atypical small town restaurant, Fruit Cakes (I don't understand the name but what do I know about fine dining. It was previously named "Our Little Restaurant and Bakery" that made a little more sense to me) At the top of Lincoln is Friedericks Family Restaurant which is housed in a building that resembles a train station. This will mean more after you learn about "Dinky". The dining scene is rounded out with a more commercial flair. We have BOTH a Subway and a Hardees. Interestingly like most small towns (and large town neighborhoods) the older citizens (mainly male) have a morning meeting place. In Fennimore there are two such places. Fruitcakes attracts the rural crowd who swarm in after morning chores are done. And, the "townies" gravitate to Hardees where most of them have their own ceramic coffee mug.
On the corner of Eleventh Street and Lincoln Avenue stands the "Old Opera House" a lovely two story building which formerly housed the nicest restaurant in the area as well as the nicest bar in the area with the nicest hotel rooms in the area upstairs. It also contained (you guessed it) the nicest banquet hall in the area and around the corner, downstairs was a fairly nice bar/pizza place. Unfortunately tough financial times and a summer of Lincoln Avenue construction took its toll on the place so it sits empty waiting for the next entrepreneur to hit town with a sack of money. In its heyday the restaurant was named "The Silent Woman". Kinda catchy but the logo caught the eye of many a woman's rights groups.

We have a fine butcher shop which brags about having 36 varieties of Bratwursts and, each Fall, its parking lot is lined with hunters bringing in their antlered (and unanterlered) kill for processing. We have two lumber companies. Not unusual for a town our size but, how many towns have a lumber company owned by Bill Wood? Fennimore is home to Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. I don't really know much about the college except that it keeps growing and building more buildings. I guess they specialize in Nursing, Mechanics and citizen safety (police and fireman stuff)
And!!! Would you believe? We have no less than FIVE bakeries. (and you wonder why I keep gaining weight) Each bakery sorta does its own thing. One only does baked goods. Another cakes and pastries. I'm not sure what the other three specialize in. I usually pass out after hitting the first two. You can add in our Kwik-Trip and Caseys for doughnuts etc. and you're never more than a few steps away from temptation.
Historically, Fennimore like Chicago was a railroad hub. Of course Fennimore only had one train (a narrow gauge one at that) while Chicago had a few more. The railroad era is well documented in our very own "Railway Museum" which features an actual narrow gauge engine and tender named the "Dinky".
There's a small replica of a Chicago & Northwestern train. For a buck your kid or grandkid or childish cousin Kenny can ride in the little passenger cars while a old guy dressed in an engineer hat toots the whistle for all of the town to hear. For a quick, easy lesson on Fennimore's past, a local artist has painted a mural depicting the whole thing on the side of some buildings adjoining the RR park. If you cross the street and wander on behind the Subway you'll find one of the real treasures of Fennimore. Almost as great as Dinky and Igor is the Fennimore Doll and Toy Museum. This truly a "Must" stop. The museum is now located in an old Red Schoolhouse and presents some of the best collections of toys and dolls available. Many important collectors lend their "collections" for exhibit there.
To round out our little (long winded) tour, we pass the town supermarket, four gas stations (what we lack in taverns we make up in gas stations) some doctors and a dentist who's also a Brigadier General in the Army Reserves and even the "The Place With Your Friendly Hardware Man".
Appropriately last on my list is the place across the street from our home, The Larson Family Funeral Home. How convenient can it be?
That pretty well wraps up our little tour of what has become my hometown. I'm sure I've missed some really important stuff. What the hell come see for yourself!
Oh yeah! the mosquito at the top of the page. We have NO mosquitoes in Fennimore. Honest to God, maybe one or two will wander into town on occasion but normally we are Mosquito Free! This sorta makes up for the lack of great restaurants.....NOT!