Exceptional Eats Along the Wisconsin Great River Road

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Village of Cassville

Life Along Wisconsin’s Great River Road And Why You Need To Go

By ANASTASIA PENCHI

Does the name James Beard mean anything to you?

Do you prefer that your dining entrée be as appealing to the palate as to the eye?

If so, know that exceptional eats are available along Wisconsin’s Great River Road, the 250 miles of Highway 35, which runs adjacent to the Mississippi River from Kieler, Wis., in the south, to Prescott in northern Wisconsin.

Foodies should be sure to check these mouth-watering restaurants off their lists:

Upscale but not stuffy

Lovechild in La Crosse is a 100-seat restaurant described as “big city fine dining in a small town.” Artsy décor and velvet seating helps create a romantic ambiance at this downtown gem. Food is locally sourced and driven by the seasons. Patrons rave about the roasted chicken thighs finished with jalapenos, thyme, garlic and toasted croutons; as well as the ravioli, which features braised beef, fresh sauce, pecorino and butter. Finish your meal with Portuguese cinnamon-sugar doughnuts and lemon curd. Glasses of wine are $5 during happy hour. And remember those James Beard Foundation awards? Chef and co-owner Jay Sparks was a semi-finalist in 2018.

Rustic charm near the Mississippi River

The Barn in Prairie du Chien is a restaurant that is located inside an actual old barn. It is very big and seems to go on forever, and its nooks and crannies are filled with antiques. Locally caught Mississippi catfish is on the menu, but the place is probably best known for its Friday night all-you-can-eat cod special, which comes with unlimited salad bar. Diners also rave about the beer battered cheese curds, broasted chicken and its classic Saturday night supper club special: Queen and king cuts of prime rib. A separate pizza menu also features a wild mushroom pizza with fresh crimini, shiitake, oyster and portobello mushrooms.

The female chefs of the North

The Chef Shack in Bay City is the creation of Lisa Carlson (nominated for James Beard Foundation awards in 2017 and 2018) and Carrie Summer (a NYC trained pastry chef who also grows half the business’ produce and herbs). They started their Chef Shack journey with a food truck and a mission to take organic street food to the masses of Minneapolis at an affordable price. The Bay City restaurant is only open on weekends, but the rustic French cooking is worth the trip. The menu changes regularly, but diners rave about the veggie hash, pulled pork and duck. The key, patrons say, is to make reservations and go early in the evening. And don’t be put off by the rather nondescript building – the inside may surprise you.

Elegant dining with a view

Harbor View Café in Pepin offers beautiful sunsets overlooking the marina on Lake Pepin in addition to homemade soups and breads, and show-stopping desserts. Its menu is always changing, so it is written on a chalk board above the bar. Patrons especially love the fish dishes, whether it’s swordfish on a bed of kale, salmon poached in vermouth with leeks and ginger or halibut in brown butter sauce. Just make sure to go early to get a table. Look for the sky blue building with classic Adirondack chairs out front. This business is seasonal and closes for the winter – so don’t wait.

Meet the Writer

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi is a self-employed writer who lives just off Wisconsin’s Great River Road. You can read more about Wisconsin’s Great River Road, and the festivals and people of Western Wisconsin, at the Web site: www.loislaneforhire.com.