Taste of big city in small town Wisconsin

October 21, 2011 8:31:35 PM PDT
Lake Geneva has always been a popular summertime destination for Chicagoans. But there's plenty to see in the fall as well.

The almond croissants, cherry cheesecake danishes and Swedish apple cake are the first signs you're in a bakery that considers itself as much European as it is Wisconsin. The Sweet House of Madness sits on a quiet stretch of downtown Lake Geneva, but its pastry chef used to work at Trio in Evanston. They've embraced a farm-to-oven ethos.

"One thing that really sets us apart is we really try to bring the concept of local and sustainable to a bakery setting; versus, people are really used to seeing that in a restaurant setting. So, a lot of our summer produce and all of our dairy comes from Wisconsin," said Jonna Froelich, the pastry chef at Sweet House of Madness.

A half-dozen breads are all baked on-site, and the cookies, macarons and other pastries make decisions nearly impossible. Be sure to visit with more than one person.

Next door to the bakery, Simple lives up to its billing, creating breakfasts and lunches that are made with as much local produce as possible, served in very humble surroundings. Brioche bread is used for the apple crumble French toast topped with cinnamon baked apples and cider-infused maple syrup while a Portobello sandwich arrives on foccacia from next door, jammed with those grilled mushrooms, plus red onions, tomatoes and goat cheese.

Other fine sandwiches - albeit, on bagels - are the stars at The Boat Yard Bagel Company, along Main Street.

"We do a real New York-style bagel product, uh, as close as you can get in New York - in Wisconsin," said Jeff Kramer, the owner of Boat Yard Bagels.

Bagels are made every day, on-site. Dough is blended, proofed, then kneaded and fed into a shaper, and the key: bagels are first boiled then baked.

"The boiling process is really just kind of a finishing stage before we put them in the oven and get them going before they hit your plate," Kramer said.

The Barrelman sandwich begins with a grilled "everything" bagel, stuffed with caramelized red onions, dijon and corned beef.

"The Boom" stars fried eggs with a Mexican bean and chicken cake, plus jack cheese and salsa. Traditionalists can go well beyond standard plain cream cheese with a host of creative flavors, like Nutella banana, but it's the bagels that will rotate frequently.

"Seasonal bagels are big for us. We like to touch on local ingredients - All organic. Kind of play with what's available, what's around," he said.

So while your neighbors go to Wisconsin in search of apples and pumpkins, It's the starches that rule the day here! From pastries, to French toast to bagels, a taste of the big city, right here in small town Wisconsin.

Avid cooks should also look into the Lake Geneva cooking school, which offers individual and group lessons in town.

Sweet House of Madness
521 Broad Street
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 248-2190

Boatyard Bagels
846 Main Street
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 203-5391

525 Broad Street
Lake Geneva, WI 53147
(262) 248-3556

Also mentioned:

Lake Geneva Cooking School
727 Geneva St.

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