Memorable Holiday Meals

By Mary Bergin

Good food, right mood: Finding the perfect match depends upon what nudges you into the holiday spirit. These settings are unusual because of their traditions, offerings and history.

Diners in search of a marvelous meal in delightful surroundings have two choices at Quivey's Grove, on the outskirts of Madison. The 1855 Stone House - a farmhouse - feels gracious and private. The Stable Grill, a long-ago livery, evokes a friendly pub vibe; walls of stone and hand-hewn wood beams preserve a Wisconsin pioneer authenticity. A fat holiday tree, subdued lighting and a helping of 'nog complete the picture. Entrées at both farmhouse and stable are named after local people and places, so look for little history and geography lessons on the menu. An underground tunnel connects the two buildings.

A host of local crooners, known as the Rittenhouse Chamber Singers, have entertained holiday-season guests at the Old Rittenhouse Inn since 1976. These annual wassail dinner concerts delight both the ears and taste buds. Savor glorious, festive music of the season during a leisurely paced, five-course meal that is served in one of Wisconsin's most beautiful, antiques-decorated inns. The Rittenhouse, known for its careful cooking, gets dressed to the nines for the season. The staff is known for its friendliness and penchant for theatrics - right down to the recitation of the menu.

Add a personal milestone or history-making moment, just as countless others have done at the Red Circle Inn, the oldest restaurant in Wisconsin. This is where baseball owners in the 1950s met and agreed to move the Braves from Boston to Milwaukee. The former stagecoach stop, which opened in 1848 - the same year Wisconsin became a state - offers a menu big on steaks and seafood. A tempting dessert menu compliments their entrée selections. The name refers to beer baron Frederick Pabst's ownership in the early 1900s, when a red circle was part of the Pabst brewing trademark.

Arrive early enough on any winter Friday and watch freshly caught Lake Michigan whitefish boiled over an open fire at White Gull Inn, famous for its mouth-watering fish boil. The quaint bed-and-breakfast boasts one of the oldest fish boils in Door County, dating back to 1959, and serves the fish alongside coleslaw, rye bread and homemade Door County cherry pie. Or, catch some live folk music and a meal at one of the inn's winter concerts, held one Wednesday a month from November through April. The 113-year-old inn also plays host every winter to a progressive dinner that takes patrons to three historic Fish Creek inns adorned in festive Christmas decorations for a gourmet five-course meal.

You might need to hold off eating all day before dining at The Freight House in downtown La Crosse. The steak and seafood restaurant features huge portions of food from slow-roasted prime rib to Alaskan king crab, while an extensive wine list and mountainous selection of liquors-bartenders need ladders to reach some-complement the cuisine. The historic restaurant was built in 1880 as the Milwaukee Freight House, and today the restaurant holds true to its railroad roots with lofty timbers, rustic bricks and views of the Mississippi. Don't miss live music on the weekends.

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