We tend to assume that bigger cities like Madison and Milwaukee have all the fun when it comes to fine dining, but take a closer look and you’ll find innovative restaurants in small towns and rural areas across the state. Wisconsin is teeming with lush farmland, giving restaurants and their award-winning chefs access to a vast array of fresh ingredients to work with year-round. These restaurants prove that you don’t have to trek to the big cities to enjoy world-class cuisine!
After stepping off the ferry onto Madeline Island, head to the left down the main road until you find this culinary gem. At Farmhouse, the core principle is to utilize local and organic ingredients to create made-from-scratch dishes with big and unique flavors. The owners forage the island for ingredients, grow even more in their community garden, and source everything else from the nearby Chequamegon Bay area.
The foraged mushroom grilled cheese is a local favorite, made from seasonal pesto, local cheddar cheese, and wild mushrooms. The menu changes based on what ingredients are available, but you can expect to find dishes inspired by home cooked flavors.
Tucked away at the end of a winding Door County road lays the Wickman House – a romantic hideout with a timeless charm and an unforgettable atmosphere. Once you step inside the doors of the beautifully restored farmhouse, you’re greeted by inviting aromas and the comforting rattle of cocktail shakers as the bartenders concoct hand-crafted beverages. The menu changes frequently with nightly specials, but all dishes are created using fresh, local ingredients whenever possible.
You can expect to find classics like bone-in ribeye medallions among more adventurous fare like octopus spaghetti. If you still have room for more, the desserts are not to be missed – the flourless chocolate cake is the perfect way to cap off an experience at the Wickman House.
Vernon County happens to have the highest concentration of organic farms anywhere in Wisconsin - over 200 to be more specific. That being said, it comes as no surprise that Viroqua would make a perfect location for an outstanding farm-to-table restaurant. Dinner menus are created on a day-to-day basis, so the freshest local ingredients can be incorporated accordingly.
In 2017, Executive Chef Luke Zahm’s masterful cooking earned him a nomination for “Best Chef Midwest” from the James Beard Foundation, making Driftless Café the first restaurant between Madison and Minneapolis to earn such an honorable recognition.
Described as the “crown jewel in the Chef Shack empire”, this food truck-turned-restaurant is worth hunting down. Opening a permanent restaurant allowed Executive Chef Lisa Carlson to truly flex her culinary muscle, pouring her heart and soul into her unique style of “country French” cuisine. Clearly, the transition paid off as Carlson also earned a nomination for “Best Chef Midwest” from the James Beard foundation in 2017.
While the food truck can still be found at local farmer’s market on the weekends, the permanent restaurant overlooking Lake Pepin serves an eclectic, yet upscale menu with dishes using fresh ingredients from local family farms and co-ops.
For more small-town culinary gems, check out these Wisconsin Restaurants Worth the Drive or view our entire dining directory!