By Jeniece Smith
The local foods movement has taken off across America in recent years, but it’s always been a way of life in Wisconsin.
From Native Americans’ oldest traditions of harvesting wild rice, cranberries and fish to our state’s continuing agricultural legacy, our people have valued knowing where their food comes from since long before it became a modern trend. That’s why no one else has mastered the farm-to-table concept quite like Wisconsin.
In honor of autumn’s bounty, we’re sharing a mouthful of the state’s finest farm-to-table eateries to visit during harvest time. Menus are based on what’s in season, so be sure to check ahead for the latest offerings.
This Milwaukee institution has gone a step beyond the local food movement with its educational culinary courses and leadership in sustainable practices. The Rooftop Garden can hold up to 2,000 gallons from a single rainfall, cutting down on pollution, water use and energy costs. More than 40 Wisconsin farms contribute to the restaurant’s menu, with past fall dishes including a fennel squash puree soup.
You couldn’t pick a better spot than Madeline Island – insulated from the commotion of the modern world by Lake Superior’s waters – to experience the “slow food” movement. Eat a meal on the covered porch and enjoy life the way it was meant to be. Owner and chef Chris Wolfe gathers the elements of the small, ever-changing menu from a handful of local producers throughout the island and nearby Bayfield Peninsula.
Inspired by the owners’ experience as youngsters living in a New York apartment above their family’s Italian eatery – and named for their grandmother – this bistro sources much of its bread, meats and dairy from Appleton-area businesses. You’ll also find freshly made Madison pasta in their dishes and cheeses from all over Wisconsin on the menu. The staff will help you pick a wine or beer from Carmella’s extensive list to complement your meal.
Forming Amery’s Community Food Hub with an adjoining local producers’ cooperative and a nonprofit agricultural learning center, Farm Table helps support the state’s food heritage and northwestern Wisconsin’s “last and largest concentration of small farms in America.” The menu is reflective of the state’s four seasons, supplied by organic family farms smaller than 300 acres and prepared simply without processed additives. Comfort foods like chicken pot pie and roasted veggie risotto have ruled past autumn offerings.
Former L’Etoile chef and founder of Madison’s Slow Food chapter, Tami Lax, has garnered a lengthy list of accolades for Harvest since its inception in 1999. Gourmet Magazine proclaimed it one of the best farm-to-table restaurants in America, and Organic Magazine named it of the nation’s top 20 eateries. French and American flavors dominate the evolving menu, with monthly themed dinners celebrating all manner of cuisine from heirloom tomatoes to game meat.
You won’t find any fish fresher than the catch of the day at this restaurant located on the state’s largest rainbow trout farm and adjacent to a parcel of the lovely Kettle Moraine State Forest. You can even cast a hook and reel in your own dinner! A fishery, on-site smokehouse and area farms contribute to the menu, with a traditional Wisconsin fish fry twice a week, special dinners and Sunday brunch rounding out the regular lineup.
One of Door County’s newest eateries, located in the former Ellison Bay Lodge, takes its name from Swedish immigrant Andrew Wickman, who lived off the land and built the three-story home that now houses the restaurant for his family in the late 1800s. Seafood and chops highlight the seasonal menu, with ingredients from local farms and gardens supporting the owners’ focus on sustainable agriculture.
Did we leave out your favorite farm-to-table restaurant in our list? Give them a shout-out in a comment below!