We spent last week in the Cable, WI area for our annual family vacation. I didn't get out much as I bruised my foot the second day we were there and had to take it easy, but we did do a little eating.
I'd done some poking around online before we left and found a couple of possibilities for our "on the way there" lunch: the Fontier and the Pal Cafe, both in Park Falls.
I'd been leaning toward Pal Cafe anyway and when the clerk at the Park Falls Citgo recommended it that pretty much sealed the deal. It's been around for a long time (since the 1930s, I think) but was closed for a few years until new owners reopened around last Thanksgiving. It has a U-shaped counter and maybe 7 or 8 booths and tables, so it's not a very big place. As you can see, our server's not exactly camera-shy.
After being on the road for a few hours we were pretty hungry so we decided to start with an order of fried portobello mushroom strips.
These were hands-down some of the best fried mushrooms I've ever had. They weren't drowned in batter or smothered in breading; the thin batter coating was really more of a glaze that added a nice crunch without hiding the mushroom flavor. I could've made a meal out of these...
...but I decided to use my standard benchmark: a mushroom & Swiss burger. Once again portobellos were the choice and the stronger flavor really pairs well with the beef and cheese, and while it was done maybe just a little bit more that I hoped for it was still juicy and flavorful. Pal Cafe offers burgers in 1/4 and 1/2 pound sizes; I chose the smaller.
Kathy was very happy with her tuna salad sandwich, especially the side order of potato salad. The fries were the frozen variety but they were hot out of the fryer.
Erin opted for a plate of nachos, which usually isn't anything special but in the case the tortilla chips were really, really good. In fact, they were almost like crispy triangles of pita bread and far better than the typical flat corn chips most places use. The accompanying pico de gallo was bright and fresh and since this is Wisconsin you already know the sour cream and cheese were good.
We all liked Pal Cafe and wouldn't hesitate to return or suggest it to someone else, and I hope the new owners are successful.
After getting settled in Cable we cooked our own meals for a couple of days but I had picked out another place to try, so on Wednesday we headed north to Drummond and then west toward Barnes on county highway N to Doorn's Inn. This is another place with a long history as it first opened in 1938 and even though I'd never been here before the PBR sign made me feel right at home.
The owner (Joe) is in the process of doing some remodeling but insists on paying as he goes instead of borrowing, so this year the exterior features the stylish "Tyvek Look".
Doorn's soups are homemade so I started with a bowl of the beef and rice. It was almost thick enough to be called a stew and contained plenty of beef, rice, carrots, and celery in a tasty broth, and would be perfect on a fall or winter day.
Erin chose creamy chicken and wild rice soup and pronounced it very good. I pressed her for her honest opinion and she finally proclaimed that it tasted like "a rainbow in her mouth" followed by "Are you happy now?" This is the house soup and is always on the menu.
We also decided to try out the cheese curds, and while I don't think these were a homemade item they were still pretty good since they were burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot.
Doorn's signature item is a 2-ounce beef patty called the "Bitty Burger" so Kathy and I both chose baskets (her burgers with cheese), which come with 3 burgers and "Brew City" battered fries (a food service item). Joe was honest about not everything being homemade but apparently the fries are a big seller, and as far as frozen fries go they're pretty good.
On the surface these appear to be pretty ordinary burgers but I was surprised at the flavor, which according to Joe is from the fat content. I suspect they were cooked on a flattop but they were slightly more pale than I would expect, so maybe some steaming's involved? I don't know, but I'd order them again.
Erin chose the "Bitty Chicken" basket, which comes with 2 sandwiches. I didn't really ask about them but she said they were good, so if someone doesn't want a burger they'd be a good alternative.
The Bitty Burger was introduced around 1980 but has only been tallied since 1995, so who knows what the actual number is.
As an aside, the bell to the left of the sign is from the original Gilley's nightclub in Houston, where "Urban Cowboy" was filmed. Joe didn't know how it made its way to northern Wisconsin but apparently it's been with Doorn's through many years and several owners (although Joe said that if he ever sells there's a good chance he's taking it with him).
If you like places like Doorn's Inn then Doorn's Inn is a place you will like. Good food at reasonable prices, and Joe has a very outgoing, energetic personality. It's obvious that he takes pride in what he does.
Now for a slight deviation to a place that's not quite Roadfood: Telemark Resort
outside Cable, WI. I'm sure there are some Midwesterners who remember it from its glory years in the 1960s-1980s but in recent years it's fallen on hard times and was shuttered and up for sale last winter, but a buyer came forward and now the resort's reopened and undergoing renovations. And serious renovations they will need to be, as parts of it are in pretty rough shape and require significant attention. We were on our way back to Cable from Hayward one morning and after getting TTM'd at 2 different locations we decided to just head east on county highway M until we hit someplace that was open, and after hearing that Telemark had recently reopened we stopped and discovered that we could get a bite to eat in the bar.
The massive stone fireplace is still in the main entryway and the unmistakeable smell of fresh varnish greeted us as we walked in, so there's work being done. A good sign!
After seating ourselves at a table in the bar (the main dining room was being worked on) we received menus and placed our orders. Once again Erin started with chicken and wild rice soup, which she said wasn't as thick or as sweet as the soup at Doorn's Inn but still good in its own way.
We'd had fried fish the night before and since it was Friday we were going to be having it again for dinner, so I asked for my walleye sandwich to be broiled. It came on a ciabatta bun and I liked it, but for all matters walleye I defer to Kathy's opinion. Fortunately she agreed so I can now officially say that yes, this was a good sandwich. My first impression was that the bread was going to be dense/chewy, but it turned out to be lighter than expected and this was a big plus.
Kathy chose the "Birkie club", which is a club sandwich on toasted marble rye. Is bacon a standard club ingredient? I don't know, but it was used in this one and was a nice addition to the typical ham and turkey. I don't think of a club sandwich as anything special but this one was nicely executed with good ingredients, including fresh lettuce and tomatoes.
Erin was happy with her buffalo chicken wrap, which made us 4-for-4 with our menu items. Granted, it's more trendy than traditional but it contained plenty of chicken and enough heat to make her reach for the blue cheese dressing.
Plus we learned from the mural behind us that The Most Interesting Man in the World
once worked as a logger in the Hayward area!
I hope Telemark's new owners are able to get things turned around and restore it to what it once was. It just screams "1970s!" to me and I wouldn't be at all surprised if construction turns up somebody's ancient "stash" and some long-lost Polaroids of a key party...
Before we knew it our week was up and it was time to head home. We knew we were going to be retracing our steps and even though The Bruin in Glidden and The Shanty in Butternut look like they might have potential we decided to revisit Pal Cafe in Park Falls, although this time for breakfast.
Erin chose the veggie skillet, which is eggs scrambled with fresh vegetables and served over a bed of potatoes (she chose hash browns) and topped with melted cheese. She shared it with Kathy and they both liked it, but when I see that many vegetables in one place I run the opposite direction.
Kathy's choice was blueberry french toast. Like the skillet it wound up being split between her and Erin but this was their clear favorite due to both the toast and the topping.
The other "skillet" choice contains 5 meats and that's what I picked, also with hash browns. However, I totally dropped the ball on this one. I overheard the owner mentioning that he'd just finished a batch of chili so I asked the server to ladle some over the top of my breakfast but I didn't think to sample the chili first
, which would've been the smart thing to do as the chili was bit on the tomatoey side and I detected what I think was a pretty strong cumin taste, and it just didn't pair that well with the eggs and potatoes. So not only did I not give the skillet a fair shake but the chili, which for all I know is very good on its own and I wouldn't be surprised if it is, got shortchanged as well. As Red Forman
might say, "Nice job...dumbass!"
And that's the end of another vacation. Only 50 weeks to go until next year...
<message edited by ScreamingChicken on Fri, 08/5/11 3:34 PM>