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The Pine Cone

Johnson Creek exit off of I94, Johnson Creek, WI - (920) 699-2766
Posted By Neal Pritchett on 2/2/2010 2:32:00 PM
What could define the term "road food" better than a traditional truck stop? For years, The Pine Cone has been feeding Wisconsin travelers. Known for their "Keep Smiling" billboards and their good food, the place has become a favorite of local travelers, and truck drivers. There are three Pine Cones in Wisconsin, associated with Shell gas stations, but don't let this fool you; the food is great. Classic truck stop fare means large portions, and a homey meat and potatoes menu. It also means 24 hour breakfasts.

Steak is a big part of the menu, even the breakfast menu. I counted no less than six different steaks offered for breakfast. Similar offerings are on the lunch and dinner menu. Specials consist of stews, pasta dishes, meat loaf, roast beef, or similar offerings. There is also a selection of sandwiches, and burgers featuring butter, real onions, and toasted buns. I have never been disappointed ordering whatever the daily special is (there are always several). These tend to be traditional, heavy meals of the type everyone ate in the forties and fifties.

The Johnson Creek Pine Cone features a traditional counter and booths, to the left, and a more comfortable dining room off to the right. After stopping at the glass fronted bakery counter, planted directly in front of the entrance, I generally turn left. The service is fast, and from this vantage, near the kitchen pick-up window, you can watch the wait staff rushing around; this is a volume business. The cook calls the waitresses by number, as the orders appear in the window, to be picked up. In classic truck stop fashion, smoking is permitted in this area, and ashtrays are on the counter. Though I have never left the table, or counter, hungry, the lure of that bakery counter at the door is sometimes too much, and I have been known to pick up some sweet rolls on the way out.

The Pine Cone has been at its present location for a number of years, but some major changes have taken place here. Johnson Creek had been a small country town of about 600 people, partway between Milwaukee and Madison. The town's location, just south of an I-94 off ramp, brought a considerable amount of traffic passing through on the way to Jefferson, Janesville, and Beloit. The area has had a recent boom, however, as an outlet mall and several department stores have sprung up. This hasn't hurt the Pine Cone's business, as it makes a fine place to stop and eat, in the middle of a hard day of bargain hunting.

The Madison Pine Cone is located on the bypass that skirts the city of Madison. This is where I-90 and I-94 part company, with 90 continuing west to Lacrosse, while 94 heads north to the Twin Cities before turning west itself. The food and service are very much the same as those of the Johnson Creek location. Here, however, there is no outlet mall, though the city of Madison is only a couple of miles down the road. The truck stop here is more extensive, offering a selection of goods, like a modern day general store. The store area takes up the space of the second dining room, though the single dining area here is somewhat larger than that of the Johnson Creek Pine Cone. The Madison Pine Cone is a favorite stop on the way to the Wisconsin Dells, and like its Johnson Creek counterpart, I have never known it to be slow.

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This hearty bowl of chicken dumpling soup was the perfect tonic on a blustery Wisconsin winter afternoon.
"This hearty bowl of chicken dumpling soup was the perfect tonic on a blustery Wisconsin winter afternoon."
Cliff Strutz





What a mean trick to play. Putting the bakery counter right inside the door makes it the first thing you see upon entry, and the last thing you see as you exit. The counter, and coffee shop are to the left, while the more relaxed dining room is off to the right.
"What a mean trick to play. Putting the bakery counter right inside the door makes it the first thing you see upon entry, and the last thing you see as you exit. The counter, and coffee shop are to the left, while the more relaxed dining room is off to the right."
Neal Pritchett


To the left of the bakery counter, is the heart of the operation - the counter/coffee shop. This was the original dining area, before the business was expanded, and is pure traditional truck stop through and through.
"To the left of the bakery counter, is the heart of the operation - the counter/coffee shop. This was the original dining area, before the business was expanded, and is pure traditional truck stop through and through."
Neal Pritchett


Just off the road a bit, The Pine Cone sits on the edge of a large, newly built outlet mall at Johnson Creek, just off the I94 ramp. Up until a few years ago, The Pine Cone stood here alone, surrounded by farmers' fields, and just across the freeway from the very small town of Johnson Creek.
"Just off the road a bit, The Pine Cone sits on the edge of a large, newly built outlet mall at Johnson Creek, just off the I94 ramp. Up until a few years ago, The Pine Cone stood here alone, surrounded by farmers' fields, and just across the freeway from the very small town of Johnson Creek. "
Neal Pritchett



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