As is true in all states, available food in Wisconsin represents virtually
every ethnic cuisine, from sushi and French to soul food and pizza. But dining
in Wisconsin has more to tempt visitors than the typical family and chain restaurants
that can be found all over the country. While there are plenty of these, you
will find that Wisconsin restaurants offer a wonderful variety of regional foods.
Agriculture is economically important in the state, and you'll want to look
for places that serve food made from local produce. For instance, Door
County is famous for its cherry orchards, and you can even pick your own
cherries at several farms. There are apple orchards all over the state, and
many of these also are "pick your own" orchards.
There is a burgeoning "slow food" movement in the state, that seeks to preserve and protect local food in Wisconsin and the state's food traditions. So, buying local is both tasty and has a low environmental impact. The number one fruit product in the state is cranberries. They are native to the state, and produced primarily in the regions around Eau Claire and La Crosse.
The state is set on two of the Great Lakes—Superior and Lake
Michigan. There are also many inland lakes and an extensive system of rivers,
including the mighty Mississippi
River. You can't go wrong if you're dining in Wisconsin on fish from these
sources. In particular, look for trout, bass, and lake sturgeon. If you're staying
at one of the state's fishing
resorts, you are apt to find that the chef will prepare your own catch for your
The history of the state encompasses the emigration of several national groups, especially French-Canadian, Swiss, German, and Scandinavian. Because of this, look for excellent bratwurst (said to be Wisconsin's soul food) and sausage, Swiss-style chocolate, and Danish pastries. Additionally, the state is a large dairy producer, so Wisconsin cheese is one of it most famous native products. Combine this with the state's Swiss and Scandinavian heritage, and you've got many Wisconsin restaurants specializing in Wisconsin cheese fondues.
With all this "down home" food in Wisconsin you may think there is little fine gourmet dining available, but there are plenty of fine restaurants in the cities and in resorts. The state's only five-star restaurant is the Hunt Club at the Geneva National Golf Club. Five miles from Sheboygan, about an hour's drive from Milwaukee and only two hours from Chicago, is the beautiful American Club with several fine restaurants. Both of these fine dining venues also have easy access to beautiful lakes and world-class golfing.
There are also a number of Wisconsin restaurants that are full of history, many dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These can be found both in large cities as well as in smaller towns, and some of this kind of dining in Wisconsin will be done in old inns far off the beaten path. There is the historic Turner Restaurant in Milwaukee, located in an 1883 landmark building. Not far from Madison is the Ages Past Restaurant in a beautifully restored former rectory dating to 1898.
Again, Wisconsin cheese is undoubtedly the state's most famous food. You'll
even see ersatz cheese blocks adorning the heads of avid Green Bay Packers fans.
Some of the cheese factories in the state are attractions
offering tours, cheese tastings,
and have their wares on sale. You shouldn't depart the state without sampling
some, and perhaps bringing some home.