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Weather Malaise

Weather Malaise

Well, I have it. The malaise. But this case is so severe it should be capitalized, like Malaise. I should add something more to it. Like The Malaise. You wouldn’t say there’s a plague sweeping across Europe, you’d say The Plague is sweeping across Europe, and the death toll is astounding. Bring out your dead, they’d call. And we’d wheelbarrow the dead to the curb and when someone asked what happened they’d already know. It was The Plague. This is how I feel today.

It didn’t have to be this way. In fact, I’m generally resistant to this strain of weather borne illness. When someone complains about the cold in January, I tell them it’s fine. Make a fire, I say. When someone complains about the rain in April, I tell them don’t worry. The flowers will come, and I have houses that need to be photographed for my May magazine and I need the rain, I explain. In October, when the rain comes and strips the leaves from the trees and everyone moans and cries, I know it doesn’t matter because the salmon won’t run unless it rains, so rain away. And in December when it’s almost Christmas and it hasn’t snowed yet I think it’s terrible but I can also go out and chop some firewood without getting my feet wet, so that’s nice. See, this is my generally pleasant weather disposition.

But that was before The Malaise. Part of this condition is owed to my firm belief in a very negative weather related thing. My belief supposes that if a rainy, cold, windy spring has not been shed by June 15th, then the entire summer will be awful. I don’t like having this belief, but it has been true most of my adult life, and I have no reason to doubt it now. Rainy and cold with wind in late May isn’t a big deal for me. It’s just spring, I say. But now, when I’m staring down June 15th on my calendar and I’m seeing the clouds of today and feeling the chill of late Autumn in the air I’m falling deeper and deeper into my despair. Will this summer be a bad summer? I suppose we have through tomorrow to find out.

There is but one way around The Malaise, just one vaccine, one antidote, one homeopathic cure. The Malaise will grab you. It’ll shake you. It’ll make you wonder what your life has become and where your life is headed. If you’re not strong enough to fight it, it can, and will, ruin your summer. The only way to stave off the terminal outcome of this condition is to fight it in moments. To disregard the forecast. To ignore the men and women who tell you to grab your umbrella, and cancel your afternoon BBQ. You must ignore the macro and focus on the micro. If a weekend is going to be bad, is it all bad? Is the entire weekend bad just because Saturday was awful? Is this Friday going to be wasted just because it’s supposed to be windy and the clouds are hanging low and my furnace kicked on overnight? Or will there be something redeemable today? Something worth our while. Something in the sky, some blue, some white, puffy clouds that will replace this heavy gray paint that now obscures the sun? If the day is lost because the forecast says so, is it really lost?

I read a quote this morning of unknown origin. As I was deep within the grasp of The Malaise, the quote felt timely.

The perfect future never arrives. Life is full of seemingly endless trouble, and then life ends. Find peace in the imperfect present.

Never mind the fact that I believe Jackson Bowne said it better:

No matter where I am, I can’t help thinking I’m just a day away from where I want to be.

The concept is the same. Enjoy the day. The weather might be terrible. It might be lame. But the day will wear away no matter the color of the sky, so just try to enjoy it. If we’re lucky, the sun might come out and The Malaise might blow over to Michigan, where it belongs.

The Boat House Pizza Review

The Boat House Pizza Review

It’s hard not to judge a restaurant by its location. If Oakfire had been built in Elkhorn with a view of the Burger King, rather than in its current, splendid, lakeside location, would the pizza taste the same? Along those lines, can we judge a restaurant that inhabits a space known for being a restaurant killer in the same way that we might judge a restaurant housed within a non-infamous building? These are the things I was wondering when I puttered up to the Boat House in Lake Geneva.

I called ahead to see if there was boat parking available, and sure enough, there was. When I pulled up to the piers, two kids helped usher the boat into an open slip. The problem with this pier set up is that there doesn’t appear to be many mooring spaces for diners, which could be problematic if you, like me, left your pier in your boat in hopes of eating pizza by the lake. Still, the sun was shining, the lake was calm, and the patio beckoned.

But about that restaurant space, about the ghosts of restaurants past. This is the lakeside building to the South of Big Foot Beach, to the Northeast of the Geneva Inn. Next door, bulldozers have recently torn up what was left of a lakeside forest to make way for a clubhouse- a clubhouse that I argued shouldn’t have been approved, but we live in a community that has greedily bought the lie that progress is good. The restaurant here is a few years old, and that’s a long time for a restaurant in this building. Prior iterations have all failed. But why? It’s hard to say. Those who are quick to blame the location as being out of the way and too far from town obviously haven’t watched the success of far-away icons like the Duck Inn. It’s not the location that has doomed the earlier restaurants, it’s the restaurants themselves that have doomed the restaurants. Bad food is bad food, no matter the lakeside patio.

When I was hopping from pizza place to pizza place last winter, I was told several times to try the Boat House. I was told the pizza was good, maybe great. A favorite, for some. I was also told that the live music on the patio is often too loud, and that it can be an impediment to table-side conversation. When my son and I walked across the street and to the hostess table, the music was indeed loud. I asked to be seated on the patio as far from the live music as possible. It was the right decision.

The waitress was over with waters and menus, as we listened to the musician croon and the waves lap. It was a pleasant scene, and I was glad to be part of it. We didn’t waste any time with the menus, ordering a 14″ pizza with jalapeño and sausage (eschewing my typical green pepper/mushroom concoction, and leaving that in the past, with the winter). As this pizza was just 14″ and we were two strapping men, we added an order of calamari. I have a theory that supposes you can tell the quality of a restaurant by ordering their fried calamari. If the squid is good, odds are the restaurant will be as well. We ordered and waited. The man plucked out Take It Easy, which I pointed out to my son was made famous by the Eagles but actually written, mostly, by Jackson Browne. He didn’t care.

The calamari was out first. It was darker than typical, with large rings and whole bodies. It was tender, but the flour coating tasted a touch raw to me. I didn’t love it, but it wasn’t bad. The theory about calamari was being tested, since there was no clear opinion on this dish. The pizza followed shortly, taking 18 minutes from when we first made the order, which is in line with my expectations. The pizza was noticeably smaller than the usual 16″ pie. It was cut tavern style. Some restaurants cut small and some large squares, this was of the large variety. The jalapeño was obviously cut and placed on the pizza raw before cooking, which is a method I don’t like. The sausage dotted the surface with some consistency but it lacked an impressive quantity. The pizza, with those caveats, looked good.

And it was good. The crust was exceptionally thin, and well crisped. It wasn’t chewy, nor was it hard to eat (like some of the thin crust pizzas have been). It was just thin and crispy, and I liked it quite a bit. The pizza passed the flop test with ease, and in a rare feat, the test was passed on the first slice and on the very last. A nice surprise, indeed. But the defining characteristic on this pizza was the sauce. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t spicy, but there was a ton of it. JoJo’s should visit the Boat House to see how a ladle of sauce looks. This was a saucy pizza, to be sure. The cheese was normal, the sausage typical. In a blink, the pizza was gone and my son and I were left to ponder the score.

Was it as good as the best in this series? No. I think it was better than the Kringle Company and not as good as Mama Cimino’s. I liked the crust, but it’s a frozen crust, so we can’t go about pretending this is some fine pizza establishment like Larducci’s. This is just a restaurant/bar on the lake, in a building that is no stranger to restaurants. And on this night, with the sun fading and the musician singing, the pizza was quite good. Check out the Boat House next time you’re lakeside, and let me know what you think.

The Boat House Bar and Grill

N2062 South Lake Shore Drive, Lake Geneva

7.0/10

$19 for a 14″ pizza with sausage and jalapeño

Lake Geneva Lakefront Market Update

Lake Geneva Lakefront Market Update

I spent much of Sunday on the lake. There’s a new boat in the Curry fold, and the boat must be used. Boats are like that. If you don’t use them, they’re no fun. Just like lake houses. You can own one, and the ownership won’t be all that much fun. It’ll be work. But if you use it, then it becomes fun. It’s like money. Having a lot of it is fun, I imagine. But what good is it if you don’t use it? Along that line of thinking, the boat, and that sunshine, and Sunday. And a stop at Gordy’s for lunch and a gawkers tour of the lakefront to see what has changed since last fall.

Like every year, the lake has experienced changes. New builds are underway. Some large, some small, mostly, however, large. Renovations, big, deep, heavy renovations. Some renovations that you drive past on the boat and wonder if the renovation was the right decision. Should the old house with old house rooms and old house stylings have been scraped and rebuilt, rather than rebuilt around what was old? A new house in Loramoor, beautiful. Another new one in the Lindens, beautiful. Some new homes here and others there. The constant on this lake is the scenery. It’s always the same, always green, always lush, always dialed in. The change is the shade of the siding and the roof pitches of the new homes. Each year, the same, yet each year, change.

Earlier this week, a lakefront sold on Walworth Avenue in Williams Bay. This was not my sale. The buyer paid full price for a cottage with 50 feet of frontage, which is now the last domino in a line of five lakefront homes to have sold in the past two years along this particular stretch of lakefront. There are rumors of new construction coming to these skinny, long lots. Tear downs, maybe. Each of those sales closed between $1.1 and $1.5MM, whith just one at the $1.5MM mark and the other four in a clearly defined range between $1.1MM and $1.25MM. If gentrification is coming to this stretch of the lake, we’re about to find out.

The question now for the owners is whether or not this stretch is worthy of the gentrification, and the bigger, market question is whether or not this is a smart decision. I would argue that it’s a good decision if the initial purchase and the initial budget is range-bound. I’m speculating here, but that’s what I’m paid to do. Speculate on the current status of the market. Speculate as to where it’s going. And help buyers and sellers react to the market in an appropriate and intelligent way. That’s why I’m here today to think about the lakefront market, and to think about these sales on Walworth Avenue. There have been too many of them to ignore.

Times were, you wouldn’t want to buy on Walworth Avenue and tear the house down. This had been done in recent years, but it didn’t make a lot of market sense. Now, today, on the heels of five sales in 24 or fewer months, has something changed. Does this now make sense? I would argue that it does, with a big caveat. That caveat is not a market based caveat, but a personal one. If a buyer wants to buy for $1.2MM on this lake, they have very few options. Historically they would need to be in the Lake Geneva Highlands or on Walworth Avenue, with a few other spots dotting certain other sections of the lake. If you’re a $1.2MM buyer, you typically would not have a lot of options, but with ample, steady inventory on Walworth Avenue, it makes sense that these buyers found their way to this specific shore.

If you’re going to tear down a $1.2MM cottage and build a new house for $1MM (the low end of new construction on the lake, in my opinion, even on a small lot), you’ll be $2.2MM into a brand new lakefront house. Admittedly, this cannot be done anywhere else, and if you’re a buyer with eyes on a new house for $2.2MM, this is indeed your only option. Build away, new buyer. But this article isn’t about that buyer, it’s about the buyer that might be able to do better. The buyer who could have spent $2MM on a tear down instead of $1.25MM. This is about the buyer who is going to build a bigger house. A better house. And with all things bigger and better, that also means more expense. This is about the buyer who settled for this location rather than reached for it.

This is about the mistakes that are made by seeking out lower priced land. Don’t forget, it’s only a mistake if a particular buyer has a personal economy that is healthy enough to reach for more. Because for that buyer, reaching higher for the land purchase will always yield a higher top end once the new home is built. If you can do better, why not hope for that improvement? Why not wait to find better land with a higher upside? Why build in a range-bound section of lake when you could build in another location that might have legs to reach to $4MM or beyond? Why be early to a specific shoreline’s gentrification when you can settle in to another shoreline that has already made those strides? Why entertain the risk of one location when another, slightly more expensive, location will all but guarantee a gain at the end of the project? These are the questions that I ask on behalf of my buyers, and these are the questions that every home buyer who is considering building new on Geneva Lake should entertain. Without working through this process, you’re just buying a silly house on a lake without any real idea as to what amount of money you may be throwing away.

The market today is active, we all know this. Even new agents who tell you that they’re lakefront experts in spite of never having any lakefront experience or success can tell you this (and they do, in postcards, weekly). But the market is not without traps, and the easiest trap to avoid is the one that would have you over improve a specific section of shoreline that has yet to prove it is worth the investment. If you’re stumbling around this lakefront market looking for guidance, I’m here to help.

Oakfire Pizza Review

Oakfire Pizza Review

One year ago, I stopped writing fish fry reviews. Over the following weeks, I was often asked why I didn’t crown a winner. Why, after so much fish and so many potato pancakes, I never declared the outright victor. When I began the series, I had every intention of doing just that. Eat, score, rank, declare. That was my intended process. But after some time of visiting different restaurants and hearing commentary from the patrons who prefer certain establishments over another, I realized something. Going to fish fry isn’t about finding the best fish or the crispiest potato pancake. It’s about the idea. The concept. The practice. If your dad took you to the Village when you were growing up, you take your kids to the Village. Never mind the odd potato pancake, you love it. Friday Fish Fry in Wisconsin isn’t about finding the best fish, it’s about going where you want to go.

This lies in stark contrast to the pizza series. People don’t just go out for pizza, they want to go eat good pizza. But this is where the problem lies. People like different sorts of pizza. I might dislike the sort of pizza you like. If you like to order a pizza well done, you will love The Next Door Pub. If you know to order extra sauce on a JoJo’s pizza, you’ll love it. If you like the slightly pungent cheese that Larducci’s uses, you’ll find this to be the best pizza in the area. We’re all different, and we all have different tastes, and that’s just fine by me.

I did take some heat for this pizza review series, just as I did for the fish fry series. I had some shop owners lambast me for my honesty. This is not an area that takes kindly to objective reviews. This area is used to puff pieces, like you’ll find in local magazines or newspapers. There’s never a grade applied to an effort. Never an opinion levied. It’s just a glowing non-review that lacks any substance. I had hoped to change those generic puff pieces, but in doing so, struck a nerve. No one likes to be told their pizza (fish, burger, burrito, etc and etc) isn’t any good. No one wants that in print, and I do not blame them. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t mind being pummeled by people after I tell the world (or at least this tiny part of it) that the pizza they make, or the pizza they prefer, is no better than Meh.

With that in mind, I’m not going to wrap this series, but I am going to slow it down. There are places I have yet to visit. A new place in East Troy (wait until the Elkhorn people learn how I feel about East Troy), some other joints here and there. But that’s in the future, and the past is the only thing we can review. Which is why I went to Oakfire last night, and pregamed my Oakfire pizza with a Mod pizza. This the new fast-casual joint by Starbucks. I wanted to try this first to see if Oakfire was better, or if our local places were getting beaten by an upstart franchise. The good news is that Oakfire was better, but Mod is a nice little place if you’re in a hurry for a quick lunch or dinner, and you also want a delightful view of the Walmart parking lot.

Oakfire first came to Lake Geneva several years ago and opened in a renovated space that used to house Scuttlebutts. After they renovated, they opened, and then a couple of years later, they tore down the building and built new. The new building is modern, large, and if you want to know if I think the architecture is right for our lakefront, I’d tell you that it is not. However, on this night, with the calm lake to our south and the sun setting to the west, there was little about this scene that some reasonable person could dislike. We settled into our streetside table (here there is a large interior space and patio on the first floor, an interior space upstairs with matching open-air patio, and the streetside patio adjacent the sidewalk), and ordered.

The waiter was nice and quickly talked me into the Di Bufala Margherita as opposed to the regular Margherita. The imported cheese is worth the $2 he told me. We ordered another pizza, this the Diavola, and swapped the salami for the spicier soppressata. This is the only restaurant in this series that features a real wood-fired pizza oven. This type of cooking requires skill and knowledge, and we’d be fools if we didn’t both understand and appreciate that nuance. The pizza’s arrive table side within 15 minutes, and they were undeniably beautiful. The edges charred, the crust raised just a bit, the cheese sparse and nicely melted. This is a wood-fired pizza, all right.

The Di Bufala was good, though the cheese slid off the pizza when we tried to pick it up. A note of advice for Oakfire: serve this true Neapolitan pizza in a true Neapolitan way, with a knife and fork and not pre-sliced. The complaint about Oakfire is that the interior tends to be sloppy and wet. This is true, and this condition of Neapolitan pizza was affirmed to me by Steve Dolinsky before I began this tour. If the pizza is going to be soggy and floppy, too much so to properly pick up, then why cut it into slices? Serve it as it would be served in France, with a large knife and fork, uncut. That’s my two cents. The pizza, either way, was quite good. The sauce is made of San Marzano tomatoes, and while I would have liked it a touch sweeter and a tweak spicier, it was good. I cook my sauce longer, so this sauce has a slight raw-tomato flavor that isn’t my favorite, but it’s undeniably good anyway.

The Diavola was equally good, the crust nicely charred and chewy. It’s a nicely executed pizza, and on this night, there was nothing about Oakfire that I didn’t like. The scene was delightful, the pizza tasty, the service capable. I ate pizza at Stella Barra in Lincoln Park a few weeks ago, and while I preferred that pizza to the Oakfire pie, the scene at Oakfire was, dare I say, better? Happy patrons ate their pizza, music played, the big old lake turning shades of pink and purple as the sun faded. This is the finest of our pizza scenes, and the only place to eat a wood-fired pizza. Because of this, Oakfire deserves our praise, and if you’d like to put your fancy shoes on and enjoy a night out in our lovely town, this is your place.

Oakfire Pizza

831 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva

8.2/10 (this is the highest score I’ve given, but this score is based on this type of pizza, so I’m not saying this is the best overall in our market, just the best of this style (and, coincidentally, the only of this style)

$16 Margherita Di Bufala, $16 Diavola

Five Star Farm

Five Star Farm

I’ve never been to Edgar, Wisconsin. The odds are good that you haven’t been there either. Because I’ve never been, I don’t know much about it, other than they used to build some rather spectacular barns there. How do I know this? Simple, one such barn was built nearly 100 years ago in Edgar and in 2002 it was patiently and painstakingly moved to its new location just outside of Walworth a few miles from the south shore of Geneva Lake. That project was significant, as you might have guessed, and the end result is available today. This farm, known as Five Star Farm, features this vintage barn, masterfully converted into a dynamic living space adorned with old growth timber, combining for more than 7000 square feet. The land that was chosen for this home is 40 or so acres (some of which lies under the marsh line) along the North Shore of Lake Petite, a 200 acre lake known as being a springtime favorite of weary migratory birds. Five Star Farm is unlike anything in our market.

You’ll find a four bedroom farmhouse at the front of this country estate. This is an ideal home for an on-site caretaker, or perhaps for use as a rental. Beyond the farmhouse you’ll see the first of two barns, connected by large vestibule. The garage barn is 40 x 80 and has a second floor that would make for a most perfect party venue, or perhaps you’d like to return that upper floor to its original purpose and store your hay there? Follow the first barn through that foyer and you’ll arrive at the post and beam constructed main barn, the one that began life in Edgar. Today it is a posh country retreat anchored by a three story free-standing stone fireplace. Explore further and you’ll be greeted with a custom kitchen boasting two stainless steel islands, Viking ovens, Sub-Zero refrigeration, and two sinks with accompanying dishwashers. Planning to entertain here? Good thing, the large dining area comfortably seats 18, but that’s assuming you won’t be eating dinner al fresco in the adjacent screened silo. Beyond that, there’s a main level there’s a private master suite with built in dressers and full bath, and a spacious sunroom cleverly built in to a silo that matches the one on the East end of the structure. The walkout lower level has a 15 seat theatre, large family room, and two more full baths. In total there are seven bedrooms and seven baths, including two bunk rooms capable of sleeping as many guests as you’ll allow.

The property itself is a quiet oasis in an otherwise bustling vacation home scene. Enjoy time on the lake, time at the Yacht Club, or time on the golf course, but when the day is done, return to your unique country retreat. The property is vast and calm, and when I tell you there’s nothing else like it here, you just need look at these photos to know that’s no exaggeration. Contact me for a private tour. $2,150,000

Memorial Day Weekend

Memorial Day Weekend

Well, here we are. On the cusp. Don’t forget, this isn’t it. This is the cusp. This isn’t summer. This is a dress rehearsal. This is the weekend where you do the things that you need to do in order to be ready for summer. Remember that.

But this isn’t a weekend for remembering that, it’s a weekend for remembering those who paid the price so that we could worry more about the weather than anything else. Will it rain this weekend? Probably. Does it really matter? Not really. Don’t forget those two things- it’s a dress rehearsal for summer and it’s really a time to pay respects to those who made our lives so very, unbelievably, easy.

It’s also the weekend where you’ll find the new issue of Summer Homes For City People. Pick up a copy or three. Put them in your guest bedrooms. Read them. Discover the errors that escaped my proofreading. There will be plenty of them, I’m sure of it. I hope you enjoy the new issue, and I hope you’ll patronize the intelligent businesses that saw fit to advertise in the issue.

For now, take a breath. We’re on the other side of that miserable, petulant winter, and we deserve whatever good things are coming our way. This weekend, it’ll be fun. Enjoy it. And hopefully I’ll see you at the lake.

Cedar Point Parkway Listing

Cedar Point Parkway Listing

Much of the development around Geneva Lake in the early and mid 1900s focused on cottage building. How can we force as many small summer cottages as possible into this smallish section of land? This is what the developers must have had on their minds when they set about slicing up the large estate parcels that surrounded this lake. When the developer of Cedar Point Park arrived at the scene, he, or she, made a decision to develop single family homes around large grassy swaths of land that would connect these homes to the water in a most unique way. With that, the Cedar Point parkway was born, and the homes that line these select parkways are among the most desirable in our entire lake access market.

Lake Geneva Lake Access Home For Sale
531 Park Ridge

This home on Park Ridge is one such home. Close enough to the lake to have a pleasant lake view and easy stroll from the home to the pier, yet far enough to feel immensely private, like a lakeside tree house. This four bedroom parkway home might be in need of a bit of updating, but it’s this location that is so very rare in our market. The home itself has a cut-granite wood burning fireplace, a large lakeside screened porch, and hardwood floors throughout. The lot is wide and deep enough to hold a two car detached garage. As of this printing, this is the only available parkway home in Cedar Point, and if you’re looking for a way to get as close to the lake as possible with delightful water views, you should contact me for a tour. $765,000

Lakeside Screened Porch
New Cedar Point Lakefront

New Cedar Point Lakefront

Wander through Williams Bay and follow the lakeshore to the southern tip of Cedar Point Park and you’ll notice something. Something serious. Something obvious. Something unavoidable. You’ll notice, if you’re the noticing sort, considerable and significant gentrification along the lakefront. Old houses have been made new. Renovations have taken old cottages and turned them into new creations, mixing some quaint lake house features with modern day amenities. To the north, new construction abounds. Spec homes, sold. Four million dollars, give or take. And to the south, new construction and more renovations. Shingle style examples of lakeside bliss.  If there is a trend on the lakefront in Williams Bay it’s simple: Buyers are showing a particular affinity for the southern edge of Cedar Point Park. 

Why do you suppose this is? Why are buyers, with a wide lake full of opportunity, focusing on this section of shore to design their version of vacation home perfection? It may have something to do with the views. They might be the best on the entire lake, after all. It might be that westerly exposure, that afternoon sun that lights the pier long after evening has fallen on the western shore of Williams Bay. Or it might be that buyers feel comfortable investing here simply because other buyers have already been doing so. Investment spurs investment, in the event that you didn’t know. 

246 Circle Parkway is a capable lakefront home designed in the cottage style of many of the most desirable Cedar Point homes.  Here you’ll find three bedrooms and two baths, with a detached garage and 92 feet of lake frontage. The pier is brand new and large, two slips worth so you can keep both of your boats, or buy two new boats, either is fine. It’s ideal, as is the positioning of the home along that southwestern shore of Cedar Point.  While this home is easily a proper lakefront home right now and ready for your immediate enjoyment, the real magic lies in the opportunity. Renovate this home, and do so feeling secure in your investment. The end result will be a vacation home equal to the setting, and that setting, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is remarkable.   $2,099,000

Holi Cannoli Pizza Review

Holi Cannoli Pizza Review

During this pizza series, one place was the most consistently and aggressively recommended to me: Holi Cannoli. You know how I feel about Elkhorn. And you know how I feel about Whitewater. Imagine then, if you will, how I could feel about the space between these two towns. That’s where Holi Cannoli lives, in the space between. The only question is were these recommendations wicked lies or were these people hoping to keep me safe from the pain that is a miserable, if local, pizza.

It was Saturday night and I was tired. I had worked during the day, and then retreated to more work in the evening. The office garden needed weeding and mulching, and my wife had a party that appeared to include every woman in Walworth County. I had to go somewhere. Anywhere, and since it was Saturday and I was tired that meant I was also hungry. My son was finishing a baseball double header, and I would need some salve for my blisters and he some salve for his wounded ego. I called HC at 7 pm and was told it would be an hour wait. The place was slammed. I asked if they take reservations and they did. 8:30 was the soonest they could offer, which was fine because I had to clean up and look reasonably respectable for this, my first ever visit, to Holi Cannoli. We drove through Elkhorn, quickly, stopped at Walgreen’s for a couple of last minute Mother’s Day cards, and arrived at the restaurant at 8:30 sharp. The parking lot was jammed.

Most pizza places in Walworth County lack any type of recognizable scene. They’re just places to get pizza, and when you’re in the mood to devour pizza you care very little about the terrible decor that haunts most local pizza establishments. A good pizza erases any concern of your surroundings. But HC was happening. The interior space isn’t much to consider, it’s just a couple of dining rooms with a large bar in the middle, and the decor is typical North American Italian Restaurant Issue. Some faux paintings of wine bottles, some plastic grape vines with impressive plastic grape clusters, some paintings of Napa, or Tuscany, no one can be sure. HC might not win any design awards, but on Saturday night the crowd was lively and happy, the wine appeared to be flowing with vigor, and the various plates of food scattered about all looked equally delicious.

After the pleasant hostess sat us at our four top near the wood-fired oven, the bus-boy was quickly over to slap down a couple of waters. The sign outside says “COAL FIRED PIZZA”, which I thought interesting since “WOOD FIRED PIZZA” is the same thing, just at a different state of combustion. The oven on the back wall was clad in brick, and the busy hands of an open pizza kitchen were arranging toppings, stoking the fire, and feeding the dough through a mechanical roller. I wasn’t sure what type of pizza I’d be eating here, since a typical wood-fired pie is normally of the neapolitan variety, similar to what I had last week at Stella Barra in Lincoln Park, and similar to that which is served at Oak Fire in Lake Geneva. The mechanical roller threw me off, as any proper neapolitan dough would never be rolled like this. Never mind, the mystery would soon unravel, and we ordered a sausage pizza with mushrooms, along with an order of Calamari. Shortly after ordering, a bevy of bread and a dish of marinara was brought table side. We dipped and munched. My son summed up this part of the dinner perfectly, “it’s not very good, but it’s free bread”. Free bread indeed, son. Free bread indeed.

The calamari arrived quickly. It was lightly breaded, more pale than golden, and mostly rings. We dipped it in the cocktail sauce, which tasted a bit too tangy and not in a horseradishy sort of way. It reminded me of a Heinz cocktail sauce that you squeeze out of a bottle. Too much ketchup, maybe. We ate the plate anyway, it was fine, but not memorable. The pizza was out quickly. Frighteningly quick. Maybe eight minutes after ordering it, tops. It was impossibly flat, nicely browned, the edges charred in the tell-tale style of a wood-fired pie. It looked delicious. 16 inches of razor thin pie for $21.95 plus $1.50 for the added mushrooms. Not a terrible ransom. The first slice passed the flop test, which is rare for a neapolitan style pie.

Ah, but this isn’t a neapolitan style pie. This is a wood fired pie that is, in actuality, a tavern style pizza. The crust is mechanically rolled, which creates that super thin, remarkably uniform crust. There is no raised edge here, no soft middle. It’s a hybrid of sorts. The cheese was proper and well browned, the sausage mild but plentiful without being overwhelming. The mushrooms were mostly absent, but I would prefer that to the overload that occurred in Whitewater a week or two prior. The exterior bits of crust were crunchy and singed by the flame. It was a good pizza.

But there was a problem here, and it’s one that I can appreciate as someone who has struggled at the helm of a wood-fired oven. The top of the pizza was nicely browned, but the bottom of the crust featured no such browning. It was nearly flour white. The edges were crisped, but beyond that the crust was soft and undercooked. I know what happened here. A gas oven heats up uniformly, with the oven deck holding that heat beautifully, just as the thermostat dictates. But a wood-fired oven, after working overtime during the heated pace of a Saturday night service, tends to lose some deck heat. The chef fixes this by adding wood and stoking the fire that burns in a back corner of the oven, but while the air heats, the deck is shielded by a handful of pizza pies. The deck stays cooler than the air, which results in a pizza that shows beautifully on top but is, as a matter of undeniable fact, undercooked on the bottom. This was the fate that befell our pizza.

I liked this restaurant. It was bustling with activity, and the pizza was reasonably good. The bigger question for me is will I be back? Sadly, I believe the answer to be no. But that’s just me, and it takes some effort and time for me to leave Williams Bay and drive to that location north of Elkhorn. It’s a good pizza, don’t get me wrong, but is it as good as the best? No, on Saturday night it most certainly wasn’t.

Holi Cannoli

N7605 US Highway 12, Elkhorn, WI

6.7/10

$21.95 for a 16″ Sausage Pizza, plus $1.50 for mushrooms.

PS. I may do one more review along with a summary next week to wrap the series.

Market Cycles

Market Cycles

It pains me to write about the market on this blog. During the earlier times of these writings, I could write and write and only some buyers and sellers would pay attention. Now I write and write and other agents pull my insights and commentary and adopt them as their own. My selfishness objects to this. But there’s no way to combat it, unfortunately, aside from a fatal paywall. No, this information might be my proprietary blend, formulated only after decades at this helm and distilled by the fire of many market cycles, but once I write it it’s free. Other agents who find their market insights from this blog, you’re welcome for what follows.

To understand this market, you must understand the macro functions of a generic real estate market. First and foremost to that understanding is the awareness that people, en masse, do not buy or sell based on personal circumstances, or their personal economy. They buy based on confidence and they sell based on fear. There is nothing else. In 2008 a homebuyer on Geneva Lake bought a lakefront house on the exact day the market topped. In 2011 he sold it on the exact day the market bottomed. His personal finances between those dates changed very little. The only thing that changed was his perception of the market, and that perception started with confidence and ended in fear. All other commentary related to the movement of markets is nuance.

This is why corn-field subdivisions in 2006 sold with violent fervor and then died with a silent dirge in 2012. This is why those same cornfields are selling now at a furious pace, for prices that far exceed any market top of 2007. $500k for a cornfield ranch? Sure! Why does this buyer buy for $500k now when she could have bought for $340k in 2012? Has her income increased commensurate? We know that interest rates have risen since then, so that isn’t the catalyst. We know that the job market in greater Walworth County isn’t welcoming Google or Facebook anytime soon. So why the rush now in the heat of competition when there was only silence back when value was literally everywhere? Confidence and fear.

Now that you understand this, consider the 2019 buyer. This is not a uniform buyer, by the way. There are three sorts of buyers in the market this morning, the morning of my birthday. Our first buyer is the scared buyer. This is the buyer who was afraid to buy in 2006 because the market was too hot. He was afraid to buy in 2012 because the market was too cold. And he’s afraid to buy now because he feels that it is, once again, too hot. This is what market cycles do, they go from hot to cold, repeatedly, with various stops along the way. This buyer doesn’t like 2019. He wishes it was 2014. He wished, in 2014, that it was 2012. In 2012, he was terrified. This is a buyer who fails to understand real estate and its purpose, and instead wishes to time the market with the hope of immediate and lasting gains. This is the buyer who wouldn’t buy Apple at $8 because IBM.

The other buyer is the feverish buyer. This is the frantic buyer. The buyer who is so whipped up by her own confidence and by the confidence of her cheerleading agent that she has no choice but to buy. Bad house in a bad location for a bad price? SOLD! This buyer can’t wait. Won’t wait. To suggest that better inventory might be coming next week is to suggest pause, and pause will not be tolerated. This buyer is motivated by confidence, by personal economy, by haste. I want to hate this buyer, because this generally isn’t the smart of sophisticated buyer that chooses to work with me, but in reality, I understand this buyer. This is a buyer that knows summer is coming, and that buyer wants to spend it in a better place. That buyer wants this scene so badly she’s willing to rush into it to secure it. This buyer skews markets. This buyer prints albatrosses. This buyer is what every open-house holding agent prays for. Walk this way, young lady.

And then there is the other sort of 2019 buyer. This buyer understands that the market is hot. He understands that prices are higher than they were two years ago. He understands that 2012 was a good time to buy, but he wasn’t in the market then. But this is a buyer who is neither terrified of the future, nor will he sloppily rush to secure it. This is a buyer who understands, even in this cycle of low inventory and high competition, that value still exists. It is still out there. It is present, even this morning, with limited inventory and incredible buyer activity. There are cracks and there are properties that find their way into them. Deals will be had, or maybe they won’t.

To each of these buyers I would suggest the market is indeed hot. Not as hot as the fanatic buyer would suggest and not as dangerous as the regretful buyer would insist. This market is hot. Undoubtedly hot. To buy in 2019 is to entertain some sort of premium. The cycle is getting old, but is it spent? I do not think it is. There is a market trend that is presenting routinely and blatantly, and that trend has everything to do with the state of Illinois. Not the State, mind you, but the state. The pending income tax and constant property tax increases are not a good thing for our market. To suggest that they are is insane. But is a diminished Illinois bad for Lake Geneva? Is an Illinois that has yet to see a tax increase that it isn’t willing to consider a fatal prospect for the vacation home market that lives and dies with the residents of this great state? The answer, it seems, is no.

Would I prefer Illinois to grow and expand and usher in an era of prosperity, free of the shackles of politicians who find office by fostering resentment between classes? Of course. That would be ideal. But in spite of the current tax climate, Lake Geneva is thriving. Why? Well, it’s because of that negative climate. See, times were, a junior associate might live in Lakeview with his new bride. They’d enjoy their time there, but as they matured and as their incomes grew, they’d look for the upgrade. They’d look to Winnetka, maybe, or Lincoln Park. They’d look to move from that condo and to a single family. Or they’d look to find a bigger residence on a higher floor. Something better. Then, after they made that move and their personal economies continued to grow, they’d move again. A few years later. Or maybe a decade later, still, they’d move. Upward and onward, to something better. In case you weren’t aware, in real estate, something better is generally more expensive. The cycle would continue until the time came to downsize, and retire to a winter spent in Naples.

Today, I see the cycle changing. Buyers see the illiquid suburban manse and they want nothing to do with it. They see the pending property tax burden and they do not want to embrace it. But they are still growing financially and they still long for something else. So instead of purchasing that next house, that bigger condominium, that adjacent unit, they’re taking their housing dollars out of state. They’re still earning at a fabulous clip, but they’re not wanting to reinvest into the Illinois problem. Why go long in illiquid real estate that may or may not be taxed at a rapidly accelerating rate? That’s the question, and they’re answering it by bringing those unspent housing dollars to Lake Geneva. They’re investing them in market where the return will likely be financial but will also be personal. They’re investing in their families. In themselves. They’re keeping their housing footprint reasonable in Illinois and they’re expanding it here. Want to know why our market is thriving in spite of Illinois? This is why.

I expect the trend to continue into the foreseeable future. The cycle will ultimately pause, and at that point we’ll re-ignite the cycle where fear breeds fear, and the weaker hands will be flushed. But until then, and again after that ultimate, some-day-softening what happens? Lake Geneva thrives.

PS. Do I think full time residents are going to leave Illinois for Wisconsin? No, I don’t. If you own a house in Crystal Lake and you pay $10k in property taxes on your $300k home, let’s suppose you rightfully hate that and want to move to Wisconsin. In Lake Geneva, that $300k home will have a $7k tax bill. Your kids are in soccer and you commute to Schaumburg every day for work. Will you uproot your family and your life to save $3k per year? The answer should be, and will be, no. If you said yes, then you’re not thinking clearly.

May Flowers

May Flowers

For all of the moving I’ve done, and all of the land that I’ve called home, I have only owned one prized Oak tree. The trees that typically fall under my temporary ownership are scrub varieties, those Boxelders and its twisted cousins that lack any sort of pedigree. Even the Boxelder at least has a name that people know, and that’s more than can be said for most of the trees that I’ve owned. They’re just trees, the variety that grow tall and skinny or short and curvy, without much to offer while living, and without burning long and hot when dead. At my current home, I do own one singular Oak, and what an impressive tree it is. 

It’s huge, this Oak, big and tall and sturdy. It’s old, so old in fact that I hesitate to guess its age. If you were to guess the age of an old woman, it would be best to err on the side of youth. If the old woman looks 90, guess that she’s not a day over 78. But with an Oak tree, to guess less is to insult its heritage, to insult its will to live and thrive and grow tall and round. But this Oak tree, though I love it and appreciate it, it’s on the margin of my property where it intermingles with small trees of varying makes and models. The majesty of this Oak is obscured by the company it keeps. 

If you drove down South Lakeshore Drive heading from the Fontana lakefront to the East, this is a pleasant drive in May, and in July, and in January. If you made that drive in July, you’d notice some scraggly trees that jut out at odd angles from the Buntrock property, just to the West of Westgate. Those trees in July look like weedy trees, the sort that I would own, and in January they look the same, sans leaves. During any month of the year they blend in to a larger tree line, and they mean absolutely nothing. But that’s not the case in May, because those trees are just about to blaze in a hot pink glow, the color radiating from the otherwise green scene. Those trees in May don’t just mean something to that landscape, they mean everything. 

In fact, everywhere there are trees just like those. No-name trees that burst in pink flowers, and apple trees dressed in white and pink. Pear trees do the same, and crabapples make up for their mostly inedible fruit with their remarkable spring display. Cherry trees, both the ones cultivated for their tart fruit or the ones that grow wildly on the lot lines of properties like mine, they’re magnificent right now. I don’t even need to mention Magnolia trees, because they’re the most beautiful of all. Drive down Geneva Street in Williams Bay later this week and you’ll see two such trees, magnificent and proud, pushing forward those blooms that demand our attention. 

A boat trip around the lake in July is really terrific. The shoreline and the hills that rise beyond it are deep and green, dark and full of life. Wisconsin flaunts it’s deciduous heritage in July, and you’d be remiss if you didn’t pause to appreciate this landscape. But today, a boat ride around the lake features a dull hint of green, contrast by the bright yellowy-green of the Willows, and accented by the pops of white pedals from the cherries and the apples, the pinks from the crabapples and the purple from lilacs. The steady deep tone of summer is beautiful but unvaried, whereas the pastel tone of May is exciting and colorful, a visual treat to reward us for enduring the months of dull and gray. Summer is where I’d like to spend most of my time, but the flowering trees of May cannot be overlooked. 

The Oak tree in my yard is slowly sending out its leaves. Oaks are like that. They’re old, after all, so they move more slowly and deliberately. Acorns are neat tricks, so tidy and important, but an acorn cannot hold a candle to a scrubby tree that blooms with so much pent up vigor. Here’s to you, miscellaneous flowering trees, for making beautiful my wait for summer.

Photograph courtesy Matt Mason Photography

JoJo’s Pizza Review

JoJo’s Pizza Review

There’s a particular scene in Django Unchained that finds a group of men in the midst of preparing for a raid. The reason for the raid is unimportant. It’s dark, and the group of men are riding horses and wearing masks. The masks have two small eye holes cut into them and nothing else. The men are complaining. They can’t see. They can’t breathe. The complaining is colorful and intense. One man is defending his wife, who made the masks, while another man chides, “well if all I had to do was cut a hole in a bag, I coulda cut it better than this!

That’s how I feel about pizza. It’s just a crust, some sauce, cheese and random toppings. There’s not much to it, really. It should be so easy that anyone could make it. My mom makes it, but she’s a good cook. Your mom makes it, and she might not be so good. I make it, my wife makes it, my kids, if given some time, they could make a pizza, too. Someone who doesn’t understand pizza might think this way. When I started this series, I knew pizza was hard to make at home in my wood-fired ovens, but I figured that any restaurant, if given enough time to practice, could master the art of the pie. Each week I’m realizing just how wrong I was.

On Sunday afternoon, I was hungry. This was not unique to last Sunday. This is an affliction that I carry with me every day, no matter the month, the season, the year. I will bring this curse to my grave. I had finished some showings, stopped at Lowes to buy a few bits and pieces needed for my bathroom remodel project, and since I was already in Delavan I decided to round out the Delavan pizza places with JoJo’s. I called on the pizza from the parking lot of Lowes, an extra large pizza called the Favorite Five, to go. The Favorite Five did not contain any mention of olives, proving the intelligence and refined palate of JoJo’s owners. The wait would be about 30 minutes, just enough time to run into Walmart to buy some deodorant and subsequently wait for 10 minutes in Walmart Line Hell while the people in front of me navigated through the futuristic waters of the self check-out.

JoJo’s is a basic restaurant on Highway 50 in the Delavan Inlet. It’s nothing much to look at from the exterior, but pretty much every pizza place in Walworth County, excepting Oak Fire, would be accurately described in the same way. I was early to pick up my pizza, but I wanted to walk inside for the first time to see what this place was all about. I was pleased to see patrons seated at the tables, eating their pizzas. A girl stocked drinks in a glass-front cooler, and I sat down to peruse the local magazines. One such magazine talked about pizzas without actually grading the pizzas, for shame.

Exactly 30 minutes after I placed my order, the pizza was brought out from the kitchen. I appreciated the punctuality. Unlike other pizza places, their extra large pie is an 18″, rather than the typical 16″, so I was excited to have a chance to pack on some extra calories before summer. I paid the tab, $21.40 plus tax and tip (a great price for an 18″ pizza), and retreated to the safety of my car, where the lustily intoxicating smell of a fresh pizza perfumed my interior.

The first thing you notice about this pie is the pepperoni. It’s placed on top of the cheese, like a true pepperoni pizza. The other vegetables of sausage, mushroom, onion, as well as the other meat, sausage, were tucked under the cheese as is a normal tavern style preparation. The flop test was a breeze, as this crust was sturdy but thin, crunchy but soft. It was a relief after the molar cracking episode at Gino’s the week prior. The crust is more like Mama Cimino’s, crunchy but soft, very little chew. Like a Ritz cracker without the buttery sheen. I liked the crust, but it wasn’t necessarily a standout.

The first bite was good. The second bite, too. But something was amiss here. The cheese was fine, the vegetables a bit raw for my taste, but something was off. I ate a few more pieces to see if I could decipher what it was. Perplexed by the delicious looking, yet bland tasting pizza, I drove to a friend’s house for a second opinion. As I sat at a stop light, jamming as much pizza into my mouth as I could before the light turned green, it dawned on me. This pizza had no salt. Once at my friend’s house, I didn’t fill him in on my discovery, but instead asked for his opinion. He couldn’t place it. He said what I was thinking. It’s a fine pizza, but I don’t need to eat it again. A few more pieces and I told him what was missing: salt. He concurred, and with that, the pizza’s fate was sealed.

On Facebook, I made note of my JoJo’s visit, and my astute cousin told me to order the pizza with extra sauce. With that comment I lifted the cheese and toppings layer from the crust and revealed the sin. This pizza had hardly any sauce. Like four tablespoons for the entire 18″ pie. It wasn’t that it lacked salt, it was that it lacked sauce, where the salt should be. A perfectly good pizza rendered average due to nothing more than a light dollop of tomato sauce. As for ordering a pizza with extra sauce, I will not do this, just as I won’t ask the Next Door Pub to cook my pizza well-done. Nor will I ask Culvers to make sure my custard is served cold.

I wanted to like this pizza. It looked terrific. The crust was crunchy and thin, and held up quite well during the ten minute drive from JoJo’s to my friend’s house. But the lack of sauce and salt cannot be forgiven. With a proper dose of sauce and salt I could place this pizza north of 7.0, up near the epicurean leaders. But without the sauce, I must place this pizza where it belongs. Ahead of the bad pies, but below the good ones. I appreciate the effort that JoJo’s brings to their pizza game, as everything showed signs of care and expertise. Even the sauce was good, if only there had been enough of it.

JoJo’s Pizza and Pasta

308 State Highway 50, Delavan

5.3/10

$21.40 for the Five Favorite Extra Large (18″ with sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and green peppers)

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I brought a new property to market a week or so ago, and if you’re looking for a vacation home with transferable boat slip, then you’re in luck. As you hopefully know, certain price ranges come with certain expectations. For instance, a lakefront home priced at $1.4MM doesn’t need to have a garage to be desirable, but a lakefront home priced at $4MM probably should have one. In the same way, a lake access home with a slip priced in the $600s will generally be marked by what it doesn’t have, as much as by what it does have. These homes are often known by their tight yards, lack of garages, lack of remarkable proximity to the water, and overall condition. In short, they’re usually small cottages that leave all but the most motivated buyers unenthusiastic.

N1525 Oak Shores is in, you’ve already guessed it, Oak Shores. This is the boulevard association along that South Shore stretch that also features The Lake Geneva Club, Shore Haven, and Sybil Lane. This Oak Shores home not only has a transferable slip, but it has a large lot with spacious, level front lawn. It has loads of parking via two driveways and an attached garage. And inside the home, it has something else that most of these association homes won’t have: space. This is a four bedroom, three bath home with more than 2700 square feet of above-grade living space. It might need a bit of cosmetic updating, but this is a property you should consider. $649k and it’s yours.

Around the lake, activity abounds. I have a new contract on my Bay Colony condominium listing, you know, the one that everyone knows is likely the nicest standard condo on the lake ($799k). I have a new contract on the $495k condo offering in the Old Boatyard Condominiums, a small association that you likely only know about if you’ve lived there or also lived there. Other lake access activity is through the roof, as buyers are showing a particular fondness for wildly overpaying for off-water homes without slips…

Speaking of overpaying, there’s an interesting angle in the market this year that warrants discussion. The market is, without any doubt, hot. It’s hotter than it was in 2018. And 2018 was hotter than 2017. You could play that game going back all of the way to 2013, in case you’re bored. Because the market is so active, buyers are doing lots of really dumb things. They’re proving that they value immediate fulfillment above lasting value, and they’re once again back to buying homes For Sale By Owner because they think they’re somehow getting a deal by avoiding a dreaded real estate agent. I’ve heard of several off-market FSBO deals this winter and spring, and every deal I’ve heard about has sold for far over the actual market value. This is tremendous for the sellers, but incredibly terrible for the buyers. Do you, a random buyer, think you know this market better than me? If you answered yes, I implore you to buy a For Sale By Owner. You’ll do great! If you’re a buyer who is also smart enough to know that the answer is a resounding No, then why aren’t we working together? Beware the For Sale By Owner. It’s often listed that way because the agents told the owner that the property was worth $X, but the seller wants it to be worth $X + 20%. And you’re going to be the buyer who waltzes up and pays that premium, all because you think you know the market? For deep and lasting shame.

For now, it’s raining at the lake, and I have an office fire burning. But the snow has melted and the rain is warming the soil and soon it’ll be morel season. After that comes lilac season and after that comes Memorial Day. It might be miserable now, but blink a few times and it’ll be summer. As we prepare for that glorious condition, don’t forget that your choice in agent representation matters. Don’t forget that a For Sale By Owner isn’t automatically a deal. Don’t forget that this market has only one top agent (as considered by total individual agent sales from 2010-present, highest average sales price 2010-present). And don’t forget his name is still David Curry.

Gino’s East Pizza Review

Gino’s East Pizza Review

Monday night found me in Burlington for my son’s baseball game. Since I was in Burlington I asked a few people for their opinions as to the best pizza in their town. The opinions varied. The Waterfront, someone said. Napoli’s, others chimed. Without a clear consensus pick I decided to move on from the city of Burlington and drive to the West and South, back to Lake Geneva where I belong. Burlington may have delivered a beating to my son’s baseball team, but I did not stoop so low as to eat their pizza and pay them back with a blistering review.

Gino’s East is a pizza place in Chicago. There are several locations. It serves deep dish pizza and other sorts of pizza, salads, etc. It may be an institution of sorts, though Malnati’s claims a more audible fan base, but it has only been a part of the Lake Geneva scene for the past several years. This Lake Geneva location is attached to an old hotel, the sort with PVC patio furniture. The restaurant space is fine, with bold views of the lake and a vaulted ceiling. The tablecloths are plastic, checkered in black and white. I’ve been there before, but on Monday night, after the baseball disaster, it was time to judge this institution.

We were led to our seats only after a several minute wait, not because there was a long line, but because the hostess was missing in action. We were seated at a booth tacked to the wall that separates the dining room from the bar area, but it was a nice perch to watch a spring storm roll across the lake. The waiter wandered over a few minutes later to take our order. There was some sort of special underway, so we ordered an extra large (16″) pizza of their supreme, and were told it would be half off, or something similar. This was a nice surprise, coupled with the nice surprise that their Supreme doesn’t come with olives as a standard inclusion. Finally, some good sense being displayed.

We ordered at 6:48. By 7:05, our water glasses were dry. By 7:10, we were telling each other that the pizza had better come out in the next three or four minutes, or there will be an automatic deduction to their score, no matter how good the pizza may or may not be. The water was nowhere to be found. After we had chewed our ice cubes, our tongues began to rattle around our mouths like wooden mallets. At 7:19, the pizza arrived. I don’t need to tell you that a 31 minute wait for a thin crust pizza, on a weeknight in April, with perhaps four other tables occupied, is not ideal. Still, we lustily drank our refilled waters and tore into the pizza.

The crust was slightly misshapen and smelled of yeast, a nice touch to prove its handmade origins. But while the crust was exposed, it was not particularly raised, leaving me to wonder if this is how the crust always is or if this was a bad batch. The crust was hard, like rock hard. Teeth-shattering-hard. The exterior was laced with corn meal, an option I vastly prefer over a floured crust (Harpoon’s should switch to cornmeal). But the interior was thin and held up nicely to the flop test. The cheese was a bit whiter than I prefer, but not as white as the white-out that is the top of a Next Door Pub, medium-rare pie.

The vegetables were adequately softened, with finely diced green peppers scattered about with slices of onion and mushrooms. The sausage was bland, and not particularly well represented in this ensemble. The sauce, was it even there? I couldn’t taste it, even though I saw some red smeared on the crust. Was it bland or just applied with a touch too much restraint? Either way, it wasn’t very good. The first few pieces of this tavern cut pie had me thinking that I’d place this pizza just under the front runners, but ahead of the pack. As two pieces turned to five, I realized that this wasn’t a good pizza at all.

Should a pizza place with a Chicago pedigree be held to a higher standard than a local shop being run by a guy and his wife? I’d like to think the answer is yes. But on this night, Gino’s served me a bland pizza, the only thing memorable was the rock hard crust. I expected better, and I deserved better. Alas, with that mediocre pizza resting comfortably in my stomach, I found solace in the simple fact that I was back in Lake Geneva, and no longer in Burlington.

Gino’s East

300 Wrigley Drive, Lake Geneva

6.0/10

$27 for Gino’s Supreme (discounted on Monday to $13.50)

North Lakeshore Drive Sells

North Lakeshore Drive Sells

There are certain ways that certain houses charm their way into our pocketbooks. It might be a floor plan. A quirky corner where a staircase shouldn’t necessarily be, but is, and because it is, it’s somehow perfect. Or a set of finishes, the tile in the first floor bathroom. The light fixtures. The trim work, elaborate and fussy or simple and calming. Whatever the case, whatever the house, there might be something there. Something that makes the house better than the others.

Last week, I sold 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana for $6,950,000. This is an important sale for our market, to display once again the dominant characteristic of our lakefront market: liquidity in the upper bracket. That’s our eleventh sale over $5.8MM since 2010, and I’ve been pleased to represent either the buyer or seller in seven of those eleven sales. This is the fifth sale over $6.9MM since 2016, and I’ve closed four of those five sales, as well. Consider now that our MLS, which covers much of the state, but not all of it, shows that outside of the Lake Geneva market, there hasn’t been a single residential sale over $6.9MM in the remainder of the state of Wisconsin over that same tenure. If you want to look at a market with a vibrant top end, you needn’t look any further than Geneva Lake. And if you’re looking for representation at that top end, I can’t imagine you’d want to work with anyone not named David Curry.

This house didn’t sell because of my masterful sales job. It sold because it was the right style house, finished with the right materials, located on a very desirable stretch of Fontana shoreline. Some sales make you wonder about the when and why, the how, really. But this sale doesn’t require any deeper or nuanced line of thought. It’s just a pretty house on a pretty lot in turn key condition and because of that, I sold it. Beginning, middle, and end of story.

For the seller who chose me to represent this fine property, a sincere note of appreciation. And to the buyer who allowed me to work with them to make sense of our upper bracket market, I thank you. Your weekends are never going to be the same.

Just Sold

Vesuvio’s Pizza Review

Vesuvio’s Pizza Review

This is the tenth week in a row I’ve eaten pizza. One week, I ate pizza three times. If you think this is why my shirts are tighter than usual, I assure you that the shirts were tightening long before the string of pizzas. When I started this series, I worried that the pizza would all end up tasting the same. I worried that I’d quickly grow tired of pizza. That the area would disappoint in its pizza options and I’d lament having ever brought up the subject. But alas, ten weeks later I’ve found each pizza to be different, and each week an exciting opportunity to uncover Lake Geneva’s best pizza. Besides, one does not simply grow tired of pizza.

Vesuvius Little Italy is hidden in plain sight on Delavan’s main thoroughfare. There’s a magnificent oak tree on the corner that looms over the sign, over the building, over the entire corner. What a tree it is. On Sunday it was covered in snow, an unfortunate spring reminder that winter routinely plays outside of the lines. Late into the afternoon I realized that my Monday night was complicated, and on Tuesday I had to be in Chicago for meetings. That left Sunday, so in the snow we traveled to that hidden corner, just north of Hernandez and south of the brick road, and we picked up our pizza.

I called ahead to order, as this is a takeout and delivery restaurant, much like Larducci’s in Elkhorn. There may be a dining room here, but if there is, I didn’t see it. Perhaps owed to that large oak tree obscuring my view. As I scanned the online menu I noticed there were some immediate differences at Vesuvio’s. This seems to be mostly a pizza place, but the menu is lengthy and detailed. If you wanted a pizza and, say, some breaded cheddar cauliflower, you’re in luck, Vesuvio’s has you covered. Their large pizza isn’t a 16″ as is the area norm, instead it’s just 14″, but it is priced a bit less to offset the missing pie. The Vesuvio’s Special is their version of supreme, offering sausage, pepperoni, bacon, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, and both green and black olives. I ordered the large (14″, which was a special for Sunday so it was only $16.95) and asked that the green and black peppers be thrown in the trash prior to assembly. To think a pizza place would serve so many satanic olives so close to a church.

The wait was to be 30 minutes, give or take. When we arrived, a few minutes early, there were two other diners waiting for their pizzas. My daughter told me of her plan to take a trip to California with her friends when she turns 18. I told her she was forbidden. She said I couldn’t do anything about it, since she’d be 18. I told her she will always have to do as I say, no matter her age. She told me this was a lie that I was telling myself. She’s 13 now, full of confidence, quick to reply and eager to assert some level of independence. I considered arguing this to a further detail, but the pizza was ready and we retreated through the dwindling snow and to the car. We agreed to talk about the future another time, sometime after this pizza was sampled.

The fourteen inch pizza looked small to me. Forced portion control is something that only flies in New York City and public school cafeterias, so I admit I lamented this 14 inch pizza in a world flush with 16 inchers. The crust was risen, the cheese nicely browned, hunks of sausage and diced vegetables protruding at predictable intervals. The cheese was good, normal, and as I ate this pizza I couldn’t help but wish this was the cheese that Larcucci’s would use. The pizza was cut square, tavern style, but I have a hard time considering this to be a tavern style, given that slightly raised crust. This looked more like my mother’s pizza, if less doughy, and as of yet my mother’s pizza style is unnamed.

The first bites revealed serious differences between this pizza and the others I’ve had. The crust was thick around the edges, but quite thin in the middle. It held up to the flop test. The crust wasn’t chewy, not at all, and the raised section of the edge was as crunchy throughout as a prepackaged breadstick in a supper club’s relish tray. The sausage was good, the vegetables a bit raw for my taste, and the sauce was considerably sweeter than any I’ve encountered. Was the sauce too sweet? My daughter and I couldn’t decide.

When the pizza was sufficiently sampled and I successfully fished out a wayward slice of pepperoni from the gap next to my driver’s seat, I decided that this was a fine pizza. It wasn’t remarkable, and I don’t think it belongs in the same category as the standouts. But it was better than the bad pizzas and similar to the market average. If I lived in Delavan, I’d have this pizza in my rotation. But I don’t live in Delavan, so I likely won’t make any special effort to have this pizza, in the same way that I would make an effort to order another pizza from Larducci’s. Still, I’m glad Vesuvio’s Little Italy continues to anchor that shady corner in Delavan, and I wish them continued success.

Vesuvio’s Little Italy

617 East Washington Street, Delavan

6.7/10

14″ Vesuvio’s Special $16.95

Park Drive Sells

Park Drive Sells

It’s tax day. There’s snow on the ground. If we look at those two conditions we could all agree that things are terrible. Except out West, they’d all be so happy with some freshie on the ground, but they’ve all lost their minds, a condition publicly proclaimed with little more than a flat brim hat. And I suppose except around here, too, because recent elections show that people love taxes. Crave taxes! They vote for them time and time again. For the children, they say. Yes, things could be terrible today if they weren’t so absurd.

But what was I trying to talk about? That’s right, the lakefront market. Last Friday I sold my listing on Park Drive on the South Shore. That’s a nice little sale for our market, at $2.1MM, a reasonable number for both buyer and seller. The sale came in at $26,582 per front foot, which is behind the 2018 average but close enough. And about that average, $27,994 for 2018. Does this mean this sale on Park was some outstanding value relative to the 2018 average? No, it doesn’t really mean that. Does it mean that the lakefront market has softened, as evidenced by this sale on Park? No, it doesn’t mean that, either. Further, this year there have been 18 YTD lakefront and lake access sales, up from 14 for YTD 2018, down from 25 YTD 2017. Does this mean the market is better than last year but worse than it was in 2017? Don’t be ridiculous.

That’s the problem with the metrics of real estate in a small volume market. They don’t really matter. Sure, there are places and properties where they matter, like a 100′ vacant lot with reasonably level frontage. That sort of property might be worth $2.5MM today. Why shouldn’t it be worth $2,799,400? After all, that’s what the data tells us it should be worth. The reason is simple. Each sale on Geneva is a unique situation, with no two parcels (excepting rare instances where platted lots are identical on a specific section of a specific roadway) being the same. That’s why the data is less a blending of the market’s uneven edges and more a collection of anecdote. What’s 100 feet of frontage worth? Somewhere between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. Is that good enough?

I suppose I know the answer. It isn’t good enough. That’s why your choice in representation, be it sell or buy side, matters so much here. If you’re bopping around Phoenix and you’re just dying for a three bedroom cinder block ranch with a stone yard and a kidney shaped pool, you’re in luck. Zillow might sell you that house. Or Opendoor, or the real estate agent who works in the station next to your aunt in the Great Clips on Rattlesnake Way. You know, the one around the corner from Parched Parkway. But these are desert jokes, and they’re ridiculous, just like the thought that you need special care when you’re buying a ranch in Phoenix.

This isn’t Phoenix. It isn’t Naperville, either. It’s a dynamic market where numbers don’t always justify value, and where value isn’t always justified by comps. It’s a market where a $2MM house with 60 feet of frontage can be wildly overpriced, where another $2MM house with 60 feet of frontage, a half mile away, can be a screaming value. I used to sit at this desk and see this market as you see it. As other agents still see it. With a smirk that was a blended emotion of bemusement and confusion. Today I see it differently. It’s clear to me. And if you want it to be clear to you, we should be working together.

Larducci’s Pizza Review

Larducci’s Pizza Review

On Sunday night I watched a documentary about the ills of an animal based diet. Dairy products are full of puss, the pork industry ruined the state of North Carolina, and chickens, well, chickens are even worse. Processed meats are killing us faster than cigarettes, and if we eat animal products we’re all going to die. The next documentary on my screen was about the perils of grains and beans, because those, too, are killing us. Eat meat, cheese, and full fat dairy, and then you’ll live forever. Regardless, I switched off the documentaries and decided that a plant based diet was the one for me.

But what a ridiculous thought that was, because it was Tuesday night and I was hungry not for grains and carrots, but for cheese and sausage. (For my diet fiends, don’t start lecturing me now, because alcohol is as carcinogenic as sausage, so remove the plank, etcetera and etcetera). I wanted to visit a pizza place farther to the north in Elkhorn, but alas, Tuesday is the day that pizza places like to rest. Besides, my son was playing baseball in Williams Bay and the game was running long and the runs were piling up, so I did what any father with hunger would do: I drove to Larducci’s in Elkhorn to pick up a pizza. This way I could satisfy my need for a blog post, satiate my hunger, and arrive at the end of the baseball game with whatever was left of the pizza. Hero, all around.

Knowing that Larducci’s isn’t a dine-in establishment, I called the restaurant from the baseball field to place my order. Larducci isn’t just the name of the owner/chief pizza maker (presumably) and the restaurant, it’s also the name of their version of a Supreme. But unlike other Supreme concoctions, this pizza boasted pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, red onions, and a smattering of red, yellow, and green peppers. While the menu doesn’t mention it, there was also some canadian bacon thrown in for good measure. My Sunday night self would have abhorred this animal based dinner, but my Tuesday night self placed the order and drove to Elkhorn with anticipation (I called at 6:08 and was told the pizza would take 35 minutes). It should be noted, that’s the third time I’ve ever driven to Elkhorn excitedly. The first time was when I was driven in utero to be born at Lakeland Hospital. The second time was when I was driven to the DMV to take my driving test. This was the third time. Sorry Elkhorn, there have been no other times.

Larducci’s isn’t much of a restaurant space. It’s a small brick building behind Lyle’s Appliance on Some Street in Elkhorn. Open the door, and there’s just a kitchen. Some work stations, coolers, and open air conveyor ovens, the sort Quizno’s used to roast your sandwiches in, back when there were Quizno’s outside of airports. A man met me at the counter, and while he never mentioned his name or his position, I assumed he was the owner and head pizza maker. We exchanged some pleasantries about the coming storm while I eyed my pizza making its way, slowly, through the oven. I paid the tab, $23.21, scribbled in a tip, and waited. But this wait was different than my other waits.

Since there was no buffer between patron and chef, I asked the man how long the pizza needed to bake. Eight minutes, he told me. I asked how long his dough took to make, and if there was a constant starter that he kept on hand, or if each batch was from scratch. He told me that he’d love the dough to have two or three days, but it can be ready after a minimum of one day. He talked about the dough as a baker would, not as a chef who pulls a thin crust from a plastic freezer bag. In the background, a younger man dotted a pizza with hunks of sausage. He said he, too, likes making the dough. The two men were happy to be here, happy to be making my pizza. There was pride in this effort that I haven’t yet seen on this tour. That’s likely because I was essentially in this kitchen, rather than separated by the drywalled line that typically hides chef from patron, but even so. I appreciated this man’s candor, his effort, and his desire to make a perfect pizza.

After checking on the pizza twice, both times saying that it wasn’t quite ready, he pulled the pie from the oven and took it to the box. He asked if I’d like some red pepper flakes or parmesan, I declined, and instead only received a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley. A nice touch. We talked a bit more about outdoor pizza ovens, about the dough, about the difficult but short winter we had just endured. I left with my pizza and felt content to have encountered this pizza maker.

Now, any regular old slob might have opened the pizza box right there in the parking stall in front of the restaurant. I’m not that regular slob, so I had the decency to pretend to drive away, as if I were driving home to deliver dinner, our quarry, to my waiting family. But instead of driving home, I drove to the stop sign and opened the box. This was a beautiful pizza. Easily the most beautiful of this tour. I took a bite. And then a few more. And a couple of pieces later, someone had the nerve to pull up behind me at the stop sign and suggest with a tap of their horn that I should drive forward. Elkhorn, I thought as I shook my head and licked the sauce from my fingers. Elkhorn.

The immediate difference between this pizza and every other I’ve had to date is the crust. This crust smells of yeast, and that’s the sort of smell that a dough can only find by spending a day or two developing. The interior of the pie was impossibly thin, but still gathered the strength to hold up for the flop test. The exterior was a raised crust, uneven, to prove the hand made origins. The dough wasn’t particularly airy, but it had a nice chew, again a result of that time spent proofing. The cheese was well browned and the vegetables (mushrooms from River Valley Kitchen) were adequately softened. The sausage was serious and didn’t suffer from an overdose of fennel. Thanks to the fine folks at Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy for this lovely sausage. Things were looking up, and as I left Elkhorn I delighted in this new to me pizza place, and in this delicious pizza.

But as time wore on, I noticed the cheese was different. It was nuttier, almost like a gruyere, or other alpine cheese. Was that because this mix had mozzarella and provolone? Was there something else to this cheese? Either way, I would have preferred a different cheese, and if this pie had the cheese, say, of Harpoon Willies or Pino’s, I would have raised up Larducci’s as the new standard. I should have asked the chef when the pie came out of the oven what his cheese blend was. It was noticeably browner than a typical pizza, perhaps owed to this different cheese blend?

With the possible caveat of the cheese, this was a most delightful pizza. I was impressed by this chef. Impressed by the care and attention paid to this pizza. This man loves pizza, and as a fellow admirer, I greatly appreciated this encounter and his product. The fact that he sources his sausage and mushrooms from local purveyors is more proof of this passion. Next time you find yourself lost in Elkhorn, or just hungry in Williams Bay, do yourself a favor and get a Larducci’s pizza. It’s a winner. Is it better than Harpoon’s? On this night, no it was not, but it’s darn close, and that earns it a starting position in your animal based diet.

Larducci’s Pizzaria

20 South Washington Street, Elkhorn

7.9/10

$22 for The Larducci

Old Lakefront Homes

Old Lakefront Homes

I wanted to think of a better title. Something clever. Something snappy. Maybe something a little less descriptive and a little more simple. But alas, this really is about old lakefront homes. Not regular old homes, mind you, as an old lakefront home with a 70′ lot that wants to sell for $2MM can do so. An old lakefront home anywhere on this lake can, will, and has sold. There’s a market for the old lakefront home, so long as the lot is reasonable and the setting acceptable. But not all old lakefront homes fit into our market without a time consuming, expensive, depressing effort.

Allow me to explain. Pricing is everything on the lake, and if pricing finds an older home on that aforementioned 70 foot lot, the price should be in line with market expectations. Older homes on lots like this will sell for land value. Newer homes on lots like this will sell for a premium. This isn’t the sort of older lakefront home I’m talking about.

Legacy estates exist on Geneva in magnificent numbers. These are the estates that get talked up on boat tours. The sort that people pause in front of on the shore path and frame in their selfies. These are the Wrigley’s and the Ryan’s and the names that no one knows but the names that sometime, some long while ago, made a fortune doing something that people valued. They took that fortune to these shores and established their lakefront space. Their retreat. Their legacy.

These legacy homes traded with some regularity up until the very early 2000s. Since then, I wouldn’t describe any of the sold lakefronts with this title. Was Hillcroft, those 19 acres along Snake Road that sold in 2018, a legacy estate? Well, maybe. The property certainly fit the description, but this is a post about old lakefront homes, not old dirt, and the home itself was no longer P.K. Wrigley’s manse, but instead a modern manse built in the 1980s. Surely no structure built within my lifetime could be adorned with this lofty descriptor.

The only true legacy estate to sell in the last twenty years is Alta Vista, that Van Doren Shaw home on the North Shore that closed in the year 2000 for a paltry $3.45MM. I’d argue that we need a new legacy listing. Something on this lake that has history that even the most modern among us could not bear to tear down. The trend, in case you’ve missed it, is for Lake Geneva to loudly pay homage to history but then, once history comes to market, we just knock it down and build something shiny. I’d love to represent a true legacy estate someday soon. Everything I’ve sold on this lake is nice, but I’d like to set my aim at selling something that can be preserved and restored, rather than demolished and rebuilt. But today isn’t about the legacy estates, just as it isn’t about the 70 foot lot with an old home on it. It’s about old lakefront homes with large lots that fit somewhere in between these two stated examples.

The market, while light on legacy offerings, has been historically heavy on another sort of offering. The old lakefront home on a large lot offering. The sellers know what they want. They want lots of money and they want you to see the value in their home. It was built in the 1980s, after all, or the 1970s for that matter. Maybe even the 1950s or earlier. These are the homes that aren’t new enough to substantially remodel (as would be the case with 1990s or newer construction), and they aren’t old enough to be considered architecturally meaningful. These are the in between. The large lot having, no architectural pedigree sporting, big old lakefront homes.

And the market doesn’t like them. Not. One. Bit. The sellers force feed the market, saying, come look at my big old home on a reasonably large but not overly impressive lot! And the market yawns. That’s because the market either respects a home or it doesn’t, and as soon as it doesn’t, it’s land value, and land value only. The gulf between land value and a number that shows value for the structure is the issue. Sellers fight this. They scratch and they claw and they switch brokers and they beg you to appreciate their Reagan administration raised ranch. It’s big, after all, and the lot is, too. Look at me! I have two Sub-Zero refrigerators from 1981!

This isn’t a new issue for our market, but it is an issue that’s presenting more frequently as prices increase and large lots because more and more rare. Expect this trend to continue, and the battle between buyers and sellers will persist. As for me, I’ll be here, stuck in the middle, wondering if those old Sub-Zeros might work better if we just get the vents vacuumed.

Siemer’s Cruise In Pizza Review

Siemer’s Cruise In Pizza Review

I was already in Hebron. Hebron, the place where they won that basketball championship so many years ago. The place that’ll be damned if they’re going to let you forget it. I was there for a baseball game, and after my son’s team was dismantled by the Hebroners, as I’ve decided to call them, we knew it was time. Time for more pizza. But where? I had heard good reviews of Red’s Pizza a ways west on 173, and since I was already in Illinois, it seemed like the right decision. Red’s it would be.

But while Red’s, just a bit east of Harvard, had ample open parking in their gravel lot, the sign on the door would tell us that we were not welcome. Cash only, it said. There’s something simultaneously quaint and annoying about establishments like this. On one hand, it’s a throw back. A memory of a more simple time, when people succumbed to Polio and carried cash. On the other hand, it’s actually bothersome. It’s 2019, Square exists. Just pay the 2% to the credit card company and move on with life. Still, in our cashless position we had no choice but to move on. Back to Wisconsin, back to Walworth. Back where the pizza flows like honey. (Note, Red’s announced last week that they’re closing their doors at the end of April. Sad news for Harvard, but Harvard is likely used to sad news by now, which is also sad.)

Siemer’s Cruise In is on the main drag in Walworth, east of the square, but only by a modest stone’s throw. There are some hairdressers, another bar or two, maybe a bowling alley, and at least one real estate office nearby. I parked on the street and walked in, my son still in his baseball uniform, me in my uniform of jeans and a t-shirt. I had been to Siemer’s before, if only once, and I quite liked the lunch I had there. But this wasn’t time for lunch, this was time for pizza, and we were hungry. Thomas was hungry from his baseball game, and I was hungry from this game of life.

A large 16″ pizza would do. There was no Supreme option, no real speciality options at all, actually. Just add on toppings for a fee. We chose sausage, mushrooms and green peppers, to remain consistent in this search for Lake Geneva’s best pizza. The pizza itself was $12.75, and each vegetable topping was $2.25, each meat topping was $2.50. Our pizza, all said and done, was $19.75, or on the low end of the local price range for such a constructed pizza. Since this is a bar first, we had to order at the counter with the bartender. No matter, he was kind and polite, even though it was obvious he was subtly signaling to the other patrons that my son and I were not locals and should be watched, closely. The time was 6:52 pm, but our hunger was nearing midnight.

We sat back at our four-top table and surveyed the scene. Televisions hung from the walls, the Brewers game was on most of them. On another, an NIT game, I think. There were signs on the walls about beer and others about food. Drink Beer, one commanded. The kitchen is half exposed, with the fryers facing the bar and a large double doored cooler doing the same. But this isn’t a sexy kitchen, in the way that some kitchens want you to watch them and admire their culinary ways. This is just a kitchen, some fryers and coolers. There’s nothing here to remember, and that’s fine. The locals didn’t seem to mind, as some nursed drinks at the bar and others wolfed cheeseburgers at nearby tables. The World’s Second Best Burger, according to their website.

The pizza arrived at 7:14, right around my 20 minute preferred wait time for such a thin-crust, tavern style pie. The pizza was pretty, but unfussy. It was flecked with oven marks, the sort The Next Door Pub finds maddeningly elusive. The sausage rose from the bed of cheese, along with a few peppers and mushrooms that poked through in random intervals. The pizza was noticeably light on toppings, with some pieces lacking a hunk of sausage, and an all-around lack of typical topping overload as is common in Walworth County. I couldn’t decide, at least at first, if I liked this restraint. I decided later that I did not, and at $2.25-2.50 per topping I would have expected a heavier hand.

Still, the crust was thin and crispy, the flop test passed with efficient ease. There was nothing initially wrong with this pizza, the topping issue aside. The first bites were crunchy enough, the sauce wasn’t bitter, the cheese fine. But as time wore on and one bite turned to thirty, the crust went soggy and limp. This was likely a frozen bag crust, and it showed. Still, we persevered and finished the pizza like champs. Locals came and locals went, many arriving via a back door that I didn’t even know existed.

This was a decent pizza, but I won’t go back for it again. The crust was too soggy, the toppings too light. The scene was a classic Wisconsin neighborhood bar style, but it lacked any of the age or patina that can make these establishments memorable. This was just a Tuesday in Walworth, and this was just a pizza that I’d only eat again if I found myself as I was that night. Starving, in Walworth, out of gas, and too far west from Pino’s and too far east from Nayeli’s. Then again, I wouldn’t even eat this pizza again, I’d opt for the World’s Second Best Burger, because that sounds promising.

Siemer’s Cruise In

107 Kenosha Street, Walworth

5.4/10

$19.75 for a 16″ with cheese, mushrooms, green peppers and sausage

Market Update

Market Update

It’s April. That means the year is young, but it’s not exactly new anymore. The ice left us over the weekend, and now it’s just soft water and sunshine as far as the eye can see. But that’s not entirely true, because it’s time for those April showers, the kind that are supposed to bring May flowers, but instead, often, only bring angst. It’s the in-between, not winter but not yet spring, and summer? Not even close.

The market, man, the market. Just a few short months ago I was concerned about it. Because that’s what I do, I fret. I want to keep the market momentum moving forward, and if I was put in charge of this market, more so than I already am, I could keep it going for a long, long time. Like Bernanke or Yellen, I’d be able to give the market what it needs, and tell it what it wants to hear. Still, in early January I was concerned about 2019. Today, just three months later I’m still concerned, but the concern has shifted.

When the year was young, I worried that the December stock market melt would negatively impact our markets. I worried that the recent Federal tax reform would hurt our vacation home market. And before I knew the specifics of his asinine proposal, I worried that JB’s envy driven tax plan would hurt us. Hate the man who has more than you, that’s the way that pitch went, and I worried.

But then the market melted back up, and buyers showed no signs of letting up. Contracts flew. Even as this winter threw snow and sub-zero temperatures at us, contracts were written. Buyers, rather than being spooked by any sort of December equity selloff and the rhetoric of a populist governor, pushed forward with their goals. Those goals, by the way, are mostly singular: Enjoy life, while it’s still here to be enjoyed. And if that enjoyment hinges, as we know it does, on spending weekends in a different place where the beautiful people instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano, then so be it.

Today, I see nothing but activity. The market is strong in every aspect imaginable. The upper end of the lakefront flexing its muscles with the pending sale at 389 North Lakeshore Drive ($7.395M). The middle market showing strength with recent offers in the South Shore Club and elsewhere. The entry level lakefront remaining devoid of inventory, excepting my pending lakefront on Park Drive ($2.195M). But beyond the lakefront, the activity is even more significant.

Pending sales are everywhere, homes with slips, homes without slips. Lake access homes that might have been barely $400k a few years ago now pending over $600k. There is activity, ample, generous, sometimes confusing, activity. Abbey Springs is on fire, with 19 available homes and condominiums and at least nine of those under contract. At Abbey Hill, four available units and two of those are pending sale. In another big turn around, there is only one available unit at the Abbey Villas. If you look back several years, you’ll read me lamenting the state of the market there. Lament no longer.

The lakefront condo market is effectively locked down, with just three available condo units as of this morning. The best among those is my $799k Bay Colony listing, but you already knew that. The picture is above, in case you forgot how great it was. There are pending sales at Bay Colony and Vista Del Lago, and a recently closed condo at the Old Boatyard around $800k.

You can see, whatever worries I had in January have been eased with this wild dose of market activity. But don’t think I’m not without worry, because I’ll always find something to worry about. It’s called creative anxiety, in case you didn’t know. Now my worry is placed back on the side of inventory. If we don’t keep stoking this fire, it might burn itself out. The best medicine for our market now is a steady supply of inventory, and with the things I’m currently working on, I think we’re going to be able to feed that need as well. Which will force me to worry about other, more important things, like how on earth I’m going to lose 30 pounds before summer.

Harpoon Willie’s Pizza Review

Harpoon Willie’s Pizza Review

When you’re reviewing pizza in an area of rural Wisconsin that is populated, be it seasonally or annually, by people from Chicago, it’s only natural that you hear the admonitions. Why eat pizza in Lake Geneva when it’s so much better in Chicago? If I want pizza I go to Chicago. Chicago’s pizza is so much better, I can’t even stomach the local stuff. This is what they say.

With those statements swimming in my mind I looked up Steve Dolinsky’s (The Hungry Hound) top pizzas in Chicago. Number one was south of my comfort zone. Number two was in Lakeview, Pat’s on Lincoln. So I did what any Wisconsinite would do, and I drove to Pat’s to taste what a pizza should taste like. I won’t dwell on this review. I ordered pizza. I ate pizza. The crust was super thin. The toppings, fine. The cheese wasn’t right. The sauce was decent. As I sat there eating the number two pizza in that second city I couldn’t help but think that Pino’s in Walworth was better.

On the heels of that Chicago trip, my desire to eat bread slathered with sauce and meats and cheese had yet to be tamped, so I tucked in to a raised booth at Harpoon Willie’s Tuesday night and ordered a pizza. Harpoon’s is a favorite of mine, mostly due to their delicious brisket sandwich and waffle fries, but also due to the proximity to my office and to the lake. It’s a great bar, and nothing will change that. Not even a very disappointing fish fry last year could shake my commitment. But I’d be lying if I told you that I didn’t think about that poor review that I gave their fish, and worry that I might have to deliver another blow to one of my favorite places.

It was 5:04 when we ordered. A large 16″ pizza. They have a Meat Lovers but not a supreme, so I eschewed the meatballs in favor of some green peppers and mushrooms. The remaining meat should suffice. The waitress was kind and polite, and refilled our water glasses two or more times while we waited for our pie. The restaurant was reasonably busy, but when the clock struck 5:35 I was beginning to think our pizza might not ever come. Then again, the wait at Pat’s in Chicago approached 50 minutes even though the restaurant was almost entirely empty. At 5:36, the waitress brought out our meatball-less pizza. Advantage Harpoons.

This was a beautiful pizza, and since no one else said it first, I had to mumble it under my breath. The cheese was dotted with battle scars from the heat of the oven. The crust was thin, crispy, ideal. Not as thin as Pat’s, mind you, but what, at this point, does that matter? The green peppers were a bit raw, which was a bit upsetting, and the sausage was relatively heavy on the fennel seed. I like my fennel seed right next to my olives, burning in fiery hell. The sauce was good, not too sweet, not at all bitter. The underside of the pizza was a bit too chalked with flour, which is a rookie pizza maker’s sin that I’ve committed many times. It didn’t bother the pizza, but I did think it to be an area that needed some improvement. The cheese was ample but not overwhelming, and it’s the cheese on our local pizzas that sets them apart from Pat’s. I’m sure the cheese all comes out of the back of a Sysco truck, but the cheese here is just better. Saltier, denser, better.

In spite of these few complaints, the pizza was superlative. It easily beats Pat’s. Easily beats every other pizza on this tour, excepting perhaps Pino’s. My son and I debated this on our drive home. On one hand, the crust here is thinner, crispier. The flop test featured not a single degree of flop. The scene here is better. The view, the style, all better. And I think on this night, the pizza was, too. And just like that, we have a new leader.

Harpoon Willie’s

8 East Geneva Street, Williams Bay

8.0/10

$22 for a 16″ Meat Lovers, sans meatballs, plus peppers and mushrooms

Countdown

Countdown

It’s spring break, and everyone is gone. To the mountains. To the beach. To a different place with its own brand of monotony. In the mountains, it’s snowing again. Powder Day, the flat-brimming locals shout. But it’s more of a lazy shout, if there is such a thing. On the beach, more shells. Here’s one that looks like my dog, says some old lady, as she tucks it into her sack full of other shells that also look like her dog. It’s another place this week for many, a break from the monotony of our early spring, to enjoy the monotony of another place.

But while everyone is playing and traveling, I know that there’s something serious on the horizon. Memorial Day Weekend. It’s nine weeks from this Friday. It’s not going to be a normal Friday, that’s for sure. It’ll be you, your office, your co-workers, and there will be a decidedly pronounced difference in attitudes on that day. Some will have an energy, a desire, optimism. Others will behave the same way they did the week before and the week before. For some, that Friday matters. For others, it means only the turning of a calendar, from one season to another, unofficially.

The decision whether or not that Friday matters is yours, and yours alone. The market today is humming with activity, and while I particularly enjoy the activity on the lakefront, each segment of our market is bustling. There is no segment left behind this spring, each price range and housing category finding buyers and fielding offers. You needn’t be robustly rich to enjoy a weekend at the lake. So long as a $90k condo in Geneva National is in your range, you’re in play.

There are pending sales throughout our market, no matter if it’s a $198k cottage in Country Club Estates, or a lakefront estate on the North Shore of Fontana for $7.395MM. The best news for our spring market is that inventory is increasing, albeit slowly. New inventory in any category is a positive, as this market features considerable in-trading amongst vacation home owners. A new lakefront for $3.5MM is good, because it very well may free up a new listing of a $700k cottage with a boatslip. That boat slip property will be great to list, because an owner of a condo at Vista Del Lago might be looking to switch over to a single family vacation home. Any inventory is good inventory, as it lubricates the gears that churn this market forward.

For now, you have a decision to make. If you’re sitting in your office thinking about summer, this is fine. But if those summer thoughts lead you only to a Saturday rooftop dinner and a Sunday morning brunch line, then you’re not thinking as clearly as I had hoped. Dream of summer. Dream of that Friday, nine weeks from this one, but make the decision to make this summer different. I’m here to help, if only you’ll let me.

Above, the divine porch at 434 Oakwood in Fontana. Just sold last week for $1,150,000.

Wisconsin Kringle Company Pizza Review

Wisconsin Kringle Company Pizza Review

I remember when this place first opened. I had a friend considering putting a donut shop into this odd building on the corner of the Lake Geneva Club and South Lakeshore Drive, just East of Fontana. We liked the idea of a donut shop here. A really good donut shop. But alas, before we could act, Wisconsin Kingle Company moved into the space and while they do serve donuts, it’s kringle first. I stopped after they opened and ate a kringle, for research purposes. It was okay, I suppose. But I couldn’t shake the thought of a dialed in donut shop. My Kringle Kingdom for one delicious donut.

This isn’t a donut review, or a kringle review, it’s a pizza review, so when I walked in the other day I ordered one thing and one thing only. A pizza. There was no Supreme offering on the menu, just some other concoctions (The Texas Tornado?) and a build your own menu. I built my own, a 16″ thin crust (that’s their only crust, plus a gluten free option) with sausage, green peppers, and mushrooms. The nice thing about this process is that I didn’t even have to warn the waitress that I’m deathly allergic to a mere whiff of olives. Good thing, too, because this isn’t really a restaurant. It’s a take-out place, so there’s no waitress so much as there is a lady behind the counter. I placed my order, $20.25 for the designer supreme. It was 3:47 pm and the girl said the pizza would take about 10-15 minutes. Yes, I know it was early, and yes, I’m obese, and yes, I was a bit hungry.

A man wearing a chef’s outfit appeared from the back corner of the kitchen. It was his time now. Time to make the pizza. He reached into a cabinet and pulled out a crust from a clear plastic bag. This was a crust like a Tombstone pizza crust. He wasn’t busy throwing and stretching the crust, he just grabbed it from a bag. With the frozen crust on the table, he began his assembly. Some sauce, the vegetables and sausage, the cheese. It was a decent looking pizza, but I couldn’t help but feel anxious over the bagged crust. I wandered around the small space, wondering if this was all a big mistake.

If normal Lake Geneva pizza shops aren’t high on decorating, this place fell well below that low bar. It’s just a space. Some sections have food items on shelves to buy. Some beverage coolers line one of the walls. A walk-in beer cave, I think I noticed in the back. And there are Kringles, all varieties. Along with some donuts. The tops of the donuts had cracks in the icing, which is a tell tale sign that these were not the freshest of donuts. A cop walked in and bought some snacks. My mind wandered… what a shame it was that we didn’t put a donut shop here.

At 3:58 the pizza was assembled. The man said it would need seven or eight minutes in the oven. The allotted time passed, and the man pulled the pizza. As he transferred it from oven deck to cutting board he looked at it admiringly and softly, lovingly, whispered “this is beautiful” . This was the second bout of pizza-self-congratulations within a week, but I liked it, as I am nothing if not guilty of the same. The man cut the pizza with a few extra cuts in each direction, so this tavern style pizza was cut differently than others I’ve had. Each piece was small, not even two inches by two inches, but that didn’t matter now. It was into the car with my pizza, and it was sampling time.

The crust, as I saw when it was removed from the bag, was thing. Quite thin. The toppings were ample but not heavy, the cheese adequate without being a burden. The sauce was quite bland, with no real punch or sweetness. Writing this now, I cannot even remember tasting the sauce. The vegetables were properly softened. There was nothing here not to like. This was the thinnest crust of the tour, rivaling Mama Cimino’s but without the soft crunch that bothered me at Mama’s place. All in all, it was a good pizza.

But was it the best? No, it wasn’t. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here again. I didn’t like that the sauce was bland and I had a visual disagreement with the crust being pulled from that plastic bag. If you live on the south shore and you’re in the mood for pizza one evening, this would be a fine option. Like all corner stores, this isn’t a destination. This is a store of convenience, and this is a pizza of convenience. If you go, you’ll buy the pizza and eat the pizza and probably like the pizza. But you won’t make a note to go back, you know, unless you’re in the neighborhood.

Wisconsin Kringle Company

W4724 South LakeShore Drive, Fontana

6.7/10

$20.25 for a 16″ build your own supreme

New South Shore Club Listing

New South Shore Club Listing

The South Shore Club is all quite nice. The pool and the entrance, the tennis courts and the piers. There’s nothing like it here, and likely never will be anything like it again. Within the South Shore Club there are nice homes, some better than others. Some new, others older, some by the pool and some near the tennis. But beyond the typical homes in the SSC there are the elite. There are the select homes that do not merely angle over lawn and towards the water, but those that sit right up on the water. The front row. There are four of these built homes that match this description, two of which sold in the past 24 months for prices broke the existing South Shore Club sales patterns.

N1619 East Lakeside Lane was one of those sales. It closed north of $4MM, and the new owners immediately began the process of making a 15 year old home new again. Styles have changed, a possible surprise to some, in the event that you are sitting at home with your feet buried in forest green carpet. The process was thorough. Painstaking. Expensive. But no stone was left unturned and a house that felt very much like 2002 now feels very much like 2019. The finishes are superlative, with Plato cabinetry and Wolf appliances anchoring a stunning kitchen. Where there once was carpet there is now oak. New paint, new trim, new floors, fixtures and stone. The audio visual components and hardware have been updated throughout and a theatre room has been added to the walk-out lower level.


 There’s nothing lacking here. No space concerns, with four levels of living space spanning nearly 9,000 square feet. No quality issues, with the extensive updates and recent repairs. And quite obviously, no location issues. This is the front house. The best house. The lot that faces the water fully, with a slight western tilt to take advantage of the sunsets.  The location on the water is tremendous, opening to the widest section of the south shore, offering easy viewing of the nearby Lake Geneva Yacht Club regattas. And now it also plays like the newest house in the club, and it’s being offered mostly furnished for immediate use this summer.

Offered today for $6.495MM. It will be on the MLS later today and available for tour this week. If you’d like a tour of this home and the remarkable South Shore Club property, I’m here to help.

Pending Lakefront

Pending Lakefront

My newest pending lakefront contract, 389 North Lakeshore Drive, Fontana. It’s a great house on a great lot in a highly desirable location. I’m excited to bring a new family to the lakefront, and to help them make their weekends count. If you’re in the market to buy or sell in the upper bracket on Geneva Lake, there’s no question that I should be your agent.

Nayeli’s Pizza Review

Nayeli’s Pizza Review

In a well known, oft admired scene in The Great Outdoors, Buck Ripley is shooting pool at a local, Northwoods bar. His introduction to Cammie, a local, comes by way of an unfortunate placement of his pool cue. When the cue finds its awkward position, Cammie, the street tough Northwoods girl of John Hughes’ imagination, reacts with disgust, assuming young Buck placed it there intentionally. Later, Cammie is sitting outside the bar, puffing a heater, when she teases Buck, “you don’t know how local I am“.

Why am I telling you this? Well, because until a few weeks ago I didn’t know there was a pizza place in Walworth called Nayeli’s. Some local I am. Aiming to educate my Walworth ignorance, I pulled in for an early dinner at this Walworth establishment. It was Tuesday, it was melty outside, and the restaurant was empty. But it was only 4:45 pm, so the quiet nature of this basic restaurant was understood.

The interior is as the rest of them. Simple. Nothing here to remember, nothing to write down. You will not find any design ideas for your next basement remodel. It’s just a restaurant in a strip mall next to a Subway and some empty storefronts. In the distance, Mecum’s headquarters occupies the old grocery store. It’s just Walworth, and Nayeli’s is just a place to get pizza or a sandwich.

When a friend suggested I try Nayeli’s, the suggest came with a recommendation. Order the Double Dough pizza. There are several varieties of crust here: a thin crust tavern style, the double dough, a hand tossed pan style (somewhere in the middle of those two, I presume), and a Chicago Deep Dish. I would normally have only sampled the thin crust, but with the recommendation, I had to try the Double Dough. One large (14″) Double Dough Cheese pizza, and one large thin crust Supreme with pepperoni, bacon, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and onions. I told the waitress to mail the black olives to Satan. It was 4:49 pm.

We sipped our waters, which my son tasted “dusty”, and waited. The restaurant smelled of cleaning solution, which I find obnoxious each and every time I encounter this restaurant flaw. Locals walked in with some frequency, picking up take out orders and driving away. Business seemed relatively brisk, and I was happy for the Nayeli’s that it appears as though they are holding their own in a town ruled by Pino’s. The waitress brought plates to the table and added that she brought us the bigger plates. Game recognizes game.

At 5:07, under the 20 minute timeline that I find to be a reasonable wait for a thin crust pizza, the Supreme was brought to our table. It was beautiful. Legitimately beautiful. Ample toppings buried in and around nicely browned cheese. There wasn’t too much cheese, which was nice, and more in line with Mama Cimino’s than Pinos or the Next Door Pub, who both apply cheese with a snow shovel. The initial crust test was astounding. This pizza stood at attention with no droop or sag, easily becoming the sturdiest, crispiest thin crust that I’ve experienced on this tour. I was impressed.

But things weren’t all perfect. The vegetables were a tad too crunchy, which wasn’t a fatal flaw, but was less than ideal. The real problem here is the sauce. It was a touch bitter. There was a heavy undertone of dried oregano. It reminded me very much of the pizza sauce at the old Chicago Pizza in Lake Geneva, the space now occupied by the Flat Iron Tap. The pizza was well constructed and well executed, but the sauce let me down. Admittedly I prefer a sweeter pizza sauce, but this sauce just wasn’t to my liking.

The Double Dough pizza was brought out shortly after the Supreme. The waitress said “this is beautiful” as she admired the nicely raised and golden brown crust. The crust was brushed with some oil, or butter, and it glistened under those dining room lights. Sadly, the pizza was mostly for looks, as the crust itself was, well, doughy. There was nice oven spotting on the underside, and it had some crunch, but it was a lot of dough, and the dough was a bit gummy, and not chewy. I don’t know what I expected, since it’s literally called Double Dough, but I’ve had better doughy pizzas. My friend, who is seemingly normal and capable of discerning good pizza from bad, failed me on this particular recommendation.

The pizza at Nayeli’s is good. The crust is superior. The restraint shown when applying cheese is to be commended. But the sauce wasn’t to my liking, and that is the only thing that holds this pizza back from taking the top spot on this tour. Next time you’re up at the lake and you’ve had enough of the regular pizza joints, try Nayeli’s. You just might like it, and if nothing else, you’ll feel like a local. You know, like me.

Nayeli’s Pizza

108 Fairview Drive, Walworth

6.7/10

$17.25 for a large (14″) Supreme, and $14 for a large Double Dough Cheese

Lake Geneva Market Update

Lake Geneva Market Update

I fished for a few hours last week. Me, the stream and the snow, deep and white, still soft, still clean, and the trout. It wasn’t a big stream, and I didn’t place much concern on the catch, but the sky was clear and the water, too, so I trudged through the knee deep snow and to the pool that ages of water had carved into and beneath that limestone bank. A solitary bald eagle sat in a nearby pine and kept en eye on my effort. I enjoyed that morning. I caught a few trout. It was a beautiful winter day in March, and that day is nothing like this day. Today, I’m ready for the melt.

The market, likewise, has spent this winter ready for spring. But unlike the icy hold on our landscape, the market thawed a long time ago. There’s a question as to whether it ever froze. It’s easy to sit back on a morning like this and feel the malaise of a late winter day. The ice and snow, clouds and wind. It’s all too much. But we aren’t long for it. Soon enough it’ll be spring and then summer and you’ll be sitting at your desk wondering why you let the malaise of March bring you down when you should have found the motivation of March, which is far more rewarding.

Around the lake today there is activity. Ample activity. A nonsensical tax bill proposed by The Billionaire Governor Next Door (that bill that supposes a hard working family earning one million dollars per year owes the same debt to society as a billionaire who made his money through the hard work of inheritance) is a headwind for our market, there’s no sugarcoating that. But in spite of this, the market persists. Activity is rampant in all market segments, from condominiums in Geneva National (at least ten under contract currently), to lakefront homes on Geneva. There is no let down here, just an unavoidable march towards summer, marshaled by those participants who feel like making this summer the best summer of their lives.

The lakefront condo market has had itself a nice little winter, with a rare pending sale over $1MM in Bay Colony, and another pending sale over $800k in Lake Geneva. The real tragedy here is that my Bay Colony unit, that one that’s so nice it’s almost difficult to comprehend, is still available. At $799k it’s being offered far below owner cost, and if you were looking to spend this summer lakeside in luxury, you couldn’t do it for less. Of course you could go to some other lake, but I know you’re smarter than that.

The lake access market is moving nicely, with twelve properties priced from $198k to $1.295MM currently under contract. Included in that list is my fine listing in Glenwood Springs, which remains the nicest off-water cottage I’ve ever seen. While this off-water activity is nice, the real action is once again found on the lakefront. My listing on Park Drive ($2.195MM) went under contract last week, as did another lakefront in Glenwood Springs in the high twos. A property in Shore Haven ($2.949MM) hit the market two weeks ago and was quickly purchased by another lakefront owner, as the trend of musical lakefront homes continues. It’s like musical chairs, but without the music or the chairs.

To round things out, the top end of the market received a nice jolt over the weekend with the fresh contract on my lakefront listing at 389 North Lakeshore Drive in Fontana. Newer construction in a desirable location is rarely offered on this lake, (note the desirable location part), so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this lakefront ($7.385MM) find a buyer. If you’re wondering how important it is to offer your home to the market in turn key condition, I’ll point to this sale and give you a hint: it’s very important.

The lakefront market added four new lakefronts in the past month and three of those sold immediately. I’m expecting lakefront inventory to increase in the coming month, which isn’t especially profound. The market will continue to move as the calendar turns, and if we’re experiencing this sort of activity now, can you imagine how much better it’ll be when the ice gives us our big, blue lake back?