This race has not been being run for long, but as the runners pass us by today, it is still quite clear that the finish line is miles and miles away. Years ago, there were farmer’s stands in the Lake Geneva area. Today, there are farmer’s stands. This is a good thing, a consistent thing, and a welcome thing. If you were hunting for gluten free items or secret ingredients that you saw featured on Iron Chef, you were generally out of luck, but only if the secret ingredient wasn’t corn or squash or tomatoes. We’ve always had those covered here, and covered well. The question of these years that now reside only in our memories isn’t one of fresh produce and where we might buy it, it was one of where we might buy everything else.
Large, traditional grocery stores are fine, and Sentry is a fine store, of sorts. The Lake Geneva vacation home owner largely keeps Sentry in its place; comfortable, happy, filled to overflowing with loyal cart filling customers and those who just needed the quickest rout to a bag of charcoal and some bottled libations. Sentry is capable, but it doesn’t inspire. The same goes for Pick-n-Save, a store that bothers me mostly because I’m never sure whether the N should be capitalized, as I have written there, or lower case, as I have written here: n. These stores are fine, but if you’re looking for a boutique shopping experience, they are not that.
The Lake Geneva market hosts at least three supremely attractive butchers, those being Lake Geneva Country Meats to the East, Sorg’s to the West, and Wilson’s to the North. These are all mostly wonderful, even if if generally have to order my fresh pork belly a few days in advance. That’s actually fine by me, because who should be eating pork belly regularly? Not me. Not now. My diet, by the way, after an indefatigably grotesque display of weekend gluttony begins, today. The local butchers are highly important to most grill loving vacation home owners, and a hint towards the pedigree of the meat in our area was revealed to me when visiting the new, and highly acclaimed Butcher And The Larder in Chicago. I had heard much of this butcher, mostly on Twitter, but from respected food peoples and others, and made it a point to visit during one city trip from the winter past. I stood at the smalllish display case and inquired about the origins of the beef, the chicken, and the lamb. The butcher explained and we talked, and it seemed that several of the animals, now parts, actually originated in Walworth County, at our local farms. So I had just driven 85 miles to buy marked up meat that I could have bought mere moments from my Lake Geneva home. The point is, our meat is revered.
But there has been, throughout these years, something lacking. Lake Geneva Country Meats on Highway 50 has done a fine job expanding their butcher operations to include at least some semblance of a market, stocking both dry goods and produce and cheeses, but the experience still falls short. Even so, they are a leader in this niche grocery store market, a niche that has become rather crowded of late. The Green Grocer in Williams Bay joined the fray a few years ago, offering mostly organic produce, meats, cheeses, and dry goods. They have expanded, continually if gradually, to a point now where the store has become a go to for Sunday afternoon grilling sessions that require just one more ingredient. More times than not, the Green Grocer can fulfill that request, and my palate, and my robust midsection are both thankful.
I’ve mentioned that LGCM and the Green Grocer both carry cheese, and I would be remiss in failing to mention that both the Brick Street Market in Delavan and the Cheese Box in Lake Geneva are outstanding cheese stores. Is it cheese mongerer? That sounds selfish, and these two shops are anything but. They are delightful stores, and they are another cog in the wheel that creates a memorable Lake Geneva culinary weekend. The newest entry into the boutique grocer market is one Roses Market, on Broad Street just a few blocks from downtown Lake Geneva. I stopped in last week, as an undercover treasure seeker, equipped with a keen eye and a parched mouth, I was intent on discovering this new shop.
I walked in, around, and out. I grabbed a bottle of Hint water, for no other reason than because I saw how the woman who founded that company made her millions during the CNBC show of the same name. The water, by the way, was sort of lame. The store was fine, and it was cute, and I appreciated it for what it is. What is it? A Lake Geneva version of the Green Grocer. As such, it will probably do a fairly significant amount of business, as nothing says “I’m a cool person at my vacation home” than buying grocery items in small, localized stores. Roses has meat, and cheese, and chips and dip, and they have drinks and wine and produce. I found out that the owner is also the owner of the River Valley Ranch Mushroom Farm, a wonderful country market just a few miles east of Lake Geneva on the south side of Highway 50. The connection makes sense, but I have the distinct feeling that they’ll need to up the produce portion of Roses if they wish to compete well with the local farmer’s markets.
For all of this developing scene, it still leaves me wanting. I love having grocery options that I didn’t previously have, I do. But none of the options allows me to indulge in succinct and efficient shopping. If I were doing a weekend dinner for my fabulous friends at my fabulous lake house, I would be forced to do as Ina Garten, selecting a few items from a few different purveyors before assembling the yield of my treasure hunt on my Boos cutting board. I suppose there’s a charm in such shopping, but there’s also charm in finding one grocer that combines the best of everything. Roses is trying to do this, as is the Green Grocer. They’re trying and the effort is welcome, but they’re just not there yet. Regardless of their mitigated success, the Lake Geneva market is better off for the addition of these stores, and speaking as one foodie, I am indeed grateful. Best of all, these stores stay open through all seasons, which is important when you consider most stores of this sort would close at the first sign of frost if they were in Door County or the reviled, overrated Harbor Country. Efficient shopping or not, advantage Lake Geneva.