Lake Geneva has some grocery stores. We do. We have plenty of them, actually. It’s just that they’re not really all that great, even though you can accomplish all of your needed shopping at any one of them. While I think it’s convenient to do your shopping at one store, the true epicurean experience here lies in sourcing individual ingredients from those shops that specialize in those particular items. As a point of fact, you would do well to source your cheese from the Brick Street Market in Delavan. You would do better to source your meat from Lake Geneva Country Meats. Along those lines, you would show extreme shopping sophistication if you went to the Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy to buy your Yuppie Hill chickens. What were you going to do, just buy your chickens from the grocery store? So pedestrian.
With that theme in mind, we must apply it similarly to our restaurant scene. We have lots of restaurants, as do all resort towns. We have more than we need, really, but we have varying levels of quality. Unlike normal restaurant ranking systems, we do not have restaurants, excepting Medusa in Lake Geneva, that do most things well. Instead we have a stable of restaurants that excel at one thing or another, but rarely at all things at once. This is why if we want the best chicken we must travel to East Troy, to Delavan for cheese, to Lake Geneva for meat. This is why dining success is not found in subscribing to one particular restaurant, but rather in finding the best of some dish and traveling to where it is found. I am here to spare you the trial and error.
BEST BREAKFAST DISH
Remember, that did not say BEST BREAKFAST PLACE. Even though this dish may be at the best breakfast place, this is best dish, and that best breakfast dish is unequivocally the Turkey Brussel Sprout Hash at Simple in Lake Geneva. It consists of what the name implies, plus pine nuts, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, butternut squash, and some potatoes, too. Top that with an over easy egg, and what you have there is the best breakfast dish in the county. Perhaps the world. Go eat it.
This is using sandwich loosely. However, yesterday I ate a panini at a local restaurant that was actually in no way a panini, so loose interpretations are allowed. I have no doubt there are good burgers in the area, but despite my All-American life, I am not a huge burger fan. That’s why I go to Gordy’s and order the Yacht Club Chicken Wrap when I want a sandwich, and I get it with fries because I don’t want to appear emotionally soft, only physically so. The wrap is solid, with nothing attempting to be special, which is why it’s good. If you want to steal one of my moves, when you order it, pronounce yacht phonetically. The waitresses either like that or find it thoroughly annoying, I can’t yet tell.
BEST ELK MEAT ON AN ENGLISH MUFFIN
Pier 290 has a complicated menu. Unfortunately, it’s unnecessarily so. Also unfortunately, there will be no change in this unnecessary menu because change is not necessary. They built it, and we will come. We can’t help ourselves. I ate their yesterday, that whole non-panini thing, and I felt then as I always do. My tastebuds were ambivalent, but the scene is so terrific everything seems fine. So go less for the food and more for the atmosphere which is absolutely and positively second to none.
BEST FISH FRY
I have had tremendous fish fries at many local restaurants. I had a great fish fry once at most of the local establishments, but this is not about where I had a good meal once, this is about consistency, which is why if you’re looking to eat fish, you should take the scenic drive to Rushing Waters and the Trout House, just north of Elkhorn at the southern end of the Kettle Moraine. I have for years traveled this short distance to procure smoked salmon and trout, more of the prior and far less of the latter. But the restaurant is new as of 2014, and it’s a delight. Go on Friday night, eat the fish fry, thank me later.
I write this with great hesitation. I do not in actuality know where the best pizza is served. I know there are lots of pizza places, and if I had to default I’d just tell you to go to Gino’s East in Lake Geneva. However, why travel from Chicago to dine as if you’re still in Chicago? This would be like using a Chicago real estate broker when you’re in Lake Geneva, which we all know to be a ludicrous proposition. There’s a new pizza place in the old Scuttlebuts location, and that pizza place has a great pizza oven. But so do I (see above), which is why the best pizza in the county is likely in my back yard, however, I am not yet properly permitted to allow diners, and my liquor license has been held up because I apparently lack proper county certifications. The new pizza place is quite good, but the center of a pizza should not be a soggy mess, so we’ll give some time for that to be sorted.
This is why you should eat your pizza at either Pino’s in Walworth or the Next Door Pub in Lake Geneva. Both forms of pizza are not pure, as they are loaded with too much cheese and too much everything else. However, they are both tasty, both local, both able to satisfy.
Coffee is not food, but it is the one thing most can agree on. Except for the tea drinkers. As for me, I do not find flower petals soaks in water to be appetizing, so I’ll stick to coffee. And I do like cream with my coffee, half and half is fine unless you have heavy whipping cream available, then I’ll have that. There are lots of coffee shops, which is easy to assume until you travel to somewhere like Door County and wish for quality coffee. I think the best coffee is somewhere that serves Collectivo, which is the ridiculous name that the folks who bought Alterra assigned to it. Simple serves this coffee, as does their bakery.
This is the Simple Bakery, without any question about anything. The danish is delightful as well, though the heading was very narrow- best croissant. The fact of the matter is that everything baked is terrific at this bakery, and we are spoiled for having it in our midst. I have to avoid the bakery due to what my doctors have called a little bit of a weight problem, but if I were skinny I’d eat there until I wasn’t. Get the danish, or the croissant, and you’ll be pleased, and soonly obese.
This is a bit of a trick category. We have only one bagel shop, and if this were winter I wouldn’t tell you to go there, because if I did, it might not actually be open. My good friend Jeff owns Boatyard Bagel, and in the summer it is a terrific place to frequent. The ingredients are high quality, local when possible, and the culmination of his efforts is presented simply; a strong cup of Intelligentsia Coffee paired with a cinnamon and sugar bagel ladened with strawberry cream cheese is a sensory treat.
BEST FRENCH FRIES
A few years ago, Gordy’s tinkered with their french fry. It was a disastrous tinker, one that they quickly fixed by reverting to the old fry. That’s good for them, and for me, but the best french fry in the area is not even a french fry, it’s a waffle fry, which, according to the Herbie Beard Foundation falls under the broad category. Harpoon Willies is not well known for fine dining, even though their pizza is rather good and their fish sandwiches are standouts. However, the waffle fries at Harpoons are the best fries in the county, bar none. Go there and eat them.
BEST PRETTY MUCH EVERTHING
Medusa on Broad Street in Lake Geneva. If you were a kid in the 1980s and you liked to smoke and listen to the Violent Femmes, you’ll remember this as Hanny’s. Chef Greg makes things taste good, so go there if you’re looking for a high quality dining experience that can hold its own against any of the trendy Chicago restaurants.
There are others to list, but you’ll be well fed and happy all summer if you follow my lead.