3 Ultimate Food Trails
Southwest Wisconsin: Pastures of plenty
Swiss immigrants brought their doe-eyed cows to southern Wisconsin in the 1800s, and the golden promise of cheddar, Havarti and Jack has lured travelers ever since. But if you come here just to get your dairy on, you're missing out.
The verdant valleys between the Mississippi River and Madison cradle one of the Midwest's most diverse pockets of food culture: high-brow, hole-in-the-wall, farm-fresh, ethnic and even downright kooky. You can buy bulging melons from a produce stand in Spring Green, then drive 40 minutes to Middleton and find yourself amid the National Mustard Day fest, where families feast on free hot dogs and frozen mustard custard.
We couldn't resist making this a long-weekend (300-mile) drive, but if you'd prefer a more compact, two-day trip, visit just the Swiss villages of New Glarus and Monroe or explore the Amish farms and roadside stands around Viroqua.
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Middleton to Albany
2. Bloom Bake Shop A stylish corner bakery sells clever treats like the Be Elvis whoopie pie with banana-chip cakes and peanut butter frosting. See reviews and ratings. (608) 831-5797; bloombakeshop.com
4. Ruef's Meat Market What's the difference between schublig, cervelas and mettwurst? Just ask! (Bonus: Most cured meats travel well, even with no cooler.) See reviews and ratings. (608) 527-2554; ruefsmeatmarket.com
5. New Glarus Brewing Company A $3.50 ticket buys a souvenir glass, three small beer samples and a spot to enjoy them in the hilltop beer garden. Note that tours and sampling are only available until 4 p.m. See reviews and ratings. (608) 527-5850; newglarusbrewing.com
6. Glarner Stube The name means "the living room of New Glarus," and the homey Swiss fare fits the description. Order the kirsch-spiked fondue. See reviews and ratings. (608) 527-2216; glarnerstube.com
7. The Dining Room at 209 Main Tiny town. Dazzling menu. Entrees (habanero pork, curried swordfish) change often; the sticky toffee pudding has a cult following. See reviews and ratings. (608) 938-2200; 209main.com
8. Albany House B&B Breakfast might include chocolate bumbles or plum cake at this arty 1908 country home along the Sugar River. Four guest rooms, a two-room suite and a cottage all feature private baths. From $99. See reviews and ratings. (866) 977-7000; albanyhouse.com
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Monroe to Fennimore
9. National Historic Cheesemaking Center A small museum in the Green County Visitors Center has a fascinating collection of vintage dairy equipment and photos. See reviews and ratings. (608) 325-4636; nationalhistoriccheesemakingcenter.org
10. Alp and Dell Cheese A huge Swiss-owned factory supplies this shop, so the variety is great. We love the sale bin. A viewing gallery offers glimpses of the cheese-making facilities, but the shop is the real draw. (608) 328-3355; alpanddellcheese.com
11. Baumgartner's Tourists check out the beer stein mural at Wisconsin's oldest cheese shop while locals eat roast beef at this funny Swiss-tavern-meets-diner (pictured). See reviews and ratings. (608) 325-6157; baumgartnercheese.com
12, Brewster House Restaurant/Shullsburg Cheese Store It's fun to see the storybook-cute hometown of a popular Midwest cheese brand (and to eat a piece of pie in the restaurant). See reviews and ratings. (608) 965-3855; shullsburgcreamery.com
13. Potosi Brewery A spectacular restoration has made this small-town (nay, tiny-town) brewpub a surprising destination. The restaurant serves tasty pub grub; the free museum is a treat. You also can pay $5 to tour the extensive National Brewery Museum. See reviews and ratings. (608) 763-4002; potosibrewery.com
14. Carr Valley Cheese This highly respected company is our pick for high-end, artisan cheeses such as Billy Blue and Cocoa Cardona. Splurge on a wedge, and savor it with sliced pear and honey. See reviews and ratings. (608) 822-3777; carrvalleycheese.com
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Viroqua-Westby to Spring Green
15. Driftless Cafe Earthy, cozy and ever so slightly funky, Viroqua's nicest restaurant serves local trout, piping-hot pizzas heaped with veggies (pictured), and homey pies and cakes. See reviews and ratings. (608) 637-7778; driftlesscafe.com
16. Viroqua Farmers Market Glossy peppers, plump eggplants--this is your best bet for fresh produce (and chorizo tamales) on the route. This Saturday farmers market is held on Main Street. See reviews and ratings. (608) 637-2575; viroquatourism.com
17. Trillium Cottage You'll forgive the lumpy beds at these charming cottages on a family farm when you see fresh eggs in the fridge and twinkly stars in the night sky. From $110, with a two-night minimum on summer weekends. See reviews and ratings. (608) 625-4492; trilliumcottage.com
18. Hidden Springs Creamery Call before visiting this idyllic farm, where draft horses till the fields and lavender flavors the sheep's milk cheese. (608) 634-2521; hiddenspringscreamery.com
19. Pecks Farm Market East Families come for the petting zoo and train rides, but even they don't leave without a big round watermelon. (608) 588-7177; pecksfarmmarketeast.com
Southwest Michigan: Lakeside bounty
Shorter than our sweeping Wisconsin loop, this easy lakeshore route makes a tidy two-day trip - or stretch it to three with shopping in South Haven or Saugatuck. Our 125-mile (each way) route follows the shore south from Saugatuck almost to the Indiana state line, dipping inland to explore towns and wineries.
Southwest Michigan in summer looks like the colorful label on an old fruit crate: sun-drenched orchards, sparkling water and the sweet promise of golden apricots. Even the highway names (Blue Star, Red Arrow) have a cheerful, vintage character.
But the Fruit Belt, as this area is called, has a sophisticated side, too. For decades, vacationers have followed Lake Michigan east from Chicago, bringing their urban tastes with them. That explains the posh hotels and fine dining, but in this revived age of eating locally, they seek handmade cheese, small-batch wine and canned garden tomatoes, too. The flavors of our past have become the ingredients of our future, and Michigan offers them in abundance.
Michigan food trail highlights: Fennville and Saugatuck
1. Sunrise Orchards Farm Market Start your trip with a photo in the hollow wood pumpkin outside this produce stand that sells local fruits and veggies plus armloads of cut flowers. See reviews and ratings. (269) 561-2854
2. Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery A narrow road winds through trees to reach this farm, where you can sample chevre and meet the bleating herd. Drop-in customers are welcome, but calling ahead is smart. See reviews and ratings. (269) 543-9900; evergreenlanefarm.com
4. Salt of the Earth Meats smoked on-site. Fresh salads served family style. A bakery stocked with crusty loaves to take home. Local fruit and gelato layered in summer sundaes (pictured). Yes, please! See reviews and ratings. (269) 561-7258; saltoftheearthfennville.com
Michigan food trail highlights: South Haven to St. Joseph
5. Carriage House at the Harbor At this sprawling Victorian in South Haven, wake up to breakfast on the screen porch: quiches, berries and specialty scones. See reviews and ratings. (269) 639-2161; carriagehouseharbor.com
6. Sam's Sweet Corn A colorful sign tips Blue Star Highway travelers off to this tiny roadside stand, where beefsteak tomatoes shine beside tidy stacks of ears. Pictured. (Blue Star Highway at 16th Avenue). See reviews and ratings.
7. DeGrandchamp Farms The U-pick season at this 130-acre farm stretches through all of July and August. Eat a few fat, juicy berries right off the bush, but save the rest for your bucket! See reviews and ratings. (888) 483-7431; degrandchamps.com
Michigan Food trail highlights: South of St. Joseph to New Buffalo
9. Round Barn Winery A terraced patio. Live music. A craft brewery. Even a distillery that bottles rum, bourbon and vodka distilled from grapes. Wine has become just one part of the experience--but we're not complaining! Pictured. See reviews and ratings. (800) 716-9463; roundbarnwinery.com
10. Hickory Creek Winery Lush flowerbeds greet visitors at this intimate quality-over-quantity winery specializing in dry varieties. Sit a while under the apple tree or stroll through the vineyards. See reviews and ratings. (269) 422-1100; hickorycreekwinery.com
11. Luisa's Cafe and Harbert Swedish Bakery You have a choice here. Be a grown-up, and order crab cakes. Or give in to your inner second-grader and barrel through chocolate chip pancakes. It's a win-win. (And that's before you visit the Scandinavian bakery.) See reviews and ratings. (269) 469-9037; harbertswedishbakery.com
12. Tabor Hill Winery Enjoy wines in the tasting room and rock lobster with sweet corn risotto in the dining room (complete with a vineyard vista). See reviews and ratings. (800) 283-3363; taborhill.com
13. Froehlich's At her little bakery-deli in tiny Three Oaks, Colleen Froehlich, granddaughter of a grocer, bakes homey bread (honey sunflower), cans her own garden produce (old-fashioned dill pickles) and sells hearty sandwiches (smoked turkey with veggies). See reviews and ratings. (269) 756-6002; shopfroehlichs.com
14. Brewster's Italian Cafe Snag a seat near the patio fountain, and settle in for a hearty feast of meatballs and marinara sauce popping with authentic spices. See reviews and ratings. (269) 469-3005; brewstersitaliancafe.com
15. Marina Grand Resort This sleek New Buffalo hotel overlooks the harbor, so you'll drift off to sleep to the distant, steady clanging of bells on the marina. See reviews and ratings. (877) 945-8600; marinagrandresort.com
Indiana: Comfort food trail
Remember Sunday drives? Those lazy, windows-rolled-down afternoons in the country with a great ice cream cone at the end? They live on in Indiana, where locally grown veggies and home cooking flourish at markets, diners and restaurants with foodie followings.
Sample the best of the region on our trail. It begins in Bloomington, where FarmBloomington is changing the face of Hoosier fine dining. Farther east, the stretch of US-41 north of Vincennes showcases the area’s agricultural bounty with farm markets, bakeries and diners.
The landscape changes as you head south, shifting from cornfields to wooded hills. The food culture shifts, too, to Southern favorites such as fried fish and blackberry cobbler. As our trail loops north, the road curves through Hoosier National Forest and the picturesque towns of Story and Nashville before reaching Bloomington again. It ends at Restaurant Tallent, where Indiana's home-grown ingredients achieve refined culinary perfection.
Depending on how much of Bloomington's food scene you want to take in, you could do this tour in a weekend or stretch it out to a three-day extravaganza. If you don't have that much time, US-50 and US-150 cut through the route, for shorter trips.
Indiana food trail highlights: From Bloomington to Vincennes
1. FarmBloomington Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Farm offers thin-crust pizzas, rosemary chicken and Paradise Kitchen jerked salmon fillet. Don't miss the garlic fries; they're served in a big bowl and topped with Parmesan and spicy chili flakes. See reviews and ratings. (812) 323-0002; farm-bloomington.com
2. Prairie Acres Farm Market The cafe's mismatched dining chairs are part of the charm at this picturesque Oaktown market known for its baked goods and produce. See reviews and ratings. (812) 745-3207
3. US-41 farm stands Bring your cooler and stock up on the farm-fresh produce filling the little stands south of Oaktown.
4. Home of the Big Peach Getting your picture with the big metal peach in Bruceville is a Hoosier rite of passage. Snapping up peach cider and salad dressing is a bonus. See reviews and ratings. (812) 324-2548
5. Apple Hill Orchard Fresh fruit pies; award-winning cider; and U-pick apples, peaches and nectarines beckon travelers to the quiet hilltop log-cabin bakery. See reviews and ratings. (812) 324-9010
6. Dot's Custom Cakes and Catering Don't let the name throw you; this Vincennes hole-in-the-wall is famous for perfect, plate-size pork tenderloin sandwiches (pictured). Our advice: Skip the ho-hum fries and have dessert at the St. Louis Soda Shop--it shares the building with Dot's. See reviews and ratings. (812) 882-1973
Indiana food trail highlights: Jasper to Cannelton
7. Schnitzelbank Restaurant Sate that craving for schnitzel, sauerkraut and strudel at this 50-year-old German spot in Jasper, which really rocks each August during the four-day Strassenfest. See reviews and ratings. (812) 482-2640; schnitzelbank.com
8. Tell City Pretzels Since 1858, pretzel makers have twisted this secret-recipe dough into addictively salty-crunchy snacks. Call ahead if you want to see pretzels being made; you might get to learn how to twist, too. See reviews and ratings. (812) 548-4499; tellcitypretzel.com
9. Capers Restaurant Yes, it's eclectic. Dishes from New Orleans on a menu with Hoosier classics? But it works. The owners' Gulf Coast roots--and love for their adopted home--shine in Tell City, especially in the creamy potato soup, muffaletta and fried chicken. See reviews and ratings. (812) 547-3333; capersusa.com
10. Blue Heron Vineyards Bed and Breakfast at Rocky Point After a night in this Cannelton farmhouse, you can choose to have breakfast in the house or outside at the winery. Choose the latter, where a white tablecloth, fine china and quiche await on a wooded terrace overlooking the Ohio River. From $125. See reviews and ratings. (812) 547-7518; blueheronvines.com/farm.asp
Pictured: Rolling farmland unfolds off of State-62 north of Tell City.
Indiana food trail highlights: New Salisbury to Bloomington
11. Bryant's Blueberries Nine varieties, including 'Blueray' and 'Patriot', blanket 10 quiet acres in New Salisbury from mid-June to late July. Bring your bucket and say hello to Waylon, the resident German shepherd. See reviews and ratings. (812) 366-3592; bryantsblueberries.com
12. Capriole Farmstead Goat Cheeses A single-lane gravel road in Greenville leads to a beautiful vista of rustic barns, exuberant flowers and owner Judith Schad's log-cabin home. Try the cheeses in the tasting room and take home the best-seller, the O'Banon, which comes wrapped in bourbon-soaked chestnut leaves. (812) 923-9408; capriolegoatcheese.com
13. Huber's Orchard, Winery and Vineyards In Starlight, Indiana's largest estate-bottled winery offers something for all ages: a family fun park, a lively farm market, U-pick peaches, a cafe, and cheese and ice cream shops. Oh, and, of course, the winery, where complimentary tours take place daily. See reviews and ratings. (800) 345-9463; huberwinery.com
14. Joe Huber Family Farm and Restaurant Founded in 1843, this farm near the town of Starlight really blossomed in the 1960s, when the family watched in awe as city folk flocked here to pick green beans. Now, they come for country-style fried biscuits honey ham and chicken dinners. (812) 923-5255; joehubers.com
15. Schimpff's Confectionery Equipment dating to the business' opening 120 years ago still churns out famous red hots and fish candies designed as a nod to the nearby Ohio River. You can watch the candymakers, tour the small candy museum or sip a chocolate soda from the 1950s fountain. In Jeffersonville. See reviews and ratings. (812) 283-8367; schimpffs.com
16. Kensington Tea Room and Butler's Pantry Coffee Shop Yes, they share the same Seymour address in a restored Victorian home. But you really must decide before you enter: coffee or tea? (You can't reach one from the other.) Whatever you choose, you'll find perfect brews waiting. See reviews and ratings. (812) 523-1300
17. Restaurant Tallent Foodies from throughout the region are happy to splurge on meals in this tranquil, modern setting. Remember that Capriole cheese? You'll find it here, along with pork chops, chicken and other Indiana-raised meats. Ask about the special soul food plate, which changes on a whim. Pictured. See reviews and ratings. (812) 330-9801; restauranttallent.com