Bayfield County Wild Podcast
Episode 27: Culinary Experiences to Savor in Bayfield County
You can learn a lot about a community’s local culture at its eateries. On this episode, Director of Tourism, Mary Motiff, shares some of the food experiences to savor in Bayfield County and takes us to the Old Rittenhouse Inn to find out about a local, holiday tradition that has been bringing the community together for more than 50 years. Plus, a film festival, wine weekend and other events to discover this November.
The ‘Bounty of the County’
If you had to describe the food culture in Bayfield County, Mary would say it is “eclectic,” but also unique in its bounty of fresh, local ingredients on the menu at almost every restaurant due to the large number of farms and orchards along with Lake Superior and more than 1,000 inland lakes that make it possible. There are only two fast food restaurants in Bayfield County which helps people to make more thoughtful meal choices. Many people who visit and live in this area have strong connections to the land and its abundance of natural resources and are happy to not have so many fast food choices readily available. In addition to the fresh fish that is caught almost daily, there are greens, root vegetables, berries, apples and much more local produce grown here. There are also local meat producers and a sheep farm that makes cheese.
The area’s large population of Norwegians has also influenced the offerings, especially at local bakeries. Each community offers farm-to-table specialties that create variety and inspire local chefs to be creative. In the Cable/Namekagon area, Mary says you’ll find the Garmisch USA Resort, a restaurant that specializes in traditional German cuisine, the Rookery Pub, which has a modern American menu and a fish “un-fry” and the Rivers Eatery, a wood-fired pizzeria that has creative toppings you can experience, like Thai peanut chicken.
The Iron River area has lots of resorts with their own house specialties. Barbecue is big in the summer months, where there is often friendly competition among the restaurants for the best BBQ cuisine.
Washburn has a one-block area downtown that is the hub for nightlife in the area. Restaurants include the Snug, an Irish Pub with a limited menu of fresh fish, homemade soups and Scotch eggs. Next door is DaLou’s Bistro serving wood-fired, traditional Italian-style pizza, panini, pasta specials and house-made gelato. And close by is Patsy’s Bar & Grill, which does serve bar food, but at the next level. They are often cited for having the best burgers in the county, serve an enormous fresh fish fillet, delicious fries, homemade coleslaw and Firecracker Shrimp. You can expect the unexpected at Patsy’s – don’t let the exterior fool you!
Bayfield has a huge variety of restaurants that also include bistros and high-end restaurants. And if you want to go where the locals go to eat, Mary says to check the parking lots for cars. Bayfield County has a relatively small population. If the parking lots are full, you can bet it’s a great place to eat. Mary also recommends going to community dinners put on by the Knights of Columbus, the Lion’s and other local fundraisers. They typically serve some of the best food at reasonable prices and made with love and a passion for their cause, often using local ingredients.
A Holiday Tradition
The Old Rittenhouse Inn has been putting on Wassail lunch and dinner concerts since 1975. Wassail is an old English greeting that means “All Hail” or “Hello.” It later became a toast to good health and prosperity when people gathered to go caroling. They would carry a large bowl of Wassail punch that everyone would drink as they went from house to house.
Rittenhouse Owner Mark Phillips says the tradition of having Wassail dinner concerts was started by his parents. Both were music teachers who worked in Madison, Wis., where they were always busy during the holidays. When they moved to Bayfield and started the Old Rittenhouse Inn, they thought they would spend a quiet holiday with the family. Mark’s parents were so sad and lonely without holiday performances and music, the next year they started their own Wassail Dinner Concerts, while also serving gourmet meals. The Inn was decorated “to the nines” with a huge Christmas tree standing in the foyer. They even created their own Wassail punch made with Bayfield apple cider, spices and bourbon.
While most people think of concerts as music performances on stage in front of a live audience, the Wassail lunch and dinner concerts are served with a twist. While the patrons are seated at the dinner table being served a gourmet meal, the performers are entertaining amongst the guests, walking through the dining room in a very immersive experience. Mark says his dad works all year to prepare new material for the annual concerts.
Wassail lunches are typically one to two hours with a three-course meal that includes a colorful and festive salad, a choice of fresh fish or roast pork with an apple cider marmalade glaze or champagne chicken and a choice of desserts. The dinners include a five-course meal, adding soup and sorbet, and usually lasting two to three hours.
For Mark, these Wassail lunches and dinners are very nostalgic, but what he really loves is that they bring the community together for an anti-commercial holiday that feels authentic.
The Wassail Lunch and Dinner Concerts are ticketed events, so to make reservations, you can call the toll-free number, 800-779-2129 or 715-779-5111.
Mark says the holidays aren’t the only festive season at the Old Rittenhouse Inn. They also host a Fall Brew Weekend, a three-day Wine Weekend and have romantic Valentine specials along with some other special events. They are open for Thanksgiving and start the Wassail Lunch and Dinner Concerts on Nov. 30 (which run through Dec. 22). There will be 13 performances this year and some are already sold out. The Old Rittenhouse Inn closes for few days over Christmas and then reopens for New Year’s Eve celebrations and more wine weekends during the winter months. To find out more about the Inn’s events, you can visit their website at Rittenhouseinn.com and their Facebook page.
Nov. 1 – 3: Wine Weekend at the Old Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield, WI
Aurora Summit at the Harbor View Event Center, Washburn, WI
Nov. 6 – 9: Big Water Film Festival in Bayfield, Washburn, Drummond and Ashland
Nov. 9: Concert: “John Muir – University of the Wilderness” and “Song for the Wild," Cable Community Center
Nov. 9 – 10: “A Cripple’s Dance” at STAGENORTH, Washburn, WI
Mid-Nov. – Dec. 25: Artists Squared Gallery, Washburn, WI
Nov. 30 – Dec. 22: Wassail Lunch & Dinner Concerts, Bayfield, WI
Nov. 30: Port Wing Christmas Bazaar
Next month, we will catch up with the Head Brewer at the South Shore Brewery and Taphouse, Bo Belanger. He’ll give us some insights into what it’s like to be a craft brewer and tell us about some of the fun events at the Brewery.
Bayfield County Yurts
Looking for a unique adventure? Stay at one of Bayfield County’s rustic and cozy Yurts, located near the towns of Bayfield and Cable, and enjoy all that nature has to offer. Explore thousands of acres of Bayfield County forest and enjoy endless miles of exceptionally-maintained, non-motorized, recreational trails. These Yurts are very popular, so book early.
Comfortable and affordable, Tri-Lake Timbers in Iron River has a variety of beautiful cabins with access to snowmobile, ATV and hiking trails galore. In the summer, relax on the swimming beach or rent a pontoon or fishing boat and get out on the water. Tri-Lake Timbers has 103 acres bordering the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest with free wi-fi at the lodge and a children’s playground.