By William Turner | Photography by Holly Leitner
It takes a special passion to operate a specialty foods store, which usually produces some unique and interesting results. Here are some outstanding specialty food purveyors in the Lakes area.
THE GREEN GROCER, WILLIAMS BAY
Opened four years ago by the owners of Clear Waters Salon and Day Spa and located next door, this intriguing store is an olio of deli, wine shop, organic grocer, soup, sandwich and smoothie bar… and take-out dinners, weekly organic vegetable surprise boxes, and more and more.
They have tons of organic items. I love their Kalona Super Natural milk, which has cream on the top; I spoon it out and put it in my coffee. They have a nice selection of regional grass-fed beef and bison. They sell Alterra and Geneva Lake Coffee Roasters whole beans or freshly brewed coffee. Breads are from Wild Flour Bakery; meats and cheeses from Boar’s Head. They have a bulk dispenser rack of organic nuts and grains.
This boutique grocery and deli is a fun place to visit any time of day. It is a perfect stop for coffee in the morning or deli sandwiches for lunch. Jane Larson, the manager, suggested that we try their biggest sellers, the “Gouda Bird” (turkey, cheese and dried cranberries) and the Hot Pastrami. Both were excellent and finished on their Panini grill. They also have different soups every day and a variety of salads. There is seating inside and out if you don’t want take-out.
I often stop to get a sandwich and stroll around the store, finding goodies like a Salted Rosemary Shortbread Cookie or some local honey. They have a creative selection of off-beat wines, which they taste in the store most afternoons. There’s also a nice selection of Wisconsin beer.
They do some other fun stuff, like a weekly box of local organic produce for $35. And they have a “Dinners to Go” service. For example, wild caught salmon with rice and veggies is $17. Not bad. They will prepare three or four different meals, which you can pick up all at once. Their “Paint and Sip” includes wine and a painting lesson from Elizabeth Wagner ($45) and they have monthly wine tastings hosted by Stephen David, a local wine purveyor. Go to their website, Greengrocergenevalake.com, to find out about all the special events.
Bottom Line: This may be the best place to get a Hot Pastrami sandwich outside of New York City, and you’ll find a cartful of other interesting stuff.
THYME ON GENEVA LAKE, FONTANA
Paulette Kawski grew up in Wisconsin. One of seven children, she learned to cook from her mother and carefully kept all of her recipes. The importance of family and the experiences of eating meals at home has always stuck with her. So when she moved to Fontana to be close to her daughter and grandchildren, she decided to start a business built around the concept of family and friends eating at home. In one of her great turns of phrases, she wants people to “celebrate by staying in and enjoying their Thyme on the Lake, while letting me do the work” — although Paulette doesn’t appear to think her job is very much like work.
It’s worth a trip to Thyme just to see the place. There’s an herb garden by the front door and a gourmet gift area in the store with some interesting items like Black Truffle Sea Salt, which is supposedly the “bee’s knees” on sweet corn. The rest of the shop is a large, beautiful kitchen where she prepares all of the food.
Here’s how Thyme works. Paulette makes a different dinner each day, Tuesday through Saturday, and offers a brunch quiche for Sunday. Every Friday she posts the menu for the next two weeks on her website (Thymeonthelake.com). Simply choose what meals you want and pick them up on the appropriate day. And the prices are reasonable. How about Port Stir Fry with snow peas, water chestnuts and coconut rice for $9.99, or Mom’s Meatloaf with tomato gravy, smashed potatoes and veggie for $10.99. You can add a salad or dessert if you wish, or six of her famous Almond Butter Cookies for $5.99.
Paulette also caters bigger dinners; she once did a party for 150. She packs picnic baskets for the weekends; popular favorites are Curry Walnut Chicken Salad and Kale and Quinoa Salad.
As we were talking, Paulette offered me a cup of her Tomato Basil Soup, made only with fresh tomatoes — no cream — as she was quick to point out. Actually, she makes 14 different kinds of soups and sauces, all from scratch with fresh ingredients, which she freezes and sells by the quart. You don’t have to order these ahead of time — just drop in and pick one up. I bought the Burgundy Mushroom Pasta Sauce, to which I added some herbs from my own garden and about a pound of mild Italian sausage. I served it over rotini and the crowd went wild.
In addition to the soups and sauces, on any day you can order Chicken Pot Pie, Short Rib Shepherd’s Pie or Pulled Pork.
There is a special “feel” to Thyme. You think you are walking into your aunt’s kitchen and asking her to make you dinner, knowing that this aunt really knows what she is doing and the results are going to be wonderful.
Bottom Line: Stop in and buy one of Paulette’s soups or sauces. You will make a new friend. You can also visit their website, www.thymeonethelake.com.
THE CHEESE BOX, LAKE GENEVA
John (aka Johnny B.) and Sheri Borowiec recently acquired this establishment, which has been in business since 1940. In the early days the owners used to make cheese in the basement. Now there are more than 80 different Wisconsin cheeses in stock.
If you start chatting with Johnny B., he will serve you endless samples while bragging about their cheeses, sausages and meats. He’ll let you try some of their crazier cheeses, like Grumpy Goat, Firecracker (Monterrey Jack with Habanero peppers) or Horseradish Chive Havarti. They even have a chocolate cheese and Buffalo Wing cheese. Their biggest sellers are cheese curds and their four-year-old cheddar. They get their Colby cheese directly from Colby, Wisconsin where it was invented. If you try nothing else, try the Sartori cheeses such as the Bella Vitano or the Montamori. They are some of Wisconsin’s best.
They have a great meat and sausage selection, with 12 different types of dry-cured sausages hung on racks in the store. We tried the Polish sausage and the Veal Cabanossi. They also smoke ribs, salmon and beef brisket at the store.
As you might guess by the name, the Cheese Box is known for their cheese and sausage gift boxes — they sell about 600 boxes per year. You can see all of their cheeses and meats and order from their web site, www.cheesebox.com, or in the store.
At Johnny’s insistence, I bought some Braunschweiger. He claims that it is made for them using the same recipe that they had when they opened in 1940. That evening, I tried it on thin slices of baguette with a glass of Chardonnay — it was an A+.
They have an interesting selection of Wisconsin beer and wine, including Wollersheim wines. I bought a bottle of Orchard Country Honey Crisp Apple wine from Door County at their urging. Wow, it tastes like the apple. They also bake nine types of bread on site.
Bottom Line: If you want Wisconsin cheese and sausage, this is the place to go. Make sure you ask for samples.
BRICK STREET MARKET, DELAVAN
*Editor’s Note: The Brick Street Market has unfortunately closed its doors since the writing of this article.*
Laura Jacobs-Welch used to work for the American Cheese Society, a non-profit organization promoting American cheeses. But she always dreamed of owning her own cheese store. She made that dream come true six years ago when she opened the Brick Street Market in Delavan.
Her business model is similar to the Cheese Box. She offers some great cheeses and specialty items including wine and beer, and deli sandwiches that you can eat in the shop or take away. Wine by the glass is $4, which is hard to beat.
Laura is interested in high quality local artisan and farmstead cheeses. She is from Wisconsin and knows most of the cheese makers and buys directly from them. During the course of the year she carries more than 50 different varieties. Our staff tried four that she recommended – Tilston Point Blue (like Stilton), Honey clover Gouda, Red Rock Cheddar and Grand Cru (Gruyere style). The almost crunchy Tilston Point Blue was the winner, although the crew managed to finish off the lot.
Wisconsin is the largest producer of artisan (produced by hand in small batches) and farmstead (produced with milk from the farmer’s own herd) cheeses in the U.S.
Her partner in the business, Marilyn Cayo handles the wines. She works through a distributor that specializes in small family vineyards around the world. This offbeat selection is interesting and reasonably priced, mostly $12-$20. I bought a Diernberg Chardonnay at her recommendation and it was excellent.
If wine and cheese aren’t enough reason to visit the Brick Street Market, the deli sandwiches should make it a no-brainer to check the place out. We tried two of their best sellers, both served on simple ciabatta rolls. The first was the Don Quixote, which had Manchego cheese with prosciutto ham, fig preserves and sunflower sprouts. The second was the Statesman, which is made by melting 4-year old cheddar on both halves of the bread and then folding them around Black Forest Ham. Both were served with Apple Salad. Very cool.
Bottom Line: Let Laura choose ¼ lb. of four different artisan cheeses and have her tell you about them. Grab a bottle of wine, go home and enjoy, or visit their website: www.brickstreetmarket.com.